Bald Mountain P1K PD
Squaw Peak P500 WSC / PD
Warren Peak P1K WSC / PD
Payne Peak P900 PD
Cottonwood Mountains HP P1K
Observation Peak P2K

Wed, Sep 5, 2018
Bald Mountain
Squaw Peak
Cottonwood Mountains HP
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 Profiles: 1 2 3


My second day in the Warner Mtns of Northeastern California had me camped in the middle of the range off a lonely stretch of forest road near the base of Bald Mtn. The highlight of the day would be a hike to Warren Peak, the third highest in the range, but first I had some unfinished business from the previous day. I would end up going from before sunrise until sunset, a pretty full day, covering quite a bit of territory. It was warm today, but the air was clearer than it had been in months with a busy fire season in the northern part of the state.

Bald Mountain

Having gone to bed quite early, I was up an hour before sunrise while it was still dark. After packing up my bedding and rearranging the Jeep for daytime mode, I drove a short distance from my campsite to where the road comes closest to Bald Mtn on the north side. The cross-country hike goes up 800ft in just over half a mile, on steep, forested slopes with only modest brush to contend with. I had considered the slightly longer 3/4mi hike directly from my campsite on the east side of the peak, but that looked to be a bit brushier and I went with the steeper approach. I had thought I might be able to reach the summit at sunrise but I was a bit faster than anticipated. Sunrise was still ten minutes away when I reached the open summit where a pile of rocks, a benchmark and the remains of a survey tower marked the highpoint. Warren Peak could be seen in profile to the south, the northern end of the range and Upper Lake to the north, the sun still below the eastern horizon. It was a bit chilly at 8,270ft at that time of the morning so I started back down, but when the sun finally did make an appearance I sat down on the talus slope to watch it come up fully before continuing on my way. By 6:40a I was done with the 40min effort and back to the Jeep.

Squaw Peak / Warren Peak

I spent an hour and a half driving back down to US395, south to Alturas, then back up into the Warner Mtns to the Pepperdine Trailhead for the Summit Trail to Warren Peak. It was almost 8:30a by the time I started off on this popular hike. The trail runs south through the highest parts of the range for 20 scenic miles. There were two other vehicles in the small lot but I would see only one other person the whole outing, a trail runner passing by when I was nearly back to the start. The trail start off in forest through a few switchbacks but quickly opens up to the more scenic terrain found when the trail reaches the crest. Most of the trail is in the South Warner Wilderness, a welcome contrast to the logging and grazing interests that dominate the northern part of the range. About 40min after starting out, I left the trail to head up to Squaw Peak, a bonus summit along the way. I followed the NW Ridge, taking about 30min over easy terrain to reach the wide-open summit. There was a MacLeod/Lilley register from 1998 with pages and pages of entries. I was surprised to find that the very last entry was from a party of four, all of whom I've hiked with before - Dean Gaudet, Kathy Rich, Sean Casserly and Asaka Takahashi, only 4 days earlier. Small world. I descended back down the SW Ridge to the trail, enjoying the hike along the crest past Cottonwood and Patterson Lakes to the shoulder on the east side of Warren Peak. From there the route goes cross-country, class 3 if one sticks close to the ridge (with a sharp drop off the north side), class 2 by staying further off on the south side. The summit sits high atop a class 2-3 rock outcrop with unobstructed views in all directions. I reached the summit shortly before 11a, finding a benchmark and a messy, damp register inside a quart-sized paint can. A paint can? One needs a screwdriver or other tool to open the thing, or I suppose one could just smash it against the rocks in more caveman fashion. Way too popular to photograph the many pages and just finding the oldest entry looked to be a chore - bleah.

From the topo map, it looks like the NW Ridge would be a more direct route to the summit and I decided to go down this way as an alternate. I figured if the ridge became too tedious I could drop down at one of several places off the North Face through steep talus to Patterson Lake. What I found was surprisingly pleasant, mostly forested but with minimal brush. Staying a bit south of the edge made for easier going and lower down I came across cow trails that made the going easier yet. Further down the forest gave way to open ridgeline, the whole ridge taking only about 40min to negotiate. Once back on the trail it was an easy return, getting me back to the THby 12:45p, about four and a quarter hours all told.

