Cold Springs Peak P300 ESS
Hatchet Peak P500 ESS
Parker Peak P500
Bald Mountain P1K ESS

Oct 22, 2014
Parker Peak
Bald Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3

With Fall in full swing and beautiful weather forcast for the rest of the week, I headed to the Southern Sierra for four days of peakbagging. My primary goal was a handful of P1Ks in the area around Monache Meadows that I had neglected on previous visits to the area. I had hoped to find someone willing (and capable) to drive me in on the rough Monache 4x4 Jeep Trail and kept putting it off. After our successful backpack trip to the Kaweah region a few weeks ago, I then made plans to backpack into Monache Meadows to tag the P1Ks - Monache Mtn, Deer Mtn, Brown Mtn, and Templeton Mtn. In the days leading up to it, I somehow strained my left shoulder and was having trouble using it and sleeping on it. I decided that sleeping on the ground was not going to be pleasant and modified my plans to do dayhikes instead - I wouldn't be able to reach Templeton Mtn as a dayhike, but I could reach the others plus more and have the added benefit of sleeping better with a thicker pad I use in the van. I took along both editions of Jenkins' Exploring the Southern Sierra, the best guidebooks I've found for the region, using them extensively.

I left San Jose around 7a, heading south with rush hour traffic thankfully in the opposite direction. Out on Interstate 5 I stopped at Kettleman City (SR41 junction) for a second breakfast, noting the kitschy Bravo Farms has been completed and open for business. With its sister tourist stop on US99, it features all manner of goods and services modeled after an old western town. I couldn't help but wonder who goes to places like this and is it a sign of degeneracy in the human race or am I just a crabby old man? Just south of SR41, Google had found me a new route to get across the Central Valley, a county road taking me through the towns of Alpaugh, Earlimart, Ducor and Fountain Springs. At Earlimart (junction with US99) is a gasmart selling fuel for almost $0.20 cheaper than I'd seen anywhere else in the state, $3.13 for regular. East of Ducor (junction with SR65), county road J22 becomes M56 or Hot Springs Rd, a lesser-known route into the Southern Sierra. It passes through California Hot Springs, a small (very small) resort community with mineral spring baths and pool. A few miles further east the road forks, with the left fork climbing north to Parker Pass at 6,400ft. A few miles before Parker Pass is Cold Springs Saddle where I parked just before noon. There were two summits on either side of the road described in Jenkins' book that I sought out.

Cold Springs Peak

This is a very short climb, 1/3mi to the summit, climbing less than 400ft. There's no trail but the cross-country travel is relatively easy. The summit is found easily enough, a short block of lichened granite surrounded by forest. Nothing much of interest here. Just to the south is a rock outcrop described by Jenkins offering a fine view to the south. The highpoint of the outcrop is class 3 from the north side, harder if you try from the south.

Hatchet Peak

A short drive on a dirt road west of Cold Springs Saddle gets you within a mile of Hatchet Peak. I didn't find the cul-de-sac or use trail described by Jenkins, but again the cross-country travel wasn't too difficult. I found a place to park the van before the road grew rougher and spent about 20min hiking to the summit. In addition to some decent views (better when the air is clearer over the Central Valley), there is an old rusty tin holding a register dating to 1992. Ruby Jenkins and Richard Carey had climbed it in the 1990s, Terry Flood in 2005 and other names I recognized - Mike Larkin, Reiner Stenzel and Shane Smith all climbing it in 2011, the last year that someone had signed in.

Parker Peak

This summit is not described in Jenkins' book. At Parker Pass I followed a very dusty dirt road about 2/3mi into Parker Meadow where I parked for a moderate hike to Parker Peak, about 1.5mi one-way. With high clearance, one can drive 300ft higher to within 8/10mi of the summit, parking at a clearing on the SE shoulder. I hiked up a side branch of Parker Meadow and then used the Forest Service Rd where the meadow gave out, following it to its end. From here, one can follow cow trails through brush and forest, mixed with cross-country travel. I favored the north side of the ridge to avoid heavy brush on the sunnier south side. There are some rock outcrops along the SE Ridge above the road portion that like the brush, can be gotten around on the north side. A barbed-wire fence runs up much of the ridge, still maintained and cattle still having free access to the area (like much of the Southern Sierra). Just below the summit is a sign and survey marker defining the boundary between the National Forest and the Tule River Indian Reservation. The summit itself was not so interesting with poor views. Reiner Stenzel had left a plastic tub for a register container, leaving only an undated file folder label with his and his wife's name on it inside a plastic bag - about as minimalist a register entry as I've seen. By 3p I had returned to my van at Parker Meadow.

Bald Mountain

More driving. M56 becomes M50 east of Cailfornia Hot Springs, continuing north and east to Johnsondale where it terminates at Mountain Hwy 99. The latter road then leads down to the North Fork of the Kern River just below 4,000ft where it forks, the right fork following the Kern River down to Kernville and Lake Isabella, the other climbing up and over Sherman Pass. I took the left fork over the 9,200-foot pass and then about 10mi further east to a junction for Bald Mtn. High clearance can drive about 2mi on dirt road to just below the summit where a lookout is located. I managed barely half a mile up the road before giving my van a break and hoofing the rest of the distance on foot. Some cross-country travel shortened the route of the meandering road. Just below the summit a gate bars further vehicle access. A sign here expounds on the wonders of the Bald Mountain Botanical Area which to the untrained eye appears pretty much like most other places in the Southern Sierra. One can hike the road or the trail starting just right of the sign to the lookout at the summit. The tower was not manned when I visited and the hatchway to the viewing platform was locked, but one can still get some impressive views open in all directions. Domelands is distinctively seen to the south with its many granite domes and outcrops, to the north can be seen Olancha and on clearer days, as far as Mt. Whitney, more than 40mi away. Under the lookout stairway is a benchmark and a register left by Richard Carey in 2005 with some 30 pages filled in the following 9 years. Its easy access makes its popularity unsurprising.

It was 5p by the time I returned from Bald Mtn, much of the next hour taken up in driving north to Smith Meadows and the start of the Monache Jeep Trail. At some risk, I decided to see if I could drive a portion of this road in my van, figuring any mileage I managed would cut twice that off the hike I was to do the next day. I managed just under a mile of roadway, choosing to stop at a clearing where some equestrians/ranchers were camped out and plenty of room for me and others. It turned out to be a good place to stop as just 1/3mi further is the roughest part of the road I would find the next day, one that would have been impossible for me to negotiate.


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