Bitter BM P300
Peak 4,193ft P300
Tully Mountain

Wed, Jan 20, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX

Cold and wet weather was forecast to settle over the Bay Area and other parts of the state towards the weekend, so I used this fine weather day for an outing to some peaks I had been thinking about over the past few months. Back in November, I had spent a few days in the Clear Creek Management Area which encompasses the highest peaks in the Diablo Range. I had passed by the BLM's Laguna Mtn trailheads on my way there. I had been there a decade earlier to climb the obvious summit for which it was named, but there were other summits I could reach with a bit of trouble. The "trouble" was that the peaks, though residing on BLM land, were not easy to reach without traveling on adjacent private property.

Bitter BM

This summit isn't in the Laguna Mtn Recreation Area, and was more of an afterthought as I was driving SR25 south from Hollister. The summit and route are entirely on private property. Located near the junction of SR25 and Coalinga Rd, I had passed by it back in November and noted that a fire in 2020 had burned over the area, making an ascent much easier than it would be otherwise. I had planned to do it as a night hike sometime, but now thought I could probably do it in the early morning without drawing attention. The summit is located about a mile from the highway, and the first part of my route went up a narrow canyon protected from view. Pink flagging marked a route through the canyon bottom, likely used by firefighters while building firebreaks in the canyon. The hardest part of the outing was the steep slopes climbing out of the canyon. Higher up, a series of bulldozed firebreaks and ranch roads are encountered, making the second half easier. It took me half an hour to reach the open summit, where a small, solar-powered telecom installation is found along with a moderately-sized oak. The benchmark has been removed, but there were two reference marks still intact. Good views looking west to Rabbit Valley and east to the higher peaks around San Benito Mtn. Pinnacles NP can be seen in profile to the northwest. Though the fire had burned over much of the slopes I traveled, new growth was already in evidence, even though there has been very little rain to date. I was back by 9a and quickly headed off to the Laguna Mtn THs.

Peak 4,193ft

Another 20min of driving got me to the Upper Sweetwater TH where there is a bathroom, picnic benches, an information kiosk and parking for a few vehicles. The only trail is labeled "L3", starting behind the bathroom. I followed the trail for about a mile to where it makes a sharp turn at a fence marking private property boundary. I followed the fenceline around in a counter-clockwise fashion, hoping to use some private ranch roads that approach Peak 4,193ft from the northwest. I encountered a locked gate with some fancy ironwork and thought better of continuing in this direction. Later, I found there is a home inside this private inholding, so I'm glad I turned back. Back on L3, I considered giving up until I could do more research on an alternate way to reach the peak. Then I got to thinking that this area is used mostly by hunters and they seem pretty good at making use trails to reach parts off the main trail. Maybe I could discover one of these? So I continued up L3 where the trail becomes a ranch road heading southeast. At what could be construed as the start of the North Ridge of Peak 4,193ft, I noticed a faint trail heading up a grassy section and followed it. This led to the fortuitous discovery of just such a use trail I was looking for. It was overgrown and required much ducking under encroaching brush, but there was no crawling and I made good time up the ridge. Unfortunately, I lost the trail at about the halfway point and could not pick it up again. I spent probably 15min searching out all possible routes into the brush, only to be beaten back each time by the impenetrable variety. While I was doing this, I paused to check my phone for cell service, happy to see that I was high enough to get a signal. I checked the satellite views of the area to see if I could see where I missed the trail, but without my glasses I could not see enough detail to determine if it even continued. (It does - at home I could clearly see the trail where I missed it - it would be interesting to see if it could be followed all the way to the summit for an all-BLM route - perhaps a future adventurer could report back to me if they could make it work.) While I couldn't see the trail, I DID notice some ranch roads east and south of the peak that I could link up to reach the summit by traveling outside the BLM lands. This worked out quite nicely. The road I traveled (labeled as "L2") runs uphill into a locked gate at the BLM boundary. The BLM trail forks left off the road to continue towards Laguna Mtn inside BLM property. I walked around the gate and continued up the road. I soon ecountered a trailer and other stuff making up a backcountry hunting lodge, only sporadically in use. I continued up the road, taking right turns at several junctions encountered, eventually getting me to the summit of Peak 4,193ft via the South Ridge on a good road. It seems the entity that owns the adjacent property has made good use of the BLM lands for a semi-private hunting area not open to the public. I found the highpoint just off the road going over the summit ridge, nothing special. I spent some time considering continuing to Vasquez Rock, another summit 1.7mi to the southwest, but decided against it. Perhaps as a night hike sometime. I then wandered further north along the summit ridge looking for the junction with the use trail I'd failed on earlier. I explored a number of possible options, but like before, each ended in thick brush. Someone else will have to improve on it, I'm afraid. I went back to the summit and then reversed my route through the private property and BLM lands, returning to the TH by 12:30p.

