Sun, Oct 24, 2004
We didn't do much better at getting an earlier start on our third day. That's probably for the best since it can be pretty frosty at the trailhead on these cool fall days. Without a good plan for climbing an SPS peak that Matthew had yet to climb, we came up with a nice long hike from Walker Pass out to three HPS peaks along the Sierra Crest just north of the pass. Matthew had already been up Owens Peak (also an SPS peak), but hadn't summited either of the first two. It was a fine plan as far as I was concerned, and I was glad Matthew had suggested it.
We left the Motel 6 in Ridgecrest (good room rates!) at 6:30a, stopped at a convenience store for breakfast, and drove out towards Walker Pass. The sun came up as we headed west, and it was easy to pick out Mt. Jenkins and Owens Peak on the skyline in front of us. Without seeing a trailhead sign, we drove up and over the pass to a trailhead about a mile down the west side of the road. Checking our map, we concluded that this was the trailhead for southbound travellers, while the PCT should go directly across Walker Pass. Back to the pass we went, noting the trail on the south side of the road as we approached the pass. We parked, we packed up, we headed out, we got lost immediately. We followed use trails up from where we parked until the maze of them petered out - we weren't the first ones to fall for this. It took us a good five minutes to find the actual TH, located directly across the road from the historical marker, complete with a large signboard that we had completely missed.
Finally getting under way just before 8a, we hiked north along the PCT. Starting at only 5,200ft, the slopes we traversed had only dry, lifeless grasses this late in the season, but the sun that shining on them was inviting and warm. After a mile we climbed some switchbacks that brought us up to the Sierra crest. The flora had revived once we were above 6,000ft, with first sage, then oaks, then pines. After about 45 minutes we got a view northeast along the crest and picked out what we assumed was Mt. Morris. Approaching it where the PCT ran along a saddle to the southwest, we left the trail and started up the southwest ridge. Our beta suggested a use trail took one to the summit, but we found no such trail. That was our first clue. Our second clue was even more obvious - we had gotten to the saddle about 20 minutes earlier than we should have. We would have had to cover four miles in an hour, but that's almost impossible without jogging. When we got to the top at an elevation just under 7,000ft, Mt. Morris was now clearly visible another mile to the northeast, and Mt. Jenkins to the north. Oh well, it had been a fun scramble. We climbed down the east ridge of our unnamed, unmarked peak to a saddle just west of Peak 6,940ft. We then cruised down the north slopes through brush, sand, and talus until we intersected the PCT again. It was then only a short distance further to the correct saddle below Mt. Morris's Southwest Ridge. We found the use trail easily enough, following as it climbed up the right side of the ridge along the South Slopes until we reached the 7,215-foot summit of Mt. Morris at 9:50a.
At the summit we found a register placed by the SPS (even though this is an HPS peak) back in 1963. As we were to find, many of the registers in the Southern Sierra date back much farther than those found in the High Sierra further north. We signed our own names to the 40+ yr-old book while we took a short break. For the descent, I talked Matthew into a more direct descent off the north side of the peak since we wanted to head that way to Mt. Jenkins. This turned out to be a very good choice as we were able to follow faint use trails through the underbrush and down the steep hillside in very quick time. Back on the PCT again, we contined north. Mt. Jenkins is really a ridgeline, several miles long, with some rocky crags dotting the highest points along the ridge. Not long after continuing on the PCT, we came to a bronze plaque honoring J.C. Jenkins for whom the peak was named in 1984. It seemed odd to find the plaque here instead of at the summit, but it would certainly garner more eyes at its current location. Sitting on a rock under the plaque was a large plastic jug of water - a potential godsend for folks caught along this dry section of trail with insufficient sources of their own. We continued along the PCT as it traced a route around the east side of the peak. As we approached the East Ridge, we started looking for ducks marking a use trail or route up to the summit. On the south side of the East Ridge I spotted a lone duck about 12 feet above the trail in the talus. After a short deliberation we decided to follow it up. It was the only duck in the area we found. We climbed the steep hillside until we were on the East Ridge, and then we found the use trail we'd been looking for. As we noted later, the use trail starts where East Ridge comes down to the PCT further east. The use trail was very well marked with ducks right up the ridge to the summit where we arrived shortly after 11a.
