Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cloudripper and Vagabond Peak

Hiked: 8/22/2015
Distance: 13.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 13525' (Cloudripper), 13374' (Vagabond)
Prominence: 845' (Cloudripper), 334' (Vagabond)
Elevation Gain: 4710'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.76
Round trip time: 10 hours
Recommended water: 200 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at South Lake
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

Cloudripper is the highest peak of the Inconsolable Range in the Eastern Sierra. It towers over the Chocolate Lakes, Thunder and Lightening Lake, and the Big Pine Lakes. It offers arguably some of the best views in the Sierra. Dima and I drove up the day before and got to the trailhead at South Lake around 6:20 AM. There are two trails that head out from the parking lot. At the north end of the lot is the main trail that descends toward Parchers Resort and intesects the Green Lake Trail. On the south end of the lot is a trail that heads north and south. The south trail heads to the Chocolate Lakes and the north trail merges into the main trail, but also offers a shortcut following a pipeline that intersects the Green Lake Trail about 400' higher than the main trail. We took the main trail on the way out and the pipeline shortcut on the way back.

The Green Lake Trail is fairly steep to start, and switchbacks up to Brown Lake before getting to Green Lake. To help deal with the altitude, we set a measured pace. Dima was capable of going faster but hung with me most of the hike. Brown Lake turned out to be nice and we took a few moments for a closer look. About a mile further up was the much larger Green Lake at 11000'. There we met a family that was camping at the lake and their attack dog Lucy. Lucy turned out to be harmless. From Green Lake, Vagabond Peak rose like a spike in the distance and looked quite impressive. To get to Cloudripper, you need to go over Vagabond. We continued around the lake on the trail that climbed to Coyote Ridge. Once we hit the ridge, we followed the trail and tried to figure out where to leave it and head for Vagabond. This is where the difficult part began.

Intersection with the Green Lake trail

First glimpse of Vagabond Peak, farthest peak in view

Reflection in Brown Lake

Green Lake

Vagabond from Coyote Ridge, looking distant and unworkable

After leaving the trail, there are two brutal sections of boulder/scree scrambling. The first is about 500' and gets you to a plateau where you can see the full might of Vagabond. The second is about 700' to get to the summit of Vagabond. I picked a point to tackle the first 500' section while Dima continued over to check out the ridge line. He ended up looping back to my right after the ridge didn't pan out and we met at the top of the first section. We decided to tackle Vagabond by first heading slightly right, then directly to the summit. The direct ascent to Vagabond started as light boulder hopping, but ended in some exposed class 3. Dima got to the summit ahead of me and located the register in a hole on the underside of the summit block. We both signed the register and put it back in the hole. The summit was too exposed to consider a photosphere. Next, we had to find a way to descend about 400' of boulders to the saddle with Cloudripper, then climb another section of boulders to the Cloudripper ridge. There were two ill defined gullies, I followed the right one. Dima started further right on a more rocky section. I think that was probably better, since I skidded around and dislodged both small and large boulders on the way up.

First view of Cloudripper lurking behind Vagabond

Thunder and Lightening Lake, Skyhaven behind

Approaching Vagabond

Looking for the best route to the Vagabond summit

On the summit of Vagabond

The hole in the summit block where the Vagabond register lives

Cloudripper from Vagabond summit

The climb to the Cloudripper ridge led to a false summit, then a class 3 climb up and across a narrow ledge. As with Vagabond, Dima pulled ahead of me, and when I reached the false summit, he was already on top as a group of other climbers were coming down. After the other group cleared the summit, I cautiously made my way over on good rock. The final climb was not overly difficult, but the exposure on both sides was dramatic and unnerving. The summit boasted a newer looking wooden sign and the register was in a shiny metal tube. The views did not disappoint, despite the smoke that still choked the area. The Palisade crest loomed to the south hugged by a few remaining glaciers. Chocolate Peak and the Chocolate Lakes were small and distant. There were giant mountains and beautiful lakes in all directions. We both had some photo malfunctions. I had damaged my camera on the warm up hike the day before and was relying on my phone. My camera app crashed while on the summit and would not load, requiring a reboot. I found out later I lost several pictures. Dima's camera ran out of battery power and he did not get all the pictures he wanted. After taking in the panorama, we started back. We had to reverse the boulder slogs down Cloudripper, back up the Vagabond ridge, saving maybe 100' of gain, back down Vagabond and the other 500' section. It was nice to get back on the trail. We made good time coming down from Green Lake and followed the pipeline shortcut back to the car. The pipeline trail required us to walk on the pipeline more than expected, so it became kind of a balancing act, but saved time and gain on the way back.

Climbing up to the Cloudripper ridge

The summit from near the top of the ridge

Dima on the Cloudripper summit while the other group descends

Palisade Crest from Cloudripper

Big Pine Lakes

Getting near the summit

Summit sign, register tube was under the boulder in front of the sign

Chocolate Peak and Lakes

Looking back at the jagged summit ridge

Dima descending the last cross country section, The Hunchback in the distance

Taking the pipeline shortcut back to South Lake

Dima recovered a partially decomposed marmot skull on the trail, cleaned it up, and named it Rupert

This was only my third trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains. One of those trips was to climb Mt. Whitney. When you see the Sierras, you know these are the E-ticket rides in California. While the physical stats don't match the Whitney main trail, I felt this hike was overall more difficult. Almost half of the trip is cross country where you have to do more than put one foot in front of the other on a trail. Each of these peaks is over 13000' and had class 3 sections, exposed in places. Difficulty is very subjective, but it seemed tougher to me.


  1. Cloudripper..I love that peak name. Wow the smoke from the Rough Fire looks horrid...imagine the views without it. I am looking into Mt Agassiz and Mt Goode in that area for next summer. I agree, having done most of my hiking in So Cal, there is something about the Sierra that makes it harder... dirt/rock quality, XC, altitude, maybe even mental challenges...for me a hill 1000' covered in Chaparral/Oak Scrub looks easier to me mentally than 1000' of alpine rock scrambling. Thanks for the report, hope to see more Sierra trips soon!

    1. Joseph,

      I was bummed about the smoke, but glad we had good weather and a safe trip. Scrambling at altitude is exhausting and takes a toll. While I would love to visit the Sierras more often, one big trip a year is usually all I can manage. Mt Agassiz and Mt Goode are both worthy. Looking forward to your reports.

  2. Looks like a great trip aside from the smoke. We're having a lot of problems with smoke in WA as well which is keeping me inside. I enjoyed your video too. I would comment on the video, however I have been disabled from commenting on YouTube videos or responding to comments on my own videos since I won't join Google+.


    1. Hey Gimpilator!

      I don't get to do very high altitude stuff often so it was a treat. That was eight peaks in a row >10000' and my first two thirteeners. I may not get over 10000' the rest of the year. I get the resistance to G+. I think Google is starting to dismantle parts of it now. Hope you make it back to SoCal next year.