Mon, Jun 25, 2012
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I'd been wanting to visit the summit of Mt. Konocti for some years, since I'd first been in the area chasing county highpoints. In the last two years the summit area has moved out of private hands and become a county park. The five named summits on this massive overlooking Clear Lake are all on the CC-list, which gave me a renewed interest. Not all of them have routes to the summit and only three have legal access. Undeterred, I studied Google maps in the days prior to map out a strategy. The hardest appeared to be Clark Peak, a lower peak sitting by itself to the west. The summit is part of the park, but the lands surrounding it are all private property. I decided to hit this one up first, early in the morning when my chances of being met by a landowner were lowest. It turned out to be the most interesting peak of the bunch.
I first attempted to approach Clark Peak from the west after I'd passed through Kelseyville around 6:30a. There is a street named Clark Drive that had potential, but private property and occupied residences were found all along it. Another effort was made to find a starting place along Jamie Lane, also on the west side, but the same issue was encountered. My third option was to start from Glebe Rd, northwest of the summit. The maps show the road connecting to Jamie Lane, but this connection is no longer driveable by any vehicles, having long been abandoned. I then drove out to Soda Bay Rd where I found the junction with Glebe Rd, a gate open there and no signs indicating it is a private road. Though steep, the dirt road was in excellent condition such that the Miata had no trouble. Much of this road is along land that is part of Clear Lake State Park, so I felt confident I wasn't going to find much trouble. After half a mile I came to a fork - the left fork heads towards Clark Peak but was gated, so I pulled into the grass and started from here, about 2 1/2 miles from the summit.
This part of the State Park is not maintained for public use. It mostly appears to be set aside to keep development off. The road I hiked starts off wide and easy to navigate. The good road ends where it is gated again a quarter mile from the start. Here it meets an infrequently used road coming up from Soda Bay, continuing south towards the peak. At a second road fork I guessed wrong and stayed left, eventually backtracking when I realized my error. The road meanders some before narrowing to a brushy path punctuated with poison oak, the brush well over head level. It ends about a mile and a half from the start in an old orchard no longer maintained. This orchard is on the NW side of Clark Peak, easily discernable in Google maps, and one of the landmarks I had been looking for. Also visible from the satellite view is a trail leaving the south side of the orchard, passing through the large "K" cut into the mountain (for "Konocti", I presume) and leading to the summit of Clark Peak. It was not obvious to find the start of the trail, but a little searching at the south end of the orchard soon found a narrow path leading into the thick brush on the west and south sides of the peak.
There is a great deal of poison oak along this use trail which sees very little traffic. At one point I nearly turned back due to the encroaching poison oak, but eventually persevered past the worst of it. The trail does indeed run through the more open terrain where the "K" is found, the ground strewn with purple-colored rocks to give it the visibility from a distance near Kelseyville or from the air. There is a last bit of easy class 3 scrambling made a bit more challenging by more poison oak, but before 8a I had found my way to the rocky summit. There were fine views of Clear Lake and the surrounding communities, and a closeup view to the higher summits of Konocti to the east and south. There was no register that I could find. Without the use trail this would have been a very difficult peak to reach due to the proffusion of thick chaparral that surrounds the summit and the poison oak that permeates the chaparral.
I was back at the car in only 40 minutes thanks to some jogging on the downhill portions. It was then a short drive back to Kelseyville and a further few miles up the road for the higher peaks within Mt. Konocti County Park. There was only one other vehicle in the large lot where I parked just after 9a. The trail in the park consist mainly of dusty ranch roads, now nicely signed as trails. There is an active orchard shortly after the gate marking the start, through which an easement runs on a newly-created trail, allowing access across the private lands. The trail ends back on the road at the property boundary and beyond this the roads all run through public lands.
About a mile and half from the start I reached a trail junction, the main one in the park. The right fork goes to three of the four summits including the highpoint at Wright Peak. I took the left fork to first pay a visit to Buckingham Peak at the north end. It was another mile along the ridgetop road to reach the summit of Buckingham, the top bulldozed flat, a tall communications tower at the center and surrounded by a security fence. I breeched the perimeter fence in order to get better views that could be had from the top of the accompanying building. Clear Lake stretches out to the north and east, the higher summits of Konocti to the south. I stayed only a minute, not wishing to draw the attention of rangers or visitors that might join me at any time.
Back down to the main junction, I turned south and followed the road to its terminus at the Wright summit. Here a lookout tower and smaller communications antenna occupy the summit. The fence around the lookout tower proved stouter than that on Buckingham Peak, but still vulnerable to attack. I climbed the stairs to the viewing platform, taking in the views for 360 degrees around this wine growing region. To the southwest were the last two summits of the day, Howard and South Peaks. The last of these would be the most difficult.
