Ascent of Homers Nose on 2019-03-31

Climber: Rafee Memon

Others in Party:AJ Kaufmann -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, March 31, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Homers Nose
    Elevation:9023 ft / 2750 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was sitting by a swimming pool in Singapore when AJ forwarded me an email with some beginner ski touring info. I agreed to make it for a first ski tour sometime before the endless season ends, but perhaps a bit selfishly my mind was more focused on my next opportunity to bag an SPS peak. I suggested we hike something weird, and Homers Nose fit the bill pretty perfectly. The trailhead at South Fork Campground was low and accessible early season, and the bugs wouldn't be an issue compared to the heat of the summer. I was also hopeful that the notorious poison oak would be minimal. However, the infamous bushwhacking isn't seasonal, and it was certain to be one of my toughest days in the Sierra. AJ agreed to join me, and we decided to go the next weekend that I'd be back in town. I planned to snowshoe while AJ would be on skis.

On Saturday evening, I drove from the Bay to Visalia as the first stepping stone of the journey. The drive over Pacheco Pass was quite enjoyable: the hills were a vibrant green, and the San Luis Reservoir was the most full I'd seen in my seven years in the Bay, no bathtub rings in sight. I met AJ at Brewbakers Brewing to catch up over food and drinks. After we left, two different employees ran to find us to give us things we'd forgotten -- some service! We stopped by a gas station that had confoundingly cheap gas and finished the drive to the South Fork Campground. The dirt road was washboarded and rutted in many spots, but it was nothing that my low clearance car couldn't handle. We were surprised to find the campground nearly full, but we found an empty campsite to park our cars and pass out for the night. Armed with Steve Eckert's waypoints and a couple recent GPS tracks, we expected the trip to take 12-13 hours, so we set our alarms for 6:15am -- a notably unalpine start.

It was a pretty chilly night, and I started my car to run the heat as soon as my alarm went off. By now I should've learned my lesson to bring a sleeping bag and not just sweats. I made tea with hot water I got from the gas station (still hot!) and we packed our bags before driving up the road to the trailhead. We took a starting photo and started up the trail at 7:15am. As we were caught up in conversation, we walked right by the turnoff to Pigeon Creek, which we hoped was not a sign of how the day would go navigationally.

We ascended Pigeon Creek by working our way through a combination of grassy slopes, boulders, and climbing directly up the guts of waterfalls. We kept on a vigilant lookout for poison oak, and we constantly reminded each other to make sure we didn't forget. We were somewhat perplexed that we couldn't find a single plant. We questioned our identification skills, but since AJ found copious poison oak on his hike the previous day, I trusted his judgement. We began to wonder if the poison oak was just a myth that was perpetuated to keep unknowing hikers from attempting the peak, but I half expected to wake up the next morning with rashes all over my legs.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, it illuminated some of the prettiest scenery I've seen so far in the Sierra. After topping out of the waterfall section, we found ourselves in a picturesque forested meadow. We found what appeared to be an old wooden raft with years of moss collecting on it. It was at this point that the absurdity of the situation struck me: we had skis and snowshoes strapped to our backs with still some 2,500 feet of climbing and bushwhacking to do before reaching the snow (although we were unaware of the snow level at the time).

We left the meadow and ascended up a steep slope towards a grassy ridge that we knew existed above us. This was the first time of the day (but surely not the last) that we were forced to fumble through thick brush to find a way upwards. It was both frustrating and amusing to fight through branches with our snowshoes and skis. Reaching the grass, we were rewarded with our first view of Homers Nose of the day, deceptively close but still many hours away. AJ mentioned that he wanted to ski down the grass on the return, which I took to be a joke until he started pointing out the exact line that he would take. I began to question what I was getting myself into agreeing to go on a ski tour with him!

