Bear Peak P500 CC
Red Hill
Kelsey Range HP P500
Baldy Mountain P500 CC
Boulder Peak P1K CC
Peak 5,319ft

Sat, Jun 8, 2019
Bear Peak
Red Hill
Baldy Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile


Today's main event in CA's North Coast region was a 16mi out and back hike along the crest of the Kelsey Range, a remote sub-range in the Klamath Mtns between US199 and SR96. Most of the route lies in the Siskiyou Wilderness with open views for most of the hike, an unusual prospect in these heavily forested parts of the state. The hike would take in the CC-listed Bear Peak and the range highpoint found at the far western end. There were two bonus peaks to be included as well, but somehow I missed the unnamed one without realizing it until days later. The latter part of the day saw me pay a visit to two other CC-listed summits about 10mi to the northeast.

Kelsey Range

I had spent the night camped at the TH and was up early, starting around 5:50a, shortly after sunrise. Most of the route travels around the 5,000-foot elevation level, mostly on the south side of the crest, but sometimes on the crest itself. It makes for a very enjoyable hike, one of the best I've found outside the Marble Mtns and Trinity Alps in the northwest part of the state. Much of the range and the surrounding areas had burned badly in the 2017 Prescott and Clear Fires. Despite this, the area is still very scenic and thankfully is already beginning the process of recovery. It took about 50min to reach Bear Peak, the highest point on the ridgeline (though barely). The trail passes beneath the summit, but the cross-country to the top is short and not very brushy, at least from the SE Ridge. I knew that Barbara Lilley had visited the peak in 2001 and hoped to find a register she may have left, but could find nothing in my search among the summit rocks. I ended up leaving one of my own before descending back to the trail along the SW Ridge. This was quite a bit brushier and not nearly as easy as the way up the SE Ridge. I spent more than an hour continuing west on the trail, passing by the trail junction to Bear Lakes. This side trail drops steeply down the north side of the crest to reach a trio of lakes nestled in the woods of Little Bear Valley. Much of the terrain on the north side of the range had been burned rather severely, with only a few green patches now beginning to appear. On the south side, it appears that some of the trees had managed to survive, perhaps because they were more sparsley spaced on the sunnier, drier side of the crest.

Around 8a I left the trail a second time, this time to head up to Red Hill. Though lower than Bear Peak, it took more effort for this one since the trail skirts the summit more widely. The cross-country is easy at first through the burned forest remains, becoming a boulder scramble as one nears the crest and the summit that sits atop it. I found a very large cairn here but no register. Having come up from the southeast side, I headed west along the ridgeline where the going was fairly easy with little brush, rejoining the trail again where it climbs back up to the crest, about 0.4mi west of Red Hill. Another mile further west, the trail drops almost 400ft as it descends into a drainage on the east side of the Kelsey Range HP, officially unnamed peak 5,896ft, before ascending back up the crest. It may do this for the camping opportunities with water in the forested drainage, but otherwise seems like an unnecessary detour. The forest was burned quite thoroughly here and I lost the trail at one point before finding it again just before it starts to ascend out of the drainage. I eventually left the trail again when I was south of the range highpoint in order to reach it by a more direct route through another heavy burn area.

It was 10:30a by the time a found my way to the highpoint in an open, flattish area where the Kelsey Range meets the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains and the Del Norte/Siskiyou County boundary. Preston Peak, a P2K I've yet to visit, could be seen prominently to the north about 10mi away, featuring a bit of lingering snow on its southern aspect. To the east stretched the crest of the Kelsey Range which I had just traversed. Far to the southeast was the snowy crest of the Trinity Alps, with Thompson Peak as its highpoint. Mark Adrian had left a register here in 2012, describing it accurately as the "Possible Highpoint of the Kelsey Range". Because of the subjective nature of range boundaries, Bear Peak might also be considered the range highpoint. From where I stood looking east, I certainly seemed to be outside the range which really just consists of a single, long ridge running contrary to main crest of the Siskiyou Mtns. Seems I may be the first visitor since Mark had left the register 7yrs earlier.

For the return, I decided to head northeast off the summit to follow the ridgeline more directly, avoiding what seemed an unnecessary drop back into the drainage on the south side of the ridge below the Kelsey Range HP. I was a little afraid I might run into a cliff or some nasty obstacle that might explain why the trail was routed so, but was happy to find no such issues. In fact, it was a very enjoyable way to return to the trail where it climbs back up to the ridge and I would recommend it as a better ascent route than following the trail as I had done. The fire had burnt off most of the trees and brush, so in a few years this might become a brushier affair, but for now it was rather enjoyable. After returning to the trail, I stuck to it for the entire return back to the TH, still hours away. I got back to the starting point around 2:10p, not quite as tired as I had expected to be after 16mi. Perhaps I could get a few more peaks in?

I unintentionally skipped Peak 5,720ft just northwest of Red Hill, another bonus peak that would have worked nicely with the others. I didn't realize this until some days later when I was looking more closely at the LoJ database.

Baldy Mtn/Boulder Peak

These two CC-listed peaks are found about 9mi NE of the Kelsey Range, though there's no easy way to get from one to the other. I had first to drive all the way back down to SR96 at the Klamath River, then 9mi north on the highway to Happy Camp, then back up forest roads to the peaks, an effort that would take me almost exactly two hours. My first stop was the lookout just SE of Baldy which is a drive-up when the road is open. I had attempted this same drive about a month earlier and was blocked by snow on the road around the 3,500-foot level. Today it was almost bone dry and fairly easy. What a difference a month makes in melting snow this time of year. The lookout is unmanned and no longer maintained. The observation deck is still useable and the insides have been cleaned out. One can just see Mt. Shasta poking up across the Marble Mountains to the east. Baldy Mtn lies 1/3mi to the northwest of the lookout and after returning to the jeep I drove down a hill to a saddle, about as close as one can drive to Baldy. The climb from the southeast to the summit is steep but short, taking but 10min. The highpoint is not at the benchmark as indicated on the topo, but a short distance south of that at a rock outcrop. I left a new register here, but have my doubts as to its chances of surviving very long. Seems too easy a place to visit.

I returned to the jeep again, this time driving back down the lookout road and taking another fork that goes to the saddle between Baldy Mtn and Boulder Peak. I was getting kinda tired by this time, so I dug into the cooler to grab some snacks I had recently purchased on my way through Happy Camp. The sugar and caffeine combined nicely to give me just the pep I needed to finish the day. From the saddle, the hike is just a little over a mile to the summit of Boulder, gaining about 900ft to reach the 6,014-foot summit. Dennis Poulin had reported tedious brush on his ascent in 2014, but fire had rendered any such brush a non-issue now. Wildflowers in bloom added color to the charred landscape and one could see the brush beginning to make its usual resurgence. It took about 45min to reach the summit at a measured pace - I was definitely not as fresh as when I started out in the morning. I left another register at the summit when I reached it, after taking in views west to Preston, east to Red Butte, and southeast across Badly Mtn to the Marble Mtns and the Trinity Alps.

Peak 5,319ft

In perusing my maps I had noticed there was a bonus peak in the area, a mile and a half northeast of Baldy. I didn't have all that much energy, but I figured if I could drive close enough, I'd give it a go. I found some side roads that got me within 1/3mi of the summit, below a saddle west of the peak. Portions of this were terribly overgrown and I did my paintjob no favors in driving through it, but we had fun and the jeep didn't seem to mind, too much. The going up and back was through an old timber cut that was growing back with more brush than I would have liked, but not enough to get me to give up. The summit turned out to be atop a rock outcrop with better views than I had expected, but really only partial ones looking east and west over all the trees. It would be nearly 7p by the time I was done with this last one, enough to call it a day. After showering and changing to fresh clothes, I debated when I should start drinking. I decided to wait until I had driven back down to Happy Camp, driven east on SR96 to Seiad Valley, and started up Seiad Valley Rd before cracking open a cold one. The pavement ends in a few miles once past what little civilization can found in the valley, becoming good gravel and dirt as it makes its way up and over Cook and Green Pass before dropping into Oregon on the other side. I would spend the night camped at the pass, a few miles from Red Butte which I planned to hike the next day. I was surprised to hear another vehicle crossing over the pass during the night, but for the most part, it's a pretty remote and quiet place to sleep through the night...


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