Howard Peak is just down the road from Wright. A sign at the junction says it is currently closed. A fence up the side road a short distance emphasized this fact in more concrete terms, though it too fell to siege tactics. The reason for the closure probably has to do with the small tower that has no security fence around it. Whether the plan is to install a fence or remove the tower before opening it to the public (if at all), isn't clear. One of the summit rocks held a USGS benchmark labeled "KONOCTI", the only one to be found at any of the summits visited. No registers on any of these other summits were found, as on Clark.
The last summit, South Peak, proved the most difficult and disappointing of the five summits. There appears to be no current or past trail that ever reached to summit, nor sign that any is forthcoming. There is a restroom at a turn in the road which is as close as one gets via road or trail, less than a quarter mile from the summit. "How hard could this be?" I thought, encouraged by the easy start behind the restroom where the ground was fairly clear in the forest understory. This soon deteriorated and the presence of poison oak made it a far more serious affair. I backed off from one attempt where the poison oak got too thick, trying to then approach from a saddle on the west side. This became an all-consuming effort that took more than an hour to reach an indefinite summit under heavy cover of brush and forest without any chance of a view. Aside from the poison oak which keenly kept my attention, the most interesting thing I found was some bear scat that showed I wasn't the first mammal to pay South Peak a visit. There is nothing at all to recommend this peak and I shall do my best to have it struck from the CC-list.
I was back at the parking lot by 1:15p and out of plans. There was not enough time or energy to do Berryessa Peak which I'd planned for the next morning. Had I known that the Konocti peaks would prove mostly tame, I would have found some other nearby CC peaks to tackle, perhaps Bally Peak or Brushy Sky High. Instead, I drove to Clearlake in search of internet access which I found as difficult as the ascent of South Peak. The place is big enough for a Walmart and other trappings of a larger city, but it seems mostly a backwoodsy sort of town. Many of the people were scary types - most notably the woman in the grocery store yelling at her preteen daughter for leaving a package on the bus. The checkout stand did a brisk business in 24oz-sized beers to tatooed men while the ladies seemed to prefer bottles of vodka. I felt foolish within seconds of asking the clerk if there was a Starbucks in town which evoked an amused chuckle. Across from the grocery store was a McDonalds which I was reminded had free WiFi access, but alas not a single outlet inside or outside the store for customer use. Eventually I stumbled upon the Rico Aroma in Lower Lake at the corner of SR29 and SR53. They had outlets, WiFi, and tasty beverages to boot. Ironically, there was a "Coming Soon" sign across the street touting the arrival of Walgreens and Starbucks in the near future - Surely this would spell the demise of the Rico Aroma which had only a few customers in the several hours I was camped there.
At the 5p closing time, I packed up and headed out on the Morgan Valley Rd to Berryessa Lake. Though paved, the road deteriorates steadily as it heads east out of Lower Lake and through rural ranch areas of Lake County. Signs politely warn of narrowing road at first, then of rough roads ahead, then of conditions that may prove impassable in wet weather. Though no rain fell, I had to drive with considerable attention to the pavement that was pockmarked with huge potholes, some of which may have been capable of swallowing my small Miata whole. It was 6p before I reached Berryessa Lake with a view to Berryessa Peak, having taken a full hour of driving for some 30 miles. I showered with a jug of lukewarm water near the lake, then set out to find the trailhead for the newly christened Berryessa Trail starting just north of the lake. The TH is easy to miss, not marked in any fashion to be conspicuous. A GPS coordinate was most helpful. One section of barbed-wire had been replaced by non-barbed wire - to keep the cattle in but allow people easier access. A sign tacked to a fencepost simply commented that no vehicles were allowed. The fine print went into details about the specifics of the law prohibiting the use of motor vehicles, but nowhere did it mention that this was the start of a hiking trail. Crazy, that. On the other side of the fence the trail was barely discernable.
Across from the TH was a gate accessing BLM lands open to the public. I hiked a short ways into this area to set up a bivy campsite under the stars. It wasn't even 8p when I laid down to start resting for an early start the next morning, and I would lie awake for several hours under a nearly half moon and cloudy skies. The clouds made for a brilliant sunset shortly before 9p for which I sat up to take some pictures, but it would be at least another hour before it was cool and dark enough to actually fall asleep. Thankfully there were no mosquitoes to make this a trying experience and I found I slept quite nicely once the temperatures dipped with the setting sun.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wright Peak
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