Tue, Nov 15, 2011
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2 3 4||GPXs: 1 2 3 4||Profiles: 1 2 3 4|
Eagle Peak was delisted by the HPS in 1969 due to access issues. As far as I could tell, all the lands around it are on private property. The shortest approach is from the north, along paved Caliente Creek Rd. Studhorse Canyon looked to offer an all-dirt road route to the summit, though the Google Streetview showed there were mailboxes at the entrance along Caliente Creek Rd. It seemed like this would make a good outing to start and finish at night. The full moon having passed only a few days earlier, it would be ideally situated high overhead.
After leaving San Jose around 8p, I found my way across the Central Valley, through Bakersfield, east on SR58, through Caliente and up the long, winding Caliente Creek Rd. The canyon walls on either side were steep and softly illuminated by the moon overhead. It reminded me of a smaller version of driving up SR178 through the Kern River Canyon below Isabella Lake. The sudden appearance of several cattle grazing alongside the road as I came around a bend startled me and I immediately slowed down and gave the road more attention. Hitting a deer would be bad enough, but hitting a cow would be akin to hitting padded brick wall and there was no way anything but bad things could come from such an encounter. There were periodically lights from homes and ranches along either side of the creek, indicating the area was lightly populated. There were no lights visible when I arrived at the entrance of Studhouse Canyon. I had stopped earlier to get my pack ready and change into my boots and hiking clothes so that I was no more than fifteen seconds in getting started, quietly locking the car with the key so as not to make a sound.
There were several likely-occupied dwellings that I passed in the first few minutes, but no lights and no barking dogs. The wind was blowing in the trees, the only sounds that I could discern. It was just before 1a as I started down the dirt road leading into the canyon. The first gate I encountered only a hundred yards from the pavement had a pedestrian bypass, but signs indicated that trespassers were not welcome. I encountered a second gate not long after, though it was only closed with a latch, no lock. Though the moon was high enough to throw light down to the bottom of the canyon, thin clouds began to mix with the stars and grew thicker as the hours passed. As long as I was on the roads, which was most of the outing, there was no need for a headlamp.
Not long after the second gate, the canyon opened to a meadow where napping cows were roused by my arrival and sauntered off after voicing disapproval. More vocal lowing was heared ahead where some younger cattle had been enclosed in various pens and could not get far enough away from me. A large black animal came out of the shade towards me as I approached the pen area, startling me. It was one of two horses that had been given free range to the area with the larger cattle. I quietly shooed it away, but it did not go far, unconvinced that I didn't possess some treat for it. The second horse was not so friendly and had taken off up the road at my approach. There were several cars parked next to a building, but these turned out to be junkers and the building was an open storage facility. There were no persons in the area, but obviously the cattle would need regular tending during daylight hours. This would not be a good approach route for a daytime venture.
The horse followed me at a short distance as I continued up the road. It came up hesitatingly, then shot past me, evidently wanting to join its companion that was out of sight ahead of me. I didn't see either horse again until my return hours later. After walking about two miles up the canyon I found the junction I had identified on the map, turning right to start climbing up towards the ridgeline between Antimony and Eagle peaks. The dirt roads were actively used by vehicles and thus clear and reasonably maintained. As I climbed higher out of the canyon the views opened some and I could see what I supposed was probably Eagle Peak in the distance, the summit now enshrouded by clouds. There were few stars visible now and the moon was soon obscured completely. Though I could no longer see it's outline, a surprising amount of light diffused down through the clouds to allow me to continue without headlamp. It was not looking good for nighttime views from the summit, however.
