Peak 4,962ft P300
Peak 5,353ft P300
Peak 6,652ft P300
Peak 6,398ft P500

Fri, Mar 24, 2017
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I'd spent several days fixing dry rot around a window and doorway, mowed the lawn, swept up the yards, cleaned the outdoor fountain, fixed a few things inside the house and dropped my wife off at the airport, sending her to Spokane to join my daughter for a volleyball tournament. I had packed the van and was heading out for a 10-day roadtrip, but didn't manage even half a mile. While fiddling with the cellphone, I took my eye off the road for that fraction of a second it takes to miss the traffic-calming curb sticking out into the roadway and suddenly things weren't looking so good. I had clipped the right front tire producing a huge bang followed by the thwap-thwap-thwap that told me I had utterly destroyed the tire. Luckily I didn't destroy the rim. I'm not really one to believe in fate or things like "Everything happens for a reason," type of muddled reasoning, but there was a silver lining. It turns out the wheels were badly out of alignment and the inside of that tire had worn down to the steel belts. Much better to have the current problem now in a major metropolitan area than something worse in the backwaters of Death Valley. I changed out the tire for the tiny spare which of course was itself flat but I happen to carry an air pump in my kit which worked nicely. An hour and a half later I had two used tires replaced on the front along with an alignment for $130. Back on the road again...

I was heading to the desert to meet up with Brian French for four days of the usual and had Friday on my own for a warm-up. I had slept the night at South Lake near Isabella Lake, intending to hike some peaks in the area in a 7-mile loop. Much of the area had burned the previous summer and I thought it might be a good time to tag some of these summits, usually thick with brush. In the morning I could see that the upper reaches of the loop I had planned had not in fact burned, and the brush looked as uninviting as ever. Rather than fight that stuff, I headed east to the Canebrake area to do some unnamed peaks in the Owens Wilderness on the west side of the Sierra Crest and Walker Pass. The slopes here are drier and consequently no serious brush to contend with. The lower slopes are populated with Joshua Trees while the upper elevations are characterized by juniper and pinyons. Like most summits in the Walker Pass area, there is a great deal of sand in these hills, making for a tough workout when the slopes get steep and rather enjoyable on the descent.

I parked at Bert's Park, a BLM day-use area with shade trees and picnic tables along SR178. The four peaks I visited were on either side of Berts Canyon, which led me to believe that Bert must have been one of the original white homesteaders in the area (he also has an OHV road in the area named for him). The first peak was the lowest at 4,962ft and the easiest, taking only 40min to reach. The air was fairly clear today with high, thin clouds, making for good views. Another 40min saw me along the ridgline to the second summit, Peak 5,353ft. I found an old, rusted tobacco tin on the slope below the summit, another reminder that no matter how obscure a peak I climb, someone's already been this way before me. The third peak was the highest and closest to the crest, rising to over 6,600ft. Pinyons and junipers were the dominant trees on all the slopes save the warmer southern exposures. From the summit of Peak 6,652ft I was surprised to find I was less than half a mile from the PCT which goes over the saddle between this peak and the 8,453-foot Owens Peak, another mile and a half ENE. With more energy and ambition I could have continued to Owens, then south to Jenkins Peak before descending the ridge on the south side of Berts Canyon, but having already been to both of those and not possessing the requisite ambition, I took the shortcut across Berts Canyon to hit Peak 6,398ft more directly. The "shortcut" wasn't exactly easy, dropping 800-900ft between the two and taking almost an hour.

Peak 6,398ft was the only peak of the four with more than 500ft of prominence and the only one with a register. It was left by an HPS party led by Gordon MacLeod in 1980, the register book torn from the top half of a larger booklet to conserve paper and fit within the makeshift container - two aluminum beer cans. There were other entries from 1997, 2011, and 2013 in the interim, more than I would have guessed. The descent off this last summit dropped more than 1,400ft down sandy slopes to the canyons below, soft on the knees and quite enjoyable. I picked up an old 4WD road within the Wilderness and followed this down to the Wilderness boundary where I continued on a still-used version of the same road, following this most of the way back to Bert's Park. The brushiest part of the whole outing was the last quarter mile along Canebrake Creek, but even that didn't require much bushwhacking - mostly a lot of weaving to find the animal paths through the tall, dry reeds. It was just after 1p by the time I finished up, a 5hr outing covering 9mi and a little over 4,000ft of gain. Warm-up done, the following days would be considerably more challenging...


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