Compared to the innumerable nearby rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada Range, Alta Peak is not particularly alta ("tall" in Spanish) nor is it a challenging climb. This summit is a high point along the southern ridge of Tokopah Valley, the headwaters of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. It is prominent when viewed from the vicinity of Three Rivers, CA.
Alta's stellar summit views, its proximity to the road, and its ample opportunities for backcountry ski descents make the peak as an all-season playground. Alta Peak is also one of the few "westside" peaks that is as easily accessible and offers similarly stunning views as the eastside peaks. Not having to drive over the Sierra crest to the eastside makes Alta Peak an attractive destination for most Californians.
A dayhike up the Alta Peak trail gains around 4000 feet of elevation over a one-way distance of 7 miles. Mpbro is of the opinion (and I agree) that this dayhike is the best that the Lodgepole area has to offer.
The summit views are simply awesome. From the summit, the views of the broad 6000-foot drop into Kaweah Canyon suffice to take your breath away. But there's more: the endless sea of crags making up the Great Western and Kings-Kern Divides will make it hard for you to leave the summit. Only the most experienced backcountry traveler will have the ability to identify a majority of the summits.
First, get yourself to Lodgepole. Directions can be found here.
Proceed one mile south (toward Visalia) on Generals Highway from Lodgepole. Turn left toward "Wolverton". Continue to the end of the road and park at the easternmost parking lot. Signs will direct you to the Alta Peak Trail.
Alta Peak is accessible from many directions, and in all seasons. The shortest approaches are from Wolverton, either via the Alta Peak Trail or cross-country from the Pear Lake area (via the Pear Lake Trail). Snow plows keep Generals Highway open year-around.
For weather information, try the NPS's weather page. California Dept. of Water Resources has a weather station at Giant Forest. Also try this NOAA Tulare County Mountains Forecast.
See the Lodgepole Logistical Center for general information on both backcountry and car camping.
There are excellent backcountry campspots around Mehrten and Alta Meadows, along the Alta Peak Trail. There are innumerable possibilities for backcountry camping near Pear Lake and in the Tablelands, north of Alta Peak.
In winter, the Pear Lake Ranger Station doubles as a refuge for backcountry skiers, riders and snowshoers. This popular hut sleeps ten and is stocked with stoves, bunks and various other minimalist comforts. Situated at 9,200 feet in the shadow of Alta Peak, it makes a perfect base camp for exploring the area and bagging Alta Peak. The hut is booked in advance every weekend in winter and spring, so join the lottery. Check the Sequoia National History Ass'n website.
The Alta Peak environs are an extremely popular destination for backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers. This isn't surprising, given the perfect combination of spectacular open touring terrain, outrageous vistas, challenging skiing for all levels and the warm confines of the Pear Lake Backcountry Ski Hut. Because of the location of the hut, the vast majority of backcountry ski activity in the Alta Peak area occurs not from the south side (i.e., the Alta Peak Trail), but from the north side (i.e., the Pear Lake Trail). The Pear Lake Trail climbs above the lower Tokopah Valley, ascending a large "hump", then crosses over to the hut just below Pear Lake. The most popular skiing/snowshoeing destinations are:
- The Tablelands. A huge expanse of moderately graded slopes and bowls that separates the Pear Lake/Tokopah Valley area from the canyons that drain north into Kings Canyon.
- Winter Alta Peak. Also known as "Skier's Alta" or more technically "Peak 11,328", this is actually the highest point on the Alta Peak ridge, about 3/4 mile NE of Alta Peak. A mellow ascent takes you to the summit, which has similar jawdropping views as Alta Peak. Below the summit is a huge north-facing bowl that usually harbors perfect snow all the way back towards the Pear Lake Hut.
- Moose Lake. A substantial lake that occupies a large bench NE of Winter Alta Peak, with terrific views out over the Great Western Divide.
- "Big Bird Peak". A longer day outing from the hut, but one which culminates atop an airy summit with a dead-on view of Triple Divide Peak and the spectacular Great Western Divide
Click on the "Hump" trail route description for more detailed information.
In addition, Mpbro reports as follows: "From Alta's summit, the 2000-foot descent to Alta Meadows appears inviting. The slope is sustained at around 30° (+/- 5°), but for much of the descent, there is a forest of sparse-but-sturdy fir trees, perfect for skiing, while ideal for avalanche prevention. There are rocks on the route, and since it faces south, this is only a winter route, and even then, only during high snow years."
As usual, kudos to Mpbro for starting this page.