Hockett Peak P1K ESS
Peak 8,344ft

Sun, Oct 14, 2012
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Hockett Peak lies in the heart of the Southern Sierra in the southern part of the Golden Trout Wilderness. Though it sports more than 1,800ft of prominence, it does not appear on any peak list and seems to garner little attention, judging from the lack of online information found. There was a brief trip report from 2001 by Doug Bear who described it as a "wild, densely forest, remote summit." There are two trailheads that can be used to approach the peak from the southwest, Lloyd Meadows and Lewis Camp. I chose the later because it offers slightly less elevation gain overall, though the extra bit come at the end where one must climb from Jerkey Meadow up to the TH. I left San Jose on a Saturday night, arriving at Lewis Camp in the wee hours to sleep in the back of the van for a few hours. It appears that this trailhead is used primarily by the nearby pack station and by ranchers that use this to access areas around the Little Kern River in the Golden Trout Wilderness that are open to grazing.

It was well after 7a before I got started on the trail. There were downed trees on the first part of the trail which meanders a bit before joining the shorter cutoff trail after half a mile - seems most folks use the cutoff trail leaving Lewis Camp to the northeast instead of this seemingly useless, longer alternative. The trail down to the Little Kern River passes quickly into the Wilderness boundary and then past several trail junctions in the vicinity of Jerkey Meadow. The ridge leading to Castle Rock is seen to the east as one descends - I hoped to possibly tag this as a bonus on my way back (but obviously failed at). It was 8:40a before I reached the bridge over the Little Kern where I found a pair of backpackers at a camp, stoking a fire to stay warm and prepare breakfast. The shady camp was nicely located next to the river, but it held the coldest air I found all day, probably in the low 30s. It would be at least 9a before the sun reached this protected little alcove.

I spent the next 45 minutes plying the trail leading east to Trout Meadows, a surprisingly large and lush meadow with horses grazing behind old wooden and barbed-wire fences. The horses were quite friendly, coming to greet me to see if I had any treats for them, disappointed to find otherwise. I met an older gentleman at a private camp just to the south, the owner of several of the horses (the others he told me were being pastured by the pack station operators back at Lewis Camp). I asked him about the trails in the area that are hard to find and he gave me an earful about the lazy Forest Service and their lack of maintenance for just about everything. I happily agreed with him in just about every respect to stay on his good side, though some of his claims about the necessity of grazing stock to maintain the meadows I found dubious. The upshot of the information I was after was that the old trails shown on the 15' topo going to Hockett Meadows on the NW side of the peak were no longer maintained by the Forest Service, but partially maintained by this gentleman and the packers. He suggested my best bet was to approach it from the northwest at Willow Meadows where I could pick up the old trail heading east and southeast out of the canyon. He gave me a very detailed description of the number of meadows I would encounter while heading north before turning off, but much of this got jumbled and lost in my head. It seemed I needed to go about an hour north, then look for the side trail - that was as much as I could process.

I turned north, leaving his property and regained the trail heading upstream through Trout Meadows, past the empty Ranger Station, another trail junction, and then the series of meadows that had been described to me. At Willows Meadow I took an unsigned fork leading through the brown grass to a packer's camp found in the forest to the east of the meadow and the creek. As I continued through the camp to the north, I saw no sign of a side trail leading up the hillside as I expected. I had the route depicted on the 15' topo entered into my GPS, so when I was in the vicinity of the expected junction I simply headed uphill, trusting I'd find the old trail at some point. It took only ten minutes of modest bushwhacking to stumble upon the trail. The tread was thin and non-obvious, but the trees lining it appeared to have been trimmed in the last year to allow a mounted horseman to pass by unmolested. I lost it at one point but soon regained it, and overall it was an excellent route to get me as far as Hockett Meadows, less than a mile from the summit. Leaving the trail just before Hockett Meadows, I found the cross-country not overly difficult (but certainly not as nice as the old trail), making my way up the Northwest Slopes to reach the rocky summit not long after noon.

I had feared that the summit would be completely forested over and offer no views (that's how it appears in the satellite views), but was pleasantly surprised to find the summit on a rocky outcrop that stuck up above the forest and provided a swell panorama. One can see north up the main Kern drainage to Red Spur, Ericsson and Stanford, east to Olancha and southwest to the Needles and Slate Mtn beyond. Much of the area to the east and south was burned in the McNally Fire in 2002, but was beginning the long process of recovery. A register left by MacLeod/Lilley in 1981 had 23 pages filled, many with fire fighters from the various fires that have swept through the area over the past three decades. An old wooden survey tower is still mostly intact at the summit as well. I spent about half an hour at the summit eating my lunch and enjoying the views, deciding on a strategy for getting off the mountain.

The easiest course would have been simply to retrace my steps, but I was curious as to what state the trail was in heading south from Hockett Meadows, leading back to the the south end of Trout Meadows where I had conversed with the older fellow earlier in the morning. It was in this direction I headed. I first made my way over to Pt. 8,344ft about 3/4 mile to the southwest of Hockett Peak. To my surprise I found the deteriorating remains of another register left by Gordon and Barbara on the same day in May of 1981. The McNalley firemen had filled a page with their names as well from 2002. From this lower summit I followed the forested ridgeline west down to where I expected the old trail to be found, again using the GPS which showed the old route. Try as I might, I had no luck finding any remnants of the trail from the shoulder of Pt. 8,344ft all the way down to the bottom where several springs are depicted on the 7.5' map. The route was steep and brushy at times and certainly no time saver. This was the route Doug Bear had used in 2001, but it was not the easiest route to the summit as he had surmised. I eventually found the trail climbing up from the Kern River to the east past Doe Meadow and followed this west back to Trout Meadows.

Back on familiar ground, I reversed the earlier route from the morning back to the Little Kern River bridge, then the long, 2,000-foot climb back to the TH at Lewis Camp. It was after 5p before I was finished (I had no energy left for Castle Rocks, that would have to wait for another day), making for just shy of ten hours on the day. With the sun ready to set shortly, I took a lukewarm shower on one of the picnic tables at the campground I had to myself. I dressed warmly in fresh clothes, made dinner and enjoyed a beer while I watched an old movie on the van's overhead console. It was nice to not have the need to drive anywhere this evening - I would start the next day doing other nearby hikes. I had just enough of the conveniences of modern civilization to make my night comfortable and slightly decadent. I would sleep well...


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