NOTE: This is not a Route Description in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a general description of backcountry skiing opportunities in the Pear Lake area (including a tour to the summit of Alta Peak). If you are interested, read on.
Start from the Wolverton trailhead near Lodgepole. Directions are found on the main Alta Peak page. Pull into the parking lot. About halfway down the length of the parking lot, on the left hand side, you will see this sign marking the "Lakes Trail" trailhead.
At the Lakes Trailhead, get your skis, snowshoes or split board on your feet and head up the trail towards Heather Lake. The trail is well marked, even in winter, by the presence of "blazes" or yellow triangles on the trees. The trail continues through dense forest for about 1.75 miles, gaining 800 feet in the process. Depending on snow coverage and time of year, you may have to portage across some bare spots in this initial part.
After 1.75 miles, you reach a trail junction -- DON'T MISS IT. Turn left towards Heather Lake and climb the obscenely steep hill. Do NOT go straight towards Panther Gap. The steepness subsides slightly after this first big hill, but it continues uphill another 1,450 vertical feet until you reach Heather Gap -- not really a pass, but more like a ridge crossing at 9,450'. Heather Gap is known locally as "the Hump" -- hence the name of this trail.
Note that the summer trail does not cross the hump, but rather continues NE towards the cliffs that tower over the Tokopah Valley, including the spectacular Watchtower. This route is NOT recommended in winter due to avalanche hazard and poor terrain conditions. If you follow the tree blazes (and tracks of those who went before you), you should find the hump without difficulty.
From the hump, you get your first views out towards the Silliman Crest and the Tablelands/Pear Lake area. Descend steeply into the trees to frozen Heather Lake. Ski above the NW shore of the lake and then begin climbing again. Your goal is to climb up and around the low point of the ridge dropping down to the north from Peak 10,561'. Coming around this ridge, the grade eases up and you are in the flats between Emerald and Aster Lakes.
From here, head NNE to get around the next north-south ridge. If avalanche danger is high, avoid the traverse around the ridge (above Aster Lake) in favor of the "low road" at lake level. Once around this ridge, you are either right above the Pear Lake Hut (if you've taken the high traverse) or right below it (if you took the low road). Head up/down to the hut and take a breather. From here, you have a magnificent view of Alta Peak.
If Alta Peak is your goal, simply head up the Pear Lake drainage from the hut, ski across the lake and follow the inlet creek up and to climber's left of the nasty cliffs that guard the head of this cirque. These cliffs are visible in this photo -- you will want to head left of these cliffs up the drainage (hidden in the photo) and up to the obvious saddle left (east) of the peak in the photo. (note: If you choose to ski down this route, use extreme care to avoid this cliff band on your return. Except for one extremely steep and narrow chute, these cliffs are impassable on skis. As a result, the safe route is to return the way you came)
Once at the saddle east of Alta Peak, cross over to the other side of the crest (watch for cornices!). Ski (or walk if the snow coverage requires) along the south side of this crest to the base of the summit block. Climb up snow and class 3 rock to the summit.
Alta Peak is a fine goal from Wolverton or the Pear Lake Hut. However, if you are at the hut and want to enjoy some of the other features of the area, you are in luck. Using the hut as a base camp, touring/skiing/climbing options abound. I've attached a topo map that shows some recommended tours in the area, including Alta Peak, Winter Alta Peak, the Tablelands and Big Bird Peak. A big full day loop tour that takes in the Tablelands, Moose Lake and Winter Alta Peak is a highlight of this area. Most folks to the area at least head to the summit of Winter Alta (or "Skiers Alta") Peak, which is actually the highpoint of the Alta Peak ridge. The moniker fits, because this peak is much easier to climb in winter than "regular" Alta Peak, and it has far better skiing options. To get to the peak, climb the slope east of the hut aiming for a spot just to the left of the distinctive "Matterhorn"-like peaklet above the hut. Once atop this slope, you will see Winter Alta above you to the SE (at the culimation of the ridge leading up from the "Matterhorn"). Climb up to the saddle just east of the summit and then follow the easy ridge up to the top. In high avalanche conditions, avoid travelling below Winter Alta's steep north facing slopes. Instead, head further to climber's left and bag the peaklet just east of Winter Alta. The views are similar (i.e., equally awe-inspiring). The north facing, powder-collecting bowl leading from Winter Alta back towards the Marble Fork of the Kaweah is one of the great intermediate runs in the Sierra. Check out these photos.
The views from Alta or Winter Alta are terrific in all directions. Vistas to the north take in Brewer, South Guard and the surrounding peaks. Looking due east is Triple Divide Peak and the jagged peaks of the northern half of the Great Western Divide. To the southeast is the Kaweah Peaks Ridge, and just right of that are the remaining peaks of the Great Western Divide across Buck Canyon. Simply awesome.
Click here to get a bigger picture view of the area.
ice axe if you are heading up to the summit of Alta Peak. Otherwise, just good snowshoes/splitboard/skis & skins and the regular winter backcountry gear (including a bottle of wine to enjoy while warming in the hut at the end of the day).
If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.