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The two summits stand like sentinels on either side of SR180, the first hills encountered after driving east through Fresno across the Central Valley. Both have more than 1,000ft of prominence, standing unconnected to any of the other foothill ridges that begin just behind them. I had viewed these mountains dozens of times on my way to and from SEKI National Park and each time I would say, "I've got to climb those sometime..." Tonight was the night. The routes I chose were fairly direct, each less than 1.5mi one-way. Lying in the lowlands of the Central Valley, they are little more than large grassy hills, almost devoid of trees and defining features. They can be climbed from any direction, but probably most easily from SR180. The Friant-Kern Canal follows the highway through the low gap between the two, restricting access to one side or the other where the canal goes under the highway.
Though higher by some 400ft, Jesse Morrow was the easier of the two summits. Because I was climbing the South Slopes, the moon was behind me, illuminating the mountain nicely. There were three fences to cross in the initial quarter mile, then a relentlessly steep slope up to the summit more or less directly. Loose rocks litter the grassy slopes making it imperative to watch the ground closely to keep from twisting an ankle. At the summit I found a few oak trees surrounding a small patch of summit rocks where grew the only poison oak I saw on the entire mountain. The lights of the Central Valley surround the mountains on three sides and I made an effort to capture a few of the views with an extended exposure. To the east rose the main body of the Sierra, most of it not clearly visible, but I did easily recognize the red tower lights atop Bear Mtn, the next P1K in that direction that I had climbed nine days earlier. I used a headlamp low to the ground on the way down to help me negotiate the rocks down the grass slopes. I slipped a few times in the effort, but no serious tumbles. I would dim the light whenever a car could be seen plying the highway below. The most interesting find of the night was a brown and yellow snake (a California Kingsnake, I determined later) I found on the way down. Without the light I would have probably just stepped on it. I wondered if I'd even notice (would it squish and cause me to slip?), and further wondered how many such creatures I might have stepped on unknowingly in past outings. Though the temperatures were mild (about 65F), they were not warm enough for the snake's liking and it was somewhat sluggish. It livened some when I picked it up, but stayed coiled up when I set it back down and left.
Back at SR180, I repositioned the van further west, just past the canal undercrossing on the highway. Campbell proved tougher for two reasons. Approaching from the north, the moon was low, just over the top of Campbell's summit, the moonbeams coming across the slope at a low angle for poor lighting. The second reason was that the mountain was rockier than Jesse Morrow and the rocks were bigger. These weren't just loose softballs littering the ground, but boulders in places with crevices that could take in a whole foot, more easily hidden by the tall grass. All of this made for a somewhat slower rate of ascent. The summit of Campbell is broader than Jesse Morrow, rising slightly higher to the east end where the highpoint is among some summit rocks. A few discarded beer cans could be found along with some graffiti scrawled on the rocks. Richard and Tony decided that writing their names twice would double their legacy, then scrawled "wisdom" underneath that, it direct opposition to the idiocy they were actually performing. If the graffiti was distracting, the views were not, even better than on Jesse Morrow. I took a few more long exposures while resting atop the summit before starting back down.
It would be 1:30a by the time I had returned to the van and rinsed off with a jug of water I had kept warmed in a cooler. Since I was still quite awake, I spent the next hour driving back through Fresno and almost to Los Banos before pulling off the highway to get some sleep. At times like this I realize I would have a very hard time defending my sanity in front of a jury of my peers...
This page last updated: Sun Apr 20 00:05:37 2014
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