Tully Mountain

This last summit has little prominence, but is officially named. There is a TR found on PB that describes a painful route to the summit, involving losing the trail, heavy bushwhacking, going well out of the way at several turns, yet more bushwhacking, reaching the summit, then spending hours more bushwhacking via yet another route. In all they spent 7.5hrs on the effort, rating it an 8 on a scale of 1-10. It might have been the last outing I did with either of them, had I been along.

It took me under two hours for the roundtrip effort, starting from the Shortfence TH, a few miles west of the one I used for Peak 4,139ft. A single trail, labeled "L5" starts out from the parking lot. It is not well-maintained and involves lots of ducking under low-hanging branches, and it is not hard to see how one can lose the trail in several spots. The trail runs for a little over a mile to Fox Spring, though it was all but dry today. On the way up, I followed the trail for only a short distance before starting up a firebreak that would lead to Pt. 3,017ft in a little under a mile. A use/animal trail leads up through the firebreak which was last bulldozed maybe a decade ago. Fortunately, the area is fairly dry and stuff grows back slowly. After Pt. 3,017ft is reached, I came upon a large acreage with more than half a dozen cabins in various stages of decay and repair. They appear to be used by various parties as hunting lodges during the season. This marked the boundary of the BLM lands, though there was no fence crossed. There were several vehicles with hoods up that probably haven't moved in a while. I was a bit concerned that someone might actually live here, so I gave the area a wide berth, going around the east and south sides of the properties. I eventually connected with several unused roads to reach a sparsely-used road going along an upper firebreak towards the summit. The road veered right just below the summit, but mostly open terrain above made for a relatively easy ascent for the final hundred feet or so. No bushwhacking at all on the entire route.

The open summit overlooks Bitterwater Valley to the west and Hernandez Valley to the east. Vasquez Rock and Peak 4,193ft can be seen to the southeast. Red Mtn and Lookout Peak are visible to the north. I was unable to locate the register left by the other party. It would probably have been faster to simply return the way I'd come, but I decided I should check out Fox Spring and the rest of the L5 trail. Back near the cabins and trailers, I followed an old, unused road south towards the spring. It gave out about 100ft above the canyon bottom. After crossing a fence I found a clear path to the creekbed where I quickly found the trail. I saw no sign of the spring (I later found that it was still upstream about 400ft from where I reached the floor) and very little water, just a few stagnant pools. The trail follows on the north side of the creek only a short distance before switching to the south side where it stays for most of the way, often well above the creek bottom. A large rock blocking part of the canyon is bypassed to the south before the trail starts descending steeply as it nears Coalinga Rd and Lorenzo Vasquez Canyon. The footing is often suspect and the trail more often resembles a game trail, but it works. Near the end, the trail moves to the north side of the creek and then around to the north and northwest to return to the TH. I finished up by 2:30p, changing into more comfortable shoes and shorts before heading home. I picked up about 6 ticks on that last descent along the L5 trail and it appears I flicked them all off before getting in the Jeep. If there were any hiding in places unknown, I may not find them until another trip...

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