Mon, Oct 21, 2013
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With a few free days at the beginning of the week, I headed to Lake County and the Cache Creek Wilderness to tag a handful of CC-listed summits in the area. I had spent the night in Middleton after climbing Harbin Mtn that evening, but was up before 7a to breakfast and drive to the start for Bally Peak. Located in the western portion of the BLM wilderness, the entire route starting from SR20 is publicly accessible, though there is no trailhead or other signs to help you find your way. Locating the route with Google Maps, I had it entered in the GPS, but even so had to make several passes back and forth along a short stretch of highway before locating a suitable starting point. I found a trail marker, but little else. The area seems to see few visitors and there are no maintained trails in this part of the wilderness. The primary users are most likely hunters.
Starting off at 7:30a, I left the highway through an opening in an old fenceline and soon found myself on the old ranch road I had identified beforehand. A mix of road and use trails led uphill for about two miles to the summit. Sunrise came soon after I started out and lit up the brown hills with a soft golden light in the early morning. There are some conifers, but the main flora is oak woodland with lots of open grassy slopes that make cross-country travel at least possible in this section of the wilderness. In others there is thick chaparral covering much of the landscape as I would discover later.
The area appears to have plenty of wildlife. I saw several elk in the early morning that took off silently when they spotted me. I wondered how many others took off before I had a chance to see them first. There were piles of elk and deer poop along many parts of the trail and a surprising amount of bear scat. Many parts of the grassy slopes showed the unmistakable rototilling left by rooting pigs. The hike was fairly short, barely two miles in length, taking less than an hour. I was happy to find no bushwhacking necessary anywhere along the route. The rounded summit affords partial views due to tree cover. One can see west to Konocti, south and southeast to Brushy Sky High, and partial views to the north and east. I found a deer antler at the summit but no cairn, benchmark or register of any sort. I returned back the way I had come, returning to the van by 8:45a.
I next drove a short distance east to the Redbud trailhead parking. There is a nice restroom facility and plenty of parking at this BLM facility. The trailhead appears popular with equestrians. This was the closest starting point to reach Brushy Sky High (another CC peak) via legal means, about six miles one-way. The maintained Redbud Trail covers the first two miles of the route, but the remainder was on an old unmaintained fireroad/trail that climbs from Cache Creek to the summit of Brushy Sky High along a long, north-south ridgeline. I found the Redbud trail very nice, traveling through a mature manzanita forest and more oak woodlands and grassy hillsides. The trail climbs some 500ft to go over a ridge before dropping down to Cache Creek at Baton Flat. An easier route can be found further east (that I used on the way back), but this travels through a short section of private property inholding. The initial ridge the trail climbs offers some nice views of the Cache Creek drainage. A short side trail leads to Inspire Point, an easy diversion with a nice view.
Down at Baton Flat, I missed where the trail actually crosses Cache Creek and ended up crossing it elsewhere upstream and using some animal tracks to climb the steep embankment on the other side to reach the Brushy Peak Trail. Had I followed the Redbud Trail across Cache Creek I would have found the trail junction sign and the easier way to climb out of the drainage. From this point the summit is only four miles away, but I found the trail only good for about half a mile. It has been a long time since the route was last cleared and the trail is very thin. The GPS kept me on track but the route grows progressively worse. I bushwacked through one section to find some clearing above, but this soon devolved into worse bushwhacking. I might have still persevered, but when I spotted poison oak vines among the tangle of brush I would have to crawl through, I decided enough was enough. This route would need clippers and I was not equipped with them today. I turned back.
I was back at the Redbud TH before 11:30a, the main objective of the day unrealized. I next turned my attention to Blue Ridge on the east end of the wilderness in Yolo County. Blue Ridge is the third highest summit in Yolo County and the second most prominent. Fiske is a popular summit along the way to Blue Ridge, and the fourth highest summit in the county. I spent about 40 minutes driving from Redbud to Cache Creek Regional Park along SR16 and a lower section of Cache Creek. The park has ample camping and day use parking, both requiring fees. Just before turning into the lot at the lower section of the park I turned left onto old County Rd 40 and found a place to park there. I didn't know the legality of parking here, but I received no ticket or other notice in the six hours my van was parked there. At one time Road 40 crossed over the river and continued up to Morgan Valley Road, but it has long been closed to vehicles. The bridge over Cache Creek is a low concrete structure inundated at times of high water. The Blue Ridge Trail starts on the opposite of this bridge which is curiously rated for very low tonnage. An old sign just after the bridge points left to the start of the Blue Ridge Trail which is found by following a dirt road around a bend in the river.
The Blue Ridge trail starts off through forest understory but soon breaks out into the more ubiquitous chaparral found covering most of the ridgeline. The trail climbs steadily upwards, first providing views to Cache Creek on the west side of the ridge, but eventually moving around to the east side of the ridge for views in that direction. It then switchbacks its way up to the crest just south of Pt. 2,631ft before following the ridge itself to Fiske in another 3/4 mile. The views are about as good as they get in Yolo County, not known for having many summits. It is a delightful hike with views off both sides of the ridge. I imagine on a clear day one could see the Sierra in profile, but today this was not possible with the typical Central Valley haze.
I reached the summit of Fiske by 1:45p, an hour and half after starting out. An ammo box holds a number of registers not dating back all that far on this highly popular summit. Dingus Milktoast was one of the last to visit the summit less than a month earlier, his name appearing more than a dozen times in the various books. I had hiked with him some years earlier to Little Blue Ridge, the highpoint of Yolo County on a fun and interesting adventure. I stayed only a minute before continuing south on what eventually became a brushier trail. The route continues for many miles along Blue Ridge, but the traffic is obviously much lighter past Fiske. It took another hour and a half to cover the four miles to the highpoint of Blue Ridge and the Lowery benchmark. This point has over 1,000ft of prominence which is why it had gotten my attention. There was another ammo box and a busy register, though not the same popularity as Fiske. There were a number of recognizable names, including Dingus, Toxo, and Daryn Dodge, among others. I ate lunch at the summit while enjoying the fine afternoon weather.
The trail continues south from the highpoint but it was as far as I was going today, and by 3:30p I turned to start my return. I watched a trio of buzzards catching updrafts on the west side of the ridge as I hiked along the trail. They seemed to follow me along my way north for a short while, but that might have had nothing to do with me. There was a fire burning to the northeast somewhere in the Central Valley that I had spotted hours earlier. A change in the wind direction began to bring the clouds south and west over the Cache Creek area and within a short time there was smoke found in the surrounding canyons and marring much of the view. It was nearly 6p by the time I returned to the bridge and the van. It had been a pretty full day and I was happy to be finally done. I drove back up SR16 a few miles to the High Bridge TH on BLM property that had none of the fees associated with the county park. After a cold shower I changed into some fresh clothes and spent the rest of the evening in the van watching a movie while eating dinner and enjoying a few cold beverages. I would have to return to San Jose the next day but reserved some time in the morning for one last hike in the surrounding hills...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bally Peak - Fiske BM
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