While the crowds flooded Yosemite and other National Parks this labor day weekend, I had my eyes set on a beautiful piece land that falls under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) called Coyote Flats in the Easter Sierras outside of Bishop California.
We started in the desert, drove up an amazing dirt road to a mountain plateau, drove through the forest and came out with an amazing view of the eastern Sierra Nevadas.
A couple weeks ago I drove out to Anza Borrego desert with some friends to go check out the Perseids Meteor shower. I knew it was summer and the desert would be hot but, I figured if we got there after the sun went down maybe it would be cool enough to enjoy the show in the sky. Unfortunately at 10pm it was 110 degrees outside…. I needed a place in the mountains to go enjoy the outdoors before the summer was over and that was when I stumbled on this article from Outside Magazine about a place called Coyote Flats.
After conducting my own research and building my maps to print, I noticed there were two 13,000ft peaks nearby; Vagabond and Cloudripper.
In the map below, the red line is where we drove my Jeep Wrangler and the blue line is all the hiking we accomplished. Our two campsites are also marked on the map below.
The trip started after work on Friday, and I did not want to drive up a new trail in the middle of the night. We stopped about an hour south of Bishop at Alabama Hills near the base of Mt Whitney. I have camped there once before, the night before I started the High Sierra Trail. You can read a little more about Alabama Hills in my Mt Whitney Logistics blog post.
Alabama Hills was just as beautiful as the last time I was there, and my buddy who was with me got a little night climb in.
I was worried on labor day weekend that it would be hard to find a spot at Alabama Hills but it was fairly quite.
In the morning we woke up and I took a few sunrise climbing pictures of my friend climbing.
After the quick morning bouldering session we were off on the road and heading north toward Bishop California.
After just under an hour of driving we arrived in Bishop California. We topped off the gas tank in my Jeep and drove to the start of the trail.
As you follow the dirt trail from the sandy desert and look right, you see the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, a stark contrast to the desert in the foreground. Our destination looks beautiful and we can not wait to get there!
The ride starts out very smooth, typical easy sandy dirt trail. At times the sand got soft and a little deep, and then the trail gets steep with minefields of sharp rocks. There was even one really random section that was partly paved…. still not sure why that was there. AS you slowly climb the scenery slowly begins to change and you start to drive through small pockets of forest.
As the climb slowly begins to end you emerge on a beautiful mountain plateau. Despite there being patches of very rocky and even some pretty difficult off road driving, the trails up here on Coyote Flats are beautifully maintained. Almost of the roads of sign posts and if you have a decent set of maps with the “road” names labeled navigation is really easy. We did not have to use GPS once while driving up on Coyote Flats, just our paper maps.
After driving through the meadows of the plateau we drove up and over Coyote Ridge on the way to our destination for our first day and were awe struck by our first up close view of the sierras!
We were on road “31E303” heading toward its end point. This was the first spot on the drive where we really got out and walked around and just took all the views in. At this point we were at about 11,400ft in altitude and it was startign to hit both me and my buddy. We both live at sea level right near the beach so driving up into the Sierras was interesting because you do not have the slow climb of hiking to help you acclimate. It was also at this spot we met an awesome group, who had driven ATVs up, and we made some new friends in the mountains.
After mounting back in the Jeep and heading toward the end of the road we were taken aback by another breathtaking view of Green Lake and the peak of Vagabound in the distance standing at 13,374ft. Vagabond would be the first of the two peaks we climbed on our second day in the Sierras.
After taking in the views again, we heard some activity coming over the ridge we just drove down, and we saw our new friends catching up in their ATVs.
Our new found friends were having a picnic at the end of the trail with the view over Green Lake. As they were setting up they asked us if we had ever driven quads around, and with our answering being “no” they graciously offered us lessons and keys to their personal quads and let us take them for a quick spin through the Sierras while they ate lunch. To this day I am always amazed by the amazing and nice people I have met out in the Sierras.
After our fun with the quads (Which we will forever be appreciative of) we decided where we were parked at the end of the trail was a little exposed for our liking for camping We decided to take dinner, our sleep systems and a little bit of water and hike down to Green Lake to spend the night.
While setting up camp, it was still fairly early in the day. We discussed going to bed early and waking up at midnight to try and catch sunrise atop Vagabond or Cloudripper. We ended up deciding against it and instead decided to explore the area around Green Lake and get a good nights rest. The reason for the decision was to allow our bodies a little more time to acclimate since we drove up pretty quickly to 11k feet and would be climbing to 13k plus feet in the morning. Overall I am very happy we made that decision, and I ended up feeling very strong on our hike the next day.
After exploring around the lake and finally starting to adjust to the altitude, we ate dinner and got ready to watch an amazing sunset by the lake.
Our plan of r the morning was to wake up around sunrise, pack up camp and hike out back to my Jeep. At the Jeep we would eat a quick dry meal and re-pack our packs for the hike up Vagabond and Cloudriper. We packed snacks, water and warming layers and left our sleep systems back in the Jeep.
When we woke up and were packing we heard an enormous rock slide, and could hear boulders falling for a good 30-45 seconds. We could not see the fall as it sounded like it was around the bend but it was a good reminder to stay sharp while climbing.
Later in the day we think we spotted where the fall was. There was still some snow pockets all over the peaks and we believe the fall was a result of snow melt.
There is a short section of trail from Green Lake that heads toward Vagabond. Eventually you cut off it and the rest of the hike is all your own route finding. We traced out our own switchbacks as we hiked up, since we still were probably not 100% acclimated to the altitude. Most of the hike was loos rock, and the rocks got larger as you approached the peak.
AS we hiked, we did come across a few snow fields, the first couple were not on crazy steep inclines but due to the fall we heard in the morning, we kept clear and made our routes not go under any snow fields.
Looking back over some of the terrain we hiked while we catch our breadth and a few pictures, you can see my Jeep as a little speck way back in the distance. I was able to see my Jeep all the way up Vagabond and only lost sight of it while we went down and up Cloudripper.
The route up toward Vagabond as we get closer:
As you near the summit of Vagabond, you have to use your hands for the scramble more and more. The view the top was amazing, but your eyes are drawn across the way to Cloudripper, the higher of the two peaks. After checking out the views on Vagabond we looked over at Cloudripper to plan our route up, trying to avoid being under the snow patches.
When we got to the bottom of the saddle in between Vegabond and Cloudripper we planned this general route up toward the top of Cloudripper.
As you near the peak of Vagabond the ridge line gets thin and rocky, and there were a couple of interesting scrambles to get to the peak. Right before the final push to the peak I stopped for a picture and to catch my breadth. You can see the Palisades Glacier off in the distance behind me.
My friend getting over the final scramble up the summit:
On the way back down I did not take to many pictures, a quick storm popped up and it started to rain on us pretty good. It was moving really fast so we did not get soaked, but I packed my camera back into my pack.
To get back to our start point we would have to go down Cloudripper then back up Vagabond. On the way back up Vagabond we stayed toward the left side as it is a little lower in elevation there. We made it back safely, stuffed our faces full of food then headed toward funnel lake which was where we wanted to camp for the last night in the Sierras.
Road “32E308” was a crazy drive, crazy rocky and took an enormous amount of concentration to drive. My non-lifted jeep made it with out getting stuck and without popping any tires. We took and slow and planned each movement. After all that hard work there was already two groups at funnel lake so we continued on and found a nice meadow on the plateau. We ate dinner and slept, I woke up early to take a few pictures of the sun rise before we drove out of the Sierras and ended a dream trip.