I had spent the night in the van, parked less than a mile from the summit of Sweetwater
Point, a summit shy of P1K status by a mere 10ft. I was in a heavily forested area of
the Sierra foothills at around 4,200ft, about 7 miles NE of Mariposa. These were the
backwoods of civilization, with isolated ranches, cabins and trailers, often on property
littered with the mechanized detritus of the last six decades or more. I felt somewhat
safe out here mostly because I looked about as destitute as the worst of them, living out
of my car.
Sweetwater Point has no fire lookout, no rocky summit, and . The
hike was an easy one at least, taking all of about 15 minutes to reach the top. The skies
were still overcast in the early morning hour, but would soon begin to clear up as the
day came on. The area appears to see some logging, judging by the equipment found both
and . The posted on
the trees were even more obvious. alongside the road showed signs of
poor driving skills. It might have been a
bigger deal if the tree wasn't already slated to be cut down. Maybe it was somebody's
idea to try logging with a steel bumper instead of a chainsaw. I was back at the car
less than half an hour after starting out, Sweetwater Point pretty much a disappointment.
It's certainly not going to make anybody's recommendation list.
This is a fine in the Sierra foothills overlooking the Merced
River. It appears to lie on public lands, but exactly who manages it was uncertain to me.
The hillsides were once forested but burned off sometime in the last decade and are now
mostly . The pines are making , but will be
many decades still before they mature (or burn again). There are two roads that can be
used to access the area,
which is home to a number of folks living life remote, cheap, and near the edge of the
grid. East Whitlock Rd is paved the entire way and the best route, starting off SR140.
West Whitlock Rd, starting off SR49, is slightly shorter, but has several miles of graded
dirt road that I found dusty and without merit. Both roads meet at Telegragh Rd which
continues north for another mile and a half before becoming dirt road. I drove only half
a mile on this road before I found it deteriorating, but a high-clearance vehicle can
probably drive the remaining 3.5 miles to the summit. It took a little over an hour to
make the easy hike to the summit, all on road. I found -
a 1/4" socket wrench extension - along with numerous shell casings. The place is popular
with hunters, I'd guess. I did see one buck as I was returning from the summit, but it
was bounding out of sight almost as quickly as I had spotted it, no time to get a
photograph. Though the Merced River wraps around the base of the mountain, it is not
visible from anywhere along the hike nor from the summit. The skies had cleared for the
most part, even if still. There are sweeping views in most
directions, with the nearest higher summit being to the southwest.
By 11:30a I was again at the van.
Bullion Mountain is a broad ridgeline running for almost eight miles just west of SR49,
north of Mariposa. The highpoint is Bullion Knob, located to the southeast, on a
partially separated section of the ridge. Fremont Peak is the highpoint of the larger
portion to the northwest. Between them is a saddle and tucked into Lyons Gulch is a
It seems a pleasant enough place - I saw a dozen men in
orange jumpsuits doing calisthenics outside in the pine-freshened air. But better, the
facility begat a paved road leading to the saddle which made
visiting the two summits much easier. From , a gravel road leads
several miles to of Bullion Knob. It is signed as a private road,
but there are no gates or locks to keep out the curious. Fire had burned over much of
this area as well, but unlike Telegraph Hill, a number of the
appear to have survived, if barely. The summit has a collection of
, with a handful of workmen there when I visited. They didn't
seem to mind my presence as I made my appearance casually, waved to a few of them, took
some pictures and left.
Fremont Peak was not quite so easy. It has and locks barring easy access.
Back down at the saddle, I parked off the road within hearing distance of the
correctional facility, and the three mile road leading to Fremont.
The land here is used for grazing cattle, a number of which were found along the way.
They were some of the most I've ever run across. Most cows
will run off when you come too
close. The calmer ones will walk away when you get within maybe 20 yards. Those most
acclimated to human presence will stand up and look at you as you walk by. By contrast,
these guys didn't even bother to get on their feet when I passed within three feet of
them. They were either super-accustomed to people or drugged into comotose. The
that I saw demonstrated none of this tameness. They fled almost as soon as
they spied my presence.
The of Fremont is occupied by several towers. There's a nice view
to the Sierra lowlands, though haze obscured much of this. Looking
along the spine of Bullion Mtn are two other lower summits, though they
appeared nearly the same height. For fun I paid a visit to both of them on my way back.
The had some rock outcrops tucked among the trees for marginal
views. The had a smaller
collection of towers. My cross-country route back down to the road after leaving the
south summit involved some thrashing through brush which contained some poison oak for
which I would pay a few days later.
