“Sky Pilot Peak” is an excellent climb just 0.5 miles southeast of South Guard
, across Longley Pass. Sky Pilots
comprise a species (eximium) of the lovely Polemonium, and scattered bunches of these purple flowers grace the high reaches of most Sierra summits.
The highest point in the MOUNT BREWER, CA USGS 10 meter Digital Elevation Model near this summit is 3962 meters (approximately 12998.7 feet). On 3 September 2009, a clear day in stable weather, I set my altimeter to 13,224' while atop South Guard, then climbed "Sky Pilot Peak" and measured the latter summit elevation as 13,012'. My friend did the same and got 13,003'. Using the spot elevation of 4033 meters published on the new Mt. Brewer USGS Quadrangle for South Guard instead (approximately 13231.6 feet) results in an elevation for "Sky Pilot Peak" above 13,010', suggesting that it may well be a California Thirteener
. Although a barometric altimeter is hardly reliable for such a precise measurement, those interested in completing the Thirteeners really ought to climb this peak.
Getting ThereThe Bad News:
It would be very difficult to day hike this peak. The nearest trailhead is nearly 20 miles away and 8000 feet below.
The Good News:
This is an excellent excuse to camp at Lake Reflection.
Take Highway 180 (Kings Canyon Highway) to its very end, about 92 miles east of Fresno. Pick up your permit at the Woods Creek Trailhead, go 2 miles up that trail, and then continue for another 8.5 miles to Junction Meadow. Turn right onto the East Lake Trail, cross Bubbs Creek (you can do this in bare feet in late season, but it may be more difficult/dangerous in early season), continue for another 3 miles to lovely East Lake, and then climb the final 2 miles to breathtaking Lake Reflection.
Follow the use trail along the northwest side of Lake Reflection, then stay on the benches and slabs above the northwest side of the Lake 3496m drainage, pass this lake on its north side and then follow the use trail that materializes below Longley Pass. There is usually a snow barrier just below the top of the pass which becomes hard ice in late season. The class 3 rocks just to its right are not particularly difficult, however.
Approach the (class 3) northwest slopes from Longley Pass, then climb them to an obvious notch in the top of the Southwest Ridge. Pass through this notch, descend 50-100 feet, and then follow the easier upper southwest slopes to the summit.
I highly recommend R. J. Secor’s The High Sierra, Peaks Passes & Trails
(now in its third edition). This is the definitive climbing guide to the Sierra and was the source for many of the details on my SummitPost pages.
Like most places in the Sierra, you need a Wilderness Permit for overnight camping in the summer. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to get a permit for the Bubbs Creek Trail, as more people seem to do the "Rae Lakes Loop" clockwise.
Although you’ll actually be starting your hike on the Woods Creek Trail, the Sequoia Rangers refer to the quota for this approach as "Bubbs Creek (Rae Lakes Loop counter-clockwise)".
There is an excellent campsite just south of Bubbs Creek in Junction Meadow. Follow the East Lake Trail across the stream and then look for a side trail leading off to the right through a gap in a large log. There is a bear box, a good fire ring, easy creek access, and plenty of reasonably flat soft ground.
Lake Reflection is the perfect base of operations for climbing the many California Thirteeners
at the north end of the Great Western Divide and the western Kings-Kern Divide. R. J. Secor
refers to Reflection as "one of the most beautiful lakes in the High Sierra". I enthusiastically agree. In addition to the stunning (reflected) views of the Kings-Kern Divide, cliffs with ledges seemingly designed for the enjoyment of bold jumpers are easily accessible from the campsites on the north side of the lake (and south of the small outlet pond). Combine a sunny rest day with an afternoon/evening move up to a bivouac for a positively magical High Sierra experience.
Although Longley Pass can be reached directly from Lake Reflection, Lake 3496m provides an obvious bivouac option. There are wonderful sites on its northeast side with their own stunning views.