Upon reaching the ridgeline, the GPS noted I was only 4/10th of a mile from Antimony Peak, to my right. I figured I could tag it on my way back and turned left, or south, towards Eagle Peak. Already at 4,500ft, I had another 900ft of elevation to gain over the next mile and half along the ridge. There were minor bumps along the route, but the roads did a decent job of smoothing out the grade until the last big uphill section. Here I found myself ascending into the clouds, the moisture in the air chilling me thoroughly. I stopped to put on more clothing to keep me warm. Periodically there would be cattle found along the ridge and invariably they would go off in a huff to get out of my way. Though it happened half a dozen times, I still jumped each time one popped up suddenly to run away. It was nearly 3a when I reached a property boundary at the summit. On the opposite side of the fence was a small clump of rocks that looked to be the highest point. As I guessed, there were absolutely no views to be had. I had thought on a clear night one might be able to see lights in the Mojave to the east and Tehachapi to the south, but there was nothing save the faint, hazy glow of moonlight filtering down through the fog layer. Had the peak been another 1,000ft higher I might have gotten above the clouds for a really spectacular nighttime view.
I looked around for a register, initially finding nothing. I checked several clumps of rock before coming back to the original one and then spotting a small white box in a nook below the largest rock. It was a Band Aid container painted white with Sierra Club written on it. Inside was an old notepad, the pages tattered but mostly still readable. The oldest page dated to 1966, a few years before the peak was delisted. As one might expect, the entries were from HPS outings. After the delisting, the entries thin out with stray notes from hunters, archeologists and a rancher. The only peakbagger I recognize from these later names is Erik Siering who paid a visit in 1999. I sorted out the pages chronologically, took pictures, and carefully put them back in the can and replaced it in the hiding spot. It had been five years since the last entry, perhaps another five will pass before the next curious visitor.
I figured it would be easy to retrace my steps along the ridgeline, back towards Antimony. Though it was impossible to discern direction from the night sky, I had my GPS track that ought to have made it a cinch. Of course I'd actually have to look at it to make use of it. Unfortunately I managed to very shortly drop 500ft down the wrong ridgeline before realizing my error. Back up I went to find the correct route. Returning to the point where I had first attained the ridgeline, I found there was no road leading north to Antimony. The portion of ridge connecting to this other summit is rocky and somewhat difficult class 2, at least at night. The west side seems to drop off sharply and the brush partially blocks portions of the rocky crest, but I managed to find some clearings on the steep slopes of the east side that I could traverse across. I needed to use a headlamp for much of this to keep from tumbling down the slope or bashing into a rock. It was 4a when I found the summit, though it wasn't much to look at. Just a stick in a small cairn, no register, no views. The cloud layer had lowered over the last hour and was down to below 4,000ft.
I wasn't too keen on retracing the last 2/5 mile over Anitmony Ridge to reach the road and hoped I might find an alternative route down the NE Ridge of the peak. I had actually looked at the terrain online and knew there was another road about a mile down the ridge that I could use to return to Studhorse Canyon. A fenceline runs down most of the NE Ridge, though there is no road or trail on either side of it. By moving from one side of the fence to the other occasionally, I managed to get down the ridge relatively easily. It helped that cattle had grazed on both sides of the fence to keep the brush in check some. It also helped that I had a headlamp as the residual moonlight that got through the clouds was not enough to navigate safely down the uneven terrain.
Once back on the road I followed it as it contoured around the north side of the Zenda mine. I was finally below the cloud level again and could navigate without the headlamp. I missed a fork and started following another road (not shown on the GPS or topo), but did not get more than a few hundred yards before realizing the error. There are a number of additional roads not depicted on the maps throughout the area. Usually these are older, abandoned roads and easy to avoid, but not always. The GPS was proving its worth regularly.
Back in Studhorse Canyon, I thought I had managed to bypass the area with the penned animals and horses, but not so. The animals had a whole different temperment upon my return. None of them made a sound, none of the cattle stood up to move away, the horses stood where they were and ignored me. I was much happier with this arrangement where they had become familiar with me. I wondered if they would behave the same if I came back the next night. I passed through the two gates and back to the road where I arrived around 5:30a, still quite dark. I was very quickly in the car and heading off, happy to have not disturbed any of the residents.
