Black Mountain P900
Geyser Peak P750 CC
Mahnke Peak P500 CC
Pine Mountain P500
Bummer Peak

Mon, Oct 28, 2013
Etymology
Black Mountain
Geyser Peak
Mahnke Peak
Pine Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 Profiles: 1 2 3 4

On the heels of the previous week's enjoyable outing to the Cache Creek area, I decided to make another foray into Wine Country to tag some more summits. Like the previous trip, I came armed with beta on CC-listed peaks as well as those with 900ft+ of prominence. This time I would explore areas further west, some in the Mayacmas Mountains and others between US101 and the coast. For the first day, I would explore an area known as The Geysers in the southern part of the Mayacmas. The name is a misnomer as there are no actual geysers, just superheated steam. While it doesn't provide the excitement of Old Faithful, the steam is ideal for power generation and much of the area has been developed by the Calpine corporation for geothermal energy. The plants can be seen from many vantage points with their steam rising from buildings at a number of locations across the landscape.

I had driven north from San Jose the previous evening and spent the night parked at an overlook off Geysers Rd above Alexander Valley and Healdsburg. Sometime after midnight I was awaken by a couple of gentlemen asking for directions. According to their story, they were lost, low on gas and wanted to get back to civilization. I asked if they had driven up or down the road, to which they had replied "Up." I informed them that civilization was below, back the way they'd come, and pointed to the city lights that could be seen below. After thanking me, they got back in their car and continued driving up the road which I had already told them went nowhere but back to US101 many miles later. I went back to sleep thinking they were a couple of clueless caballeros, but in retrospect I don't think they were lost at all. I think they were trying to take an opportune moment to ransack an (apparently) stranded car, or perhaps shake down its owner for some cash. Of course I presented the look of a homeless guy living out of his van, so perhaps they didn't feel I was worth the bother.

Black Mountain

Lying about two miles southeast of Geyser Peak, Black Mountain has just shy of 1,000ft of prominence. The mountain is heavily covered in chaparral with mixed forest on the ridges and north slopes. The lower slopes on the south side facing Alexander Valley is cultivated extensively with vineyards. A network of old ranch roads provide access to the summit from various directions. The shortest is from the west off Geyser Rd, about two miles one-way. From the satellite views, it appears to be an unused road with no nearby homes. Still, I wanted to do this one first in the morning to lessen the chances of an encounter. Aside from the simple chain across the unmarked junction with paved Geysers Rd, the only gate encountered is a few hundred yards up. The old road is no longer driveable, but still fairly clear for hiking. There are views to Geyser Peak to the northwest and Healdsburg to the south along the way. Several salt licks I encountered suggest the mountain and roads are primarily used for hunting these days. The nearby bucket is presumeably used to cover the salt block during the rainy season. There are three possible highpoints to Black Mountain, all of which are fairly close in elevation according to my GPS. The easternmost point which is marked with a spot elevation of 3,128ft is the crappiest of the three, with poor views among dense trees. The middle summit, no spot elevation, is better, but the westernmost point (spot elevation 3,121ft) is the best for views with a small rocky top. There is a cairn and a steel stake found there. I spent an hour and a half hiking to all three summits and back.

Geyser Peak

A few miles up the road from Black Mountain is Geyser Peak. A communications facility is found at the summit, the surrounding land and access controlled by the companies that maintain it. Because it is corporate property, not individuals that own it, I didn't expect to have any issues hiking it in broad daylight. The hike is easy and pleasant along a well-maintained dirt road, about 2 miles and 1,000ft of gain. Signs on the gate indicate that there have been problems with vandals cutting locks. I found plenty of evidence of portions inside being used for target practice. The gate may not be that many years old and perhaps those that have historically used the area for shooting didn't take lightly to the gate. The hike is open to views for its entire length. To the northeast can be seen the steam plumes from several of the geothermal plants. The Russian River and the Alexander Valley stretch out to the south and west. The oldest benchmark appears to be missing, but one of the reference marks from 1949 indicate the peak used to called "Sulpher Peak." Little Sulphur Creek runs around the south side of the peak while Sulpher Creek is found to the north, so the old naming isn't surprising. A second benchmark dated 1972 is inscribed with the current name.

Mahnke Peak

Back at Geysers Rd, I drove north through Mercuryville and past the turnoffs for the power plants, driving out to the north end of Alexander Valley where I reached the junction with Pine Mountain Rd. I drove almost 12 miles to the end of Pine Mtn Rd which dead ends atop the crest of the Mayacmas in the southeast corner of Mendocino County. There are a number of residents living on the edge of the grid back here, some better off financially than others. Mahnke Peak lies about three miles southeast of the end of the road. It can be reached by gated dirt roads reaching to the summit. Exactly who owns what land back here is hard to determine, but it appears to be nearly forgotten by the rest of civilization. The land appears to be used primarily by hunters, though there seems to be far more target practice than actual hunting taking place, judging by the selection of casings found all over the place. This is about as redneck as one can find in California. Clear Lake can be seen well to the north along with the distinctive Mt. Konocti. I took about an hour to reach the summit. The top is crowned by an old wooden shack, with the scattered remains of old technology inside and out, for what probably used to house the controls and batteries for a communications tower. The summit offers fine views in all directions. To the east is Mt. Hannah, and along the crest to the southeast is the highpoint of the range, Cobb Mtn. Behind it in the distance can be seen Mt. St. Helena. To the south and west stretch out the western flanks of the Mayacmas, reaching across Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

Pine Mountain

The namesake for the road upon which I drove caught my attention on the drive back. The ownership of the mountain and the access to it is uncertain at best. I found a gate at an old road, but the surrounding fence was dilapidated and partially missing. There were no signs indicating private property or no trespassing. I followed this road, paved with fallen oak leaves, up to a repeater tower shown on the 7.5' topo, then further up on dirt roads not depicted on the maps. Immediately to the west is a a collection of vineyards under cultivation and it appears my route was just ouside the boundary. Portions of the land I traveled over appear to be in the process of grooming (which amounts to bulldozing the chaparral and laying a carpet of hay) for the expansion of the vineyard, but again, no signs or fences were crossed all the way to the summit of Pine Mtn. The top, crowned by a few pines and a stately manzanita, overlooks the vineyards and a home for the owner/caretaker. In other directions, the Mayacmas roll on for many miles without signs of civilization. In all I spent just over an hour to reach the summit and return.

Bummer Peak

This small summit overlooks Lake Sonoma, about six miles south of Cloverdale on US101. I had come to the lake to climb Pritchett Peaks whose highpoint is a P1K. Access turned out to be problematic. The shortest route from the north via Kelly Rd is extremely brushy and the road is private to boot. I intended to approach from the longer, but non-brushy route from the south in the vicinity of the dam, but all access to the dam is restricted post-9/11. I would need to do more research before attempting this one. As a consolation, I paid a visit to Bummer Peak which can be reached via a network of publicly accessible trails. On the north side of the historic bridge that crosses the lake, I parked at the No Name TH and spent about an hour plying the trails to the peak and back in about an hour around sunset. It was a lovely time to be out and about, with scenic vistas of the lake and surrounding hills. The summit itself offers no views thanks to the trees that partially cover it. That made little difference really, as the views from the trails more than compensate for the poor summit vistas.

Continued...


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