Sat, Feb 26, 2005
By 6:30a we had driven the short distance to the Cedar Creek Campground off SR155, some 10-12 miles northwest of Lake Isabella. We brought two cars for the three of us, not really sure how long the hike would take, who would get back first, or exactly which route we'd take. Our goal today was a climb of Bohna and Sunday peaks, the two most northern peaks on HPS list. For the Southern Sierra Sunday Peak was quite high - 8,300ft, and though the ground and hillsides around the campground were free of snow, we expected to need the snowshoes for the upper portion on the ridgeline connecting the two peaks. Our plan was to follow the little used route shown on the HPS map, a nearly direct ascent up from the campground along the highway. The regular route involved driving on a dirt road that was currently under snow and used by snowmobiles, accessed from Greenhorn summit some three miles back up the highway.
By 6:45a we were packed up and heading out, following the creek upstream from the campground. There were two other parties camped here at this time of year, one below the road in the lower half, and another party higher up that we passed on our way. The rest of the 15 or so sites were unoccupied. February is not a popular time for camping we noted. The flora was quite different than the desert-like peaks from the day before. Today we were starting out under dense woods that effectively blocked out most of the sunlight and it had a somewhat gloomy feel to it. Our use trail took us from one side of the stream to another, past a few abandoned mines, and around an assortment of small cascades, pools, and waterfalls. After about half a mile we spied a use trail heading up the hillside to the left, exactly where our HPS directions had suggested. At this point we figured we'd found another good HPS trail and expected our route-finding to be over. This would not be the case.
The trail headed up the hillside diagonally, just like one might expect a good trail to do. But within a hundred yards we had trouble telling whether the trail switchbacked or kept to the same diagonal, and we lost time trying various options. All seemed to involve some bushwhacking as the lower 500 feet of the hill was more brush than tree, and we dutifully pulled back when it got too thick to try a different way. All three of us had varying opinions, and none of them were obviously wrong - nor obviously right. What became clear as we thrashed our way up was that the trail had not been used in some time, or at least was rarely used anymore. There were no signs of the usual ducks though we did come across the tattered remains of pink ribbon in two places. With our snowshoes and poles strapped to our packs, it was no easy task to duck under the many bushes, and more than a few times I found myself immobilized while I tried to disengage my gear from the branches. The hillside was criss-crossed with animal tracks that looked like a use trail, at least until we found another one 10 yards higher up. The animal trails were quite helpful in at least keeping the bushwhacking to a minimum, and the higher we got the more open spaces we found, and after about 45 minutes we were done with the bushwhacking altogether. The hillside had converged to a rounded ridgeline which in turn was covered in pine trees with grassy slopes underneath that made for easy hiking. We all commented on how pleasant the hike had suddenly become.
On the south-facing ridgeline we found only a few patches of snow, and we joked about needed crampons and ice screws while easily avoiding them. Shortly before we reached the 6,760-foot summit of Bohna (really just a bump along the ridge to Sunday Peak), we encountered more uniform covering of snow, but it was only a few inches deep at most and soft enough not to hinder progress. Our boots grew more steadily soaked, but that was only a minor inconvenience that we were expecting anyway. It was 8:40a when we reached the summit of Bohna. We found the HPS register, but limited views. Trees blocked our views except to the east where we could see down to Lake Isabella and east to the Sierra crest around Owens Peak. We stayed long enough to have a snack and snap a few photos, then continued along the ridge towards Sunday.
Our walk in the woods took a definitive turn as soon as we left the summit. Hiking down a few hundred feet on the northwest side towards a saddle, the ground was fully covered in snow. The snow was hard for the most part with enough traction to make hiking in our boots fairly easy. As we started up again from the saddle, the snow began to change consistency and we were soon crunching through the top layer and sinking three to six inches with each step. Where I judged the effort with and without snowshoes to be about equal, I stopped to put on the snowshoes. Matthew, who was right behind me, stopped to put on his as well. Mike was somewhat further behind, and didn't catch up to us before we continued on from there. The snow depth grew continuously as we climbed higher, and soon we were finding fresh snow from the previous day atop the older snow. About halfway to Sunday Peak, Matthew had fallen back behind me and I was alone in the winter scene. The trees began to grow whiter, not yet having had a chance to drop their fresh load of snow. Somewhere above 7,500ft there was no more consolidated layer to be found underneath the fresh snow, the whole mass a heavy, slow-going slop.
The sky had started out as cloudless in the morning, portending of a fine day. As we gained the ridge to Bohna we could see clouds and fog forming a lower layer to the west in the Central Valley. During the morning these clouds began to rise and blow in from the west, and now were threatening to envelope the surrounding peaks. Where the ridge turned to the east, I got a view of the High Sierra to the northeast - completely dressed in white, I could make out Mts. Langley, Corcoran, LeConte, McAdie and Whitney. The Kaweahs were similarly visible, but all of it was viewable through a tunnel in the clouds that was soon closing. I tried to race to the peak ahead of the clouds but was unsuccessful - the weather had suddenly become a more serious factor in our climb. I wondered if it would start to snow, or worse - rain. Fortunately we got no precipitation the whole day. We hoped to be able to climb Portuguese Peak to the north of Sunday Peak and return by way of the Forest Service road to Greenhorn Summit. But without visibility and such deep snow coverage, I worried we might have some trouble making our way back by a different route. We could always retrace our ascent route, even in a whiteout, but that just didn't have the appeal of an entirely different route. I continued ever upward, the snow growing deeper all the time. In several steeper sections I struggled for traction as my snowshoes slipped out from under me on almost two feet of snow.
