Gaylor Peak is a 11,004-foot (3,354-meter) peak located in the Sierra Nevada of California. Though small in elevation compared to the major peaks of Yosemite National Park, it is significant because of its steep rise above Tioga Pass. Its stark ridgeline of bright red metamorphic rock is a prominent feature seen along highway-120 as visitors drive in to the park, and the east side of the peak is adorned with glittering alpine lakes. Some geologists (Schweickert and Lahren, 1999) have suggested that the east wall of the mountain is actually the wall of an ancient caldera that might have been active during the Triassic period.
This peak is most easily climbed via the main ridge that runs directly north-to-south through the summit. The difficulty of the south ridge is class-2, while the north ridge contains a 100-foot section of blocky class-3 climbing.
SUMMARY: I climbed Gaylor Peak with Giselle and Max in mid July of the year 2015, as part of a geologic mapping project for my Masters thesis at Northern Arizona University. For this six-day assignment, I was fortunate enough to have Max and Giselle as field assistants. The ascent of Gaylor Peak took place on the final day of this journey; afterward, the three of us hitchhiked into Tuolumne Meadows and began hiking back to the town of Mammoth Lakes.
18 July, 2015
Six full days of geologic mapping have effectively filled our brains to maximum capacity, and we’re excited to get back to the highway and put the notebooks away for a couple days. But we must remain diligent in our studies, and therefore we continue to zigzag across the alpine tundra.
Approaching the Great Sierra Mine, we begin to notice a distinct red pyramid rising on the near horizon and infer from our topographic map that this is Gaylor Peak. The geologic contact between the grey ash-flow tuff unit and the red conglomerate unit is unmistakable. Below the mountain lie the two Gaylor Lakes, glittering in the afternoon sunlight.
Tourists at the Great Sierra Mine are astonished that we have been in the backcountry for so many days, and curious as to whether or not we would be able to locate any gold veins remaining in the area. In a hushed tone I tell the kids to look for quartz crystals and there might be gold nearby, and they scamper off in youthful excitement.
When we get to the saddle below Gaylor Peak, the three of us drop our packs and begin scrambling up toward the summit.
Wrapping around to the north side of the peak, we discover a wide ramp of class-3 blocks that presumably leads up to the summit. The short section of exposed climbing gives an element of thrill to our little scramble. Down by the lakes, the tourists gawk upward at us in bewilderment.
In hardly any time at all, we step onto the 11,004-foot summit. After yodeling down to our spectators and hearing their echoing responses, the three of us sit and take in the panorama. The position of the peak in the center of a vast alpine landscape is enhanced by the fact that we are not the highest point in the area. We find ourselves amazed by our height, but more so in awe of the taller mountains around us.
The glaciated nunataks of the Cathedral Range beckon us further into the wonderland of Yosemite National Park, but that will have to wait until we have descended that mountain and can catch a ride!
We descend from the summit via the same (north) ridge so that we can map the northeast aspect of the peak down to highway-120. Long rays of late-day sunlight grace the colourful landscape all around us, but we soon dip into the shadow of the peak. The temperature begins to drop as we make our way down to the road and wait for a ride.
After more than an hour waiting by the side of the highway, we manage to catch a ride into Tuolumne Meadows with a group of rowdy camp-counselors. Tourists gawk at a grazing herd of deer in the tranquil meadows as the sun paints the landscape pink.