Sonora Peak, Stanislaus National Forest: Sweeping Views on Sonora Pass
What came first: Sonora Pass, Sonora Peak, or the City of Sonora? Apparently the mining town of Sonora was the first place to obtain the name of ‘Sonora’ in the area. It was named after the Sonora Desert by early Mexican pioneers. I can see how the two may seem similar during the hot dry summer.
Latter the Bartleson-Bidwell Party was the first settler party credited to have crossed Sonora Pass, although thanks to the less than perfect documentation of early explorers it may have been any number of other early pioneers. No matter who crossed it, Sonora Pass wasn’t an easy route over the Sierra. Actually while visiting Relief Reservoir the day before we had been visiting the location of the early pioneer’s ‘Relief Camp’ that offered welcomed rest after the trying passage over the Sierra. From this rough wagon route the pass evolved into the Mono-Sonora Toll Road in 1864, and then into the highway we know today.
Sonora Peak, a prominent peak located along Sonora Pass, was the last to be (rather un-originally) named. Lucky the weather on Sonora Peak is rarely similar to that of the Sonoran Desert. I sure don’t want to climb up a peak at 102 degrees!
Hiking Sonora Peak, Carson Iceberg Wilderness
Trailhead: The trailhead is located on Highway 108 less than a mile west of Sonora Pass. When we visited there wasn’t a sign directly off of the highway. Instead look for the short, passenger car unfriendly, parking area at the trailhead on the North side of highway and then a small, more passenger car friendly, parking area just south on the highway. We parked at the south parking area to save the car from scraping bottom against the rocks. Map.
Distance: about 6 miles round trip. 1.75 miles straight up the official St Mary’s Pass trail, then 1.25-ish miles off trail over a plateau and, once again, straight up Sonora Peak. 2200 ft elevation gain to the peak, minimal on the return.
Starting the hike from St Mary’s pass you get some great views of Sonora Peak on the right side of the trail. Enjoy this wooded gentle climb as the path then quickly bee lines up some slippery steep slopes and to the wilderness boundary. Really the whole trail seems to have been routed off of the footprints of those who chose the most direct route to the saddle, which is incidentally not usually the best choice. The St Mary’s Pass Trail is steep and marred by erosion, I hope the Forest Service might someday give this beautiful high sierra trail a little TLC.
Oddly, St Mary’s Pass Trail dead ends at the Carson Iceberg Wilderness boundary. It is a nice vista at the top here, but it seems pretty clear that many hikers know to continue on to either bag Stanislaus or Sonora Peaks. We took the right most use trail, following it to wind swept flat. The trail disappears at the flat, where you must then follow the cairns/Sonora Peak to the base of the mountain where the trail begins again. This final accent is even steeper and more slippery then St Mary’s Pass (more of a problem on the way down, as you rock-glissade down the trail)… but it does quickly plop you onto the top of the peak.
We saw about a half dozen hikers coming back from Sonora Peak on a prime hiking Sunday in late July. At the summit we had the views of Leavitt Peak, Stanislaus Peak, and all those surrounding mountains all to ourselves. Pretty nice lunch spot if you ask me. Just remember the hiking poles next time…
More photos in the Gallery Below: