Basalt Hill P900

Thu, Sep 19, 2013
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I was heading to Mineral King to join friends for a small junket to the Big Arroyo where we planned to climb Squaretop and some other lesser-known summits in the Kaweah region. There had been some discussion as to whether to get a permit which would limit the times we could start off at the trailhead. I had originally planned to start when I got there to make the journey by moonlight, conveniently near full, but in the end I decided to be more sociable and join Matthew who preferred getting a permit and thus a morning start. As I was driving on SR152 across Pacheco Pass it occurred to me that I could still do a moonlight hike. Basalt Hill is a lowly Diablo Range summit barely over 1,700ft in height, but it sports almost a thousand feet of prominence where it overlooks the San Luis Reservoir at its southeast corner. It lies just outside the recreational area popular with fishermen and campers. I had been eyeing it for years and had even made an attempt once before, but was turned around at the entrance station because I didn't want to pay the $10 fee. I figured I'd come back at night sometime when the station was closed.

I pulled up shortly after 8p but was surprised to see the booth still manned. The CA state employee I found there turned out to be a pretty entertaining fellow. He and I had a fine banter back and forth, me trying to figure out how to get in for cheap (or free), him trying his best to accomodate me. He was going to be off-duty soon, so there was little he could do personally - the enforcers come later to check on violations. The campground would cost me $31 to occupy for the few hours I wanted to hike which we both agreed was unreasonable. Could I park back down the road and hike in? Maybe, but that might be an enforced No Parking After Sunset deal. There was a primitive campground back down the road, but that would cost $17. As we talked he mentioned night fishing permits and I asked how much those cost. $10. Ok, I was willing to pay $10 since I was here now a second time. Do I actually need to fish to buy the permit? This was a bit of a conundrum which resulted in a call to another authority. "Hello, Don? Does someone need to fish in order to buy a fishing permit? ... No? Ok, thanks." That must have sounded strange to the other party because there was no accompanying explanation as to why someone would do this. This appeared to be intentional and we both had a laugh when he hung up. In the end, $10 gave me a little piece of paper to stick to my window and allow me to park for the night in the large, empty lot just past the station. Now I just have to hope my van doesn't attract vandals out here...

The lands just outside the recreation area that include Basalt Hill are used for grazing. Though I saw no cattle on my outing, the low cropped grass makes for easy cross-country. The summit was less than two miles from the parking lot, so it was not a long outing, taking less than two hours. I used a combination of roads on either side of the fenceline along with some cross-country to make a fairly direct route to Basalt Hill. Along with the expected array of small towers, there was a lookout tower at the summit. It was locked up with no external stairway, so I had to be content with walking around the base of it. The lights of the Central Valley can be seen spread out in patchwork fashion to the east while a thin line of car lights are found snaking down from Pacheco Pass and around the north side of the massive reservoir. To the south and west all is dark save for the soft glow of the moonlight on the surrounding hills.

For the descent I dropped off the south side of the summit to intersect the road that spirals up to the top from that side. I eventually found my way back around to the northeast side that I had come up and followed down the ridgeline I had used earlier. I was happy to find my van unmolested when I returned, and was soon resuming my journey to Mineral King. The short outing would mean it would be after 1a before I reached my destination, but the diversion was certainly worth it. It might also make for very pleasant hike in the springtime during the day - assuming one can avoid any ranchers on patrol...


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