Horse Mountain P1K
Garrett Mountain P900
Pine Mountain P500
Big Signal Peak P2K CC

Sep 14, 2014
Horse Mountain
Pine Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2
Big Signal Peak later climbed Nov 8, 2019

With the family back in school and their schedules becoming more defined, I was able to plan a few trips to Northern California to explore a large part of the state I'd not done much climbing in. It had been April since my last visit to Mendocino and on the drive back from a more recent trip to Oregon I was reminded that there were many places in the area I had yet to see. Using the CC list and my list of P1Ks as a basis, I mapped out a trip through the western half of Mendocino National Forest. Forest Road M1 runs for more than 50mi north from Clear Lake, weaving along a number ridgelines separating the various drainages that course through this forested region. M1 was not as good a dirt/gravel road as others I had traveled on in Mendocino NF, but I managed to get my low clearance van along the entire length, even if not with all its pieces I had started with. Most of these peaks are an exercise in driving punctuated with short hikes to reach the summit - more of a workout for the vehicle rather than one's legs.

Horse Mountain

This P1K is located between Clear Lake and Lake Pillsbury, a few miles west of M1. Not having left San Jose until 8a, it wasn't until noon that I had driven to the TH I used to reach Horse Mtn. With a high clearance vehicle one can drive to the summit without much trouble. I parked at a fork in the road with about 1.5mi left to the summit - no use beating up my poor van at the beginning of this long driving trip. M1, the side road I turned off on and the one I hiked up were all terribly dusty affairs. The white tennis shoes I wore had long since taken the color of tan, but now they took on browner tone, collecting far more dust in the seams and fabric than could ever be removed. The van would likewise collect dust inside and out and would take a bit of work to clean up a few days later. There is little to recommend Horse Mtn to visitors, but on my short hike to the summit I was passed by several vehicles, one of them a USFS ranger. Both were nowhere to be seen when I reached the rounded top, evidently having continued over the other side without much of a stop. Not that there's much to see - a partial view can be had to the west, but trees block views in the other direction as it did for most of the way along the hike.

Garrett Mountain

Garrett is a P900 located a few miles NW of Horse Mtn. Along with Horse, it lies in Lake County and forms part of the divide between the West Fork of Middle Creek (which flows southeast into Clear Lake, Cache Creek and the Sacramento Valley) and Bucknell Creek (which flows NW into the Eel River and the Pacific Ocean at Eureka). High clearance can drive to the summit of Garrett, or nearly so, as the last quarter mile is a bit brushy. I had to park some 3.5mi from the summit where the road became a bit rough on a downhill stretch with a short washout section I had no confidence I could drive back up. I used an abandoned logging road at the start for a partial shortcut, taking about 2hrs to reach Garrett and return. The summit offered few views (Snow Mtn can be seen to the east) though it does sport a benchmark and what looks like the remains of a lookout tower that once stood nearby.

Pine Mountain

After returning to M1 I continued north, pausing when I came across a signed fork for the Pine Mtn Lookout after about 5mi. Though not on my radar, it seemed like an easy bonus peak that was worth a detour. Surprisingly, the lookout was not located at or near the summit, but about a mile to the northwest, overlooking the Eel River drainage with a 180 degree view. It was only used for a brief period between 1933-45, but it is still maintained in decent condition and can be rented for $50/night through After a brief visit, I followed a poorer road southeast through the forest in search of the highpoint. I got within a half mile, parking at a campsite and hoofing it the rest of the way. The summit is broad, flat and offers no views. Clearly the lookout was the more interesting feature on this mountain.

Big Signal Peak

Also called Sanhedrin Mountain, this CC-listed summit is one of two P2Ks that lie north of Lake Pillsbury. The rest of the day was consumed with much rough driving, zero hiking. After returning to M1 from Pine Mtn, I continued north, dropping to the Eel River crossing below Lake Pillsbury where I enjoyed a few brief miles of delightful driving on actual pavement, before starting up on the 15mi drive to Big Signal Peak. The road makes its way up over 4,000ft to reach the 6,175-foot summit, the last few miles particularly rough. I probably should have hiked those last few miles, but the road's quality did not change abruptly and I got slowly adjusted to the steepening road and rougher conditions, stopping periodically to move a larger rock out of the way. My van protested a few times when it banged into rocks underfoot, but it did quite well. It has slip detection that removes power from the front wheel when it starts to spin, a nice feature that kept me from digging a hole in the soft spots on the road more than once. It bounced and plowed its way to the very summit in an hour's time, arriving at 6p.

Unlike the previous summits I'd visited, this one had unobstructed views in all directions. In three directions one can look out over miles upon miles of forested watershed. 8mi to the east rises the higher Hull Mtn and the crest of the Mendocino NF. Immediately south of Big Signal is the Sanhedrin Wilderness with a TH sign sporting maps and all sorts of information, though as far as I could tell no actual trails. The summit lookout tower has long been decommissioned and repurposed as a signal tower. I got out long enough to circle the summit tower, take a few pictures, and start back down. I would spend the next several hours driving back down to Lake Pillsbury and up to Hull Mtn before calling it a day. My poor car needed a rest...


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This page last updated: Sun Nov 10 08:15:45 2019
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