We found a second plaque at the summit, identical to the first. There was also a register dating back to 1973 when it was climbed by an HPS party on an exploratory outing. Doug Mantle and RJ Secor were among the seven signatories of that climb. Owens Peak loomed large (ok, not all that large, but it was higher than any of the other peaks in the area) to the north, and it was off in that direction we were to head next. We retraced our route down the East Ridge (it hardly qualifies as class 3 btw), and about where we had joined the use trail on the way up, we left it again, heading down the north side of the East Ridge. This was a short drop of less than a couple hundred feet back to the PCT, saving us a little extra mileage. Once again we hiked the PCT north, finishing the east side countour around Mt. Jenkins to the saddle between Jenkins and Owens. It was now just after noon, and we looked around for a use trail to take us up the Southwest Ridge. We were a bit spoiled by now, expecting use trails, water jugs, and other similar conveniences (maybe an escalator?) that we didn't really need. We found no use trail, at least not initially. We hiked up on the east side of the ridge, through brush, around rocky outcrops, and under the trees following game trails when we found them, but no human trail.
From the saddle, the Southeast Ridge rises some 1,500ft over a mile, a pretty good rise. Jenkins' map suggests a trail or route meets up with the regular route from Indian Wells on the south side, but this was not exactly the case. After some 500ft or so we climbed back up to the ridge proper and here we found a series of ducks. They led us up the SE Ridge for another 500ft, then then traversed across and up the South Slopes of Owens until it did indeed meet up with the Indian Wells use trail a few hundred feet from the summit. So the two routes did prove to share parts with each other, but only a short bit at the end. We arrived at Owens' summit after 1p, some five hours and 10 miles after we'd set out in the morning. The sky was again overcast for the most part, though not as solidly as it had been the day before. High clouds looked to be moving in from the west portending of a change in the weather, but for now it made for a pretty sky while we relaxed at the summit. The register we found there dated back to 1959, possibly earlier. I spent some time organizing the loose papers that were once bound together in the earliest notebook of several, and was amused to find that register entries haven't really changed much in the last 45 years. People still right about the same things that matter to them, and that offers some reassurance of constancy in a world of rapid technological advances where it sometimes seems that nothing stays the same.
We made a better effort of the descent, following the ducked route down the lower 2/3 on the ridge itself. The ducks mostly disappeared in the lower 300-400ft, which explains why we missed the route on the way up (for others heading up this way, the best route would be to follow along the ridgeline right from the saddle and ignore trails that head off to the right. Eventually you can't miss the ducks along the ridge further up). Back on the PCT, we turned to head back south and Matthew took off ahead of me. We hiked along for the next two hours, past Jenkins, past Morris, and heading down to Walker Pass. I saw Matthew on the switchbacks far below me and decided to start running to see if I could catch him. After some 15 minutes I came up behind him at a pretty good clip, and when I was about 30 feet back he turned and jumped out of his boots, startled to see me. I went by him yelling something about taking the lead in the final stretch as the crowd goes wild, and this prodded him to start running behind me as well. With about a mile to go I started pounding the dirt as fast as I could. I didn't want to let him overtake me again, and I also wanted to get ahead enough to take a picture of him. Camera at the ready, I suddenly stopped, turned, took a picture (which seemed to amuse Matthew), and then sped on my way. I had my hands in the air as I crossed the finish line at the road and added cheering crowd noises since there were no reals ones to celebrate my swift victory. Matthew came in 30 seconds later, walked across the road to photograph the Walker Memorial, then came back to the car to join me. No cheering crowds for second place.
As we changed out of our boots and clothes, a few other cars pulled up to check out the memorial. One car pulled next to ours, a middle-aged couple intent on photographing the surrounding flora. The guy seemed interested in capturing the inanimate Joshua trees on his camcorder, walking around from one to the other, capturing all the action to be had in Hi-8 definition. The wife watched me take a picture of him nervously (she probably thought I was as crazy as her husband), then after a few minutes she climbed up the hillside to take a pictures of him herself. It was all very amusing to me as I took a picture of her taking a picture of her husband taking video of a Joshua tree. It was probably time to leave.
And so we headed off down SR178, through Lake Isabella, through Bakersfield, through the Central Valley on our way back to the Bay Area. It had been a fun six peaks in three days, and my first real introduction to the Southern Sierra. On the drive out we noted a dozen interesting peaks and ridgelines south of SR178, and agreed we'd have to come back to explore this wonderful area again in the future.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Morris Peak - Mt. Jenkins - Owens Peak
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