Carpenter Hill
South Butte P2K
Cobb Mountain 2x P2K CC
Cobb Mountain West Rim CC

Sun, Jan 8, 2006
South Butte
Cobb Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2
Carpenter Hill later climbed Mon, Jan 16, 2006
Cobb Mountain previously climbed Fri, Apr 30, 2004

What could possibly induce someone to get up before 4a, drive for more than three hours, and walk no more than 100 yards from the car? No sane pursuit, to be sure. Welcome to county highpointing. Having an unexpected Sunday free, I had initially made plans to climb Little Blue Ridge (yet another county highpoint) with Dingus Milktoast, the "first ascentionist" up this brutal, poison oak ladden, thorny creek bushwhack route. That plan fell through the evening before, so I was left with coming up with an additional plan. I figured I could head up the same way (about an hour north of Napa) and tag the Sonoma County highpoint near Cobb Mtn, an effort I had failed on in my first try. This would only take a few hours, so to fill the rest of the day I decided to tack on two other highpoints, Carpenter Hill (Sacramento Co) and South Butte (Sutter Co). All three of these lie on private property which would require varying degrees of stealth, but it seemed to make for a full day - so off to sleep I went, setting the alarm for 3:45a.

With a road atlas and Gary Suttle's book, California County Summits, I navigated my way in some three hours to the east end of Sacramento county in search of Carpenter Hill. I found the East Bidwell exit easy enough, but had a bit of trouble locating Clarksville Road. It was immediately obvious that the entire area had undergone a great deal of development since Suttle had written his book. The area is still privately owned, but now large tract homes have been built on the higher parts of the mountains and others were in the process of being built lower down. Malls lined the road along East Bidwell, and I had to back-track to find Clarksville. Turns out there is a much easier access road now, Broadstone, a wide, divided boulevard that intersects Clarksville. I wandered about the roads on the west and south side of Carpenter Hill before discovering the easy way up - Broadstone to Serpa to Caversham, which winds up to the occupied homes near the top. There are communications towers atop the highpoint, and a easy-to-breach fence surrounds it, separating it from suburbia below. As luck would have it, the gate at the end of the cul-de-sac was open and I was able to drive to the very top without having to hike any part of it.

My success was entirely without gratification. I could not remember anything so lame as this. Though it was 7a, it was nearly as dark as night. Lingering fog allowed only hazy views, and I wasn't sure that those views would be worth anything had they been better. The top of the hill had been bulldozed flat to accomodate the towers and buildings here, and it was impossible to pick out any point to represent the actual highpoint. After hiking around the summit area a little while, I took a few lame pictures and headed back down.

Next up was a visit to Sutter Buttes, the most interesting visit of the day. The highpoint of Sutter county was reputed to be more heavily guarded, visitors definitely not welcome judging from the trip reports and signs along the access road. My plan was not well-conceived - I would just drive up there in broad daylight and try to climb the thing. I drove north on East Bidwell, navigating through the backroads of Folsom trying to get north of I80 to reach SR65. I found myself driving through what must be one of California's more heavily developing areas. Everywhere I went I was inundated with tract homes and huge shopping malls looking more or less like every other tract home and shopping mall built across California in the last ten years. I was struck with the idea of the United States of Generica, a term I'd heard before, but not really understood - until now. It wasn't until I was well north on SR65 and past the town of Lincoln before I was able to shake off the area's encroaching development. Marysville and Yuba City were barely touched by the development bug, and further west the sleepy town of Sutter seemed to have been forgotten altogether.

I drove west on Pass Road, passing a sign warning of flooded conditions ahead. I hoped the flooding was west of the access road. Rains had saturated much of the delta area in the previous weeks, the rivers swollen and flowing in their flood-control channels as well as their main channels. Clouds enveloped much of the area, but as I neared Sutter Buttes they appeared to be dissipating some. South Butte stood out as the obvious highpoint and as I neared it I could see the paved access road winding its way to the summit. I spotted a truck making a descent from the top around 8:30a - I had no idea how common the service trucks were on the road, but I hoped this was the last one for the morning. The truck made its way down and the driver was just locking the gate as I drove past. I parked above at the pass, just out of view, and watched as the truck headed east, back towards the town of Sutter.

I jogged down the road, exchanging waves with the driver of another truck heading west up the road. I wasted no time in hopping the fence and jogging my way out of view along the access road. A good number of cows grazed lazily on the lower slopes of South Butte's south side, many of these along the road I hiked and jogged up. They weren't very used to people and became skittish as I hiked by, galloping off to one side or another. I imagine the rancher who runs his cattle here probably wouldn't be too thrilled with my trespassing. I stopped jogging where the road started to ascend appreciably. The road isn't terribly long, just under 3 miles in length, and in 45 minutes I was nearing the top. I looked back often to see if trucks were entering or to see how visible I was from below. The higher I went the more confident I became. Then my heart stopped briefly as I spotted a truck entering from the main road. My instant reaction was to pick up the pace and start jogging up the road again, but this lasted less than a minute before I was out of breath - the road was just too steep at this point. I didn't care so much if I got busted, but I wanted to make it to the top first. It didn't look like I could make it the rest of the way before the truck would be upon me. At the last bend in the road, I noticed a faint use trail heading up the SE Ridge of the summit, and I took this in order to hide out of the way behind bushes and trees. Moving up as fast as I could, I listened for the sound of an approaching vehicle, but none came.

