Peak 5,060ft P300
Peak 5,502ft P750
Peak 5,340ft P300
Peak 5,300ft P300
Peak 5,220ft
Brown BM

May 15, 2015
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

I'd been making a side project of tagging all the lower summits on the east side of the Southern Sierra over the past year. In looking over Smatko's and MacLeod's climbing records, I noticed that both had done more than a handful of these in the past and suspected there might be something to them. Indeed, outside of the summer months these summits can be quite nice. In springtime blooms, they are a colorful delight. The terrain is open to views with minimum brush and very few trees, and access is not difficult off SR14 and US395 with various dirt roads available. These were built to service the two aqueduct pipelines that run near the foot of the mountains but are generally open to public use for recreation as well. The only significant downside I found is that these mountains are composed of untold tons of decomposing granite - sand. Uphill travel can be grindingly slow and punishing. On the flip side, one can get down these things in a hurry. Today's outing was a circuit around Sand Canyon, about 6mi north of Indian Wells Canyon. Five of the summits had at least 300ft of prominence to qualify as "ranked" while the last was the site of the only register I found on the day.

I left San Jose around 8a and spent the next five hours driving across the state, over Walker Pass and over to the east side of the Southern Sierra. I drove under the LA aqueduct on my way to the TH but balked when I got to the creek crossing. I got out to inspect it but couldn't be sure I'd not get stuck driving across so I parked just shy of this and hoofed it on foot the last few minutes to the Sand Canyon TH. I followed the trail/old road for almost two miles until it forked. The left fork heads up into Rodecker Flat, a route Matthew and I had used many years earlier to reach Spanish Needle. The right fork leads to Sawtooth Peak which we used the same day for the return after traversing between the two HPS summits. Today's route would leave the old roads, climbing west and southwest to the summit of Peak 5,060ft. It was a sand and rock affair for much of the ascent, not exactly fun, but better than the all-sand variety. Once on the summit ridge it's a deceptively long way to the highpoint. While still a quarter mile away, I had thought I was atop the highpoint because the next point to the south looked obviously lower. Not so, said the GPSr, and I dutifully continued down to a saddle and up to the marked point. Looking back to the north, it was no longer looking obvious which was higher. Such are the vagaries of eyeball measurements. Behind me to the west, low clouds covered both Spanish Needle and Sawtooth along with most of the crest, threatening to rain on my parade. The rain shadow effect held, dumping whatever precipitation the clouds held on the west side of the crest, leaving me with only a few scattered drops through the afternoon.

To the east stood the much higher Peak 5,502ft, the highest point of the day with more than 800ft of prominence, and it was to this I next turned my attention. I dropped southeast off the present summit, into Rodecker Flat to pick up the road found there. The direct assault up the west side of Peak 5,502ft looked long and tediously sandy so I opted to follow an old jeep road that forks off the main road and heads up the drainage south of Peak 5,502ft. After about a mile of road hiking, shortly before I was due south of the peak, I bit the bullet and started up. 1,000ft of terribly tedious sand was broken only near the top where more solid granite offered about 100ft of scrambling. Reaching the summit by 3:30p, I found the rocky perch ideal for taking in the entire Sand Canyon drainage. Thin clouds overhead with thicker clouds still over the crest, they seemed to be on the retreat as the afternoon wore on. To the north rose Boulder Peak (visited a few months earlier) while to the east could be seen all the remaining peaks for the afternoon. The good news was that each one would be lower than the last, making things progressively easier.

I picked off the next four in succession, following the easiest routes I could discover between them. It was 5:15p by the time I landed atop the last, Brown BM, where I was surprised to find a register in an old tobacco tin dating to 1980 (not that old, considering the container). The entries were sporadic over the intervening 35yrs, with a few names I recognized like Bob Joy, Bob Rockwell and Shane Smith (who made the last two entries before I arrived). I was positioned nicely for the return - just over a mile to the north and 2,000ft lower was the van which I managed in about 20min. There wasn't the great sandy descent I was hoping for, but more rocky downscrambling and then a bit of sand fun for the finish. Total gain on the day was around 4,500ft in just over 9mi - not bad for a half day's effort.

After a shower and a visit to Pearsonville for Subway dinner I drove out to Indian Wells Canyon where I would meet up with Laura that evening and Tom the next day. We had a rock climbing adventure planned for the next day that I was looking forward to - after being rebuffed in a solo scrambling attempt back in March.


Shane Smith comments on 06/07/15:
Geez. You're getting to everything. Was wondering if you'd ever get this cirque. Impressive for a northern californian!
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