Brushy Sky High P1K CC
Cold Spring Mountain P1K
Three Sisters P1K
Helmer Hill P300

Nov 11, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Brushy Sky High

Brushy Sky High is the highpoint of the Cache Creek Wilderness in Lake County. It had eluded me on my first attempt three weeks earlier due to heavy brush that had overgrown the trail. In the interrim I had done more research about other approaches, especially what looked like to be an easy route from the south. Unfortunately, the design of the Wilderness area seems to have favored the local landowners on that side as there is no public access at all. This gives a handful of residents and their guests private access to large sections of the Wilderness for hunting and other recreational purposes that are otherwise difficult for the general public. To make matters worse, Brushy Sky High lies at the very southern edge of the Wilderness and one of the more difficult to reach places by legal, public means. Daryn Dodge made an ascent via a creative route along Rocky Creek, taking more than five hours with some difficult bushwhacking reported. I also contacted the BLM and was happy to get prompt responses to my inquiries, even if I didn't like the answers (no public access from the south). As part of the brief email discussion I mentioned that I had found the Brushy Peak Trail to be badly overgrown and asked if I might be permitted to take a pair of clippers back there should I return. Given the BLM's blessing, this became my new plan.

The Brushy Peak Trail starts off the Redbud Trail at Cache Creek and follows a very old firebreak all the way south to the summit of Brushy Sky High. Most of the trail is visible from Google satellite views which had given me much hope on the first attempt. But I failed to recognize that parts of the trail are not quite so evident from above, and it is in these sections that the problems lie. I wasn't even sure if one guy with a pair of clippers would be sufficient to make it to the summit, so I kept Daryn's route in mind as a back up, though I couldn't really imagine having the energy to do it after 3-5 hours of trail work on Plan A.

I was up and on my way at dawn on a cold but otherwise fine Monday morning. I chose not to follow the Redbud Trail which is somewhat circuitous and gains extra elevation to avoid private property on its way to Cache Creek. As I found on that first effort, the route through private property is a significant shortcut. I was at Cache Creek just after sunrise, easily finding the start of the Brushy Creek Trail which I had unknowingly failed at on my first attempt. After hiking up the faint trail for half a mile, the trail sort of disappears into a maze of brush with several use trails forming from other lost hikers trying to find their way through. I found the correct route on the way down but the last part was very thick brush, so it was easy to see why it was difficult to find coming the other direction. Some thrashing about finally got me onto the remains of the trail I had discovered on the previous visit. Out came the clippers. The plan was to clip only enough to identify the trail and get myself through, spending more time on the return to widen and clear the route. This would maximize my chances of reaching the summit today. As luck would have it, it only required about 45 minutes of steady grooming before the trail broke out into more open ground above. Here the trail proved wide and mostly clear with only a few truly brushy sections now and then. It seems that the majority of the route is probably kept clear (or at least usable) by hunters approaching from the south.

Over the next two hours I made steady progress up to the summit, enjoying the views and doing some grooming along the way. A random car part and a wayward balloon were among my findings enroute. Bits of clothing, tattered and badly weathered were found at various locations as well. About half an hour before reaching the summit I broke my clippers in an unfortunate accident - I would be unable to improve the trail on the return. Though compact, the clippers are excellent for cutting large branches up to an inch in diameter. They are most effective on live branches that contain water however, and not much good on dry, dead ones, and it was one of these latter branches that proved too much for it.

There are some fine views along the series of ridgelines leading to the summit, Konocti and Clear Lake visible to the west and the chaparral-covered ridges of the Wilderness area in all directions. There were several junctions that I came across that looked to have viable routes heading off at various points to Deadman Canyon and Cache Creek to the west. These might be fun alternatives to explore at some time in the future. Its not until reaching the summit that views open up to the south, taking in Lower Lake, Morgan Valley and the southernmost part of Lake County. Mt. St. Helena in Napa County is seen clearly to the southwest, with Cobb Mtn (highpoint of Sonoma Co.) and Mt. Hannah prominent to the west. There was a 1941 benchmark marked "BOND" along with a modest cairn, but no register that I could find. Judging by the good road/trail continuing in that direction, the summit looks to be regularly visited from the south as I had guessed beforehand.