I drove back down to SR49, then continued north on my adventure, through the small
community of , made by Col. John C. Fremont, for
whom the nearby
mountain and other landmarks throughout the state are named. Seems he settled here
briefly during Gold Rush days and made himself a huge fortune in gold mining and other
ventures. Northwest of Bear Valley is Williams Peak, the highpoint of the Hunter Valley
area which is quite popular with - hunters. The summit has an abandoned lookout tower.
A mile and a quarter east of town is the
start of the Hunter Valley Access Rd, a dirt/gravel BLM route that can be driven by
any vehicle. In a little over two miles, this leads to a saddle southwest of the summit
where the side access road to the top is closed to vehicles. I
near a second vehicle and the last mile and a
quarter on foot.
The hike was both easy and pleasant on a good road . At a
upon a couple with two toddlers, one carried by each parent. They were taking a break at
the side of the road and expressed surprise to see someone else visiting the summit. I
was impressed that they made such an outing with children so small. I could recall taking
my own kids out on local hikes at this age, so perhaps they were from one of the local
communities. Another ten minutes of hiking brought me to . The
was in poor condition, neglected by both government
agencies and volunteers. The were a wreck but at least the structure
was still standing and evidently fairly sturdy. It has a commanding view of the
surrounding area, to Bullion Mtn, to the Central
Valley, north and across the broad, deep canyon cut by the Merced
River. I was on my way back down the road before
reached the top, so they would get to enjoy the place to themselves, much as
I had. About 50 minutes after starting out, I was back at the van and heading back to
Some 25 miles north of Bear Valley at the southern junction of SR49 & SR120 is Moccasin
Peak, overlooking the and the
heading up to Yosemite. Coming down the slopes just south of Old Priest Grade are
4 parallel pipes bringing water down 1,300ft to a power generation plant at the base,
one of three
hydroelectric powerhouses in SF's Hetch Hetchy power system. I must have driven by here
a hundred times on my way to and from Yosemite, but never stopped to check it out.
is a beautiful piece of architecture, completed in 1969 to replace the
original powerhouse from 1925. I parked just off SR49 at a small turnoff on Marshes Flat
Rd. From here my route followed up the very
under the massive power
transmission lines. The route climbes 1,500ft in a mile, more than twice as steep as Old
Priest Grade Rd. It makes a convenient route because the brush and trees have been
cleared from a wide swath easily visible in Google satellite view. There are some dirt
roads feeding into it at various points to help in servicing ,
but the fastest
route is simply straight up the cleared path using a convenient use trail that can be
found easily enough. But make no mistake, that one mile stretch is a thigh-burning
Once at around 2,400ft, the gradient relents, Moccasin's summit is to
the northwest and there is a short break as one heads slightly down across ranchlands
before picking up one of several dirt roads leading to the summit. I used the shorter,
abandoned road on the east side to lessen my chances of being confronted by a landowner.
features a small communications tower with a few small buildings
enclosed by fencing. Large and fairly flat, the summit offers only poor views. The
highest point is found among outside the fencing to the southwest.
Among these I found an empty, which may or may not have held a
register at one time. It still didn't after I left. It had taken just over an hour to
reach the summit at a pretty fast pace since I was racing daylight. It was 6:20p at the
summit and the sun was only minutes from . It would be another short
race to get back down the mountain without using a headlamp. I would be an easy spot
coming down that open slope by headlamp.
When I got to the bottom again it was dusk. I got out my camera to take an extended
exposure picture of the powerhouse whose lights now made it even more picturesque. There
was too much light as it turned out for the exposure setting and the picture was
washed out, but it turned out to be a good thing for an entirely different reason. As I
was picking up my camera and walking back to the car about 10 yards away, a portly
sheriff's deputy got out of his car to investigate what I was doing. He looked at the
scene and the camera in my hand and immediately assumed I had stopped to take a picture
of the powerhouse. "Nice time of day for a picture, eh?" he commented. I was warm and
agreeable and happy to not have him ask why else I might be on private property. We both
got back in our cars and went our way, contented.
I was done hiking, but not driving for the day. Dark now, I drove to Sonora where I got
dinner and then on to Tuolumne and more backroads of Stanislaus National Forest. I was
seeking out Duckwall Mountain, another P1K that appeared to have a driveable route to
the summit. The route I took was not the best, but it worked, and with an hour and a half
of driving on dirt roads, I found my way to the summit with the van. It was late and I
didn't feel like taking any pictures or investigating, so I left that for the morning...