Off Trail to the Cleaver Notch

View from the Cleaver Notch

Sometimes I can get too caught up in the details of a climb or mountain or canyon. The more details there are, the more you can obsess over them to try to figure out exactly what the experience might be. With the Inyo National Forest closure from Aug. 31 – Sept. 17th due to the fires in California, most of my backyard and frequented places were not accessible. Therefore, I found a random, non SPS (Sierra Peak Section) peak in the only National Forest open (Humboldt-Toiyabe) and decided to just go for the journey.

The route up Blacksmith Peak goes through a feature called the Cleaver Notch which is a break in this massive headwall-ridge. To reach the notch alone required 2.5 miles of trail, 3 miles off trail and 4,500 ft of elevation gain on scree (mostly), talus, boulders and even some bushwhacking. In all it took us 9 hours car-car to the Cleaver Notch. Why didn’t we go up Blacksmith Peak? Well we ran out of time, went slower on scree traverses than expected and really it didn’t matter to me. I was there for good views and the off trail experience.

Following this map, the first challenge was crossing some moderate bushwhacking across the creek to reach a talus/scree field.

A short section of plants and trees to reach the rock.

Here we gained a lot of elevation and began traversing underneath the rock headwalls of the Cleaver Ridge. However, we got too high and ended up doing a long traverse across steep, loose scree for a quarter mile before crossing a decent talus field and then reaching some trees.

What most of the day looked like. Can you find the people?

From the trees we wound up on a boulder field to reach the notch. The notch looks dramatic from afar, but is pretty tame up close. It required some climbing moves so I’d say its Class 4, although the Summit Post said it was Class 3.

The notch (center)
Climbing down the notch

Over the notch we had a look at Blacksmith Peak and the notch to gain it was full of compacted, sun pounded ice. There was a way to stay to the climber’s right of the notch and avoid most of it, but it also kinda looked like a speedy rock chute. Regardless, we had an hour until our turn around time of 2pm and decided we couldn’t make this second notch by then so we sauntered back to reverse the route.

Blacksmith Peak with its notch to the right (center).

This day trip was a great experience of what true off trail, cross country, back country is all about. No one does this mountain, there was no faint climber’s trail. It was just us figuring out where to go in terrain which was unmolested. It was a great, hot, sunny day out where I was excited just for views, not some objective to gain or accomplish. I was there for the journey and not the destination, but the destination is what got me out.

A huge beautiful pinnacle we saw on our outing.

P.S. If I had to do this again, I’d depart the trail much later. Then ascend from a main talus section to the scree traverse to skip a quarter mile of scree.

The talus field I’d rather have ascended (center and center-right)
The place where the talus field starts as seen from the trail.