Distance: 20.6 miles
Time: 9 hours or multi-day
Difficulty: See below?
Electric Peak isn’t listed alongside the National Park Service’s more standard fare. It’s a popular move among backcountry hikers to split it into two or three days, but those with neither the skill nor the patience can still knock it out in one. Park at Glenn Creek Trail Head, then take Fawn Pass to Sportsman’s Lake and turn off at the sign for Electric Peak Junction. This leaves you 4.2 miles to go to the summit, and is the last sign you’ll see. Buy a topographical map at the Mammoth visitor’s center or general store first, a more advisable move than, say, taking screenshots of a half-loaded Google map from different angles and scales of zoom, even if this should feel innovative at the time.
You’d think being only a couple of hours removed from losing at bar games would be counterproductive here, and you would be right, but that is not why this all could have gone much worse. The trailhead from my screenshot-map was closed, so it would be a good 6 miles before I was even kind of sure I wasn’t lost, and also maybe trespassing. A thunderstorm was expected to roll in right when I’d be at the peak, assuming I managed to find it; I’d been warned this was something of an issue because the final push to the summit is unmarked (even on maps, the trail doesn’t end at Electric Peak; it just ends, untethered, several inches’ green space short of the actual mountain, a physically disconcerting visual that recalls being lost at sea). But the thing I feared really, almost more than bears, was getting caught breaking the rules in a place I cared about -- as if some miles on a park ranger would peel around the corner in a Jeep, blaring through a bullhorn that I wasn’t just out of bounds, I was also a horrible person.
It’s silly in retrospect, but it took me several minutes standing there at the beginning to realize no such Jeep existed and I could just try it anyway, even if the trail really was closed and it did rain and I did get lost and there were bears. We all acclimate to the invisible confines of our daily lives, to all our actions being regulated and restricted. The nicest moment I had the whole trip was the one when I realized that, as I stood there about to make potentially a very large mistake, I was so physically alone there was no one around to watch me or stop me or care, and that I’d never been quite so free to die stupidly if I wanted to.
There were so many deer! And I saw a pika, and an owl in the daytime. I saw a moose and her calf, right up close, and have been harassing all my friends with the video. I saw the top of a black bear for about 1.5 seconds, and I knew it wasn’t a grizzly but, as a jumpy person who’d already been walking alone through bear country for hours, let me tell you I was fuckin’ ready with that bear spray.
You don’t need special gear or anything, but by the end there's a moment or two when you're truly climbing -- like, with your hands. I left my bag behind for the final hour or so to the top. While I recommend you do this too, I did regret not bringing water once I cleared the peak and found another, larger, peak behind it. There was also another one behind that, then another, a suspiciously endless-looking chain of peaks, and it was then that I realized I didn’t actually know if Electric Peak was ahead or behind or if it was just all Electric Peak, collectively. But I came to a sort of symbolically placed walking stick (which at least meant another person had been there) and simultaneously recovered something close to cell service (which I took to mean I’d crossed over the border into Montana) whereupon I decided this was as close to a sign as I was likely to get and promptly collapsed into a ball to eat some jerky I’d stuffed into my sock.
Electric Peak actually is marked at the summit. I learned this later that evening, when I went by the Super 8 I’d stayed at the night before to let the front desk guy know I was still alive. He congratulated me and proceeded to ask if I’d signed “the book,” causing my heart to drop all the way out of my butt since -- obviously -- no one had ever mentioned any book. We watched the video I’d taken from the top for clues and found none, but at least he confirmed I’d been “in the vicinity.”
Look, had there had been a sign or a map or a human person to say, “Hey, if you keep going 10 minutes this way there’s a book by which we determine whose experience is valid,” of course I would have fucking gone. I'll have none of you take this from me, because I did everything in good faith. I could have said I was sure the first peak was The Peak and pretended to feel cheated when anyone informed me it wasn’t. But I hadn’t been sure, which is why I tried a bunch of other peaks even though I extremely did not want to because hiking is hard and should be done with proper footwear.
“You did good,” Super 8 told me as we watched the video again, like it would be any different, while I mumbled about how was I supposed to know if any of those peaks was Electric Peak.
“Yeah. One of them is, though.”