Black Mountain 2x P900
Peak 2,921ft
Las Chiches 2x P300
Peak 2,711ft P300
Peak 3,784ft P300
Peak 2,428ft

Wed, Apr 28, 2021
Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2
Black Mountain previously climbed Mon, Apr 16, 2012
Las Chiches previously climbed Thu, May 24, 2018


Following our successful outing to Pine Mtn near Hearst Castle, I spent the night camped at a pleasant overlook along SR46. In the morning I was up early to drive through Atascadero (stopping at Starbucks, for some morning caffeine) on my way to the La Panza Range. Part of the Los Padres National Forest, there is a network of OHV trails that criss-cross these low, chaparral-covered mountains. I had been to the area on a number of previous occasions, most recently in 2018. I had come back for a quartet of unnamed summits that I had missed earlier.

Black Mountain

This is the second most prominent peak in the range, found at its northern end. I had been to this summit nine years earlier. The paved Black Mtn Rd is poorly maintained, but driveable by any vehicle. There are two summits about 1/5mi apart. The lower north summit has an FAA installation, the higher south summit a telecomunications site. When I was here previously, there were no gates and one could drive to either summit. Now, there is a gate below where the road forks for the higher summit, but it can be hiked the short distance from the gate. The views from the summit are outstanding on a clear day like the one I found this morning.

Peak 2,921ft

This summit is located a few miles north of Black Mtn, and was the reason I had bothered to revisit Black Mtn. About half a mile northwest of Black Mtn, the road makes a sharp U-turn. There is an unsigned motorcycle trail running down the ridgeline to the northwest. I parked off the road at the U-turn and set off on foot around 8:15a. There is an old USFS gate just below the paved road, marking the start of the old motorcycle track, no longer maintained. The track sees some traffic, but not much, judging by the amount of encroaching brush. It was easy enough to follow it on foot, but I could imagine it being tougher on a motorcycle. The ridge drops 800ft to a saddle over the course of a mile and half. There is a fork after the 1-mile mark that I missed initially. A fainter, narrower track dropping steeply to the saddle can be found just off the main track. This section is badly rutted and doesn't look like it gets much, if any traffic nowadays. From the saddle, there is a steep climb back out for maybe a quarter mile to reach the summit on the second bump encountered. There's not much going for the summit, though it has decent views to the north. There were no rocks to protect a register (which would get roasted when the next fire sweeps over the summit), so I didn't bother leaving one. I returned via the same route, the 3.75mi roundtrip taking me almost 2hrs.

Las Chiches

This is the highpoint between two main saddles in the range, Black Rd Saddle to the northwest and Pozo Summit to the southeast. An OHV route signed for "Moderate" goes along the ridge, but I found it sufficiently challenging. Some of the gradients are quite steep and I got good use of the 4-Low gearing in the Jeep. I had been on this road once before, as well as to the summit of Las Chiches ("the breasts", in Spanish). There are two rock features 100ft apart that look nothing like breasts. The northern one is the highest, a stiff class 3 scramble from the south, easier class 2-3 from the northwest side. The lower one is easier. Both provide some nice views, unlike those I had on my previous visit when clouds obscured most of the views. I continued along the OHV route to Pozo Summit, then across the saddle for the Pine Mtn trail which would take me up to the Machesna Wilderness TH. I didn't notice that this section was signed as "Most Difficult" and it was soon apparent why. There is a section called Stairsteps which brought me to a halt. From a distance it looked hard, up close it becomes impossible, at least for an unmodified vehicle. I got out to walk the route, noting this was the sort of thing that 40" tires were invented for. At the top of the Stairsteps is a dire warning for anyone considering going down it - surely there could be no backing out once one started down.