The brush was somewhat light as we navigated up the ridge to the manzanita traverse, the finding of which I took to be the most critical part of the journey. It took a little bit of time, but we found it after realizing we were contouring too high and downclimbed briefly. The manzanitas grew thickly on both sides, and I was sure glad that I wasn't trying to fight directly through them. The middle of the traverse followed a blasted path through the cliffs, and we even found a few iron rods. I was a bit sad that the trail was allowed to fall into such disrepair, but, despite its importance for reaching our target of the day, it doesn't lead anywhere interesting.

After exiting the traverse, the trail rapidly deteriorated as we worked our way over countless downed trees towards Surprise Camp, which we reached at 11:45am. There was no evidence of a camp, but we found a rock to relax on, have a snack, and plan the rest of the day. Our progress was slow, and if we wanted to summit, we would surely be returning well after dark. We decided to set a turnaround time of 4:00pm to ensure that we could at least make it through the manzanita traverse before dark.

We continued above Surprise Camp and eventually reached the snow level around 6,700 feet. We postholed through the snow until AJ stopped to put on his ski gear a few hundred feet later. I initially resisted putting on my showshoes thinking that the postholing wasn't that bad, but I realized that was stupid and put them on since I brought them the whole way to this point. Aside from a couple snow-free chutes we needed to navigate, the climbing became very enjoyable, and for the first time all day we felt that we were making good progress. I was able to take more direct routes up the snow than AJ, but I knew that I was toast on the descent. Somewhere on the ascent, my pole baskets became loose. We attempted to repair them with duct tape, but although they didn't hold up for long, it wasn't a big deal on a trip like this.

I reached the summit at 3:53pm, a few minutes before AJ and our turnaround time. The views were fantastic and expansive, the highlight of which being the rugged Kaweah Ridge to the northeast. We were very obviously standing on the high point, but surprisingly, the next point over was marked as the Homers Nose summit on the USGS map and my watch GPS. Not wanting to take any chances (and not eager to come back), I made the quick walk over to the other point while AJ rested, and then got a head start on the descent to waste as little time as possible. I had a few fun standing glissades in my snowshoes, but it wasn't long before AJ caught up to me on skis.

We followed the snow as low as we could, taking a different path than our ascent into a much steeper area. We eventually reached a point where we needed to take our snow equipment off and make a few risky downclimbing moves made more difficult by our baggage. We followed the drainage towards Surprise Camp, stopping just above it around 6:30pm to snack and fill up on water. We were still on track to finish the manzanita traverse just before dark, so we continued on as quickly as we could.

We needed our headlamps by the time we finished the traverse, and despite finding a good trail along the ridge that we had missed on the ascent, we had difficulty bushwhacking our way to the grassy slope. We dropped the whole way to Pigeon Creek and worked our way back to the meadow, and then to the waterfalls. Just when we had finally grown sick of the waterfalls, we were back on the trial, and shortly thereafter back at the parking lot at 10:52pm. Even though we knew that it was going to be a tough day, I don't think either of us expected it to be the 15.5-hour epic that it turned out to be. I was most thankful that I bagged the peak and that I would not need to come back anytime soon.

Despite being thoroughly exhausted both physically and mentally, I was determined to get back to the Bay before morning to avoid rush hour and make it to work. We had a few snacks and packed our cars, and I threw out my ripped hiking pants before following AJ down the dirt road back to civilization. Except for one other car that had arrived at the trailhead during the day, the campground was deserted. Near Visalia, AJ messaged me that he'd be sleeping there for the night. As he exited the highway, I flashed my high beams in farewell just in time to see him hit a possum. I managed to make it to Route 152 before needing to pull over on a farm road for a nap. I slept soundly for an hour and a half and finished the drive, catching the very beginnings of Monday traffic through San Jose as I arrived at my apartment at 5:00am. I showered and slept for four more hours before heading into work just in time to get breakfast.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Homers Brow from Homers Nose (2019-03-31). Photo by Rafee Memon.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6529 ft / 1989 m
    Extra Gain:588 ft / 179 m
    Trailhead:South Fork Trailhead  3670 ft / 1118 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Ski Poles, Snowshoes
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 38 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 50 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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