Sentinel Peak + Old Guard Peak via Ptarmigan Traverse / 哨兵峯

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak perch above the famous Ptarmigan Traverse through Le Conte Glacier. Climbers often include the latter when making their way through the area. The closeness of the two peaks makes a great short day trip from camp.

Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak from camp
Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak from camp

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Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak at a Glance

Le Conte Slam = Sentinel Peak + Old Guard Peak
伯爵滿貫=哨兵峯+老衛隊峯

Access: Cascade River Road
Round Trip: 32.6 miles
Elevation Range: 2400′-8261′
Gear: helmet, ice ax, crampons
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no pets

July 3-5, 2020

Day 1 – Friday, July 3
Ptarmigan Traverse Southbound (12.7 miles + 2 miles of road walk)
Night 1 – Le Conte-Sentinel Col

Day 2 – Saturday, July 4
Sentinel Peak + Old Guard Peak (3 miles)
Ptarmigan Traverse Northbound (2.8 miles)
Night 2 – Yang Yang Lakes

Day 3 – Sunday, July 5
Ptarmigan Traverse Northbound (10.1 miles + 2 miles of road walk)


Day 1

Ptarmigan Traverse Southbound

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Cascade River Road

Happy Fourth of July! The yellow pup and I came here precisely a year ago. I had hoped that the road conditions on the NCNP website weren’t current. Sadly, they did lock up the gate two miles before the road’s end. Damn.

I slept by milepost 21 on Thursday night below half a dozen vehicles. Then the following day, I began walking at 5:30 AM under a cloudy sky. There were also a handful of hikers getting ready to start their trips.

Roadside attraction
Roadside attraction

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Cascade Pass Trailhead

The two miles plus 1000′ altitude to the trailhead was uneventful but went by in the blink of an eye. There was one large snow patch by the second to the last road bend. But it’s what had kept the road from reopening.

Shortly, I greeted the only person in the parking lot, marveling at Johannesburg Mountain. Small world! He happened to be a Bulger finisher whom I met two years ago. The 3.7-mile hike to Cascade Pass went by fast with Josh’s company,

Snow patch before Cascade Pass
Snow patch before Cascade Pass

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Cascade Pass to Cache Col

The mist hadn’t yet socked in the area like last year. I scanned the route above the pass and saw two people, with much more snow this time. After gearing up, Josh and I bid our farewell, and I went uphill toward Cache Col.

Having had more snow made it quicker through what otherwise would’ve been a rocky path. Before long, I got my first look at Cache Col from the ridge. But this time, dropping off the other side was tricky with cornices.

Cache Glacier and Cache Col
Cache Glacier and Cache Col

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Cache Col to Kool-Aid Lake

Clouds soon swept across the area as I went up Cache Glacier. The two distinct tracks from other parties sped up the walking. Soon, cornices on the pass had forced me to go up via a loose rock ramp from the east.

Visibility on the col was eerily similar to last year with no views. So I followed the existing tracks down the steep slope to Kool-Aid Lake. Even in crampons, I slid left and right but soon made my way to the snowy pond.

Kool-Aid Lake under the snow
Kool-Aid Lake under the snow

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Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Red Ledge

Glad I’ve been through this area twice and right away spotted the crux–Red Ledge. As I walked up to the ramp below Arts Knoll, I noticed three climbers going up the steep snow. More snow here had made it even more sketchy.

Above the ledge, I went up the steep snow I saw from below. Groups before us made firm steps, so we only needed to avoid slipping off the steep incline past the gully. I was extra mindful of my foot placement as well.

Climbers exiting the Red Ledge
Climbers exiting the Red Ledge

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Middle Cascade Glacier

Shortly, I caught up to the three climbers as views improved, but clouds stayed on Mount Formidable. We continued on the beaten path through Arts Knoll’s west slopes. Soon, we reached the Middle Cascade Glacier’s north end.

It soon drizzled as I said goodbye to the men and made my way up the glacier. By now, visibility had reduced to only a few feet before me. But many thanks to the other groups digging out steps through this part.

Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Formidable-Spider Col
Formidable-Spider Col south view

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Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Yang Yang Lakes

By the time I reached Formidable-Spider Col, I could barely make out the walls on either side. But I kept my head down and focused on the tracks. Then without stopping, I continued down the south side.

Wow, what terrible weather! If it weren’t for the boot paths, I would’ve kept checking my GPS. As I dropped below 6600′, views to Flat Creek Valley slowly expanded. Soon, the serene Yang Yang Lakes came into view below the hills.

Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Yang Yang Lakes
Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Yang Yang Lakes

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Bypassing Le Conte Mountain

I walked past the snowy upper lake and saw the tracks had ended here. As I rested by the lower lake, I spotted the access gully to the southwest. Afterward, I went steeply through the snow ramp from 6400′ to 6600′.

