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 anywhere, and the best I've seen outside of Mount St. Helens. 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.
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.
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.
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.