Peak 4,585ft P300
Peak 4,850ft P500
Duckbill Peak P300

Nov 21, 2020
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2

A week after my failure to gain access to the Clear Creek Management Area (CCMA) due to a locked gate, I was finally contacted by a BLM employee via email when I requested a refund. After several back and forth emails in which it was impossible for me to convey the confusion one has in getting permits to this area, I finally figured out that you have to print out the permit in order to get the gate combo. Nowhere in the reservation process does it say that you actually have to do this (one might think an electronic copy would suffice, but alas, this is a government bureaucracy), nor does it tell you how to print it out, but I eventually sorted it out. To the BLM guy, this all seemed obvious and he must have thought I was a moron. I think he was too closely connected to the process to see any possible route to confusion. So it goes. I decided to head back there for an overnight visit, about a day and a half's worth of peakbagging. This would allow me to visit the other five summits I had planned on that first attempt.

Highway 25 runs north-south from Hollister to SR198, a wonderfully scenic 2-lane country road running through isolated valleys between the Diablo and Gabilan Ranges, along the San Andreas Rift Zone. Although more scenic in Spring with rolling, bright green hills coloring the landscape, even in Fall the golden hills used primarily as ranchlands makes for a most enjoyable drive. After several hours I ended up at the western entrance to the CCMA, the junction of paved Coalinga Rd and dirt Clear Creek Rd. The area can also be access from the north at New Idria, but that is a much rougher road, no longer maintained, and suitable only for high-clearance vehicles. Clear Creek Rd is signed as Not Maintained after the first few miles, but it is in much better shape and probably sees occasional maintenance. It wasn't until after 9a before I had reached the starting point for the first summit, three hours after leaving San Jose.

Peak 4,585ft

All of these peaks lie to the east off the main crest of the Diablo Range, with a starting elevation higher than the actual summits. Peak 4,585ft is less than a mile from the main road (R11), connected by a subsidiary ridge with a drop of some 600ft to a saddle. The terrain is rough, covered in very heavy chaparral in most places. Luckily, there is an old motorcycle/hunting trail that keep this from being impossible. The track drops steeply at first and is in pretty good shape, but grows progressively worse as one begins to climb up to the peak from the saddle. The old track is difficult to follow in many places, but it can save a great deal of effort if one takes a bit of time to search it out. I brought clippers expecting some pretty tough bushwhacking, and wasn't disappointed. Despite long pants and long-sleeve shirt, my legs and arms would be scratched mercilessly as I cut and plowed my way through the heaviest stuff. The trail seemed to disappear altogether for the last 1/5mi, though a small outcrop with a duck atop it gave evidence that I wasn't pioneering the route. The dust created from the breaking of dry branches filled my lungs. Occasionally I would find a tick on my clothing - no surprise since I knew this to be tick country - but they seemed the least of my concerns. There were some short, open stretches that were welcome relief, but most of the work was with the heavier stuff. It took me an hour and a half to reach the summit, the last 30min of that spent covering that final 1/5mi. A modest rock outcrop served as the summit with views stretching far and wide. It was cool and unusually clear - snows could be seen far to the east atop the Sierra Nevada, more than 100mi away. To the northeast and east, the chaparral gave way to grassy ranchlands that border the Central Valley. South and west continued the chaparral-covered ridges and peaks that form the highest part of the Diablo Range. I left a register here, expecting it to be some time before someone stumbles across it - not even the hunters make it out this far. My return went much quicker, only 45min, thanks to the crude route I had created. I got back to the jeep by 11:20a, scratched, beaten and ready for more abuse.

Peak 4,850ft - Duckbill Peak

Peak 4,850ft is the 5th highest summit in the range and the highest I had yet to visit. Duckbill Peak is a few miles southeast of Peak 4,850ft, named on the BLM map of the CCMA, but not so on the topo maps. I had hoped to get closer to this pair using a jeep road shown on the topo map and easily visible in the satellite views, along a connecting ridgeline from the main crest. I found no gate, but the spur road was signed as Closed to Vehicles and pretty brushy - easy enough in an ATV, but not so easy in the Jeep. I parked at the main road and headed off on foot, a distance of about 2.5mi to the first, Peak 4,850ft. The road leads to a ridge connecting the two peaks, turning southeast about half a mile from Peak 4,850ft. There is a use trail running north along the ridge, good at first, but becoming obscured by overgrowth with a quarter mile remaining. I missed the trail completely for the first half of this remaining distance, forcing my way through some pretty heavy brush, making use of boulders and rock outcrops where I could. At a shallow saddle between the summit and an intermediate point I had worked across, I reconnected with the old trail, still quite overgrown. It was better than making a new trail and I was happy to follow it. Old cuts in the manzanita showed that it had not been created by the animals, but more likely by hunters in decades past. The trail led around to the east side of the summit where more trees and less brush could be found, then a final steep climb through pine needle-laden slopes and some class 3 scrambling to get myself to the highpoint two hours after starting out. Phew. I collected yet more cuts and scrapes, but I was happy nonetheless. The summit perch is airy and open to views. It was easily the best of the three summits on the day. I left another register here before starting down. On my way back to the road I was able to follow the old trail much better, saving me at least half an hour's time.

Once on the old road, I turned south to follow it towards Duckbill Peak. There is a drop of more than 1,000ft to the saddle between the two peaks. The road ends short of Duckbill not far past the saddle, leaving about half a mile to the top. An old Jeep found just past the end of the road was a neat little find, probably about 70yrs old. I had guessed that a named summit might have received visitors over the years, and was happy to find that a decent use trail continues all the way to the summit. Though brushy in a few places, there was no need to pull out the clippers and the abuse my skin took was minimal. I reached the summit just before 3p, only an hour and a third after leaving Peak 4,850ft. Again, views were open to all the surrounding terrain, with folded valleys and ridges covered in chaparral - it had no history of fires in at least the past twenty years, and probably ripe for one. It would take me nearly two hours to make the 4.5mi trip back to the Jeep where I arrived just before 5p. The last hour of daylight was magical as the hills took on softer tones and the last sunlight played out on Peak 4,850ft just before I finished. I had hoped to get another peak in before the day was done, but that would have to wait for tomorrow. I found a nice flat spot along R11 on the crest further south where I would quietly spend the night, probably the only vehicle or person within a 10mi radius. The high clouds that dominated much of the day would give way to a brilliant night sky filled with countless stars. The lights of Coalinga could be seen in the distance to the south, and those of the Central Valley to the east...


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