Eagle Peak lies within the Piute Mountains, a sub-range of the Sierra between SR178 and SR58. Piute Peak is one of three summits within a quarter mile of each other vying for the highpoint of this range at over 8,400ft with a prominence of nearly 3,500ft. Dirt roads run to within a mile of the summits, but none of these are easy to negotiate with a standard vehicle. There are three driving approaches and since I was very near the southwestern one, that was the route I took. The Piute Mtn Rd starts where Caliente Creek Rd meets Walker Basin Rd at a 4,200-foot saddle, ten miles from Studhorse Canyon. It is reported to be very steep and unsuitable for 2WD. I knew the dirt road was 8 miles up to Piute Peak, a hikable distance if necessary. I would simply drive as far up the road as possible and hike the remaining distance. If I could get past the first three miles, I would consider it a bonus.
It was easy to find Piute Mtn Rd - simply drive up the road until it starts back down the other side of the saddle. A road sign at the junction helps as well. There are residents sparsely spaced along the dirt road for the first several miles and this portion of the road is nicely graded and easily driven, even where somewhat steep. Higher up things began to progressively deteriorate, but I pressed on. The roadway was damp, but not muddy, helped by the compacted layer of sand that provided some traction if done carefully. There were some rather steep sections (the report of 20% grades in places appears to be true) that I dared not stop on for fear of losing traction altogether. Some rutting added to the challenge. Overall I did much better than expected, getting some 5.6 miles up the road before snow, ice and mud combined to stop me, reaching an elevation of almost 7,000ft. I figured it would be better to stay out of trouble and stopped at the first dicey section, turned the car around and parked it. This would do nicely.
It was just before 6:30a and the sun was still about half an hour from rising. I was thousands of feet above the cloud layer, making for a serene scene looking out over the Tehachapi area to the south. I was not hiking more than about fifteen minutes when the road became almost fully covered in 2-3 inches of snow. I had picked a good place to stop the van. I hiked up for some two miles before the rounded summits came into view, the sun having just risen shortly before. A fire had swept over the mountainside some years earlier, leaving a forest mostly composed of barren, blackened pines. As reported by others, this at least helped open up the views and made sighting from one summit to the next feasible. Not that I had brought any survey instruments myself, mind you.
It was 7:30a by the time I made my way up to the western summit, labeled Piute Peak on the topo. The topo reports this as the lowest of the three, but it was not convincing as I looked east and perceived the middle summit to be of similar height. Until reaching the summit, I had been protected from a strong, cold wind blowing in from the north. I had to put on extra layers just to reach the summit and even with this I could not stay long atop the class 2 summit rocks. There was a benchmark there and a register dating to 1992 left by Ruby Jenkins, the mother of Southern Sierra guidebook author Jim Jenkins who was killed in a car accident in 1979 at the young age of 27. She took over his work, scouting routes for updates of the latest revision. It seems this peak was also proposed for the HPS list in 2002 as it received several group visits from that club including the likes of George Wysup and Mars Bonfire. MacLeod/Lilley were represented as were a large contingent of San Diego area climbers. Shane Smith, Richard Piotrowski, Bill Peters and Mike Larkin were among the names of folks I had hiked with in the past. I added my own entry and quickly beat a retreat off the summit to get out of the wind, heading eastward toward the next point.
The middle summit is unnamed on the topo but has an extra contour circle indicating a height of at least 8,440ft which would make it on paper the highest of the three. I named it Piute Point just to differentiate it from the other two summits. It was only a ten minute hike to it's rocky summit, a bit trickier than the western summit due to a buildup of snow on the easiest side to scramble. There was no register to be found here, a little surprising since it was supposed to be the highest point. More surprising was that my GPS reported this point 5-6ft lower than the western summit. Looking west I couldn't tell which point was highest. Odd that at least one of the entries in the other register claimed Piute Point was obviously lower. Looking east, the third summit certainly looked lower to me, but I wouldn't bet money on it - I'd let the GPS decide before I'd trust a visual sighting.
