Kirby Peak
Windless Ridge
Footman Ridge
Peak 4,125ft P300
Snyder Ridge P750
Portuguese Ridge
Peak 4,575ft P300
Ferguson Ridge
Gimasol Ridge
Sweetwater Ridge Fail
Feliciana Mountain P500
Peak 3,775ft P300
Peak 3,725ft P300

May 20, 2021
Sweetwater Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX


The last of a four day roadtrip had me in the far northwest corner of the Sierra National Forest chasing down a bunch of minor summits, most with little prominence. It was more an exercise in driving Forest roads than it was in hiking, as none were more than about a mile to the summit. It was not without its challenges, however, and an interesting part of the forest with deep, rugged canyons. Much, but not all of the area was burned in the 2018 Ferguson Fire, leaving many square miles of charred forest with snags that are beginning to fall down, making for challenging road conditions. Other areas escaped entirely, still mantled in thick forest or chaparral.

Kirby Peak

I had camped the night at a saddle west of Crow Peak, on FR5S25, high on a ridgeline overlooking the Central Valley. I was happy to find in the morning that this road had been cleared heading northwest along the ridge, unlike many of the roads I'd found the previous day. I drove through Round Tree Saddle and then a few miles further to Kirby Peak, really just a bump along the ridge. The hike was just a six minute cross-country ramble over downfall and new brush to the summit with lots of standing snags. Views were hazy, as they would be for much of the day.

Windless Ridge

Northwest of Kirby Peak, a road junction is encountered. FR5S63 heads north along Windless Ridge. LoJ identifies Pt. 4,251ft as "Windless Ridge", though its barely even a bump, low on the ridge (which is really just the NW Ridge of Kirby Peak) with less than 20ft of prominence. I left the Jeep parked in the road (nowhere to park here) and thrashed my way to the summit in less than two minutes. This was the silliest of the day's summits, by far.

Footman Ridge

This is the next ridge west of Windless, across Owl Creek. The LoJ designation is at Pt. 4,619ft with several hundred feet of prominence. FR4S08 goes nearly over the top, leaving a walk of less than a minute to the summit covered in a tangle of brush and downfall. Good views looking north and east, though.

Peak 4,125ft

This one is interesting only because access is rather tricky. It lies on forest lands, but is nearly surrounded by private property around Jerseydale. Unsigned FR3S25 forks off paved Best Rd, going down a tributary of Skelton Creek a short distance to a dead-end inside the national forest at the abandoned Comet Mine. I parked here. The creek crossing proved challenging not because there was significant water, but because the banks are quite steep and brushy. Once across, the opposite bank is steeper yet, with much brush that must be manuevered around. Poison oak adds another dimension to the fun. Homes and buildings can be seen to the right (north), so it helps to stay left to avoid the private property (I think I veered a bit outside the forest boundary). After climbing about half the distance to the summit, the slopes eases some as does the brush. The summit is a jumble of standing and fallen snags, and new brush, all the result of the Ferguson Fire. Views are limited. It took about 20min to reach the top and about the same to get back down again.

Snyder Ridge

This was probably the most challenging peak of the day with more than 750ft of prominence. The topo map shows FR3S28 and a spur road winding up from Best Rd to get one high on Synder Ridge. The access off Best Rd appears to go right through someone's property and I quickly drove back out. I guessed the road is no longer accessible, but later I reviewed the satellite view and there might be a way from a junction just southeast of the property I drove into. As an alternative, I looked for an all cross-country route from the west along Synder Ridge Rd. Homes seemed to line the entire street on that side, but I eventually found an empty space between two homes that I could slip through. A dog at the home to the north barked for some time, but no one came out to see what was going on. Eventually I was out of sight higher in the forest and all was quiet. The Ferguson Fire had burned the forest lands right to the edge of the private property, leaving more tangled mess of downfall and brush, sometimes heavy, sometimes easier traveling. The distance to the summit was only about half a mile, but it was more than 700ft of gain. The top was covered in thick manzanita, forcing me to crawl under it to reach the highest point, and had me laughing at myself. There is a spot elevation further north that LoJ had identified as the highpoint, so I dutifully made my way a few hundred feet more in that direction, finding it 5-8ft lower. It did have better views which the actual highpoint didn't afford. I spent about an hour on the roundtrip effort.

Portuguese Ridge

This one is found about a mile south of Jerseydale, separating that community from Clarks Valley to the southwest. The ridge was spared in the 2013 Carstens Fire as well as the Ferguson Fire, though it has seen fire sometime before 2000. I used Jerseydale Rd and FR4S38 to get fairly close to the summit before I was stopped by uncleared downfall. After parking, I walked the road to a junction south of the summit. The road had huge logs across it, making for quite the obstacle course. Avoiding the road looked even worse, so I stuck to it. Where I expected, or rather hoped, to find spur road "B" going over the summit, I found almost no trace of the old road. I went up through very heavy brush to find the summit buried in trees and more brush with nary a view. There were signs of the old road heading off the northeast side, but I knew it wouldn't take me back to the Jeep. Rather than reverse the route I'd plowed through, I decided to drop more directly back to FR4S38 heading northwest. This worked, but not without much thrashing, and if it saved any time, it wasn't much. About 50min for the roundtrip.

