Ash Peaks Ridge
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Ash Peaks Ridge, Ash Peak East and Ash Peak West are all summits that collectively form what is more generally called Ash Mountain in the southwest corner of Sequoia National Park. Ash Mountain is a well-known landmark in the Three Rivers area, rising high above the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the Kaweah River. The southern entrance to Sequoia NP is named the Ash Mountain entrance station. The highest point is Ash Peaks Ridge at 5,600ft. Not high by Sierra standards, it is considered part of the foothills by the Park Service, but is really a sort of mid-range between the foothills and the higher summits within the park. It sees few visitors as there are no trails that reach near its brushy summit. At one time a trail did reach to the summit off the Colony Mill Trail, but it does not show up on any current topo maps. It did show up on my Garmin GPS map, which got me thinking I might have a way to reach the summit. The Colony Mill Trail is actually the old road to Giant Forest before the more modern General's Highway was completed in 1926. The old road was closed and is currently maintained, albeit poorly, as a trail. It sees little traffic and doesn't even have a marked trailhead where it forks from the Crystal Cave Road. The old park entrance station still stands along the trail/road, though dilapidated and abandoned. All of this combined for what seemed like a nice, historic adventure.
My first problem was dealing with the Crystal Cave Rd. It is only open between 9a and 4:30p which limits the amount of time available for a day hike. I was waiting outside the gate an hour early in case they actually opened it before the scheduled time, but this was in vain. Following the opening, it took almost 40 minutes to drive to the start of the Colony Mill Trail. It was fortunate that I had the location marked on my GPS because there is no sign whatsoever. There is parking off the road for only a few vehicles.
I started off just before 9:45a. It quickly becomes evident that the road hasn't seen vehicle travel in many decades. The roadbed is still there, but downfall and undergrowth have reduced it to mere trail. The trail follows through a mixed oak/conifer forest for the first three miles or so. Around the two-mile mark is a trail junction for Admiration Point. I knew nothing of it, but decided to follow it since it suggested a good view spot. It was much longer than I anticipated, about a mile long and dropping some 500ft. The trail leads to a perch atop a limestone outcrop overlooking the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. Half a dozen waterfalls and cascades can be seen in the steep drainage dropping from Giant Forest down to the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. Switchback Peak, which I had visited the previous day, can be seen prominently to the south. There is an old railing to keep visitors safe and secure and it made a nice spot to take a break and have a snack while I enjoyed the scene. It is an impressive view and worth the extra effort.
After climbing back up to the old road, I soon came upon the old entrance station, fallen into ruin after decades of neglect. It looked like it might fall down in the next wind and I didn't dare explore inside. The trail descends more and soon breaks out onto Ash Peaks Ridge where the views open up and the conifers give way to oak, manzanita and thick chaparral. At the spot marked on the GPS as the start of the Ash Peaks Trail, I searched off the side of the road for any signs of the old trail but found none. I thought maybe the north side of the ridge would afford better cross-country travel since it had more trees and less understory, but the road soon starts descending well before it gets near the highpoint. A north side approach would be more than 1,000ft of steep whacking - no thanks.
I was going to give up at this point, but thought I'd at least try to reach the ridge and see if there were any signs of a trail. Just before the road starts down more steeply, I climbed the north side of Pt. 5,188ft for about 150ft. To my surprise I came across an old insulated wire strung through the trees, about the size of a TV cable. Below was what might be an animal trail or the old tread of the Ash Peaks Trail. I started to follow it westward. I soon realized it was clearly the trail, but in poor shape. In places the trail was relatively clear and I could make good progress. In others, the brush was so thick I had to plow, bulldoze, crawl and tunnel my way through. The cable was seen periodically, sometimes on the ground, sometimes in the air or off to one side, sometimes absent altogether only to reappear later. I got off the trail at several spots and into thick bushwhacking before backtracking and finding the correct route. The trail wasn't very good, but it was better than raw cross-country travel across the ridge. I came across old fuel cans and other artifacts of bygone days, but hope as I might, the trail showed no signs of improvement the further along I went. By 1p I had gotten 3/4 mile along the ridge with another mile to go. It appeared impossible to reach the summit and get back before the Crystal Cave Road closes. Without clippers I might still be many hours from the summit. Even with clippers, I would probably be looking at hours worth of toil. I turned back. I consoled myself with the idea of coming back with more help to recut the trail once again to the peak. Where I might find such foolhardy souls didn't trouble me in the least.
It was 3p by the time I got back to the car, most of the day having been consumed in the Ash Peaks effort. Admiration Point was some consolation, and at least now I had some idea what I was up against. I had toyed with the idea of climbing Colony Peak, 3/4 mile off the old road, but even with easier cross-country, I wouldn't get back in time for the road closure. It too, would have to wait for another time.
Back out on the General's Highway, I stopped at Lodgepole for some supplies (snacks, dinner and some wine, even) before heading north a few miles to Little Baldy Saddle and the trailhead for Little Baldy. It's an easy 1.7mi hike to a delightful viewspot above the highway. The views to the Central Valley were as hazy as the previous afternoon, but there is a grand view looking east of the Tablelands flanked by Mt. Silliman and Alta Peak, along with the southern stretch of the Great Western Divide. While playing with the GPS, looking for other nearby summits, Ball Dome popped up. Not exactly nearby, it was something challenging I could do the next day. After photographing the views and the USGS benchmark, I beat a more direct cross-country retreat off the northwest side of the ridge to shave about half the distance off the more gently graded trail. Before looking for a place to spend the night, I had dinner, wine and a movie off the side of the road in style that would have made Pete Yamagata envious. Dee-lish!
In studying the park map for how to reach Ball Dome via Silliman Pass, I notice there were two possible starting points. One was from Lodgepole that I had used several times previously, the other somewhat short starting from the Wuksachi TH. The Wuksachi Lodge is a newer, higher end facility for visitors to stay at just a short distance up the road from Lodgepole. Driving in to check it out, I found a huge, empty trailhead parking lot at the end of the road. I decided to spend the night here as it appears isolated. And so it was. I was able to pass the entire night without another vehicle pulling in to disturb me. Or a ranger to roust me out...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Little Baldy
This page last updated: Wed Jan 2 17:13:28 2019
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