Only ten minutes later I was atop the eastern summit, dubbed Piute BM since the topo shows a benchmark located here. I found the benchmark, placed in 1926, not far from a cairn marked by a stake with a second register in the form of a cookie tin. There were mostly loose sheets inside. Many of the entries seemed as convinced of this summit being the highpoint as others were of the first. Hanna, Adrian, and Carey of San Diego had visited this point in 1994, claiming it to be the Piute Mtn Range highpoint. Eleven years later they visited the westernmost point and made the same claim, presumably correcting this initial error. My GPS showed this point to be 15-17ft lower than the middle summit which seemed to corroborate my visual assessment. The only thing I would say with any certainty is that the eastern summit is lower than the other two and that those two are too close to tell. The best strategy of course is to simply visit all three since they are so close together. I leave it to future surveyors to argue the point more definitively.
It took a bit less than an hour to drop back down to the road and return to where I'd parked the van. Driving back down Piute Mtn Rd proved easy enough, despite my concerns of slipping on the steepest portions. These two peaks were all that I had initially planned for the day, but things had gone much quicker than I had anticipated. Calling it a day at 9a was nothing short of blasphemy. As I drove back out on Caliente Creek Rd to SR58 and then east to Tehachapi, I contemplated how I might go about tackling Bear Mtn, another private property summit.
Bear Mtn is both a P2K and a delisted HPS summit. Located west of the town of Tehachapi, others have taken very different means to reach the summit. The whole southeast side of the mountain is part of Bear Valley Springs, an exclusive, gated community comprising perhaps 1000 lots ranging from 1-20 acres. It boasts a golf course, equestrian center, it's own gas station and market as well as other ammenities. One highpointer had inlisted a real estate agent to give him a tour and then while on the property asked to be allowed to "check out" the summit area. Eager to please and hoping for a sales commission, the agent agreed. The hike is only about a mile in this fashion with barely 500ft of gain. Others have taken the approach from the west via ranch roads, a long outing with 6,000ft of gain - decidedly more burly. While at home I had checked out Bear Valley Springs online, jotting down the names of a few of the directors, thinking I could do some name-dropping at the gate to get myself admitted. A better approach that I came up with during the drive was to visit a real estate agent first to see if I couldn't get permission for a self-guided tour. I really didn't want to take up the time of an agent and figured I could reason my way to being allowed a tour by myself.
This plan worked beautifully. I pulled over randomly at an real estate office off SR202 on my way to Bear Valley Springs. I changed into a pair of shorts, tshirt and sneakers, the sort of thing a retiree might wear while out looking at properties. The agent I met at the office was super friendly and immediately acknowledged that I'd be free to tour the area on my own or with an agent. All she had to do was call the gate to issue me a guest pass with the agent as the sponsor. Of course it helped being over 50yrs of age and an ideal candidate for a retirement or vacation home in Bear Valley Springs. The real estate business had cratered since 2008 and they were desperate for sales of both lots and existing homes. Only five lots had been sold in all of 2011 to date, the slowest year anyone could remember. The agent provided me with brochures and a handy map of the whole Tehachapi area that proved very helpful. She also gave me a printout of listings by street to take with me. This would be less helpful, but of course she had no way of knowing that while I kept up my deception.
Driving on to Bear Valley Springs, I was issued a Road Use Permit good for several days. I felt like a greek soldier having just gained admittance through the gates of Troy. The development is quite large and the driving distances long. Gaining altitude as I wound my way up Jacaranda Dr., I eventually climbed above the cloud layer that had completely engulfed the lower elevations around Tehachapi. Using the handy map I was provided with, I found my way to the end of Paramount Drive, the closest piece of pavement to the summit. This was also the boundary of Bear Valley Springs as indicated by signs at the gated dirt road found at the cul-de-sac. More trespassing would be necessary.
