Mount Wynne is a 13,179-foot (4,017-meter) peak located in the Sierra Nevada of California. It is a massive pyramid of dark metamorphic rock standing on the east side of Pinchot Pass, one of the highest points along the entire Pacific Crest Trail. It is seen by hundreds of thru-hikers every day as they make their way up and over the pass, but the summit only sees a handful of ascents per year.
The west ridge is a line of broken metamorphic rock that rises one-thousand vertical feet directly east from Pinchot Pass. Several class-4 gendarmes must be negotiated if one is to keep purely to the ridge, but deviations from the crest keep the grade below class-3.
SUMMARY: I climbed Mount Wynne with Giselle and Max in late June of the year 2015 during our 50-day northward romp along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. After spending some days bagging peaks in the Rae Lakes area, the three of us rejoined the JMT/PCT on its steep descent to the Woods Creek drainage. From the depths of Woods Creek, the trail gains nearly 4,000 feet of elevation over a span of some seven miles on its way up to Pinchot Pass (12,139′). We left our rucksacks at the pass in order to scramble the west ridge of Mount Wynne, keeping to the narrow crest of the ridge in order to maintain maximum thrill factor. With stormclouds gathering to the south, we made a speedy descent of the ridge back to Pinchot Pass and continued northward on the JMT/PCT towards the mighty massifs of the Palisade region.
29 JUNE 2015
We’ve just spent the last few days bagging peaks in the Rae Lakes region, namely Mount Gould, Dragon Peak, Fin Dome, and Mount Cotter. Now we rejoin the Interstate JMT in order to make northward progress. This is one of the most strenuous sections of the JMT: the trail dives more than 2,000 feet down to Woods Creek, only to climb 4,000 feet back up to Pinchot Pass.
Lots of work ahead of us, so we take our task one step at a time. The deep chasm of Woods Creek waits patiently at the bottom of the great slope.
Finishing the 2,000-foot descent, we cross the great suspension bridge over Woods Creek. This is an exciting event for us because this bridge marks Mile 800 of the PCT.
We waste little time at mosquito-infested Woods Creek, promptly starting the arduous 4,000-foot ascent to Pinchot Pass. The JMT here parallels the upper portion of Woods Creek, with spectacular cascades and potholes being actively sculpted out of the crystalline granite. One of the most surreal places in the Sierra Nevada.
Wildlife encounters in this remote part of the Sierra Nevada are commonplace. On numerous occasions we come close to deer, marmots, and other woodland creatures.
Continuing up the Woods Creek drainage, the morphology of the stream changes from sculpted granite pools to lush vegetated channel. The granite itself gives way to metamorphic rock in marvelous shades of red, black and green.
We’ve made about 4 miles of uphill progress along Woods Creek when the sun begins to set. Emerging from the treeline at 11,000 feet, we swivel our heads eastward to observe a rare spectacle of nature. A full rainbow arches from the summit of Mount Cedric Wright across to the glowing crest of Acrodetes Peak, while the bulbous moon hangs in the lavender sky.
The three of us watch this amazing event unfold before our eyes, waiting for the final fading rays of sunlight to signal the end of another memorable day in the high country. We make camp in an alpine meadow and rest for the night.
30 JUNE 2015
We awake in the morning to discover that our alpine meadow provides the vantage for our first view of Mount Wynne, the dark craggy pyramid on the horizon. The PCT crosses Pinchot Pass on the mountain’s west (left from this angle) side, from which point the summit is accessed by the interesting class-3 west ridge.
The crater of Crater Mountain, stained with iron oxides, stands nestled against the mountain’s sawtooth crest, reflected in the myriad of alpine tarns dotting the landscape.
We follow the JMT northward as it threads through the upper Woods Creek drainage towards 12,139-foot Pinchot Pass. The land transitions from subalpine to alpine; we enter the barren High Sierra realm once again.
The target of the John Muir Trail here is 12,139-foot Pinchot Pass, where a half-dozen thru-hikers stoop to rest and enjoy the view. Our target at this point, however, could’t be more clear: the temple-like 13,179-foot summit of Mount Wynne.
Heads bowed earthward, the three of us march up towards the high pass, creaking necks upward from time to time in order to gaze upon the enchanting landscape of red rock and green grass.
The three of us come stomping up the final slope to Pinchot Pass, thighs burning and minds exhausted from seven continuous miles of uphill hiking. The only hiker sitting at the pass at the moment is also the only hiker of African-American ethnicity that we’ve met in 800-plus miles of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
We leave rucksacks at the pass (I pack a daypack with water and journal and pen) and start along the west ridge of Mount Wynne. The mountaineer’s eye naturally traces a direct line up the long spine of crumbled metamorphic rock towards the lofty summit. This is the route that we decide to attempt, vowing to stick earnestly to the crest no matter how steep.
Early on the crest, we encounter a steep headwall with a class-4 path on the right (south) side. Our feet dance across the grainy crystalline rock while a myriad of alpine tarns lies some 2,000 feet directly below.
The west ridge offers creative scrambling and exciting exposure en route to the summit.
From the 13,179-foot summit there are views in every direction. It’s a remote part of the Sierra Nevada not often seen by the average person; I find myself overwhelmed by the sea of mountains of all shapes and of all colours and of all names that nobody knows.
Mount Pinchot, the tallest mountain in the area, stands directly to the north, separated from our own summit by a short but treacherous class-4 ridge.
It’s tempting to continue the traverse to Mount Pinchot, but it’s hard to ignore the dark stormclouds gathering in the south.
Despite the low ceiling of clouds, our southerly views extend all the way to Mount Williamson, (second-tallest mountain in California) and beyond.
The three of us descend the west ridge efficiently, finding ourselves back at our rucksacks on top of Pinchot Pass in less than half an hour. A number of hikers are hanging out at the pass, and one of them says she wants to interview us for her website because she’s heard about our mountain-climbing habits from other hikers on the PCT.
The interview, conducted by a spunky young lady named Backcountry Bombshell, lasts about ten minutes. In response to her questions, we explain our unique method of traveling northward along the actual Pacific crest by means of ridge-scrambling and consistently sleeping above 12,000-feet.
As is customary on the PCT, we trade food items with Backcountry Bombshell and her Ukranian friend Casper before going on our separate ways. Max, Giselle and I skip downhill past the Marjorie Lakes, a strong of glacial tarns coloured brilliantly blue and accented by the bloody mountainsides.
As we descend past the chain of Marjorie Lakes, the towering crest of the Middle Palisade massif looms ever closer on the northern horizon. The Palisades are our next destination for mountain-climbing in the Sierra Nevada.