Tue, Apr 20, 2021
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The trail begins by descending about a hundred feet before climbing out of Spring Gulch and into the adjacent Willow Gulch. As one crests the rise, a first view of Laura Peak is to be had, about a mile and half to the southeast. The peak is more impressive than it had looked on the topo map. The problem is an abundance of brush on the way, with the trail coming no closer than a mile from the summit. I would tackle the easier summit first, and then go after Laura on my way back. I came across several snakes enroute, along with a horned lizard. The first snake was a gopher snake sunning itself across the trail. I paused to pick it up and it hardly moved. When I set it back down on the trail, it still didn't move away. About as chill a snake as I've come across. The second was a rattlesnake that I heard well before I could see it on the cross-country portion up to Peak 5,940ft. It rattled away even as it was disappearing under a large rock I had approached. I'm very grateful that most rattlers can sense my presence and begin rattling before I have a chance to step on them. Their early warning system works quite well.
I left the motorcycle trail network when about half a mile southeast of the peak. Though the slope was steep, there was plenty of open terrain and no need to bushwhack. I reached the summit after two and a quarter hours of effort, and about 3/4qt of Gatorade. The summit is open to views, including the HPS summits of Nicolls and Heald to the northeast and Lake Isabella to the northwest. The much higher summits of the Piute Mtns are seen to the south. I had to seach around for some rock pieces with which to build a small cairn to leave a register under.
I had not done a good job of identifying Peak 5,940ft while I was plying the motorcycle trail. Had I done so, I could have saved some extra mileage by ascending the summit more directly from the southwest or south. I went off this way for my descent, finding it reasonable with no bushwhacking. Unfortunately, this was not the case when I soon left the motorcycle trail to begin the cross-country odyssey to Laura Peak. It started descently enough, with open paths through the brush, but the paths were not continuous. I would have alternating sections of moderate to heavy bushwhacking with more open and pleasant stretchs of easier travel. It would take me an hour and twenty minutes to cover the distance of a bit over a mile from the trail to the summit. I picked up dozens of ticks in the effort, sometimes five or six at a time. I would brush them off regularly and would have to do a more thorough check for them when I showered later. Luckily, no poison oak on this outing.
Laura's summit sported a wooden flagpole with the tattered remains of an american flag many years past its prime. There was a small memorial plaque on a boulder to one side for a woman who died at the age of 41 in 2017. To the southwest and west can be seen several homesteads and ranch buildings in the Erskine Creek drainage. The south slopes of Laura looked to be the least brushy - clearly the easier route to the summit is from the private property below. I decided not leave a register here since it looks to be semi-regularly visited by the folks that own the property below (and one of them undoubtedly owns the summit - it lies just outside USFS lands).
After considering my options, I decided to descend the NW Ridge instead of returning the way I'd come. Most of the ridge looked to be class 2-3 rock with only modest brush, and once across Willow Gulch at the base of the ridge, the uphill back to the motorcycle track looked to be minimal brush, too. Though it would entail more cross-country travel, it worked out better in the end. I enjoyed the scrambling down the ridge and had only short sections of moderate brush for the rest of the return. I was pretty knackered by the time I returned to the Jeep at 4p. I had been out more than six hours, covering 9.5mi with 4,000ft of gain. Not the hardest of days, but enough to have me call it quits early.
Or almost. I showered at the TH (with the required tick check), then drove back to town for dinner and some snacks. I then drove to the South Keysville BLM area on the north side of SR178, driving to the top of Peak 2,900ft where I would camp for the night. I had visited this summit on my last trip through the area and thought it would make a good campsite - views of town and the lake, surrounding hills, and excellent cell coverage. Not too shabby...
This page last updated: Tue Apr 27 07:39:54 2021
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