Changing back to my usual hiking duds, I grabbed my pack and a bottle of Gatorade and started out. There is a small network of dirt roads around the summit area providing several ways to reach it. I hadn't printed a topo map out ahead of time, relying on the one built into my GPS to suffice, and it did so nicely. I took the left fork at the first junction and followed a road around the sunny south side of the mountaintop. There was an unoccupied trailer parked near this junction, but otherwise there was no sign of the regular patrols that I was warned about on one of the signs back at the start. I could have followed this road around to the southwest side of the summit where a fork in the road is shown heading to the top, but I grew impatient and chose to strike off cross-country up about 200ft of forested terrain to intersect the main summit road. While making my way up the slope a good-sized buck wandered out from under cover, paused to look at me briefly before sauntering off at an easy gait. I would have thought that with hunting season not far behind him, he might have been more nervous and fleet of foot.
I arrived at the summit point indicated on my GPS at noon, having taken just over half an hour. There is a small shack located here along with the benchmark indicated on the 7.5' topo. Not finding a register, I was unsure if this indeed the highpoint. I noted the elevation and headed northwest through the forest looking for higher ground. There was a thin, patchy layer of snow found covering the ground, but offering no real hindrance. I passed by a tall cell tower and then another possible highpoint a few minutes later. This one had a register in a red can, located between two imposing summit blocks. Both are class 4-5, but the higher one had a convenient snag leaning up against it to offer assistance. I used this to scramble up to the highpoint (noting the elevation about 15ft higher than the previous point) and then went down to peruse the register. Though the can/jar container looked like it might have been around for decades, the contents were not very old, dating only to 2005 for an entry by John Vitz. Others entries debated which point was highest, but it seemed to be finally settled that this was indeed the highpoint. Many of the names I recognized as prominence highpointers. The last entries were from 2008, Rick Kent's name among them.
I returned via an easier route heading east off the summit, taking the alternative road leading back to the edge of Bear Valley Springs. It was not yet 1p though I had already put in a long day of hiking. I thought perhaps I might find a shorter route to the summit of Cummings Mtn and find a way to finish that one today as well. The real estate map I had been given proved quite handy since the topo doesn't show many of the roads that exist on the north side of Cummings Mtn. There are two residential communities tucked away between Cummings Valley to the north and Cummings Mtn to the south. One is Stallion Springs to the west, more upscale than its neighbor to the east in Alpine Forest. Alpine Forest looked to have roads going within a mile or so of the summit, so it was to there I headed after checking out of Bear Valley Springs.
Cummings Mtn is located across Cummings Valley from Bear Mtn, connected to Tehachapi Mtn (an HPS peak) and Double Mtn (a delisted HPS peak) by a long east-west running ridge. Cummings itself is delisted, the majority of the mountain being privately owned by small community developments. Driving across the floor of Cummings Valley, one finds the area is primarily rural, the chief crop of the expansive valley appearing to be grass sod. I found Banducci Rd and followed it east into the foothills, eventually making my way to Alps Dr and Mountain Climber Way. All the roads seemed to be named after Swiss mountain themes. Those lower down were paved, but these give way to dirt roads as one drives higher up the mountain. I only managed to drive a little more than a mile up the dirt portion of Mountain Climber Way before finding the driving more treacherous with mud and snow making things dicey on the steeper sections. I was still more than 2 air miles from Cummings but decided to park and hoof it from there. It seemed I should easily be able to reach the summit and back before dark.
What I didn't know was that the route was anything but direct. In fact it would be something like 7.5 miles to reach Cummings by the route I chose. I might have waited until the next day to do the hike had I known this, but I was blissfully unaware as I set out up the road. I took about 50 minutes to hike up the roads to a junction of Matterhorn Dr and Mountain Climber Way. Most of the home sites I passed along the way were small summer places, unoccupied at the time and probably all closed up for the winter. One location had a large, cammo-painted metal structure with solar panels and a ventilation fan on the roof, a propane tank in front, and not a single window. Seemed like a perfect setup for a meth lab or indoor garden, save its close proximity to the road. Maybe the neighbors aren't very curious in these parts.