Peak 4,575ft

The summit is found about a mile west of Jerseydale, the topo map showing FR4S35 going right over the summit. I expected it to be very quick. The Forest road forks off the much better FR5S24 (that any vehicle can manage), but I initially missed the junction, finding it upon backtracking. I should have parked right there and walked the mile distance to the summit, but equipped with the Jeep, I figured I could just drive it. The road was very poorly maintained. I found downed logs cut to barely allow the Jeep to pass through and manzanita heavily encroaching on the trail. Things got worse quickly and I came to a halt at a cut I didn't think I could pass through without damaging the Jeep. I found a spot to make an 11-point turn (or something like that, I'm sure I lost count) and left the Jeep parked in the road facing the right way for an easier exit. I figured it would take about 20min to get to the summit and back, and didn't expect to find anyone coming up this crappy road. As I set out on foot, I came to find the road soon narrowed to a motorcycle track. The track followed the topo map for about half the distance to the summit, then veered left to drop off the northwest side of the ridge. After some cross-country, I found the remains of the old road, now badly overgrown. I followed this with some effort up to the summit, climbing over and around heavy downfall. The summit is found in a jumble of manzanita and downfall and no views, so I made a hasty retreat after finding the highpoint. I wasn't far off my estimate, taking about 25min for the roundtrip.

Ferguson Ridge - Gimasol Ridge

These two ridges overlook the rugged South Fork Merced River, about 5mi north of Jerseydale. It took about 30min of driving on well-graded FR3S04 to reach the summit of Ferguson Ridge, a drive-up. FR3S07 takes one in about a mile from a junction just south of Ferguson Ridge's summit to Gimasol Ridge. The road looked poorly maintained, and not wanting a repeat of what I encountered on Peak 4,575ft, I decided to just hike it. It turned out to be in better condition than I first guessed and could have driven most of it, but it made for a very pleasant walk, down to a saddle then up to the highpoint of Gimasol Ridge. Both ridges were badly burned in the Ferguson Fire (named for Ferguson Ridge, presumeably because the fire started somewhere near there, probably along SR140), but new flowers and fresh green brush have begun adding color back to the landscape.

Sweetwater Ridge

The highpoint of this ridgeline is found several miles west of Ferguson Ridge, across Sweetwater Creek. I first tried to reach it via FR4S16 along Sweetwater Creek, but found that ended in a washout and downfall. I backtracked and found another series of Forest roads, Feliciana Mtn Rd (FR4S24) and Sweetwater Ridge Rd (FR3S12) that lead north on Sweetwater Ridge. I was stopped several miles short of my goal by a private inholding that barred further access to the ridge. It did not appear possible to reach the highpoint from this way, so I gave up.

Feliciana Mountain

I returned to Feliciana Mtn Rd and drove that to a junction just southwest of Feliciana Mountain's summit, then used spur road "B" to get even closer, within a few hundred feet. A casual walk across the grassy summit brought me to the highpoint in a few minutes' time. There's a nice view of Chowchilla Mtn to the southeast and partial views north across the Merced River drainage to the Stanislaus NF.

Peak 3,775ft - Peak 3,725ft

These last two summits are low elevation peaks found just outside the forest boundary. I drove Feliciana Mtn Rd down to SR140, taking that south about 5mi to Triangle Rd and Buckingham Rd. I parked at the saddle between the two summits and set out on foot for Peak 3,775ft to the south. The first thing I noticed was that there was poison oak everywhere. An unsigned, single-strand barbed wire fence is encountered with private property on the other side. The landowner bulldozed and burned all the brush sometime in the past year, leaving only the trees. However, new growth is already evident and almost all of it is poison oak. I danced around the new sprouts as I followed one bulldozed track up to the summit and an alternate one on the way down. The summit is mostly open with a few oak trees for company, taking in the rolling, forested foothills to the south. After returning to the road, I hiked north up the road a few hundred yards to then head cross-country up to Peak 3,725ft from the southeast. This summit had no similar geo-engineering and is covered in thick brush and trees. There is some poison oak, but thankfully only a modest amount. With patience, I was able to make my way to the top up steep slopes through the understory without any serious bushwhacking. The summit offers no views and more poison oak than I'd seen in getting there. I carefully assembled a small rock cairn amongst the poison oak and left a register. I suspect this one will see only a couple ascents over the next few decades. I returned back down the same way and finished up at the Jeep just before 4:30p, taking a bit over an hour for the two summits. I showered where I had parked and then set off on the 3hr+ drive for home...

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