After a couple of false summits I finally made it to the top of Sunday Peak at 10:50a. There were no views at all when I first got there, and I took a picture of the nice wooden sign I found at the top. I dug around the base of the rocks in which it was embedded, but found no sign of a summit register. While I waited for the others, I found some views to the east at various times through breaks in the clouds. I could see southeast to Black Mtn, and make out a descent route off Sunday's indistinct SE Ridge towards the road. I couldn't make out the road some 1,600ft below the summit, but I had a fairly good idea where to find it with the help of the fleeting views and the map I had with me. Matthew was a little more than ten minutes behind me, Mike another thirty minutes after that. I'd had plenty of time to wander about the large, rounded summit that was perhaps half an acre in size. In that time I'd stomped all over the summit area looking for views or just to keep warm, and from the looks of it you'd have thought thirty people had been to the summit that day.
We decided to bypass Portuguese Peak which looked to be a dull, rounded, and tree covered hill some 400ft lower. It would have been on the way and therefore much more appealing if we'd taken the regular route shown on the HPS map. But we decided to head down the SE Ridge to cut off maybe a mile of extra distance. If the weather was going to turn on us, it made little sense to be dallying. As might be expected, the downhill effort was far less than the uphill one, and consequently it was quite enjoyable. Heading first east off the summit to avoid some cliffs on the SE side, we then turned southeast to head for some clearings on the rounded ridgeline that we'd seen from above. I kept my compass handy and used it a few times to make sure we were heading in the right direction as we moved through the forest. It took about 45 minutes to descend the 1,600 feet, and almost by luck we managed to intersect the FS road at a saddle just below 6,600ft - right where we'd hoped to find it. The road turned out to be well-packed by continuous snowmobile traffic - a good deal of it judging from the groomed look it had. The road was very wide, and would have been impossible to miss heading down from the summit in any generally easterly direction.
Mike was still a short ways behind Matthew and I when we reached the road. We waited a few minutes and then started heading south, knowing Mike would find the way obvious at this point. Matthew paused and then crouched down to rest. Suddenly he wasn't feeling so good, and he was unsure of the cause. He said he didn't have a headache or nausea, the two more obvious signs of exhaustion/dehydration, but still didn't feel well. What he really wanted to do was lie down and take a nap, and probably would have done so if the entire area wasn't still covered in snow. Mike came up to join us and we discussed our options. Matthew didn't feel so bad to require help, but felt he needed to rest some. I offered to head back and retrieve the cars to Greenhorn Summit to save the others few extra miles of travel on the road. Mike offered to stay with Matthew, but Matthew declined and said he'd catch up shortly after a rest. The hike back along the road seemed a bit boring to me, so I devised several shortcuts from the map that would save me another 2 1/2 miles of roadwork. It was actually more about having a bit more Wilderness fun than saving distance, and so the three of us split up - Matthew staying put, Mike heading down the road, and I headed up a few hundred feet to a saddle NE of Pt. 8,852ft and down the other side. After about half a mile I intersected the road again, and on the east-facing slopes here found the first patches of dirt since we'd been on Bohna. These soon became big patches and I stopped to pack up the snowshoes. I followed the road for the next mile and a half, several snowmobile parties passing by on their way out. Where the road reached another saddle with a drainage heading off to the west, I left the road to follow the second shortcut that would bypass Greenhorn Summit altogether and drop me down to SR155 about a mile below the pass. This short 1/2 mile route turned out to be less Wilderness than I had expected, finding discarded pop bottles, boards nailed to trees (for what purpose I couldn't determine), and further down where the snow ended there was evidence of a use trail - I was hardly the first person who'd thought of this.
When I reached the highway I started heading down the road, sticking my thumb out whenever a car went by heading in my direction. Of the half dozen cars that went by in the first mile, nobody stopped to offer a lift. I decided to ditch my pack out of view alongside road and jog the remaining mile and a half back to the car. It was a nice jog really, unencumbered by the weight of the pack, and I returned to our starting point at the campground by 2p. I drove Matthew's car back up to Greenhorn Summit where I waited about 15 minutes before the others showed up, walking together. Matthew had taken a short rest and then caught up with Mike like he expected, and the two had had a leisurely walk out on the gently graded road. It was too late for us to consider trying to reach another peak by this time, though I gave it a few minutes thought. We drove back to get Mike's Jeep, then headed back to Wofford Heights and our motel. Mike took a few hours nap while I went through email and Matthew poured over maps and books planning his summer itinerary. We had hoped to have dinner at the Italian place in Kernville, but they had a special night going and no openings for some 45 minutes once we got there. Hunger winning out, we ate at the diner across the street, though the meals were nothing to write home about (nor recommend).
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bohna Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:06 2007
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