Sweetwater Point P900
Telegraph Hill P900
Bullion Knob P1K
Fremont Peak P900
Williams Peak P1K
Moccasin Peak P1K

Thu, Oct 10, 2013
Etymology
Sweetwater Point
Telegraph Hill
Bullion Knob
Fremont Peak
Moccasin Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Profiles: 1 2 3 4

Continued...

Sweetwater Point

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 minimal views. 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 where I parked and near the summit. The signs posted on the trees were even more obvious. One tree 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.

Telegraph Hill

This is a fine little summit 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 open chaparral. The pines are making a comeback, 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 booty - 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 a bit hazy still. There are sweeping views in most directions, with the nearest higher summit being Bullion Mtn to the southwest. By 11:30a I was back again at the van.

Bullion Knob

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 state correctional facility. 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 from SR49 leading to the saddle which made visiting the two summits much easier. From the saddle, a gravel road leads several miles to the summit 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 older pines appear to have survived, if barely. The summit has a collection of telecom towers, 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

Fremont Peak was not quite so easy. It has gates and locks barring easy access. Back down at the saddle, I parked off the road within hearing distance of the correctional facility, and started up 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 docile specimens 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 deer that I saw demonstrated none of this tameness. They fled almost as soon as they spied my presence.

The summit of Fremont is occupied by several towers. There's a nice view west to the Sierra lowlands, though haze obscured much of this. Looking south 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 middle summit had some rock outcrops tucked among the trees for marginal views. The south summit 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.

Williams Peak

I drove back down to SR49, then continued north on my adventure, through the small community of Bear Valley, made famous 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 gated closed to vehicles. I parked near a second vehicle and started up the last mile and a quarter on foot.

The hike was both easy and pleasant on a good road open to views. At a second gate I came 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 summit. The lookout tower was in poor condition, neglected by both government agencies and volunteers. The insides were a wreck but at least the structure was still standing and evidently fairly sturdy. It has a commanding view of the surrounding area, southeast to Bullion Mtn, west to the Central Valley, north and northeast across the broad, deep canyon cut by the Merced River. I was on my way back down the road before the others 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 SR49.

Moccasin Peak

Some 25 miles north of Bear Valley at the southern junction of SR49 & SR120 is Moccasin Peak, overlooking the Don Pedro Reservoir and the Old Priest Grade Rd 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. The powerhouse 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 steep hillside 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 the towers, 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 workout.

Once at around 2,400ft, the gradient relents, Moccasin's summit is in view 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. The summit 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 some rocks outside the fencing to the southwest. Among these I found an empty, rusting tin 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 setting. 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...

Continued...


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