Lost BM P300
Peak 8,340ft
Peak 8,140ft P300
Peak 8,420ft P300
Peak 8,442ft P300

Wed, May 13, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

On our last day in the Southern Sierra, I picked a couple of outings designed to allow us to finish up around noon and give us plenty of time for the drive home. The first outing to Lost BM was expected to be an easy one, though that was based on little more than wishful thinking. The second, too, I thought might be fairly tame since the peaks were closer together than the previous days. It turns out this part of the range is brushier and rockier than those closer to the Sierra Crest further east. In the end we would skip the last summit to let us finish up at a reasonable time. The weather continued to be near ideal for hiking and scrambling, the air crisp and clear from three days of winds.

Lost BM - Peak 8,340ft

We had only a short half mile drive to the TH from where we'd spent the night. Had we known, we probably would've just slept at the TH which was an open camping spot at the end of a spur road off Sherman Pass Rd at Rodeo Flat. It isn't a TH per se, as there are no trails, but it is the closest one can drive to the two summits on the edge of the South Sierra Wilderness. The start is easy enough through open forest, but it soon grows more difficult with moderately brushy conditions and steep slopes as we made our up way up to the South Ridge of Peak 8,340ft. There was much weaving to avoid the heaviest brush and we got away with little real bushwhacking, but it was by no means an easy effort. I had originally thought that we might tackle the unnamed bonus peak first, but when we got atop the South Ridge with a good view looking towards the summit, there were two pinnacles vying for the highpoint, one of which looked impossible and the other quite difficult. It seemed prudent to skip it for now and perhaps get a better view from atop Lost BM. Oddly, the going along the South Ridge was some of the easiest terrain we encountered on the outing. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. We had to drop off the east side of the ridge to make our way to Lost BM, found across a drainage in that direction. This involved more brush, broken rocks and the like, then more of the same as we made our way up to Lost BM. The top of Lost BM is non-obvious and it saved us some time by having the location in the GPSr. Even so, we still almost missed it. After an hour and a quarter we had covered little over a mile but made our way to the top where we found the remnants of a wooden survey tower. We could not locate the benchmark nor a register, though we knew Richard Carey had been to the summit (and he nearly always leaves a register). We sat about for the usual 10-15min, prepared a register to leave, then headed off the north side, only to discover the benchmark and expected register 60ft away. We laughed at our cluelessness, but to be fair, the correct location wasn't any higher. We took a bit more time to photograph the pages of a register composed of a pad of Post-It notes left in 1989 by a USFS ranger from the Blackrock Station. There were 14 pages in all, mostly folks from Ridgecrest or USFS fire crews.

From Lost BM, it appeared that the highpoint of Peak 8,340ft was not one of the two pinnacles we had seen earlier, but another point to the north which looked easier. It seemed worth giving it a try. So we took a different descent line, more or less directly between Lost BM and our target. The route proved easier than the route we'd taken to Lost BM, a definite plus, as it took us only 40min to get between the two. The summit rocks of Peak 8,340ft were class 3, only mildly challenging such that even Karl enjoyed the scramble. By line-of-sight measurements against the slightly lower Pine Mtn to the south, we could determine that the northern point was indeed higher than the two pinnacles to the south - we would leave exploration of those points to future explorers. We found no register here, so left one before heading down.

We descended the west side of Peak 8,340ft, class 3 for about 40-50ft before it becomes class 2 and progressively easier the lower we went. After a quarter mile, we were on easy terrain with far less brush - this would certainly make for a better way to get to both peaks than our ascent route. We got back by 9:40a, more than three hours all told, and twice as long as I had guessed it would take - this is some suprisingly rugged terrain.

Peak 8,140ft - Peak 8,420ft - Peak 8,442ft

Our second effort was a few more miles west along Sherman Pass Rd, in the vicinity of Troy Meadow and Fish Creek. The peaks are outside Wilderness, in an area riddled with OHV routes. I had hoped we could drive some of these dirt roads to make the outing easier, but we found several options blocked by locked gates - seems the USFS wasn't yet ready to open the forest to visitors in these COVID-19 times. There was a sign by the South Fork of the Kern River when we first entered the forest boundary that said all the OHV trails were still closed due to snow. There was, in fact, almost no snow anywhere to be seen, but it seems likely the COVID-19 mess gave them a reason to not open the backcountry for vehicle travel.

