Mail Ridge North P1K
Bear Buttes P1K
Bark BM P1K

Thu, May 30, 2019
Bear Buttes
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2 3


On the last of a four-day trip to California's North Coast, I switched from chasing CC-listed summits back to P1Ks. The trio of peaks today had a bit of everything the lush coast area has to offer - a long, easy cruise on old logging roads, a short but steep scramble to a rocky perch, a formidable bushwhack. I had half-decided to drive home early after the first summit in order to beat Bay Area traffic before rush hour, but eventually persevered and went on to complete the day's agenda and was glad I did. The weather was really nice today and it seemed a shame to waste an opportunity to enjoy the area to the fullest.

Mail Ridge North

Mail Ridge runs for more than 40mi, separating the South Fork Eel River from the Eel River. Three days earlier I had climbed Mail Ridge South at the southern end which is the highest point on the ridge. Mail Ridge North is quite a bit lower but is the most prominent point on the ridge. It lies entirely within private timber lands, not open to the public. I had spent the night camped near the Eel River and the Dyerville Trail Trestle, about three miles from the morning's starting point. I found a locked gate at the start, signed for No Trepassing. I parked outside the gate and started off on foot just before 6a. A wide gravel road winds its way through dense second-growth forest, steadily gaining elevation as it makes its way in a circuitous manner to the summit in about 5mi. The morning fog began to clear as I neared the summit area, though it would be hours before it cleared down in the valleys. The road passes within 1/3mi of the summit. At a point southeast of the highpoint I left the road to climb up through mostly open forest understory which made for easy cross-country travel. It took a little more than two hours to reach the summit where I found the highpoint buried in trees among a couple of stumps from some very large redwoods that had been cut a century earlier. Some of the second growth trees are already quite large and it may not be too long before a second harvest gets under way. I left a register here under a crude log cabin I built atop one of the stumps. It might be a small rotting mess before the next visitor finds it. Upon my return to the start a few hours later, I was surprised to find the gate wide open. Judging from the tracks in the road, it seems the main work is going up a left fork about a mile up the road. I was glad no one had seen me. I also wondered if I had started an hour or so later, would I have been able to make this a drive up? Probably, but glad I didn't, because there was the equal chance I might have found myself stuck behind a locked gate. That would suck. Anyway, it was a very quiet morning hike that I enjoyed very much.

Bear Buttes

Bear Buttes lies about 11mi almost due south of Mail Ridge. I spent an hour driving from one TH to the other. The peak lies in an area of dispersed homesteads. I left US101 at the Redway exit north of town and went over a bridge on the South Fork Eel River that leads to the Eel River Conservation Camp #31, a cleverly-worded description for a state prison. Before reaching the prison, Wood Ranch Rd forks right. I followed this gravel/dirt road and various forks for five miles through the rural community distributed about the slopes on the west side of the river. I eventually parked in a small clearing at the base of the mountain on its southeast side, about 0.4mi from the summit. The climb is very steep, almost from the start, rising 1,400ft before the top is reached. Though the satellite view shows trees and what might be a very brushy affair, the forest understory was remarkably clear. The biggest challenge was the severe gradient and rocky cliffs encountered along the way. It would take me just over 45min to make my way up, all class 2 with convenient chutes to get through the cliff areas. the summit is a large, rocky perch that has an easy class 2 route up the west side through a small oak grove before popping out onto the wide-open summit with fantastic views in all directions. Knowing that Barbara and Gordon had climbed this in 2001, I expected to find one of their register, but found none. I left one of my own, and because there were no decent-sized rocks to be found anywhere at the top, I left it under a small pile of gravel to protect it from the elements. After returning to the jeep, I had just started driving back down when I was stopped by a truck coming the other direction. The driver had come up to investigate reports of an unknown vehicle parked near one of his neighbors' homes, obviously me. When he asked me what I was doing in the area I told him I'd come to climb Bear Buttes which seemed to offer him some relief. He was extremely polite in explaining the whole area is private property, even though it wasn't signed as such. I had seen a gate on the north side of the road that leads to a property on the west side of Bear Buttes, but there was no fence and I simply avoided using the gate or the road. It's clearly not properly signed for No Trespassing, but of course I didn't press the point, nor was it necessary. We parted on good terms with a wave and I continued down the road and back to the highway.

Bark BM

Another 11 miles south of Bear Buttes, Bark BM also lies on private property. Dean Gaudet has a TR on PB describing a route he pioneered up from the east through Richardson Grove State Park that is a tough bushwhack. There is a road climbing up to the summit from the south, a route I had checked out a month earlier on a previous visit, finding it gated, locked, and signed for No Trespassing. The road travels up through dispersed homesteads and it seems impossible to not be noticed by several neighbors. I decided to use Dean's route as a safe and known route, even if a tough one. One can pay the $8 fee to enter the park as Dean did, or simply park just outside the entrance and walk in. There is a mailbox at the road that connects with a trail down to the freeway underpass, connecting with Dean's route - slightly shorter, too. After wandering through the campground, I found the start of the trail network. There are multiple ways to reach the Tan Oak Springs Trail, any will do. Once I reached this junction after about 20min, the route begins climbing up out of the drainage through delightful redwood forest with some impressive specimens. I came across a couple of snakes, the first a racer that zipped out of view almost before I could snap a picture. The second was much larger, what I at first thought was a rattlesnake that I almost stepped on. This had me jumping sideways to avoid it, my heart racing, only to discover it had no rattle. The gopher snake seemed in no hurry to get away, so I picked it up and hung it on a tree branch for a better view. After an hour's effort I reached the top of the trail and the start of the cross-country with about half a mile remaining. As Dean mentions, there are numerous old logging roads forking off from the ridgeline one ascends. These helped in places, but diverged from the route in others. I had Dean's GPX track with me that I found helpful, noting where he had wandered off and returned after finding the going tough. This saved me much time and I was able to follow a more efficient route to the summit. There were some of the expected tough sections of overgrown brush that slowed me down, in one place I crawled under the manzanita, but for the most part it wasn't too bad, certainly not as tough as the previous day's bushwhack to Hadley Peak. The upper part of the route diverges from the ridge onto the north side, following a very useable old road. Where the road becomes choked with brush, I got around the blockage on the right through and old slash pile (with a truck tire lying oddly at the bottom), and made a bit more progress to where Dean had left the road to climb to the summit. This last part is steep but mostly open forest understory and it takes only a few more minutes to reach the top. It took me an hour to get through the cross-country portion, two hours all told from the start. The summit opens up to grassy slopes with views looking south and west. I found the same reference mark that Dean described, but had no better luck than he in finding the benchmark. Taking Dean's advice, I skipped the Durphy Creek loop and returned back down the Tan Oak Springs Trail, this time stopping at the Lookout Point near the bottom. There is a bench and a partial view to the South Fork Eel River, just visible through the folliage of the trees. Not what one would normally consider for a lookout, but not bad for a dense forest landscape.

It was almost 4:30p by the time I returned to the jeep on US101, with another four hours of driving to get home. It had been a very successful roadtrip with only a few peaks I was denied. My next trip would head north of Eureka along SR96, a longer trip to compensate for a longer drive...

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