Mt. Pierce P1K CC
Horse Mountain CC

Thu, Aug 24, 2017

With: Jackie Burd

Etymology
Horse Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

Continuing south along US101 on our way back from the eclipse in Oregon, Jackie and I spent a day in southern Humboldt County to tag a few CC-listed summits that had either failed to catch my attention or I had failed on during previous visits to this area. Though neither was particularly difficult on its own, the combination along with the driving between them occupied us for most of the day.

Mt. Pierce

On paper this one seems pretty straightforward though it's on private property. There is a good road (Monument Rd), almost half of it paved, that goes from the town of Rio Dell along US101 to the summit in about 8mi where some telecom towers are located. That there were no entries in LoJ or PB gave me some concern, thinking there might be a gate far down the mountain I might run into, but the only thing I could do was give it a shot. Turns out that the road is open for the first 4.5mi where a gate is then encountered for the last 3.5mi to the summit. Signed for No Trespassing, it appears to be owned by American Tower, the ubiquitous telecom company one finds all over the Western States (and much more, too - they own 100,000 sites in 13 countries). Much better than an upset ranch owner worried about his cattle.

We parked off the road outside the gate and started off just before 9a. Most of the hike follows along open ridgeline, gaining about 1,500ft in the process. Fog welled up from the north, leaving us just above the layer of clouds under blue skies, but the smoke that had been tailing us since Oregon would shortly make an appearance and erase most of the views before we reached the summit. An AT&T truck came driving down the road not long after we had started out, the driver giving us a friendly wave as we moved to the side of the road to allow it to pass more easily. That was as close as we came to getting kicked out, never seeing another soul afterwards. We reached the summit in a little over an hour's effort, finding two closely-spaced summits. The northern summit has a monument erected next to the benchmark. It was here in 1853 that the Humboldt Meridian Initial Point was established, from which all further surveys in northeastern CA would be initiated, much like the Mt. Diablo Meridian that was established in the Bay Area. The benchmark was replaced in 1923 and the monument erected in 2003, for which the road was then named. The highpoint, however, is the south summit which has no such decorations even though it is about 6-10ft higher. We left a register at the south summit, after which Jackie took a shot at climbing one of the towers before heading back. The smoke had squashed what would have been some pretty decent views overlooking the Kings Range. The return was uneventful, getting us to the van before 11:30a - a piece of cake, as it turned out - little need to worry.

Horse Mountain

Jackie had been with me two years earlier on our first visit to the King Range. We stayed overnight in Shelter Cove and had tagged a number of high summits including the range highpoint, King Peak. Near the end of the first day of that trip Jackie had elected to stay in the car while I made a first attempt at Horse Mtn, based on some roads I found on the topo map that I failed to confirm on the satellite view. I ended up doing some awful uphill bushwhacking with enough poison oak that I finally gave up and turned back. With better beta I had a new plan by which to approach this oddly named summit which is really just a lower bump on the west side of the main crest. It took us more than two hours to negotiate all the roads between Mt. Pierce and Horse Mtn, which had not so many miles but lots of dirt and gravel road driving. The van was covered in a fresh coat of dust by the time we had reached our starting point. We followed the Kings Peak Rd for a number of miles, then turned left onto Saddle Mtn Rd just before reaching Horse Mtn Campground. We got less than a mile up the road before finding a steep section I had doubts about negotiating. Better to park there and hike the extra distance, I reckoned. A better vehicle can drive another mile up the road to the crest where a locked gate is located.

With less than two and a half miles to Horse Mtn from our start, I knew the mileage wasn't going to be the issue on this one, but the unknown nature of the bushwhacking. There are no roads or trails leading to the summit and the satellite views are a bit discouraging. This would be the biggest test for Jackie and her recently practiced bushwhacking skills. The hike up the road was easy enough, gaining about 500ft in 3/4mi. At the crest we hiked past the locked gate heading east. The road here hasn't been driven on in years, but is fairly open for hiking providing one looks out for and avoids the fresh poison oak sprouting up from the middle of the road in places. The smoke was nearly as bad here as it had been on Mt. Pierce, marring what would otherwise be some spectacular coastal views. From the end of our road, Horse Mtn appears to be a small bump below us, partially forested. I hoped that the forest cover would mean less thrashing in the undergrowth. The topo map shows an old Jeep road dropping down to Pt. 1,492ft to the west of Horse Mtn and much of this road is still intact although it has been covered in heaps of downfall to discourage its use. We used this road for about 1/3mi, noting it gets some use still, but not much. Use trails on the uphill side of the road bypass some of the largest debris piles. So far, all of this was pretty straightforward and it got us within 1/3mi of Horse Mtn's summit - now for the hard part.

We dropped left (east) off the roadway, initially encouraged by some nice grass slopes that allowed us about 100yds of easy progress. The slopes were on the wrong side of a drainage that separated us from the neck of land connecting to a saddle with Horse Mtn that we wanted to be on. Getting across this dry creek drainage involved dancing around and over some poison oak that had me nervous and Jackie even more so. We then spent about 20min negotiating the rest of the distance to the summit, short by bushwhacking standards, but through a menagerie of obstacles that silenced Jackie from here usual cheerful self. Dusty undergrowth, lots of branches and ducking, more poison oak, a section of thick manzanita (that curiously had evidence of a trail cut through it previously, greatly aiding our cause), some moments of open grass slopes, more ducking, scratches, ripped pants, all of it leaving her a bit crestfallen. This wasn't so much fun for her. We found the summit in a bit of open forest and grass with no views at all. This would have been a good candidate to leave a register but I was temporarily out at the moment and the best we could do was build a small rock cairn. On the way back I tried to take us on a more direct route that I thought would work better, but we ran into wall after wall of brush to block our passage and ended up returning via a route similar to our outbound one. Once we were back at the old road on the crest, Jackie's mood improved considerably and we talked about her reactions. She apologized for her mood and said she knew it wouldn't do any good to complain. I thought she did pretty good actually, internalizing her meaner thoughts and mostly just being quiet through the hard parts. She was all smiles again before we got back to the gate and even got me to jog the last mile back down to the van, once again beating me handily.

We showered there where we'd parked before starting the long drive back out to US101. We got dinner in Garberville, initially walking into the Chinese restaurant expecting to order mushu pork, drunken noodles and similar, but then we discovered they had a page of thai dishes. It was mediocre thai food at best, but even mediocre thai is pretty good in both of our books - especially after so much "fun" bushwhacking that can really build up an appetite. Afterwards we headed back north on US101 to spend the night in Humboldt State Park where we planned to hike the next day...

Continued...


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