Chitterden Ridge P500
Sunset Hill P500
Stringtown Mountain P500
Stephens Ridge P300
Mt. Ratchel P300
Kelly Ridge P300
Big Bend Mountain P750
Serpentine Point
Cohasset Ridge P500

Tue, May 14, 2019
Sunset Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GPX

I have to travel to Milwaukee this week for my son's graduation, not leaving me much time to visit the mountains. For a quick fix, I took a long daytrip to the Lake Oroville area in the foothills of the far Northern Sierra, primarily to visit Chitterden Ridge, one of two county prominence points in CA that I had yet done. With a bit over 700ft of prominence, it didn't quite rate high enough to make the long drive on its own, but I found a small handful of similar peaks in the foothills that I could string together, most of them around Lake Oroville, all of them well below snow levels that had frustrated me on the previous outing. Half of the peaks lay on private property so I expected access issues.

Chitterden Ridge

Though on private property, the land is owned by timber interests and others had reported success. The ridge is found on the west side of paved Willow Glen Road, south of the reservoir. A network of spur roads from the pavement leads to the summit in about a mile and a half. Finding the gate locked was no problem since the distance was fairly short, plenty of parking before the gate to not block traffic. Much of the route follows what looks like a freshly updated road, with crushed rock layered over the dirt to keep mud issues down while heavy logging trucks drive up and down it. I turned off onto a lesser-used road as I neared the summit, eventually leaving it to search the forest understory for the highpoint. The summit is heavily forested and flattish, making the search both futile and silly. I found there were other roads that came very close to the top that I used for the return, obviating the need to thrash through poison oak-laden brush. Lots of the nasty plant all over most of the hills I visited.

Sunset Hill

Driving north towards Lake Oroville, Sunset Hill is an easy stop off paved Forbestown Rd. The spur road leading to it has a locked gate but a short hike. There is a lookout tower at the top and Laura Newman has been there - what's not to love? There's a nice view of the lake from the summit, but today's views were heavily muted by heavy overcast and haze.

Stringtown Mtn

This summit overlooks the South Fork of the Feather River, now inundated with the waters of Lake Oroville. Narrow but paved Stringtown Rd goes over a saddle on the south side of the mountain, about 3/4mi away. There is a home not far off the road on the north side and my first thought was that this wasn't going to work. But I noticed a Cal Fire truck parked there and a set of pink ribbons and a trampled path of grass wandering off into the woods. I was glad I investigated further, because what I found was a stroke of luck. A trail had been freshy cut (or rather, groomed) going up the mountain. It was cut through heavy brush by a team of firefighters who were still up on the mountain working on extending it down the north side of the peak. I could hear chainsaws and voices a few hundred yards off when I got near the summit, but never saw anybody. The main trail seems to bypass the summit on the west side, but a cruder trail was cut through to the summit, some modest bushwhacking still needed. Perhaps they cut this last part on a lark, who knows. I found sections of older trail, too, which leads me to believe they were only reestablishing a trail, not forging a new one. To what purpose? It doesn't seem to have a recognizeable TH and not advertised to the public. Most of the peak is BLM land, so perhaps they use it for training firefighters in trail-building skills. Whatever the reason, it made reaching the summit (with marginal views, btw) a fun little exercise. I was especially happy that I didn't have to wade through the poison oak. I wonder if the crew knew they were cutting through heaps of the stuff and hoped they were properly protected.

Shute Mtn/Stephens Ridge

With 860ft of prominence, it was Shute Mtn I as after as I drove up the Oroville-Quincy highway. Located near the town of Mountain House up the highway, the topo map suggests two ways to reach close to the summit. I found the northern one scarily signed as it passed near someone's property and the other gated. It's a mix of USFS and private lands around here, so it's not obvious how to do this. My heart wasn't in the trespassing aspect today so I left it untrammeled. On my way back to Oroville I stopped for a couple of consolations. Stephens Ridge is found just off the highway. Laura had been to this one as well, so it seemed a safe bet. There is a home adjacent to the highpoint so it felt almost like trespassing even though I didn't cross any fences. A quick grab-and-go with no views.

Mt. Ratchel

This was the second consolation peak on my way back from Shute Mtn. This impressive-sounding summit overlooks the Canyon Creek Bridge and Lake Oroville. I found a place to park near the bridge and went steeply up the East Ridge to the summit area. The going was mostly through grass/forest, no real bushwhacking and minimal poison oak. Not having researched this ahead of time, I didn't realize there was a home at the summit until I was up there. Yikes. I actually retreated about 100ft from the summit since that would have left me in full view from the house. Really not worth the trouble unless you're invited to a nice Christmas party by the owners.

Kelly Ridge

As I was driving around the west side of the dam towards Peak 1,846ft, I noticed that Laura had visited this as well. It appears to be in a residential area, but at the very end of Kelly Ridge Rd where the highpoint is located is the Lake Oroville Visitor Center. How nice! The summit is located in a clump of rocks adjacent to the Visitor Center. There is a 3-story viewing platform to let one see over the trees and much of the surrounding lake. A sign at the Visitor Center said "Welcome Home Schoolers." It seemed to fit with many of the other interesting sights one sees in these parts, including the occasional confederate flag, State of Jefferson signs, a sign reading "Vaccines kill and injure" and such. Not much love for the government (or blue people) around here, it seems.

Peak 1,846ft

After Chitterden Ridge, this P900 was my second main goal in the area. Located on the west side of the lake and north of the massive dam, the narrow, winding, but paved Cherokee Rd gets within a few miles of the summit. A spur road through Oregon City with an historic covered bridge gets one closer. Unfortunately, the Oregon City Trail I followed was gated at ranch property. I gave up the venture. Later, I discovered there may be a way to reach it by boat without disturbing the ranch. That will be a future project.

Big Bend Mtn

This summit is located at the north end of the lake, on private timber lands. Found not far from the town of Paradise that was virtually razed in the Camp Fire the previous summer, much of the route along SR70 and the Big Bend Rd I traveled suffered in the same blaze. There were sobering properties burned to the ground and others miraculously saved. The last few miles of the road I traveled had been spared from the fire. The last mile went through the private timber lands, the road very dusty from recent, heavy use. I parked a few hundred yards from the summit and walked up some bulldozer tracks to the flatish summit. A white truck drove by my car while I was up there, but they didn't seem to care that I was about. Despite more than 800ft of prominence, the mountain was mostly a dud with very weak views.

Serpentine Point

This was an easy bonus on the way back down SR70 from Big Bend Mtn. I parked off the side of the freeway and quickly went up and down the burned-over slope to claim the summit. It was interesting to see numerous holes where the large manzanita bushes had been burned completely down to the roots.

Cohasset Ridge

This one is a long drive up with a suitable vehicle, an hour north of the other summits. I drove to Chico, then up the long Cohasset Rd which turns to gravel halfway up and finally rougher dirt. Not a good place to drive when its muddy, from the looks of it. At the summit is a concrete platform in a large open area, all that remains of a lookout that once stood here. The area near the summit is the site of Campbellville, what was probably a thriving lumber district until the first growth in the area was exhausted. There are several rustic communities on the drive that still manage to survive, though from the looks of it, barely.

Steve H comments on 11/17/19:
Here I thought I would be the only guy to ever go out of his way to "climb" serpentine point and big bend. Lived there in Yankee hill for 10 years before the fire took us out. Believe it or not it was a very pretty area before the fire.
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