Peak 4,700ft P300
Peak 5,500ft P500
Peak 5,672ft P500
Peak 5,020ft P300
Peak 4,754ft

May 21, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Karl and I were in the Southern Sierra, camped off a dirt road a few hundred feet above the Kern River on the east side. We were there to hike some peaks along the Rincon Fault which runs parallel to the Kern River for many miles. The first hike was a short but steep "warm-up," to be followed by a longer outing a few miles to the north. While we both enjoyed the outing, it wasn't without some significant demerits, including warm temps, poison oak, ticks, grass stickers and thistles. These peaks are probably better done earlier in the season when the grass is greener and temps cooler. Luckily, Karl is perhaps the most accomodating partner one can have - he seems to enjoy our hikes no matter what I throw at him, never complaining and almost always just happy as a clam.

Peak 4,700ft

From our camp spot, we drove in the jeep north along a spur road that leads to an access port for the aqueduct/flume that runs several hundred feet above the Kern River before plunging down to a powerstation on the Kern River below Flume BM (one of the peaks I climbed the previous day). From this point on the southwest side of Peak 4,700ft, it's less than half a mile to the summit but more than 1,000ft of elevation gain. There is some easy class 3 scrambling on the slope, but most of it is just steep class 2 with mild brush and decent footing. The going gets easier once on the South Ridge, leading to the summit in about 35min. I picked up a few ticks on the ascent, prompting Karl to check his own clothing while we were atop the grassy summit. Most of the hike was in the shade and we were done by 8a, so at least the first outing was pleasantly cool.

Packsaddle/Rincon Trail Loop

We drove north a few miles once back to the highway, parking at the Packsaddle TH for the day's main event. The Packsaddle Trail connects the Fallview CG along the river with the Rincon Trail where the latter crosses Packsaddle Canyon. After initially climbing through grassy slopes and across two closely-spaced saddles, the trail drops into Packsaddle Canyon where it follows along the creek on one side or the other. The canyon is surprisingly lush, almost tropical-looking, and it can be a little hard to follow the trail in places where it makes several creek crossings. There is much poison oak to watch out for, and of course, ticks. After about 25min, the trail emerges above the north side of the creek where a junction with a spur trail is found. This spur leads in a quarter mile to Packsaddle Cave on the south side of Peak 5,672ft which we skipped for the time being. Just above this junction the trail meets the Rincon Trail, open to motorcycles but on the difficult side. We would see or hear no one on motorcycle today. In four trips on this trail along the Rincon Fault, I've never seen anyone try to ride a motorcycle on it, but there is evidence in the dirt that it gets occasional use by the hardiest of enthusiasts. We turned left and followed the Rincon Trail north for 40min, up and over a saddle with Peak 5,672ft and across a shallow basin in the adjacent Brin Canyon. Where the trail starts to climb up to a saddle with Peak 5,500ft, we headed cross-country to get ourselves on the South Ridge of the peak. The trick here is picking a way through the brushy start with the least trouble, then gaining the more open ridge which can be followed to the summit. The limestone scrambing was a bit of surprise, a welcome change from the brushy slopes lower down. We arrived at the summit by 10:50a, about 2.5hrs after starting out. We rested up for about five minutes, taking in the views and leaving a register before starting back down again.

We returned to the trail and backtracked to the saddle with Peak 5,672ft, our second stop. A familiar hissing sound off the side of the trail caught our attention as we paused suddenly. It took a few moments to locate the rattlesnake under a bush, several feet from the trail. He was coiled in a defensive posture, wanting no real business with us, but willing to put up a fight if provoked. It was too warm to spend time finding a stick to play with snakey, so we let him be. Of course it would now be on our minds the rest of the day, wondering if there was another one underfoot that we might accidently step on. It took us about 15min of cross-country travel through moderate brush from the saddle to reach the top of the day's highest summit, Peak 5,672ft. It was another limestone summit where we took a short rest and left a register before heading back down the same way.

Back on the Rincon Trail, we dropped back into Packsaddle Canyon where we looked for a way to reach the third summit, Peak 5,020ft. The expected route from its saddle with the Rincon Fault had looked too brushy from Peak 5,672ft, so we wanted to find a way up the northeast side. This would prove the hardest summit of the day. The initial difficulty was finding a way across Packsaddle Creek. There was little water, but the brush and trees were thick, rife with poison oak. Karl and I chose different routes across - while he went across some downfall, I went downstream a short distance where I found a clear path across. We continued to be separated most of the way up to the summit, a steep, brushy haul that had us zigging back and forth looking for ways through the heavy stuff. At least we were able to leave the poison oak down by the creek. Almost 40min was spent in the short cross-country effort to reach the summit which was a bit underwhelming as far as views go. We left another register here before deciding on an alternate course of action for the return. From the summit, it appeared the route to the Rincon Fault saddle would be better than it had looked earlier, mostly because the south-facing slopes were not as brushy as the other slopes we'd seen from the higher summit to the north. This worked out quite nicely and was obviously the better route to take (in case this exciting report has you itching to visit Peak 5,020ft). It somehow escaped my attention that there was another summit (Peak 5,220ft) a short distance to the south along the Rincon Trail that we should have visited simce we were so close, but instead we simply returned to the Packsaddle Trail to the north.

On our way back down the Packsaddle Trail we made the short detour to visit Packsaddle Cave, a worthwhile effort. Judging by the limestone summits we'd visited already, we had guessed that it would be a limestone cave, and so it was. The entrance is large and much of the cave can be explored in a standing position. It goes back several hundred feet before one would need to crawl into the narrowing openings at the back. There are perhaps a dozen pillars and other limestone features that we found of interest. There was no water coursing through the cave, but the floor is damp in places and a few drips fell from the ceiling. A headlamp is useful for exploring deeper into the cave where the light doesn't penetrate. The cave doesn't drain through the entrance, but rather a smaller opening (or openings) on the left-hand side of the cave somewhere in the middle. We saw no sign of bats or other animals, but the roof near the entrance is blackened from fires that have been built inside. The only litter we saw was a poorly maintained geocache near the entrance.

Returning to the Packsaddle Trail, we retraced our route back down the canyon and then up to the saddle with Peak 4,754ft, our last stop. This is an easy summit a short distance off the trail and it was nice to have saved it for last. A little brushy to start, it soon opens up and the cross-country took only about 15min. We found three other guys at the summit with expensive-looking camera gear and I asked if they were shooting wildlife. Turns out they were military buffs and were taking pictures of the jets flying down the Kern River Canyon out of Lemoore AFB. It's good to have a hobby. We didn't stay at the summit upon our arrival, not bothering to look for a register and were soon on the trail once again. It would be 4:15p before we finished up back at the TH, tired.

We checked for ticks a last time before loading our gear and ourselves into our vehicles. We drove up the highway a few more miles to find a place to camp above the pavement on the east side. It would cool down shortly as the sun began to sink in the western sky. We had planned a second day of similar peaks along the Rincon Fault further north, but I decided I'd had enough of that for one day. We would save the collection for cooler weather and find something else to do up by Sherman Pass the next day.


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