With a free day, I decided to head to the Panoche Hills for some
unfinished business. I had last visited in March with plans to do some of the
same peaks, but was
stopped by horribly muddy conditions that made driving unsafe even with 4WD,
and hiking unpleasant. When I came back a month later, they had closed the area
for the summer season a day ahead of schedule, just as COVID concerns were
causing the first of the state's lockdowns. The hills are still quite brown
(or "golden" as we like to say in the Golden State), but the rainy season was
upon us, and it had already rained a bit only two days earlier. New green
shoots of fresh grass were poking up in many places, though not yet
enough to change the golden color from a distance. I hoped this rain
wasn't enough to set in the muddy conditions and was happy to find them nearly
ideal - damp enough to keep the dust down, but no mud sticking to the tires. I
would end up driving almost 20mi on the dirt roads throughout the range,
a thoroughly enjoyable time with cool temps and blue skies.
There are several ways to reach this one. David Naylor used a route from the
west starting at the picnic view area. One could drive P2 towards the FAA
tower to get closer, but it still involves a drop deep into a gorge. Marcus
Sierra used a route from the south that follows a ridgeline to reach it, a
much longer hike, but all on road and use trail. I used this latter option,
driving the rougher road section that Marcus had hiked. This made for a
roundtrip effort of only 3.5mi with about 1,200ft of gain. The
starting point was almost 400ft higher than the summit (as all three
hikes today would be), the hike still involving a deep drop, just not
quite as deep as the western approach. The use trail appears to have
been made by motorcyles at some time in the past, perhaps kept active by hunters
and deer. I was a little concerned that the tall grasses would be home to ticks,
but was happy to find none all day. The peak is a little island among
the various canyons that flow easterly to the Central Valley. The final approach
is quite steep, but the footing was good on loose soils. I left
a register at the summit before returning the same way.
This one is found just off the roadway I was following towards Nonada
Hill. It has little prominence, but it does sport a benchmark. I
figured I better tag it
in case someone puts it on PB and causes me regrets. Better yet, I put it on
PB when I got home so that I could be the source of frustration for others. Hah!
I hadn't planned to do this beforehand since it has less than 100ft of
prominence. The name itself is spanish for "a triviality" or "mere nothing",
which is quite appropriate. I was following a jeep road that I was hoping
would take me down to about 1,100ft to approach Nonada Hill from the north, but
encountered a locked gate while I was still within BLM lands. I then
backtracked to a turn in the road about 3/4mi northwest of the summit and
started from there, again with a large drop to start things off. No
real trails this time, though grazing cattle had left useable tracks over the
years. I ended up making a loop of it because I mistook the higher
Pt. 1,622ft for the peak, about half a mile southwest of Nonada Hill.
I could have easily avoided this detour if I'd
looked at the GPSr, but I had thought it too obvious to consult the electronics.
It was a nice hike regardless, taking me to the edge of the BLM lands where
the summit is located. There were a few BLM signs found just
south of the summit, marking the boundary between private ranchlands and BLM
lands. After leaving a register in the large cairn adorning the summit,
I dropped northwest into Marca Canyon before starting back up to
the jeep half a mile to the west and 600ft higher.
Though only a few miles to the south, there was much driving for this next
summit due to Capita Canyon, a deep gorge separating it from Nonada Hill. I
parked off P1 at a gate at the start of the ridgeline I would follow.
marks the boundary of a Wilderness Study Area and vehicles are prohibited
(though it looks like a few motorcycles have gone this way in the past few
years). This would be the longest hike of the day at almost 4mi, but not much
more than 1,000ft of gain. Again, my starting point was almost 400ft higher than
the summit I was visiting. I had hiked about half the distance of
this ridge six years earlier when I was visiting the higher
Peak 2,281ft, less than a mile further south. The ridge made
for a pleasant hike, taking about an hour and three quarters for the roundtrip
effort. I left a third register at the summit.
Panoche Hills HP
This was the fourth time for visiting this summit, the highest in the range.
It's a short 1/4mi from the main P1 road I was following on my way back out,
and pretty much a freebie. Unlike last time when the mud made it too dangerous,
this time I was able to drive the spur road all the way to
the summit, making it a drive-up. I wouldn't
recommend it without high-clearance and 4WD, however.