Panoche Hills HP 3x P1K
Glaucophane Ridge North P300

Sat, Mar 21, 2020
Panoche Hills HP
Glaucophane Ridge North
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Panoche Hills HP previously climbed Fri, Mar 14, 2014
later climbed Tue, Dec 15, 2020

Day 6 of our Shelter-in-Place order had me antsy to get out before the forecasted wet weather was to return, so I set out on my own for the 2hr drive to the Panoche Hills on the east side of the Diablo Range. Unfortunately, the storm was moving faster than expected and had already dropped rain before I arrived. Indeed, it had been drizzling on and off for most of the drive, but I had raingear - what could a little rain hurt? Plenty, it turns out. Most of the Panoche Hills are on BLM land (a rarity east of Interstate 5) and a good gravel road reaches from paved Little Panoche Rd about five miles into the range. There were about a dozen other vehicles found along the way, some camping, some shooting, others wondering where this rain had come from. I drove past the end of the gravel, intending to drive another 3-4mi to the start a hike to some summits I hadn't been to before. I found the dirt portion of the road slippery and somewhat dangerous as my jeep was sliding about even in 4WD (and the rear lockers on), no guardrails at all. The mud is a very sticky type, like liquid clay, and my mud tires held no advantage over bald ones in this instance. Mine was the only vehicle to drive out to the end of the road where I would have started a 4.5mi one-way hike. When I examined the ground in my boots, it was clear that this stuff would stick to the soles and make for some of the worst hiking imaginable. I'd done this sort of thing in Santa Barbara County before. If it was a mile or two, maybe I'd have done it anyway, but I aborted. I would find something else to do. I tagged the Panoche Hills HP on the drive out because it was easy, less than a quarter mile each way. I'd been to it twice before, so this wasn't really offering me anything new. In drier conditions I might have been able to drive to the summit, but today it gave me a modest workout.

After driving back out to Little Panoche Rd, I turned left and drove south a few miles to where the road goes across Glaucophane Ridge. I'd been to the southern highpoint some years earlier, but there was a northern one about 2mi from the road. It would do nicely. Most of the non-BLM lands in the Panoche area are used extensively for ranching, including all of the six mile-long Glaucophane Ridge. I parked off the pavement at the closest point to the summit, a little less than 2mi southeast of it. There were no active roads running along the ridge, so little chance of being caught out and also no mud to deal with. I had just slipped through the fence when a white truck came rumbling by, but it didn't stop. I was about a hundred yards further when another came by, this one towing a cattle trailer. It slowed, stopped, then backed up to park off the road. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I immediately returned to the roadway to take my lumps. The driver was about my age, his son a passenger who let dad do all the talking. I apologized for causing him trouble right off the bat as a means to disarm him. He seemed pretty cool-headed, so we got along fine after that. Turns out he wasn't the owner, but asked if I knew the owner. I did not. After ascertaining that my motive was simply to go for a hike, he made an interesting comment along the lines of, "Well, you're gonna do what you're gonna do. I can't recommend that you continue, but... I hope you can read between the lines," with a sort of half smile. I thanked him, watched him drive off, then continued to go on the hike anyway. I wondered about this while I climbed the easy gradient to the top of the rounded ridgeline where I had a nice view of Panoche Valley to the south. There I could see a new solar farm that had been constructed since my last visit here. It was then that I surmised that the surrounding land is probably owned by the solar farm's owner, Duke Energy, in this case. I knew the project had been proposed as far back as 2009 and the local ranchers were none too happy about it. I'm guessing this guy I met might been one of the unhappy parties, but who knows. It was all guesswork and I don't really know who owns the land I was walking on.

I saw no cattle, though there signs of recent use. Clearly the ridge and surrounding lands are still used for grazing. The terrain is exceedingly easy for cross-country travel, mostly closely-cropped grasses and some modest brush. Small flowers added some color on an otherwise gray day. There are no trees whatsover (as for most of the Panoche Hills), leaving open views off both sides - Panoche Valley to the west, Little Panoche Valley to the east. There are three points vying for the highpoint along this northern half of the ridgeline. The first two have spot elevations of 1,961ft and from my rough measurements, are probably the highest points. The other, noted on LoJ as the highpoint of the ridge, is located at the northern end and seems to be about 5ft lower than the other points. The exact point didn't seem too concerning to me, especially since the ridge makes for a very nice walk, even in the heavily overcast conditions found today. The rain held off nicely through the entire hike as I finished up shortly before 1p. After driving back home, it would take several hours to get all the mud off the jeep, one of the messiest cleanups I've had yet. I think I'm going to have to give this place at least a few weeks to dry out before giving it another try...

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