Payne Peak

This P900 is found about 7.5mi northwest of the Pepperdine TH. Excellent dirt forest roads get you within a mile of the summit with lesser roads taking you all the way to the top. I drove to the very highest point before getting out to take in the open views with a small telecom installation found just south of the highpoint. Easy as pie, this one.

Cottonwood Mountains HP

The Cottonwood Mtns are a small desert range found south of the much larger (and higher) Warner Mtns. Most of the range is on BLM lands, but there are private ranch inholdings that make access somewhat questionable. I would spend 2.5hrs getting between Payne Peak and my start for the next hike, first driving east out of the range to Cedarville, then south on paved Country Hwy 1 along the eastern edge of the Warner Mtns. Less than a mile before reaching the NV border, I turned south on a dirt road, good at first but growing rougher as time went on. It was a long 22mi of driving into the range. When I turned off the main road I was on private property owned by Dodge Ranch LLC. Though it is a going concern with vast tracts of land in this area and has water rights to the nearby Dodge Reservoir, there were few signs of commercial activity. I drove about a mile and a half east on poor ranch roads until I came to the property boundary. An opening in the fence allowed me to drive further yet, maybe a quarter mile onto the BLM land where I parked when the road became severely degraded. At this point I was a little under three miles from the highpoint, as close as I was going to manage.

It was 4p by the time I started out, making me a little apprehensive that I might find myself thrashing through the weeds and thistles in the dark, but there were no such surprises. The topo map shows a network of 4WD roads in the area, some approaching the peak quite closely, but most of these are no longer viable. I found the cross-country not so bad despite the tall grasses, especially when I discovered that wild horses have provided some trails to make things easier. Rather than try to follow the deteriorating road, I started off on a more direct line, dropping a hundred feet or so to a broad drainage where I first discovered the horse trails. As I was starting out of this drainage for the 1,000ft climb up to the summit, I caught the attention of a trio of horses. They didn't exactly run away, but they would watch me closely for a while and then run off to get more distance if they thought I was getting too close, turning again to watch what me. When they finally realized I was heading off in a tangential direction, they moved back to their original location and resumed grazing - but with the occasional watching eye. Higher up I encountered a range fence which I should have simply followed to the summit. I didn't realize until the return that the horses had made a use trail along the fenceline which would have helped with the grass and brush encountered away from the fence. Still, it wasn't so bad and it ended up taking only a bit over an hour to find my way to the top. The fence goes over the summit ridgeline with the highpoint found just over the fence among some scattered rocks. There was a benchmark denoted as "DODGE". The register left in 2008 by Dingus Milktoast gave it the name "Dodge Point". Mark Adrian, Ron Moe and John Vitz had visited in the interim, along with a couple of firefighters battling a blaze back in 2015. On my way back, I took better advantage of the horse trails along the fence and down the drainage I followed, once again running into the three horses and some of their other pals, seven all told. It was 6p by the time I returned, giving me plenty of daylight by which to navigate the roads back out of the range.

Observation Peak

I continued south through the range on roads that got progressively better. There are scattered homesteads in the area where the hills begin to flatten into the Madeline Plains. To the south loomed Observation Peak, a drive-up P2K topped by a lookout. Its distinctive volcano shape told of an active past in this now-quiet desert region. There is an unlocked gate to go through on the north side of the peak where a dirt road begins, a bit rough but suitable for high-clearance vehicles. It took about 30min to drive to the summit where I found the place deserted but with signs of restoration work under way. The squat lookout tower overlooks a broad stretch of California's northern desert lands, most of it managed by the BLM. I took the opportunity to take a shower while I waited for sunset which came about 15min later. A large plume of smoke from a new fire had risen high in the air and provided an interesting backdrop for the setting sun. Afterwards I drove back down the mountain and back out to US395. A few miles south I turned left on an excellent dirt road that goes to a BLM campground and the starting point for the next day's summits. I found a large turnout on this road and spent the night. I didn't expect to be disturbed but was surprised when several vehicles drove by in the wee hours. They did little to disturb my slumber however, and I was soon back to sleep...


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This page last updated: Tue Sep 11 11:10:58 2018
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