Tue, Jan 13, 2015
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Both Tom and Karl had left by the time I was winding down this desert road trip. I had to be back in San Jose by evening but figured I could do some hiking in the morning while I was still on the east side of the Sierra. Chukkar and Deer are two officially unnamed summits in the Southern Sierra on the east side of the crest and subsequently more like desert summits than Sierra ones. Vegetation is sparse and the only significant trees are the Joshua trees found in the bottom of the side canyons and some sycamores and similar in the creekbeds. Shane Smith had mentioned both of these summits to me a few years earlier when I had visited him in Ridgecrest and I had kept them on the back burner until such a day as this. I had parked overnight on a DWP service road near the LA aqueduct that flows through numerous tunnels on the east side of the Sierra several hundred feet above the valley floor. It drops gradually in elevation until it reaches the next pumping plant about 100mi to the south in Antelope Valley. Love or hate LA's water needs, but the engineering that went into the aqueducts is really amazing. Though the road was gated and locked just above where I parked, other portions of the roads here are open to public travel for recreational purposes, usually during hunting season. Chukkar is located only two air miles from US395 with the higher Deer just behind it less than a mile further. My starting point was not the most efficient way to reach the peaks and I would take a longer route on the return, taking about 11mi for the loop, but it was pretty enjoyable.
I started by hiking up the DWP road towards the north for about half a mile. I had intended to hike as far as Brown Canyon and follow that up, but another, smaller canyon caught my attention and I choose that as an ascent route. In hindsight, I could just as easily started the uphill directly from where I had parked. However one does it, there's about 2,000ft of gain over 1.5mi to reach Chukkar's SE Ridge. From there the going gets a little easier and the views open up across the desert more dramatically. I did not make an early start of it thinking it might be too cold in the early morning, but that was not the case. The sun was up shortly after I started out and it was getting plenty warm by 8a. I spent just about 2hrs to reach Chukkar's summit, arriving shortly before 9a. An original register scrap dating to 1967 had been preserved in plastic and returned to the register, torn and weathered but still legible. Notables included Carl Heller and Steve Smith (Shane's father), the latter whose BLM business card was still in the register. Barbara and Gordon had left a notepad in 1985 with about 10 pages filled in the last 30yrs. Old timer Bob Joy, whom I'd met when I last got together with Shane for a hike in Ridgecrest, was among the last party to make a register entry the previous year.
Deer Mtn can be seen directly to the west across a connecting saddle requiring a drop of almost 500ft before climbing back up the same amount and then some. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, really. The descent took only a few minutes thanks to soft, sandy conditions that make going down a breeze. The route up had some sand as well, but not as much, and it took little more than 30min to bridge the gap between the two. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small herd of deer grazing on the slopes just below the summit - apparently they know their own peak quite well. They popped their heads up to watch me approach and then when the distance became uncomfortably close, pranced away and out of sight in a few seconds. Barbara and Gordon had left a register here as well, dating to the same October day in 1985. With only eight pages of entries, Deer Mtn sees somewhat fewer visitors than Chukkar. Both summits offer nice views of this drier side of the crest as well as views north to Owens Valley and Lake, and east across the Mojave Desert. Given more time, it would have made for a nice hike to continue west another 1.5mi to the Sierra Crest, but this would be my turnaround point.
I decided to descend south down the shallow canyon between Chukkar and Deer to Five Mile Canyon, an easy but by no means direct return route. After another speedy descent down sandy slopes, I hiked a more leisurely pace down the canyon whose upper reaches were populated with Joshua Trees. I found much evidence of cattle grazing and used the good cow trails on one side or the other of the (mostly) dry creek found in Five Mile Canyon. Some sycamores and other trees survive in this harsh landscape, fed occasionally by runoff down the canyon. In one location I found hundreds upon hundreds of obsidian chips scattered about, likely an old Indian campsite. There were more recent fire rings and other tell-tale signs of past visitors in Five Mile Canyon. Eventually I came upon an old road that led to a dilapidated cattle enclosure and loading ramp that no longer looked sturdy enough to hold their weight. Adjacent to this was the well-maintained DWP road that I could now follow north as it contoured back towards my vehicle. This road was 500ft higher than the one I had started on in the morning and I was curious why I had not crossed it earlier. To find out, I followed it to its end where it abruptly stops at an aqueduct tunnel valve. Immediately below this valve was a steep gully that I descended, leading in about 15min back to the start where my van was parked. The outing came in at five hours for the loop, a fine way to spend the morning. Almost noon by this time, I'd spend the next six hours driving back over Walker Pass to Bakersfield and then home to San Jose. It had been a great road trip and as I was heading home I was already hatching plans for a return in the coming months...
This page last updated: Fri Feb 13 09:01:49 2015
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