Peak 6,140ft
Peak 4,902ft P300
Henness Ridge Lookout
Henness Ridge P300
Pinoche Peak P500
Brown Peak P300

Tue, May 18, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX Profile


Most of the day was spent inside Yosemite National Park, visiting some obscure summits on its southwestern boundary, with the last few actually located outside the park in the adjacent national forest. I had spent the night camped at the Trumbull Lookout overlooking the Merced River and was up early for the hours-long drive back out to SR120. Combined with the Yosemite entrance traffic, it wasn't until nearly 8:30a that I was ready for the first hike. It was a fine day with temperatures a bit on the warm side, some breezes to help things and not a cloud in the sky.

Peak 6,140ft

This summit is located close to the Merced Grove. I parked at the Merced Grove Trailhead along SR120 and hiked in on the road from there. I turned off the road after 1/3mi (the grove is located another mile further south), heading southwest up the slope to the peak. The slope had burned in the 2018 Ferguson Fire, leaving lots of charred downfall, but no serious impediment. The summit is partially covered in new manzanita growth doing well in three years' time. Lots of standing snags leave only partial views, including one of Pilot Peak to the west. Overall, not much going for this summit.

Peak 4,902ft

This summit overlooks the Merced River gorge to the south and Foresta to the north. Foresta is a residential community within the park boundary. There are access roads from SR120 and another from SR140 to the south, though this is currently closed due to a washed out bridge. The slopes on Peak 4,902ft burned in 2009, 2014, and most recently in the Ferguson Fire. I drove in from SR120 and parked at the southwest end of town where sandwich boards warned of the bridge out ahead. I walked the road a short distance to where it comes closest to Crane Creek, crossed the creek and headed cross-country for the summit. The slopes are now covered in brush of varying degrees of thickness and it took both patience and determination to find a reasonable way through it. I headed south to start, finding only moderate brush once past the immediate vicinity of the creek, but this became thicker and heavier in the middle of the route. The distance to the summit was less than half a mile, the saving grace in this brushy affair. The upper third of the mountain held less brush, making for easier going at the end. I spent 35min in the effort to reach the summit, finding open views with the remaining handful of trees reduced to charred snags. The view west takes in the Merced River downstream. Trumbull and Eagle Peaks overlook the river on the north side, while Henness ridge rise high to the south. I left a register among the summit rocks, expecting it to see few visitors over the next decade. It may take only a few years for the brush to become virtually impenetrable here. I returned via the same route with only unintentional deviations - I had done well on the ascent to avoid any truly awful bushwhacking, and didn't trust myself to avoid finding such by taking an alternate way back.

Henness Ridge Lookout

After returning to the Jeep, I spent the next hour driving to Yosemite West, enduring more Yosemite traffic (this time due to construction), taking in a few of the Valley sights before driving back out of the Valley on SR41 heading south. Yosemite West is another residential community, this one located just outside the park boundary in the adjacent Sierra National Forest. The only access is within the park from SR41, near the turnoff to Badger Pass. There is a good deal of construction taking place, replacing old cabins with huge modern homes, rented out for $300-$800/night through Airbnb and VRBO. The decommissioned Henness Ridge Lookout is located with the park, accessed through Yosemite West. There are no signs directing you there and it does not appear on the park brochure or website. I parked near the end of Azalea Ln which offers access to the dirt road leading to the lookout. A 15min walk on the road through forest brings you to the open views on Henness Ridge where the lookout stands. The Park Service provides occasional maintenance to keep the three-story structure sound. There is a park plaque next to the stone steps which leads up to the top cabin where things are tidy but in need of TLC and some paint. Views overlook Yosemite to the east and Sierra NF looking south and west. Definitely worth a visit.

Henness Ridge

Access to these last three summits is via dirt Forest Rte 3S30, which exits Yosmite West at the end of Henness Ridge Rd. Henness Ridge is found a few miles west of Yosemite West. The Forest road traverses around the summit, 400ft below the highpoint. I parked off the road about 1/3mi east of the summit, going up to the top from the southeast through mostly open forest understory in 15min. The Ferguson Fire burned over all of Henness Ridge but with mixed results, sparing many trees in isolation and pockets of varying sizes. A large ponderosa stands at the highpoint, half-charred but surviving. Views overlook the South Fork Merced River drainage to the south and the main Merced River gorge to the north.

