Hacker Mountain P750
Peak 1,530ft P300
Peak 2,415ft P300
Davis Mountain P500
Branford Mountain P500
Barnes Mountain P300
Cats Head Mountain P1K

Tue, Sep 20, 2022
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX

With some unusually cool weather over state, I decided to head to some lower elevation summits in the Sierra foothills around the Pine Flat Reservoir east of Fresno. Today's outing was as much about exploring Forest roads in the Jeep as it was reaching summits, most of which were short hikes. Most of this area is oak woodlands with grassy understory, a golden brown this time of year. It was nice to have a relatively short drive from home, about 3hrs, which left me almost a full day to play around in the hills.

Hacker Mountain

As Marcus Sierra discovered, there is a well-maintained trail up the West Ridge starting from Maxon Rd. Though it is outside the Sierra National Forest, there are no fences or signs indicating it as private property. The good trail ends at the lower southwest summit where views are best, but a social trail through the grass leads to the highpoint. Views stretch east to Cats Head Mtn, south across the reservoir, and west to Hog Mtn. A little less than 40min for the round trip effort.

Peak 1,530ft

This peak lies on the inside of a bend in the Kings River (now reservoir), within the Edison Point Wildlife Area. There are trails to be found, but they don't go to the summit. I started on one going around the east side before striking off cross-country to the summit ridge. There are two points vying for the highpoint. The northwest one, under an oak tree, is highest. Nice views of the surrounding reservoir, though water levels were historically low. 25min for the round trip.

Peak 2,415ft

This summit is located in the Sierra NF above the Big Creek arm of the reservoir on its northeast side. The area sees regular cattle grazing, though none today. I ascended a dry creekbed on the south side before climbing onto the South/Southeast Ridge. A modest granite block marks the highpoint where I left a register, the only one on the day. There is a good view of Cats Head Mtn to the north. On the way back, I took a more direct route down the SW Ridge, finishing an hour and a quarter after starting out.

Cats Head Mountain (failed effort)

This P1K in the Sierra NF had been on my radar for many years. I had done other P1Ks in the area eight years earlier, but had skipped this one. I drove up Forest Rd 9 to 10S04, then a spur road leading to the saddle on the north side of Cats Head. I had a promising use trail to start, but it petered out in less than five minutes into a sea of heavier brush. When I found myself ducking, then crawling under the stuff, I finally called a halt as the route ahead looked simply awful. Maybe this one would have to remain unclimbed.

Davis Mountain

I drove higher into the NF on 10S04, then west and southwest on 11S09. Davis' summit is an easy 10min hike from a saddle on its SE side. All grassy slopes, no thrashing on this one.

Branford Mountain

More driving southwest on 11S09 saw me to Bobs Flat and then east on a spur road to the north side of Branford Mtn. A first effort quickly ran into brush problems, so I drove a bit further east to the saddle on the NNE side. This started off equally badly, but I then stumbled upon an old road/firebreak which would lead nicely to the summit in half an hour's time. There was quite a bit of poison oak to avoid on the steepest slope, but not an unreasonable amount. No views from the summit.

Barnes Mountain

This was the highest summit of the day and mostly a driving exercise. I approached from the northwest and left the Jeep parked on the narrow road for the short 15sec hike to the summit. Nice views and some pine trees on this one to mix with the oaks.

Cats Head Mountain

Back at the Jeep, I continued driving down the SE Ridge and down to Blue Canyon and Big Creek. As I was driving around the east side of Cats Head, I observed slopes above on this side that looked steep but doable, with more grass and less brush than I'd found on the north side. Maybe I could give this one a second shot? This was not an easy route, a mile each way with more than 2,200ft of gain, about a 1,000ft more than the north side route would have been. It was now 4:30p and I would have to hustle to make it before sunset. The first hour went much as hoped, steep but no real bushwhacking. I had reached the Southeast Ridge and was getting my hopes up as I made good progress, but things slowed down considerably as I found the upper reaches overgrown. I would try one side of the ridge or the other, backing off when the brush got dense or presented with too much poison oak. In places I was crawling under the stuff, now too close to turn back. That last section wasn't very long, but it took me an extra half hour. The summit was a tangle of dry, dusty brush under a tree canopy with little to offer aside from a few views to the south and west. For the return, I decided to try a descent down the East Ridge which had some problems, but overall much better than the ascent route, and quite a bit faster, too. About 2hr20min for the roundtrip effort.

I took a much-needed shower back at the Jeep before driving back down to the reservoir and then east to Balch Camp at the junction of the North Fork Kings River and Dinkey Creek. I then drove up Forest roads above Balch Camp to find a place to spend the night at a saddle on the north side of Peak 3,249ft. It was quite dark by the time I had parked, but it made for a very quiet and secluded campsite...


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