Bald Eagle Peak HPS / ESS
Piute Lookout P500 HPS
Sorrell Peak P1K HPS / ESS / PD

Sun, Jun 19, 2005

With: Matthew Holliman
Mike Larkin

Bald Eagle Peak
Sorrell Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3
Piute Lookout later climbed Fri, Oct 27, 2017


This was a consolation day. The day before we had taken 15-16hrs to climb Angora Mtn and Coyote Peaks where I'd hoped for something closer to 13hrs. Consequently we got back very late and didn't hit the sack until after midnight. Matthew and I had hoped to be able to tackle Kern Peak from the Blackrock Ranger Station up past Sherman Pass, but it would have meant either getting little sleep or getting back very late to the Bay Area on Sunday night. I suggested an alternative to go off and bag four of the HPS peaks south of Lake Isabella that we had been unable to get to in the off-season due to road closures. Matthew was ok with the change in plans and Mike decided to join us as well (he had decided not to go after Kern Peak).

We didn't get up until 6:30a or so, and it took us almost two hours before we got to the trailhead for our first peak at Bald Eagle Peak. We took two cars to drive the 5 miles up the dirt Saddle Springs Road from the pass south of Bodfish. Mike wanted to take his car because he planned to pass on Weldon Peak to allow more time to visit with his folks in the afternoon. In his Jeep, Mike had no trouble negotiating the road and was a good fifteen minutes ahead of Matthew and I in reaching the trailhead. He'd already started off on the trail to Bald Eagle before Matthew and I had arrived.

I started out around 8:15a while Matthew was still getting his act together at the car. I climbed up a short rise from the road and immediately found myself looking at a wall of brush when the faint trail ended. I searched around but saw no opening, no signs of Mike or his boot prints, as though he'd vanished into the thicket. I walked back to the car where Matthew was still working on his boots or something, and dug out my gloves from the car - it looked like it might be a bit of a bushwhack. I went back a second time to examine the ridgeline, doing a better job of investigating several options, but still coming up against a wall of chaparral. I concluded I was inept. I went back to the car a second time and now Matthew could not contain his laughter. He chuckled as I muttered about my lame navigation skills and dug out my HPS directions. The key was there in the text I had failed to read - look for a use trail heading down a short way from the road and then traversing across the south side of the ridge. This I found with no further ado, and was soon on my way. I secretly hoped Matthew would find a similar challenge when we finally got on the trail, but it appears he did not. Rats. That meant I was the only incompetent one in the bunch.

The use trail was one of the nicest around. In places it looked like much rock had been moved to pave a route across some particularly nasty slopes. There were yuccas to avoid (Mike managed to stab himself at least once), but mostly it was just a pleasant stroll. The entire route to the summit is only about 3/4 of a mile, a decidedly easier outing than our usual hikes. At the saddle east of the summit the route has more route-finding challenges as it climbs through some rocky portions on the ridge. The usual over-ducking of the HPS routes was actually helpful in this case, and we still managed to lose the trail a few times. But overall, no serious challenges and a nice hike. One of the added delights were the colorful mix of wildflowers found here. The area is a blend of the drier desert terrain to the east along with the wetter chaparral to the west. The yuccas were in high bloom, extending their massive shafts skyward; shades of yellow, purple and white lined the trail in places, even a few more delicate-looking types that seemed out of place in this harsher climate.

Mike had already been at the summit long enough to peruse most of the summit register and scramble around most of the rocks at the summit by the time I arrived at 8:45a. Matthew was about ten minutes behind me. The wind was calm and the air hazy, disturbing the otherwise fine views that would be had from the summit. The haze extended up to about 5,000ft, which made Lake Isabella in the foreground more obscured than the snowy peaks of the High Sierra some fifty miles further north. Among the register entries was one proclaiming some 38 technical routes on the face of Baldy Rock, the main feature below us to the south. Who would have guessed (or cared)? Upon our return to the trailhead, another car pulled up with a group of three 30-somethings with sacks of climbing gear on their shoulders and cigarettes in hand. I went over to talk with them to find that they were the ones that had put the note in the register and were now up to 52 routes on the rock feature. They couldn't say enough about how great the rock quality was and really wished we'd either come out and try the routes some time or tell others about it. My guess is their work was going to culminate in an obscure climbing guide that might sell a few dozen copies before it became a collector's item.