We ended up parking off Sherman Pass Rd where the Troy Meadow CG was gated shut. It would make for a longer outing, but hardly as much work as we'd done the previous two days. It took less than 20min to make our way to the top of the first summit, Peak 8,140ft, just above the campground. The summit block is easy class 3 with a nice view to the south overlooking the forested Kern Plateau, framed by Pine Mtn on the left and Bald Mtn to the right. This one was a little too close to the campground and probably sees much traffic, so I didn't bother to leave a register here. We dropped off the north side of the peak, down to a crossing of Fish Creek, then a climb up to Peak 8,420ft about a mile away. This proved the most interesting summit of the day. There are at least five rocky points vying for the highpoint. LoJ (and thus my GPSr) had identified a point to the northwest as the highest, but that honor went to the first pinnacle we came across as we ascended from the southwest side. We weren't sure which of two closely-spaced points was the highest, so Karl went to the eastern one that he was betting on, while I went up the closer one. The pinnacle was about 40-50ft in height, difficult-looking on all sides. I found a very airy class 3 route on the north side, somewhat improbable, that had good holds and steps up what at first appears to be a vertical face. After ascending his lower point, Karl came over to look at the route I'd taken but quickly declined after an assessment. I left a register at the summit before reversing the moves I'd made to reach it.

Next up was Peak 8,442ft another mile to the northwest. Since it was along the way, we visited the point LoJ had marked as the summit of Peak 8,420ft first, deciding it was, indeed, lower. In descending from this point, Karl and I took different lines on the way to Peak 8,442ft. I dropped lower on the west side of the ridgeline thinking it would offer easier going, but Karl's route closer to the ridge proved better and he was easily able to beat me to the top of Peak 8,442ft. It had easy scrambling and open views, much like the previous two summits. Again we found no register, so left one here. I had planned a visit to one additional summit on this loop, Peak 8,814ft a little more than a mile to the northeast. The discouraging part was a drop of 700ft to Jackass Creek between them, then an 1,100-foot climb to its summit. I could tell that Karl wasn't really interested in continuing though he probably would have been a good sport if pushed, but my heart wasn't in it either. I pointed out that when the OHV roads are open there are easier ways to reach the peak, so it was easy to leave it for another time.

Once again we took different routes leaving the summit, myself dropping straight down the south side while Karl retraced the last portion of the good route he'd taken earlier. We were aiming for Troy Meadow to the southwest, thinking the cross-country there would be easier than any of that we'd done so far. This time my route proved more efficient and I was well ahead of Karl by the time I reached the meadow. I chose to skirt the eastern edge of the meadow through open forest understory, following a fenceline on that side of the meadow. At the low point where Fish Creek drains out of Troy Meadow and begins its descent through a gap between Peak 8,140ft and Peak 8,420ft, I found an old log that once allowed easy foot crossing of the creek. The creek channel has been dug out around one side of the log, but I was still able to use it to make a dry crossing without having to take my boots off. Looking back, I spotted Karl making his way down the middle of the meadow. I wondered how well he would manage the creek crossing. I would have to wait about five minutes back at the trailhead to find out. His boots were soaked as were the last foot or so of his pants, which got a laugh out of me. Seems he had tried jumping across the creek, clearing the open water but landing in an unsuspected muddy bog on the other side. This prompted him to walk back into the creek to clean the mud off his boots. Oh well, we were done for the day so it made little difference.

Not exactly done, as it turns out, at least not for Karl. We said our goodbyes there at Troy Meadow before heading off to take a shower and drive ourselves home. It was several hours later as I as approaching Bakersfield that I got a text from Karl with a picture of his Element loaded on the bed of a tow truck. He indicated a rodent had gotten into his engine compartment. I was quick to offer sympathy and asked what it was the rodent had chewed through. The truth was something different altogether. Apparently, upon starting his engine, the critter had gotten wedged into the fan belt, exploding his guts all over the engine compartment and breaking the belt. Not realizing this, Karl had driven about 15mi back out through Kennedy Meadows before his engine like came on indicating overheating. He was able to coast down Kennedy Meadows Rd to US395 and call AAA. A tow truck from Ridgecrest came out and took him back to town and a repair facility shortly before closing time. It provided a great deal of amusement to the mechanics - Karl said it made their day. After replacing the fan belt and test driving, it seems there was no further damage to the engine and Karl was on his way again, a four hour delay costing about $200. Pretty lucky, really, though not so much for the rodent...


Tom Kenney comments on 05/20/20:
That area lends itself well to bicycle travel before they open it to OHVs. The trails are nicely packed. You could probably hit a lot of smaller peaks just doing the Jackass Peak/Creek loop.
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