I went down to the 6450′ saddle and up toward Le Conte Mountain in the mists. Meanwhile, I stayed west of the crest over mild terrain. From the flat area at 7000′, I slowly dropped to 6600′ and aimed at the middle peak’s northeast buttress.

Flat Creek Valley
Flat Creek Valley

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Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Le Conte Glacier

Views to Flat Creek Valley opened up as I neared the northwest end of the glacier at 6600′. Then it was steep for the next 200′ as I went up in zero visibility. So I moved very slowly while hugging the south peak’s headwall.

At one point, dense mists had forced me to stop altogether. Then I restarted when I could once again see the crevasses to the east. My goal was to reach Le Conte-Sentinel saddle today should the lousy weather persist the next day.

Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Le Conte Glacier
Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak via Le Conte Glacier

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Le Conte-Sentinel Col

I reached the 7300′ col north of the two peaks four hours after leaving Yang Yang Lakes. Then I found dry bivvy sites along the pass, with the highest one big enough for my solo tent. Glad I didn’t need to spend energy digging out a spot.

Clouds to the west slowly dissipated in the evening. I saw many unfamiliar high points other than Spire Point before they faded into the mist. The one bird that paid a short visit was my only animal sighting today.

Campsite below Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak
Campsite below Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak

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Day 2

Sentinel Peak + Old Guard Peak

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

A Late Start on Sentinel Peak

I woke up at 5 AM the next day to yet another cloudy morning. I couldn’t see much outside the tent, so I went back to sleep. Even a few hours later, the view still didn’t improve one bit as I made breakfast and waited.

Three climbers came up to the pass at 11. They had stayed at Yang Yang Lakes the night before and saw me going up the access gully. Then this morning, they took the same way and followed my tracks here.

The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers

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Sentinel Peak Climb

The guys went on their traverse after a long chat. I left shortly in their tracks down to the southwest of Sentinel Peak. Then I ascended the snowfield along the wall and looked for a spot to go up on the ridge.

Luckily, I found a steep snow ramp at 7400′ and went two-thirds up before moving onto a ledge. Above it, I climbed a quick, low 5th class steps into a gully. Afterward, I was on the west ridge and walked 600′ up to the windy summit.

Sentinel Peak's west ridge
Sentinel Peak’s west ridge

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Sentinel Peak Summit Plus Outro

There wasn’t much to see, not even of Old Guard Peak next door. I left the top after a quick bite and dropped lower on the ridge to 7500′. Then I went around to the south onto the snow ramp, faced in and down the steep slope.

Back at my tracks, in the distant south, I saw the three men I met by the Red Ledge. They had spent the night at Yang Yang Lakes and looked on track for White Rock Lakes today. Soon, I headed back toward camp.

Sentinel Peak east ridge
Sentinel Peak east ridge

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Old Guard Peak Climb

Before reaching camp, I made a beeline up the moderate snow to 7400′. Then from the notch, I went onto Le Conte Glacier’s southwest edge. It was once again misty, so I stayed close to Sentinel Peak’s northeast slope.

I saw the snow slope on Old Guard Peak’s northwest side through clouds. But before I continued, I peeked behind the snowbank on the saddle, and it looked vertical! Afterward, I climbed up the ramp briefly before going onto the rocks.

Snow ramp on Old Guard Peak
Snow ramp on Old Guard Peak

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Old Guard Peak Summit Plus Outro

As other reports mentioned, it’s a class 3, straightforward rock scramble. En route, I bypassed a few wet places from the snowmelt. Before I reached the top, the sky showed some blue but went cloudy again.

I stayed longer this time because the clouds had shifted earlier. So I waited to see Sentinel Peak next door, but the mists never budged. However, I got a glimpse of the peak, plus Le Conte Glacier on the way down.

Northeast view
Northeast view

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Back to Yang Yang Lakes

Before long, I was back at the snow, and then I reached camp shortly. I had thought about chilling here another night but decided to go as far out as possible. Then I’d have a relaxing exit on day three.

It took two hours to go back to Yang Yang Lakes. There was a lone tent on the lower lake’s south end, so I camped on the opposite side. Then I enjoyed the rest of the peaceful, moonlit evening before bed.

Evening flow at Yang Yang Lakes
Evening flow at Yang Yang Lakes

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Day 3

Exit

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Northbound Exit

Despite lousy weather, the final day was glorious! It was the farthest south I’d been on the traverse. So far, I’ve come from the north three times and the south twice. To think I had camped at the halfway point made me want to continue. Alas, another time!

Now I’m missing the part from Sentinel Peak to Spire Col. If I were ever to return, I’d traverse without climbing peaks in decent weather. Back on Cascade Pass, I chatted with some day hikers before the 6-mile uneventful hike to the gate.

One final view of Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak
One final view of Sentinel Peak and Old Guard Peak

See more trip photos here.

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

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