Back in the cars, our next stop was Piute Lookout. Another 10 miles futher along the road into the heart of the Piute Mtns. This range encompasses the southernmost part of the Sierra Nevada between SR178 and SR58, below which starts the Tehachapi Range. The highpoint of the Piute Mtns is an 8,435-foot unnamed summit not far from the Saddle Springs Rd - Piute Mtn Rd junction. We had considered climbing this with nearby Piute Mtn though neither is an HPS peak, just because we were in the area. But as we were to find, the peaks are both rounded knobs covered in trees, looking devoid of views altogether. It was clear why they weren't listed peaks, and upon viewing them our interest in climbing them dissolved altogether. We drove the three miles out to Piute Lookout on a decent road that any 2WD vehicle ought to be able to negotiate. The hike is something like a quarter mile, about as easy a hike as one can get without it being a drive-up. Mike had already climbed to the summit and was just arriving back by the time Matthew and I got to the end of the road. Mike decided to tag along with us for another visit, just to be sociable (we agreed this gave him his 2x ascent of the "peak").

At the summit is the scant remains of a forest lookout, the foundation and a few cross timbers for the base all that remained. It had good views, with the same exception for the haze. One could see to Telescope Peak in Death Valley to the northeast, The High Sierra to the north, and the San Gabriels to the southeast. The snow-covered north sides of San Antonio and San Gorgonio just made themselves visible above the desert haze. The rock at the Piute Lookout summit was a fractured slate, very sharp in places and not altogether solid for climbing. But there were a half dozen rocky pinnacles about the highpoint and we spent about 15 minutes playing around on them, looking for class 4 and easy class 5 routes to scramble up.

Back at the cars, we returned to Piute Mtn Rd and continued east to Sorrell Peak. The road improved a good deal, easily navigable by 2WD vehicles. Still, it took another hour for us to make our way to the Sorrell TH. The last four miles were not on good road, slowing us down further (or at least Matthew and I - Mike beat us to the TH by some 15 minutes or more). This is another short hike, about a mile roundtrip with 400ft of gain. As I got out of the car I looked at Matthew and thought he was going to pass out on me. He looked tired and wan, like the blood had been drained from his face. There was no enthusiasm in his face, and I asked if he'd rather take a nap. "No, I'm tired," was all he managed to say. He looked rather anemic as we headed out on a dirt bike trail on the west side of the peak. He must have come to life along the way, because suddenly he asked "Where is this trail going?" Out in front, I stopped to consult my map. I had to admit it seemed to be traversing more than it was climbing the peak, and it didn't seem in any hurry to get us to the top. The HPS route guide says to gain the ridge directly from the trailhead, no mention of a trail. So we left the trail abruptly and just headed up the steep slope.

It was good timing for Matthew to comment, because we now found ourselves directly under the summit above us. Near the top the west side has some rocky granite cliffs. A ducked route led between two pinnacles to the easier east side of the peak, but I decided to try the class 4ish-looking west side via some knobby faces and ledges. The first move up from the base was a bit of a stretch but it was easy class 3 above that. A bit exposed, but really bomber holds. I paused to get out the camera to photograph Matthew at that first move, but he never finished it. After a minute he gave up in some frustration, not wanting to climb that move in his hiking boots, and seemingly not really caring to climb at all. "Do you want to take the ducked route or play around on the rock?" I called down, guessing that he hadn't seen the ducked route. "I don't care," was all I heard, and I'm not sure that Matthew knew what I had said. I left him to himself and finished the last 50 feet or so to the summit.

Mike had already signed into the register and departed. The views weren't particularly great from the summit, but I did get a view to Cross and Chuckwalla Mtns to the southeast, a pair the three of us had climbed the previous winter. Matthew popped up from the west side after about 10 minutes, looking more awake now. We signed ourselves in, took a few pictures and descended the easy way back to the trail and the car. Mike was just about to leave when we arrived, and paused to see where we were off to.

We had planned to head to Weldon next as it wasn't yet 1p. The peak was going to involve more driving on dirt roads which we were tired of by now, and seven miles of hiking one way. It seemed a waste to miss the opportunity while we were so near, and I'd hoped Matthew was still interested. He generously offered to drive over with me and take a nap while I climbed it, but I didn't really want to climb it that badly. There would be other opportunities. Mike had planned to head back anyway, and now suggested we get mexican food at Isabella. That sounded good to all of us, so off we went, ending one of our weakest efforts yet. Three HPS peaks with not even three miles of hiking - it was quite embarassing. At least lunch was good...

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