Perkins West Peak
Pincushion Mountain P300
Corlew Mountain P500
Big Table Mountain P500
Sugarloaf Hill

Mar 9, 2024
Sugarloaf Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX

I took a few days between rain episodes to pay my first visit to the Sierra Nevada this year. Like most parts of the state, rains had brought green carpeting to the hills not covered in snow, making for a really nice time to be outside in California. Mind you, I wasn't after snow which had recently fallen below 5,000ft, so I planned to visit the foothills in Fresno and Madera Counties, on either side of the San Joaquin River. Today's peaks were primarily on the Fresno side of Millerton Lake, a large reservoir NE of Fresno. I've driven past Millerton Lake dozens of times over the years on my way to higher Sierra peaks in the Kaiser and John Muir Wildernesses, but never stopped here. Chris Kerth had done some ambitious packraft hikes in the area which had piqued my interest. It was nice to have a drive that was only about 3hrs instead of the usual 6-8hrs I was doing when visiting the Mojave this winter.

West Perkins Peak

This summit is a short hike off Sky Harbor Rd on the way to the TH for Pincushion Peak. It has very little prominence but somehow got a name and landed on LoJ and PB. There is a parking area found off Sky Harbor just north of the summit. The peak is outside the Millerton SRA and appears to be on private property, though I doubt anyone would notice. I followed a use trail along the fenceline as it climbed southwest above the roadway, then through an opening in the fence (Ok, it was really just loose strands in the barb-wire fence), and then steeply up to the summit, taking less than 10min. Not much to this one.

Pincushion Peak

This is a surprisingly popular summit, possibly because it is one of the closest summits with public access from Fresno. The Pincushion TH was packed when I arrived after 10a on a Saturday. Luckily, the Jeep can park on rutted parts roadside where others fear to tread. There were several dozen cars all told, and many more dozens of folks found along the trail. A firetruck was parked nearby with a trio out for a morning workout, carrying equipment, heavy clothing, and such. As I caught up to them, I asked the guy wearing the pack how he got the short straw, and he said he's usually the guy in front of everyone else. This was their way of handicapping him. It took me about 30min to cover the mile+ distance to the summit, which has commanding views around the reservoir, green countryside, and snow at the higher elevations to the east. There were also more than 30 folks milling about, making it impossible to get any solitude (not that I was looking for any). I went up from the west side and down the east side route before circling back to the main trail. About an hour for the roundtrip.

Curlew Mountain

This one is on private property to the east of the lake and south of Auberry Rd. It had more than 600ft of prominence and I thought I had a mostly public way to get to it. There is a cell tower at the west summit with a newly-constructed road to reach it. I drove through an open gate and turned right at a junction (the left fork goes to the last homestead along the road), driving all the way to the cell tower. From there, it is an enjoyable walk along the ridgeline for about a mile, passing through several property boundaries, but really isolated and little chance of being discovered. There was no real bushwhacking, most of it open, grass and oak woodland. The only poison oak I found was near the top, but easily avoided. The highpoint is found at a small rock outcrop at the east end of the summit ridgeline. I thought this the best outing of the day. On the way back down, I found the gate no longer open - locked up tight. I had no choice but to drive to the homestead, confess my trespassing and ask for help. Initially wary ("What are you doing here?!" My answer - "Trepassing."), he came around and was quite friendly considering my inconveniencing him. He told me about others that had driven up to the tower to dump trash, one guy cooking meth during the height of fire season, etc, but decided I wasn't one of those types. It really pays to be an old guy (and nice) at times like these. He unlocked the gate and let me out, both of us feeling pretty good about the encounter.

Big Table Mountain

Marcus Sierra does a good job of describing this one on his PB trip report. Though the summit is on private property, most of the hike is on public lands. The starting point is at the north end of Wellbarn Rd, east of the summit. The highpoint is less than a mile from here, but the hike is more than three miles, all to avoid an inholding on a high ridge east of the summit. Like Pincushion, it is very popular though there is no parking lot and almost no signage. It appears to be this way to leave it as a "locals only". There were again dozens of cars lining the west side of the roadway (no parking on the east side). I was getting a late start, so was able to drive up to the gate and park there. Most of the hike is along well-graded roads and there were many folks encountered coming and going. The road drops all the way down to Millerton Lake (where I suspect most folks are headed), but there is a junction more than halfway down that one takes to then climb back up to the tablelands. It's quite steep in places and I was wishing I could have just driven it. At the plateau there is signage to stay on the trail. It seems that there are cyrpobiotics that they may want you to keep from trampling, but no mention of it. There used to be an electric fence powered by solar cells protecting portions of it, but this has fallen into disarrary and cow tracks can be found throughout the summit plateau. There is really no way to reach the summit at the east end of the plateau without stepping on the cyrptobiotics. I'd like to say I found a way without doing so, but that would be a lie. It took me about an hour and twenty minutes to reach the highpoint depicted on LoJ and PB. I'm not convinced it's really the highpoint - it will be interesting to see what the LiDAR data says when available.

Sugarloaf Hill

This last summit was a lot of driving for a minor summit. I drove (poorly) paved Jose Basin Rd for 7.5mi from Auberry Rd. It is very narrow and windy, and one has to drive slowly so as not to crash into oncoming vehicles (and there were a surprising number of them). Then it's about 2.5mi of dirt Forest road, badly rutted in places, high-clearance required. I got within 1/3mi of the summit before downfall blocked the road. The hike has little brush to contend with, thanks to the 2020 Creek Fire. I found a cairn at the lonely summit, but had no registers to leave (seems I forgot my food/register box and would have to make due without). I was back around 5p, ready to call it a day. I took a shower where I'd parked, then drove partway back down the Forest road to a flat spot with cell service where I would spend the night...


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