It had taken something over 3.5hrs to reach the summit, but without further grooming and a bit of jogging, I was back to the Redbud TH in little more than two hours. At Cache Creek I came across two parties, one a couple that were crossing the creek opposite myself, the other a pair of young hunters looking for deer. There were other cars in the parking lot, but these were the only ones I came across all morning. I had expected it might take a very long day to get to the summit and back, but here is was barely 12:30p and I still had plenty of daylight.

Cold Spring Mtn

Located about 8 miles due north of the Redbud TH, on a ridge between Little Indian and Bear Valleys, is the summit of Cold Spring Mtn, a P1K on the Lake/Colusa County border. It would be a long eight mile hike (one-way) from SR20, but thanks to the well-graded Walker Ridge hunting access road, it is merely a moderately long drive. Much of the area was once forested, but most of the pines were burned sometime in the last decade, opening the terrain up to views until they regrows. The summit itself is hard to define, one of several possible rock piles on the west side of the road just south of the small BLM communications facility found nearby. To the west is Indian Valley Reservoir, while to the east across the broad Bear Valley is a small series of ridges with Three Sisters atop the highest before the hills give way to the Central Valley. The road I traveled continued north for many miles to other destinations, but after walking about the summit (finding no register or benchmarks among the rock piles) I returned south to SR20 and continued east.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters lies atop the northern extension of Cortina Ridge where SR20 and Salt Canyon cut across a gap before dropping to the Sacramento Valley. The land is all private ranches. Lying in the rainshadow of the Coast Ranges, the area gets little rain and is mostly grassy hills dotted with oaks. And though Brushy Sky High was the most sought-after of the day's peaks, Three Sisters was the most fun because it lacked the heavy chaparral cover found in other parts of the range. I parked at a turnout along SR20 in Salt Canyon and quickly crossed the road and across the fence to get away from the road. From there I followed a small side canyon up to the main ridgeline by which time I was high enough and far enough away to not worry about detection. The grass is cropped short in most places from grazing, making the cross-country a breeze. Not to say it was exactly easy, as the first third of a mile climbs steeply up 600ft. From there the ridge turns north and its another mile over several modest bumps to reach the named features. Three Sisters could probably be named Two Sisters more accurately as the south and middle summits are the most prominent. The north summit is low and doesn't seem part of the the other two. The middle summit with an undated USGS benchmark and a STOVALL reference mark is the highpoint. Though there were several property boundaries to cross along the way, there were no homes anywhere in the area. Some old ranch roads and cow paths helped make the hike along the ridgeline easy enough. After almost an hour and a half of fun I had returned to the car, heading back west on SR20.

Helmer Hill

This bonus peak lies just east of the SR20/SR16 junction, a freebie with an extra hour of daylight to kill in the late afternoon. It lies on private property with homes and ranches on the east and west sides. I chose to approach from the uninhabited north side, starting from SR20. This took barely half an hour to make it to the summit and back, mostly cross-country up grassy slopes under cover of oaks. I picked up a ranch road near the summit, taking it up for the last couple hundred yards to both summits (why do most summits seem to be doubles?). There are modest views from the top, south and west to the Bear Creek drainage, north to Becker Flat, east to the much higher Cortina Ridge. It wasn't all that exciting a summit, but it gave me something to do.

After returning I drove a few miles to the BLM's High Bridge TH in the Cache Creek Natural Area of SR16. It was the second time in three weeks I had spent a night here. The place is signed for no overnight camping but I wasn't disturbed by law enforcement. There aren't all that many vehicles driving SR16 at night, so it was pretty quiet. Shower, dinner, movie and wine made for a fine combination, though not all at the same time...


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This page last updated: Tue Nov 26 20:27:34 2013
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