Lookout Mountain P900 ESS
Schaeffer Mountain ESS

Feb 25, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


I was parked off Sherman Pass Rd in the Southern Sierra, a few miles from the pass. Despite the chains I had brought and took some trouble to install the previous day, the snow on the road was too much for my van. I was looking to visit a few summits north of the pass that could be reached in a few easy miles in other seasons, but would today be something more than 20 miles round trip. I had expected most of it to be on snowshoes, but conditions were such that I only used them for a few miles. But those miles were somewhat crucial, most tedious without them, so I was glad to have them with me. Lookout Mtn was on my list of P900 summits and the main objective, while Schaeffer was a bonus about a mile and a half to the northwest.

I got started not long after 6a, hiking up the road before sunrise, but not dark enough to need a headlamp. On the west side of the pass the road was probably half snow, half dry. A small pothole I examined showed a much deeper chasm underneath than one might have guessed, having carved out almost three feet under the pavement. A heavy truck driving over it is sure to cause a bigger collapse. I reached the pass around 7:20a, the shade now mostly gone and replaced with bright sunshine. The east side of the pass has very little dry pavement and miles of snow cover. The folly of thinking I might drive over the pass was now obvious. Snowmobiles had packed the road nicely making it easy enough to walk on without the snowshoes which continued to remain strapped to the back of my pack. About half an hour east of the pass I came across a 4WD camper truck that looked stuck in the snow. Deep ruts were evidence of a struggle the beefy vehicle had fought before giving up. I wondered how long it had been there and what had become of the occupants. Would the camper be here all winter if more serious snows were to fall soon? I noticed a skateboard had been placed under the front wheel in an effort to give it more traction, but that had only resulted in the destruction of the board. As I was passing by the camper a voice was heard from the narrow upper window, "Hey..." There were two guys, probably in their early 20s, inside the van. They had driven in the night before and got stopped in their tracks. Though equipped with high clearance, 4WD and posi-traction, they had no chains, and that may have been their undoing. I gave them a report of road conditions up to the pass, which wasn't promising. They didn't seem too concerned about being stuck, figuring they'd back up and return the way they'd come in the morning. So I bid them goodbye, letting them know I'd be back in 4-5 hours in case they needed help. They went back to sleep. The camper was gone when I returned later, and from the looks of the tire tracks in the snow, it didn't seem like they had much trouble extracting themselves.

A few minutes past the camper I came upon the junction with Corral Rd and my turnoff. This road had more sun exposure and thus more snow-free, but snowmobiles had been here as far as the saddle about a mile and a half to the north. The road veers off in other directions at the saddle, but a maintained trail continues north towards Corral Meadow and Lookout Mtn. The trail becomes more shaded in the forest on the north side of the saddle as it begins a gentle descent, now mostly snow-covered. Without the snowmobile tracks I had earlier, I found conditions poorly consolidated for the next mile and I used the snowshoes to good advantage here. I removed them shortly before reaching Corral Meadow and another trail junction around 9a at the 8,500-foot level. The junction lies at the foot of Lookout Mtn, now just about a mile further north. I turned right at the junction and followed the trail for a short distance before leaving it to head cross-country more directly upslope to the summit. Because it was south-facing, the slope was mostly snow-free and I was able to climb it to the top in about 45 minutes.

Broad and mostly surrounded by trees, the rocky summit proved unworthy of the name "Lookout". I could view Sherman Peak to the southwest, but most other directions had the views at least partially blocked by trees. I was able to identify the Kaweahs through a gap in the forest to the north, but otherwise the views are not so great. A register dating to 2008 had some 18 pages of entries, suggesting a fairly popular peak. I recognized only a few names including Shane Smith, Richard Carey and Nathan Shultz, the latter having made seven ascents as of 2012.

It had taken about four hours to reach the summit, well ahead of my conservative estimate, giving plenty of time for the bonus. While much of the NW-trending ridgeline was snow-free or nearly so, some sections were covered with 6-8" of unconsolidated heavy snow where the snowshoes once again proved useful. There is not much elevation loss between the two, indeed Schaeffer has just 160ft of prominence. As most of the route is forested there was little to be had in the way of views during the hour it took to traverse between the two summits. The Schaeffer summit is hard to determine. There are at least three points vying for the highest and trees contribute to the difficulty in ascertaining one over the other. I managed to find a register at one of them, left by Gordon MacLeod in 1986 and decided his choice for the highpoint was as good as any. The register had 18 pages filled, but there was only one other entry in the past 15 years. The peak seems to have lost some of its past popularity. Views were again lacking, but by walking to the edge of the forest on one side or the other, views to Olancha and other parts north could be found, as well as the snowy northern aspects of Sherman Peak to the south.

Rather than return the way I had come across Lookout Mtn (which would undoubtedly have been the shortest route back), I decided to drop southwest about 1,400ft down to Durrwood Creek and the trail I might find there as indicated on the map. The southwest slopes proved to be about as snow-free as I could have hoped, and in about 35 minutes I had found my way to the trail. I would spend about an hour following this southeast along Durrwood Creek to a trail junction and then east back to Corral Meadow to close the loop. From this point on, it was just a matter of retracing my steps, the conditions much the same as I'd found previously, though perhaps the snow a bit softer. About 2.5 hours from Corral Meadows I had returned to the car on the west side of Sherman Pass, getting back by 3:30p, well before sunset.

I would spend the next several hours showering, removing chains, and driving back down Sherman Pass Rd to find a place to spend the night near Johnsondale and Sentinel Peak. I found an unsigned turnout just off the Lloyd Meadows Rd that looked to make a perfect location. Several hours later I was visited by a security guard in a white truck who appears to have driven up the deadend road for the express purpose of telling me I was on private property. No one else had driven by in the time I had been there, so it seems perhaps he was just out on patrol. I didn't question why there were no No Trespassing signs or other indicators of private property along the roadway, but simply found another spot another mile north on the roadway. Perhaps he felt better that he had earned his salary that night. In any event, it made little difference and I was able to spend the rest of the night in peace, undisturbed...

When the mill at Johnsondale closed in the 1970s, most of the town's inhabitants disappeared. The company town was sold whole to a private concern which developed the R-Ranch resort, a timeshare cabin and RV Park. As they seem to own all the non-public lands in the area, I'm pretty sure it was they who had come to remove me from my parking spot along Lloyd Meadows Rd.


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