Peak 2,711ft

Resigned that the Pine Mtn route wouldn't work, I returned to Pozo Summit and drove that much better road down Mariana Creek to the northeast. At a road junction, I turned right and followed that up to La Panza Summit heading east. At La Panza Summit, I turned right again, heading southeast past the Queen Bee CG and then another junction with the other end of the Pine Mtn OHV trail. I parked here, with Peak 2,711ft about 1/3mi to the northeast. I thought this might be a terrible bushwhack, judging from the satellite view. It was only partially so. There is a motorcycle track up the first small rise, after which there is a short drop to a saddle. This is the brushiest part of the route and required some thrashing to get through. The brush is stiff and dusty and there is some choking on the debris released from breaking branches, but overall not too bad. Once at the saddle, the route going up has less brush and one can follow animal trails through it to avoid any real bushwhacking the rest of the way. It may have even been a hunters' use trail at one time. It took about 20min to make my way to the summit, nice views looking north and east. No place to leave a register on here, either.

Peak 3,784ft

Upon returning to the Jeep, I drove up the Pine Mtn OHV route to the Wilderess boundary and the start for Peak 3,784ft. I had hiked most of the route ten years earlier when visiting Machesna Mtn and Pine Mtn from American Canyon to the southwest. Back then, unnamed minor summits weren't on my radar as they are today. The route was about 2mi each way, the first 1.5mi of that on a decent trail, though somewhat overgrown. It's a pleasant hike at a gentle gradient, gaining about 600ft. There has been no fire here in at least the past 20yrs and the brush is not to be trifled with. I completed the trail portion in about 45min, then turned right to follow the rounded ridgeline west towards the highpoint. The first section is easy, under pines with grass underfoot. The trees soon end, and it becomes all chaparral the remaining distance. Having learned from Ventana veterans that chaparral has its own pace, I took my time, forcing nothing, always looking for an easier line. The ridgeline is not covered in thick brush for the most part, and with short open sections that could be linked together, I did this last part in another 20min. There is a lonely, immature pine near the highpoint, but otherwise, the views take in miles of brushy and rolling landscape. Again, with no safe place to leave a register, I didn't bother. I extracated myself from the brush to return to the trail, then followed that back. I noted a feature called Castle Crags to the southeast from where I had returned to the trail. On some maps, the name is applied to some rocks along the Machesna Trail I had passed earlier, having climbed it on that first visit 10yrs earlier. More recent maps show it to the southeast, at a much lower elevation and far from the trail. That feature is much more impressive (and likely the correct one) but what looks like a most horrendous bushwhack to reach. I'd be very curious to read of another adventurer's tale of trying to reach it. I got back to the Jeep around 3:15p with one more peak on the agenda.

Peak 2,428ft

I spent the next hour driving back out on the Pine Mtn OHV route and then north on better roads towards SR58. Peak 2,428ft lies northeast of Black Mtn and due east of Peak 2,921ft. Fernandez Rd gets within about 1/4mi of the summit on the north side, but it looks to be another brushy affair. The driving route isn't obvious because Fernandez Rd exits the Forest to private property labeled as Bethal Ranch on the topo map. This land was purchased by an Indian group back in the 1970s and closed off to the public. There seemed to be no lock on the gate I encountered, but the signs suggested I wasn't all that welcome. Luckily, there was an alternative route on a crappier road (lots of ruts and washouts) found at a fork shortly before the gate. The alternate road leads back to Fernandez Rd inside the Forest boundary, eventually reaching a pleasant, meadowy area with trees and nice campsites. Parking off the roadway, I approached the peak on foot from the north side, another exercise in patience and chaparral. I was happy to find that I would have very little bushwhacking in the 30min it took me to the reach the summit. In addition to open views, the summit had a rocky top and a place to leave a register, the only one I'd leave today. Returning the same route, I was back at the Jeep by 5:15p and ready to call it a day. I took a shower in the warm sun (it had warmed considerably today, nearly 80F when I finished), changed into some fresh clothes, and then headed for home, about 3.5hrs away. It was a quick overnight trip, but a fruitful one...

Benjamin comments on 05/04/21:
Pine mountain 4x4 trail is cool. There is a huge rut on the other end of that trail that you have to straddle.
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