King Peak P2K CC
Saddle Mountain P500 CC

Jul 15, 2015

With: Jackie Burd

Saddle Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2


With my son in the Santa Cruz Mtns for the week and my wife in Hermosa Beach reffing sand volleyball, Jackie and I were left at home to fend for ourselves. In such situations my first question is usually along the lines of, "Hey, do you wanna go somewhere?" Usually this gets rebuffed because she has school projects due, a clinic to attend, a friend's birthday party or something that would keep her tethered to the home area. Being summer and with no social commitments on the horizon, this time I got an enthusiastic, "Sure!" I asked what kind of outing she might like and after some back and forth we settled on "short hikes with trees." I generally have little trouble matching such descriptions with some new peaks, so I decided we'd pay a visit to the King Range. This stretch of coastal peaks in the north part of the state is more popular for the legendary Lost Coast Hike that travels some 24mi of undeveloped shoreline. The southern anchor point for this hike is at Shelter Cove, a tiny community of secluded homes with one of the crappiest general stores I've ever seen and, oddly, an airport surrounded by a golf course. There's also a southern 28mi section of the Lost Coast further down the coast, but appears to be less popular. I made arrangements for us to stay a night at the Beachcomber Inn (decent and cheap, about $100/night) and spend a few days hiking the peaks of the King Range. The highpoint, King Peak, is a P2K and one of five CC-listed summits in the range. We didn't manage to hit all of these because not all have trails nor qualify as "short hikes," but we had a good time with the ones we visited and I was happy to leave more work for a future visit.

King Peak

We had spent the night in the Motel 6 in Ukiah, getting up early for a three hours+ drive to our trailhead. The narrow, windy Briceland/Shelter Cove Rd runs between Garberville and Shelter Cove for 24 miles. Jackie slept for most of the drive from Ukiah, waking up around the time we turned off on Kings Peak Rd near the top of the crest. This decent dirt road goes on for 15mi with several major forks to the Lightning Trailhead at the end of one of these forks. There are five stream crossings along the way, all minor in drought conditions and we managed the whole distance with only a few dents to the undercarriage. I thought the driving adventure would have Jackie rather nervous but she handled it well "I'm just glad I'm with an experienced driver," she explained, "otherwise I'd be really worried." For my part, it was necessary to play the Cool-as-a-Cucumber card so as not to cause her undue stress (which can find its way back to me when she describes the adventure to her mother).

It was after 9:30a by the time we had reached the trailhead and were ready to set out. Mosquitoes came out to pester us in the ten minutes or so it took us to get ready, leaving us each with half a dozen bites, but they left us alone the rest of the day. The Lightning Trail climbs 2,000ft to the summit in about 2.5mi, steep but manageable. The trail switchbacks to keep the gradient fairly steady for most of the ascent. Usually socked in with summer coastal fog, the range was all blue skies today, and warm to boot - it would be 85F by the early afternoon. We spent about an hour and a quarter hiking to the summit, mixed forest in the lower regions, becoming manzanita-covered chaparral at the top. A solo backpacker and a party of two with a dog were just leaving the open summit when we arrived. Because the trail approaches from the inland north side, the ocean doesn't come into view until one reaches the summit, and oh, what a view it is. I had expected it to be more forested, perhaps like the Santa Cruz Mtns, but it resembled the Ventana Wilderness views more with steep rugged canyons dropping 4,000ft down to the Pacific. Some fog could be seen 40mi to the north over Eureka, but for the most part it was hazy blue skies in all directions.

A wooden summit shelter has been erected just below the top, its roof making for a nice picnic platform from which to take in the views, the surface doubling as the summit register. We spent about 3/4hr at the summit chatting away and drinking in the scenery. Our descent off the top made use of a portion of the King Crest Trail to make a small loop before returning to the Lightning Trail which we took back to the start.

Saddle Mountain

Our second summit was 2.5mi southeast of King Peak. We drove a few miles back the way we came before finding the Horse Mountain Ridge Rd. I had expected this road to be too rough to drive but was happy to be able to get the van up to the TH a mile above King Peak Rd. A wide clearing here has ample parking though we were the only visitors this afternoon. A road junction is found here, with the driveable portion continuing east. To the west, towards Saddle Mtn, the road is gated and now serves as part of the King Crest Trail. We followed this old road with only minor ups and downs for about a mile until we were just below and north of Saddle Mtn. The road/trail skirts the north side without going to the summit. I looked around for a use trail that I thought might lead to the top but found only animal trails. Jackie was a trooper, electing to join me for the 1/8th mile cross-country portion rather than wait below. Though short, it was quite steep. The slope was littered with tree branches and forest duff but fortunately not much brush, at least until we were within about 30yds of the summit. Jackie objected to this part with thorny brambles attacking the perfectly tanned legs that she'd been working on this summer. We were surprised to find a summit register in a glass jar in a small clearing just outside the tangle of summit trees (no views, btw). David Naylor had left it two years earlier. "Do you mean we're the only ones here in two years?" Jackie asked, incredulous. She was terribly disappointed in the views after the fine ones we had atop King Peak. She couldn't understand why anyone would visit a summit with no views and my efforts to explain were completely lost. All she heard was, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" from me.

Horse Mountain

We made it back to the van without mishap shortly after 2p and continued our drive back along King Peak Rd. My research for the next summit in line, Horse Mountain, turned out to be insufficient. I looked in vain for a 4WD road branching steeply off King Peak Rd as depicted on the topo map. Just east of this location is the Horse Mountain Creek Trailhead which I thought might be the trail I was looking for, but no. Jackie wisely decided to sit this one out. The maintained trail skirts the east side of Horse Mtn before dropping down to the beach in about 5mi. I followed it for more than a mile before determining it wasn't what I was looking for. The GPSr showed I was only 0.4mi from the ridgeline and the lost jeep road I was hoping to use, so I decided to head uphill in search of it. I managed only half the distance before I realized I would be well past the hour's time I told Jackie I would take. I might have still continued except I ran out of forest and the steep hillside was becoming choked with chaparral and I began spotting poison oak. I took a time-out, assessed my silly situation and called for a general retreat. It was after 4p before I returned and Jackie and I were now equally happy to call it day.

After checking into the Beachcomber Inn we took much-needed showers before exploring Shelter Cove some. There isn't much to this little community. We visited the decommissioned lighthouse (rescued from eroding cliffs further north years ago and placed on safer ground) and then the tidepools down at the shoreline. Jackie loves these little ecosystems teeming with crabs, anemones and other tidal creatures and can spend hours exploring them. I found things among the pools and shore rocks to amuse myself and after we'd both had our fill we returned to our room to make dinner (oh, and we got some Ben & Jerry's at the crappy general store) and rest up for the next day.


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