There's lots to sweat when tackling Kaiser Peak

Rising 10,320 feet above sea level, Kaiser Peak is the centerpiece of the relatively untrodden Kaiser Wilderness with a commanding view of the central Sierra Nevada from its summit.

Sounds great, right? It is, but you'll have to sweat to get there.

Most visitors to the Kaiser Wilderness enter via Potter Pass, Sample Meadow or the Upper Billy Creek trailhead on the west end of Huntington Lake. Few hike directly up Kaiser Peak, and for good reason: It's brutal, requiring 3,200 feet of climbing over 51/2 miles, much of the route exposed to the sun.

So get an early start — and be sure to bring plenty of water.

Beginning near the D&F Pack Station, the trail steepens almost immediately. After 1 mile, pass the junction for the Potter Pass Trail by staying left and (you guessed it) up the hill. More steep switchbacks follow before the trail passes near College Rock, a prominent dome on Kaiser Ridge popular with climbers. The view here, looking straight down at Huntington Lake, is pretty impressive, too.

The trail continues climbing (and climbing) through forests and meadows before reaching timberline at 4.3 miles. Kaiser Peak now looms in the distance.

More switchbacks follow before reaching a short spur trail that leads to the top. Don't worry, you're nearly there.

Upon reaching the summit, the entire central Sierra unfolds before your eyes. Every prominent peak, from Merced to Ritter to Humphreys to Goddard, glistens in the distance. Edison Lake, Huntington Lake and Mammoth Pool are visible, situated in a vast expanse of alpine lakes, granite domes and forested ridges. Allow yourself plenty of time to soak up the surroundings.

There are two options for returning to Huntington Lake. The most direct route is to simply retrace your steps downhill. Hikers with cross-country experience, however, might want to take an unmarked trail that descends a prominent gully to George Lake, then continue to Upper Twin Lake, Potter Pass and finally back to Lakeshore. This option adds some 4 miles (and more climbing) to an already difficult hike.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on July 19, 2006.