It seems probable I didn't choose the best road to approach on. The homes along Mountain Climber Way appear to be mostly summer homes. Those along Matterhorn seem to be occupied year-round and I suspect the latter road is more serviceable and could have knocked off a few extra miles each way. Matterhorn Drive leads up out of the canyon and onto the main ridge between Tehachapi Mtn and Cummings, though a gate marking the development property bars further access. Beyond this point is another association of homeowners who have seasonal cabins on either side of the ridge leading to Cummings. Unlike the semi-private roads of Alpine Forest, the road from here to the summit were all private. It would seem unwise to walk through this property in the summertime, but with snow already on the ground it looks as though everyone has winterized their cabins and left for the season. There were tire tracks in the snow found along the road, but I saw no one. The last occupants may have ducked out only a few days previously during the weekend.
It was after 4p when I finally reached the 7,700-foot summit. There had been few views until this time, but the large summit area was devoid of trees and had some fine views off all sides. A small communications tower was located there, a benchmark nearby, but no register that I could find. It was very windy and cold now as the sun prepared to head down for the evening and I was still cold even with all the clothes I had brought and put on. I was surprised to find that it had taken more than seven miles to reach the summit and I wondered if there wasn't an easier, quicker way back. I studied the map on the GPS for a minute or so and decided to try a descent off the northwest side of the peak. With just a map and compass and the coming of evening, I would not have attempted this, but I figured if I got bogged down in the darkness I could use the GPS to guide me back to my starting point, cross-country if needed. There were none of the summer homes at the summit or along the alternative route, and though it was still more than 5 miles, it would make a better route in the summer since it avoids most of the residents.
There was a good deal more snow on this route down the mountain, but it seemed to help rather than hinder, cushioning my steps jogging down the road for several miles, dropping 1,000ft in the process. I found more old roads forking off the main one, these minor roads not shown on the GPS. For the most part I ignored them, preferring to take the route shown on the GPS even if it might be longer. When I reached a saddle around 6,700ft the road turned uphill while a fork dropped towards the east into the forest. The road seemed better than the other old ones I had passed, and since it went more directly in the direction I needed to go, I took it. The sun was just setting as I dropped off the ridge and it would grow dark over the next hour. When the road took a turn to the north I forked off on a very overgrown old road which soon enough ended in a ravine. It was probably an old logging road, long since unused. I was left with the choice to either hike back up to the more certain route, or strike off cross-country. I consulted the GPS once again and found that the road I wanted was less than half a mile straight down the ravine. Down I went.
It was very steep, but thankfully free of heavy brush and more importantly, poison oak. If there had been poison oak, I probably would have had trouble recognizing it in the fading light and I might have suffered terribly for it. The ground was thick with decaying oak leaves and other detritus, a rich, loamy surface that allowed for bounding strides with decent footing. Rocks and downed logs provided some obstacles, but I managed to descend to the road in only ten minutes. Score another one for the GPS. The hike back from there was relatively uneventful. The only person I saw during the hike came lumbering down Mountain Climber Way in a pickup as I was hiking along in the near darkness. He pulled up and told me he was trying to get to Boron. Boron of course is out in the Mojave Desert, so I figured maybe he was looking for a road named Boron. Turns out he was just joking with me. We had a short, amiacable discussion. He and a buddy were fixing up a cabin up the road a ways and he was on his way to spend the night there. He asked if I needed a ride, but as I was less than a mile from the car and he was going in the opposite direction, I declined. It was nearly dark when I returned to the van at 5:45p. It certainly gets dark early without Daylight Savings Time.
I drove back to Tehachapi and contemplated what to do with the following day, now that I had done both days' planned efforts in one. I realized I was pretty tired and wouldn't be able to get an early start. That ruled out other private property peaks I had in mind in the Diablo Range to the west of Interstate 5. In the end I decided to just drive home and rest up. I would be able to get home before midnight and sleep in my own bed. My wife was up when I returned as an added bonus, surprised to see me since I wasn't expected until the following evening. Despite the large quantities of caffeine I had consumed on the drive home (and dinner consisting of a large box of Cheez-Its), I had little trouble sleeping...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Piute Point
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