Whittakers Dardanelles P1K

Tue, Jul 2, 2013
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I had gone to bed quite early the night before, so getting up at 4a was not at all difficult. I'd spent the night at Sonora Pass to escape the heat of the lower elevations where I had been hiking the day before, and planned to hike again today. The thunderstorms that had helped make the pass cooler had dissipated and it was actually warmer in the early morning than it had been in the late afternoon the day before. Today I planned to hike to Whittakers Dardanelles, a P1K between Spicer Meadow Reservoir and Donnell Lake, north of Highway 108. It took some time to get to the Wheats Meadow TH, in part because the last few miles were on a dirt road. It was decently maintained, but still required somewhat slow going in my low-clearance van. So it wasn't until nearly 5:20a before I was ready to go. For what it's worth, this isn't the easiest way to reach Whittakers Dardanelle - that would be from Spicer Meadow Reservoir where the summit is barely a mile from the end of the road. The trouble with that approach is that it is off Highway 4, not 108 where I was currently. Driving the many miles to get from one highway to the other would be far more effort than it's worth.

One advantage to the later-than-expected start was that I didn't need a headlamp, light as it was already at this hour, so close to the summer solstice. Just past the TH one enters the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The summit itself is outside the Wilderness boundary, but much of my route cuts through its southwest corner. For the most part the trail is in good shape and decently maintained, not hard to follow. The trail heads west generally, cutting across several drainages which means the trail is usually going up or down across them, rarely flat. I passed a first trail junction before 6a where it crosses Dardanelles Creek. A short distance past this I came across some backpackers asleep under tarps just off the trail. I would come across this interesting group again upon my return. The trail passes by several small ponds, looking very much like mosquito breeding grounds, before encountering Wheats Meadow soon after. Wheats Meadow is quite large and thankfully not very marshy in this light snow year. There is a dilapidated wooden cabin just past the creek where the trail seems to vanish. I backtracked to see where I went wrong, but could not find any real continuation of a trail - it really seemed to just end here. I spotted a wooden post in the middle of the meadow a quarter mile off and went to investigate. It turned out to be the trail junction I was looking for, but there was no sign of a trail in any direction. What to do?

Follow the GPS, I figured. Apparently there is little traffic out past Wheats Meadow and the new meadow growth has covered whatever tracks existed. After wandering west in the direction the trail ought to be, I picked up a thin trail through tall grass and flowers and eventually found the trail again at the western edge of the meadow. The trail appears to be no longer maintained at this point, but occasional usage has kept the track visible. Downfall and brush encroachment are regular occurrences, but only of minor inconvenience on foot (equestrians would have a tougher time of it). I came to a barbed-wire cattle fence that marks the western edge of the Wilderness and passed through a primitive gate. An odd sound in the distance perplexed me, not quite creek sounds or the wind blowing through the trees, but a incessant droning that was unnatural. As I got closer it became clear - it was the sound of perhaps a hundred cowbells from a herd on the move. It was already obvious that the area here is heavily grazed. Parts of the trail are well-defined because they are used by the cattle to get from one meadow to the next. I didn't go off the trail to investigate and see how many there were and was happy to have the droning noise eventually subside into the background.

I left the trail before it goes over a saddle south of Whittakers Dardanelles, heading cross-country to the northwest towards the summit indicated on the GPS. Heavy forest cover prevents one from seeing the summit from anywhere on the route, and it wasn't until I was nearly upon it around 8a that I had any kind of view to it. The summit is broad, rounded, and mostly forested. There are three or four volcanic piles of rock that stick up from the surroundings and offer modest views, including a glimpse of Spicer Meadow Reservoir to the northeast. The peaks I had climbed the previous day were all just visible on the horizon to the southeast. In other directions were seen mostly the lower forested lands of the Western Sierra. I wandered around the various volcanic plugs trying to determine which was higher. That honor appears to go to the northernmost one. There was a small cairn found here, but no register on any of the bumps I visited.

My return was largely the same route and though pleasant, not terribly interesting until I had gotten back across Wheats Meadow. Along the trail I found a young girl, maybe 15-16yrs old, taking a break. She asked if I knew where Burgson Lake was and whether I'd passed it. No, I hadn't, which didn't really surprise her. She explained that she was scouting for her group back down the trail, the same camp I had passed on the way in. There was supposed to be a ducked use trail leading to Burgson Lake. I got out the GPS to help, finding it about half a mile perpendicular from where we stood. If there was a use trail, we were in the right spot. With a bit of searching, I spotted the duck she was looking for less than 50 yards from where she had stopped. She certainly seemed to have some sense out here, not at all clueless. She went on to check out the use trail while I continued back on the trail. In half a mile I came upon the group of campers. They were all girls, aged anywhere from 12 to 16 years. After reassuring them that their companion was a short distance back and had found the use trail, I asked if they were Girl Scouts. No, just a group from nearby Camp Hazard out on an overnight trip. I was impressed, primarily with the 3-4 older girls who were leading this group of a dozen on their first overnighter. I was also charmed with the difference between girls and boys. The girls were all lined up, sitting on a fallen log, talking and behaving very civil-like. Only one girl was sitting off to the side, resting on her sleeping pad. Had this been a group of boys, they'd have been all over the place, in smaller groups and individuals, not sitting so nicely in a line.

By 10a I had returned to the van. Though I had plenty of time for more hiking and other nearby summits in my queue (West and North Dardanelles), it was already 87F out and I was in no mood to contend with rising temperatures just for the sake of a few more peaks. No, I would be content to call it a day and come back again another time when there wasn't a heat wave searing much of the state. Temperatures in the Central Valley would reach 109F before I was over to the somewhat cooler temperatures of the Bay Area. Time to rest up in the comfort of modern air conditioning. Ahhh....

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