I reached the buildings at the summit and figured I was home free. No truck yet, no sound of the summit winch in action (the road doesn't go to the very summit, the last 100-200 vertical feet serviced by some sort of cable winch). I ducked under gangways and cable housings, the summit area a dense forest of communication cables running between the buildings and the several antennae they serviced. It soon occurred to me that the summit was not where the antennae were, but several hundred feet north of the complex. I hurried to stay ahead of the danger, winding my way along a use trail to the true summit. I found a USGS marker but no register at the highest rocks along the ridge - success! Keeping out of view, I took a series of pictures of the view unfolded before me. Those to the north were the best, the rolling, grassy terrain of the Sierra Buttes which looked like they would make a fine park of the first order. North Butte, West Butte, Twin Peaks and Old Craggy were recognizable from what I had seen on the topo map.

I looked around to see if it was possible to return without using the road in order to determine if I could escape undetected. The east side looked particularly steep and treacherous, but the west side of the ridge seemed manageable. I slipped down the Southwest Slope, only partly visible from the buildings above, but regular inspections over my shoulder detected no movement from above. I followed this down until I could traverse around the base of some cliffs on the south side of the summit. There was a ranch house to the southwest about a mile down, and I noticed a truck pull up during my traverse - I hoped they didn't look up to spot me doing a Julie Andrews across his grassy slopes. I found a large flock of sheep grazing on the upper slopes, and like the cows before them, they turned a wary eye to me before fleeing off to one side or the other. I continued traversing around until I was on the rounded south ridge, above and just west of the access road. I was no longer hidden from view above, but I hoped I was far enough down that I would attract no notice. I went up and over Pt. 1,150ft, then headed down for the access road. I noticed the original cattle I had disturbed were now concentrated in a clump near one side of the road. It then occurred to me that the truck I had seen entering the access road earlier was not a technician, but a rancher, and he had driven in only a short ways in order to drop off a salt lick for the cattle. Here I'd been spooked about being hunted down at the summit - all for naught. Oh well. I jogged back down the rest of the road to the entrance without incident, then back up Pass Road to my car. All together I was gone just over two hours, and I was happy to get this one done with - stress and hiking are not a particularly pleasant combination. I think I prefer significant exposure over the thought that someone might be coming after me.

I continued west on Pass Road, heading for Colusa. Just past West Butte Road I was stopped short with about 100 yards of water pouring over the road - I'd found the flooded section. I backtracked to West Butte Road, took this south to SR20, then continued on my way through Colusa, past Williams and Interstate 5, and on up SR20 into the Coast Range. This was the most enjoyable part of the driving, up a beautiful road through hills a bright green from the new grass and delightful scenery. I drove past Clear Lake on the eastern side, through the small resort town of Lower Lake, then up and over the windy Seigler Canyon Rd on my way to Whispering Pines and Cobb Mtn.

Having done most of this hike before, I had no trouble finding the start at the now-abandoned Whispering Pines Tavern, then up through the residential streets to the old dirt road that leads up to Cobb Mtn. It took about an hour and a half to reach the top of Cobb Mtn where on my previous trip I got the center summit confused with the Sonoma County highpoint located on the West Rim. It took another hour to make my way over to the West Rim, made easier by fair weather and a thorough study of the topo map. There was a cairn amongst the trees at the top with a small glass jar holding a small register with names going back six to seven years. Absolutely no one besides county highpointers would have any reason to come here. I recognized a handful of the names, but most were unknown to me - I have yet to spend any sizeable amount of time among this group mildly eccentric peakbaggers.

By the time I returned to the car it was about 3:30p. The drive south to Calistoga was wearisome as I found myself behind some particularly slow vehicles on a very windy road. Once in Calistoga the drive only became worse as I found myself in the Sunday traffic of Napa Valley which eventually grew into the general congestion of the Bay Area as I head over the Benicia Bridge, then south through Oakland on my way back to San Jose. Too much driving to be sure, but I had three more county highpoints under my belt - with about 15 more still to go!

Dingus Milktoast comments on 02/19/06:
I'm sorry to hear about the Whispering Pines tavern closing. I parked there one day when I went back to climb the proper high point too. I asked if it was OK and the lady bartender was totally cool. So when I got back down I enjoyed a couple of brews, chatted with some run down locals and left a hefty tip. Nice people, reminded me of the Tennesseans I grew up with. I loved the old growth firs up there on Cobb, a lovely little hike up through needle covered firebreaks with almost no understory. I read an amusing TR about a guy trying to find this highpoint in the dark using a GPS unit. Bob you will have noted the huge pile of dead trees bulldozed into a little ridge as you had to go around it to find the highpoint?

This guy unknowingly climbed OVER that pile in the dark, describing the 'worst brush' he'd ever encountered in his life. I had to laugh out loud, realizing what it was he climbed over. It certainly high lights the hazards of reliance upon technology in the face of common sense.

I don't think I bothered telling the dude what he did... you'd have to see it in daylight to realize the absolute folly of it. He could have walked around this pile in 2 minutes!

P. Maurer comments on 12/21/07:
More comments from that eccentric bunch, county highpointers: the highpoint of Carpenter Hill is a benchmark on the only real rock outcrop, just south of the westernmost of the three towers at the top. There is a benchmark. While the gate after the residential streets is sometimes closed, an alternate route that is open is parking just east of the crest of the hill on Iron Point Road (above Costco) and walking up the service road past the water tank. One actually gets a little excercise this way...
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