Hooper Hill P500 ESS
Ball Mountain ESS
Kelso Peak ESS

Wed, Oct 26, 2016
Etymology
Ball Mountain
Kelso Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

My daughter's high school volleyball team had lost a very close match to a cross-town rival in the first round of playoffs. With so much sadness, she needed consoling, and at her pleading I put off my trip until the following morning. Consequently, I wouldn't get to the Southern Sierra until early afternoon, only leaving time for a few easy hikes which was fine by me - daughter comes first, naturally. I picked out a trio of peaks that appear in Jenkin's Exploring the Southern Sierra maps, a collection I've been slowly working on over the years.

Hooper Hill / Ball Mountain

These two minor summits are located on either side of the highpoint of the paved Bodfish-Caliente Road found southwest of Lake Isabella, neither more than half a mile in a straight line from the pass. Hooper Hill is easily twice as high as Ball Mtn, rising almost 700ft above the pass. There is a fenceline along the road but it is open where a rough dirt road heads southwest. There are no signs found to forbid entry. As luck would have it, a very good trail traverses up the east side of the hill towards the north, following along the route of a transmission line in that direction. I followed this trail up to Pt. 4,231ft where there is a junction with another trail going south up to Hooper Hill. I investigated the northbound trail further, following it until I had a good overlook view of the Kern River drainage, looking west down the canyon and east up to the valley and Lake Isabella. I then returned to the junction and followed it to the summit of Hooper Hill. The summit is topped with a few moderately-sized granite boulders, open to views in all directions. The nicest view I thought was to the southwest where one can get a fine view of the HPS Bald Eagle Peak. Rather than follow trail back down, I made a shortcut down the steep, grassy slopes to return more directly. There was some yucca and rocks to avoid in the grass, but the footing was often semi-loose dirt which made for a very quick and easy descent.

Once back down on the road, I hiked the dirt Forest Service road up around the south side of Ball Mtn. The road is in excellent condition that any vehicle could drive, but since I was in need of the extra workout, I just hoofed it. On the back side I found a wide OHV track running up to the summit, making easy work of it, taking but 15min. The summit views are weak, partially blocked by burned snags and mild brush. Off the west side there is a decent view of Hooper Hill rising in that direction. The cross-country descent off the west side took only 5min - easy as pie!

Kelso Peak

I drove back down through Bodfish and Lake Isabella (the town, not the lake!) to get back on SR178, driving east to Kelso Valley Rd, then south for about 12mi or so until I was almost due east of Kelso Peak, the most prominent peak in the Bright Star Wilderness. The problem with this one is access since it appears that the shortest routes from the east are blocked by private property along Kelso Creek. An all-public lands route can be found from the south but is considerably longer and I wasn't in the mood for it. The dirt road I had picked out that I thought I might use to get across the Kelso Creek and to the Wilderness boundary was clearly signed as Private and No Trespassing. Rats. Instead, I followed a short dirt road just north of this that tops out on a small hill about 100yds from the pavement. From there I wandered west across a burned moonscape, the scorched remains of a fire that swept over the area back in June. Most of the homesteads along Kelso Creek were spared, likely by the fine work of the firefighters assigned to battle it, but some were not spared. I reached a network of barbed-wire fences shortly before the creek and picked my way through these to get down to the creek, across it, and starting up the other side. The route I chose seemed to go between a spared homestead (no cars to indicate anyone home) and one not-so-lucky that was left pretty much flattened. Once across the creek I started up for the East Ridge, but it wasn't until I was 200-300ft up that I could relax as the route is open to observation from a number of vantage points. It didn't help that I was wearing a bright red shirt. Though steep, the hiking was easy thanks to the fire that had denuded almost everything along the ridgeline and most of the slopes as well. Not as easy as the first two summits, I spent a full hour in climbing 1,500ft over about a mile and half to reach Kelso's summit. There are some large granite blocks at the summit, but they are conveniently arranged to allow one to climb to the highest point with a class 2 effort. I took a few pictures looking west, north and east before taking some time to peruse the register. This was a little gem, with 50 pages of a notebook filled with entries, the earliest from 1971. The second page had an entry from a party that included Bob Rockwell (and his brothers) and Carl Heller. The peak appears to have been very popular from the 70s through the 90s, but visits have fallen off to less than one per year since then. The descent went much faster, taking only 40min by a slightly more direct route down a gully to the creek. There were a couple of motorhomes parked under some shelters near the creek, but they weren't occupied when I went by and I was able to return without incident by 4:30p.

I was to meet Bob Sumner the next morning at Coso Junction, so after showering I spent the next hour and then some driving out to SR14 and north along US395 to the meeting spot. Time for dinner, beer, and a movie...

Continued...


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