Lori aka Scaredy Cat
5.5-6hrs? I scoffed as I started heading down from Yak Peak. Ha. Who gave those time estimates? I’ll be done in 4 hours, and that’s with a 45minute break at the summit! All those hiking sites always over-estimate timings.
Right? Or not. Turns out that 2 hours up, 45minutes at the top, and 3 hours down, puts me right in their time estimate. Here’s hoping that if you’re reading this, you can learn from my mistakes, and NOT take 3 hours to get down, when 1.5hrs should really suffice!
I had attempted to hike Yak Peak back in the Spring, but only made it about half way, as snow and icy conditions got in the way (and made for a whole lotta slips on the way back down).
This time round, jet lag woke me up nice and early on a Saturday morning, and so since I’d been out of the country for a few weeks, busily visiting people, and missing my mountains, I took off for a solo hike (yes, yes, I did let someone know where I was going and what my plan was!).
Parking at the truck stop at Zopkios (same exit as for Needle Peak), I walked East up the off ramp of the highway. Other posts I read said to county 5 lamp posts from when you hit the highway at the start of the off ramp….. I counted 8, and then on your left you should spot a pretty dilapidated traffic cone that marks the start of the trail. It’s pretty overgrown down to where you cross a little stream (which was an awesomely perfect place to cool off at the end of the hike!!), and then head into the forest.
The trail goes up for the first 30min ish, nice and steep to get your heart going right off the bat. A few parts of the trail were blocked with tree fall, but it was always easy enough to find a way around, and though I went off the main path a couple times, always ended up back on the real trail soon enough – just keep heading up!
Breaking out of the trees, you hit a nice little boulder field, with very well-marked cairns showing you the path of least resistance up. The exit is right at the top middle of the boulder field, and then suddenly you’re at the base of the mammoth slab of rock that is Yak Peak! I heard voices as I made my way through the boulders, and at this point, realized they were coming from 3 guys scaling the rock face. Glad I wasn’t taking that way up!
Turning right, the trail skirts along the base of the rock face, and then up along the side of it, over rocks and weaving in and out of some tree patches. This part of the trail is “exposed” as in you can definitely look down and see all the way down to the highway below you, but not exposed in the sense that if you fall you’re going to tumble to your death. It all felt pretty safe, but perhaps not for someone with a fear of heights.
Soon you hit a couple sheer rock sections you get to climb up – one has a nice sturdy rope to help climb, and the other actually has a trail that goes into the trees so you can avoid it if you want to. (On the way down, as you reach this section again, when you hit the sheer rock face and think “wait a second, I have to slide down that???”, look to your right and remember that there is a trail in the trees that gets you around it nice and safe!!). You may be tempted (as the couple in front of me did) to leave your poles behind here, as hands become very handy in the next section of rocks…… but if you can fold your poles up, do so, as they will be very useful further up on your way down!
After a bit of steepness, the trail opens up completely, with no trees left, just lots of rock and little bushes along the ground (wild blueberries!!!!!!). This part of the trail doesn’t look steep, but as you move along it, your legs will make you realize that you are in fact still gaining a good chunk of elevation! Lose rock and pebbles take over here, which is fine on the way up, but coming back down it is NOT as fun, which is where poles would come in quite handy. This was probably the sketchiest part of the trail, with lots of slipping and sliding.
The trail is very easy to follow the whole way along, and brings you to a small col between the false peak (which you were probably thinking, as I was, was the real peak that whole hike up), to you left, and the real summit to your right. Visit both, as neither are very far!! The peak itself is actually HUGE, with lots of rocks and views to explore – and unlike Needle Peak over on the other side of the highway, not many people seem to visit it! The one other couple I saw only went to the false peak, and then I didn’t see anyone else till I was on my way down from the peak….. So I had it all to myself for a good 45 minutes of lunching and lying on a perfect flat rock.
The views at the top were AMAZING!!! A really neat new perspective of Needle Peak, and views out over Alpaca and Vicuna and hundreds of other peaks I couldn’t name.
The trek down, though slippery on the gravel, started off well. I was actually thinking about what I was going to write in this blog post, about how well-marked and easy to follow the trail was, when I suddenly realized I was stuck. I had made my way back to “the” boulder field, or so I thought…..but as I started down it, I soon hit a bunch of trees and brush and forest, which I tried to bushwack down through and across, figuring I must be just off the main boulder field somehow. Eventually I hit another boulder field, and made my way across it, looking for markers, but finding none. That boulder field ended, and I was out in the open, back at the base of the rock face. Not knowing whether I had gone too far, or not far enough. It was getting pretty hot out, and I was feeling pretty tired, as I’d spent the last hour bush-wacking and boulder hopping in the sun. I headed back East-ward, hoping I would see some tape, or recognize part of the trail. I got to the point where I had turned down into the boulder field….cause it looked like a really obvious trail…..just clearly the wrong one! I kept heading back and eventually spotted a guy in the distance, who had gone up after me. I was super relieved and figured I would wait for him and follow him down. BUT In the time it took me to text my friend to let her know I was saved, the guy disappeared!!!! NOOOOOOOOO.
My chance of rescue was lost. Ok, so that’s obviously a bit over dramatic, as I wasn’t really lost. I could see my car this whole time, I just couldn’t figure out how to get down to it! Plus, there were still a good 8hrs of daylight left, AND I had cell service.
I kept following the rock face over in the direction of where the guy was, and then, finally, saw some marking tape! And right there, was a little entrance into the bush that led to THE boulder field!! It can definitely be easily missed if you aren’t really watching for it, and for the marking tape. I built a quick little cairn to hopefully help anyone who may follow in my footsteps. It isn’t a huge one though cause I was really needing to find some shade and so didn’t want to stay any longer than necessary in the sun!
All was nice and easy from there on down, boulders, forest, STREAM and then back to the parking lot.
So without any detours, the trail can be done at a moderate (I was not going fast) pace in 4.5hrs no problem, even with a nice long break at the top. Stats wise, Club Tred tells me the hike is 5.5kms return, with 825m elevation gain, which explains why my quads were feeling sore the next day 😉
I definitely felt like I deserved my nice big Frosty at Wendy’s after this.