Pinoche Peak - Brown Peak

This was the meat of the day, hiking to these two summits found further west along Henness Ridge. I drove another mile west on the road before coming across a guy working alone with a bobcat and chainsaw at clearing the road. I stopped to talk with him briefly, finding he was clearing the road for a friend who has property at the end of the road. I had hoped to be able to drive another mile further to Cathewood Saddle, but this would have to do. I was grateful that the guy had cleared as far as he did, and told him so. I parked in a wide lot off the road and headed out on foot. Only after I had gone a few hundred feet past where the guy was working did I realize I was on the wrong spur. Doh! I backtracked some and then climbed uphill to quickly meet the road fork I should have taken. It turned out this one was blocked as well, so I wouldn't have been able to drive any further anyway. I spent about half an hour walking the road to Cathewood Saddle, found between the Henness Ridge HP and Pinoche Peak. The topo map shows a trail running along the ridge from here all the way to the saddle between Hite Cove Indian Flat. I was hoping to make use of this trail since I had almost four miles along the ridge to reach Brown Peak. After starting up from the saddle a little too high, I spotted the trail below me on my left and dropped down to meet it. The trail was in decent shape, at least to start, but it was quickly obvious that it sees very little traffic. I followed it through unburned forest to the southeast shoulder of Pinoche Peak where the rugged peak comes into view above the trail. The South Face looks like crumbly cliffs that would be dangerous to attempt, but the SE Ridge worked nicely, steep class 2-3, but little brush. The views looking south open dramatically with the rugged drainage of the Merced River's South Fork. I reached the summit of Pinoche around 2:30p, a little over an hour after starting out. Along with some swell views, I found a surprisingly busy register with 16 pages of entries since Richard Carey had left it in 2011. A number of Sierra Challenge participants had entries - Grant Miller, Clement Guillaume, and the most recent entry from April, Chris Kerth. Chris had done this as part of a backpack trip to Hite Cove. Sounds tough.

Especially considering the trail section between Pinoche and Brown. The topo map shows the trail mostly running below the ridgeline on the south side, and indeed it might have at one time, perhaps before the Ferguson Fire. But there was very little evidence of it now. I descended Pinoche off the SW Ridge, looking for the trail but finding only bits and pieces. I dutifully tried to follow it as shown on the map around intermediate Pt. 5,445ft, but found the trail blocked by downfall and brush, virtually obliterating it. After fighting this for a short while, I decided to head back up to the ridge and take my chance there. This turned out to be the key. A use trail has developed there over the past few years, taking one through brush and forest, over craggy points and grassy slopes, with generally little bushwhacking, all the way to Canty Meadow just east of Brown Peak. It took an hour from Pinoche's summit to reach the meadow where an old Forest road goes over the saddle. Grant had used this road from SR140 on the Merced River 3,500ft below to reach Brown and Pinoche back in 2017, a harder route for sure. There are the remains of a concrete foundation for a structure that once stood at the saddle, with just a few charred scraps remaining.

From the saddle, I found no sign of a trail going up Brown Peak, but the distance was short and I found it only modestly brushy. I reached the summit after 4p, finding it covered in partially burned manzanita. There is an open section just southwest of the summit with nice views overlooking the South Fork Merced River drainage and a bunch of summits I would visit over the next few days. I left a register here under a small cairn, figuring the clearing filled with talus would prevent it getting torched in the next fire. Now I just had to get back before sundown. It would take me until 6:40p to get back to my starting point, shaving about 30min off the return, some by not having to go back over Pinoche, the rest by doing a better job of following the use trail along the ridge. I was pretty tired by the time I got back, but had enjoyed the outing a great deal, despite the challenges. I had originally planned to head elsewhere in the park for the night to set myself up for the first peak the next morning, but after some deliberation decided to stay where I was. The area was quiet (the guy had left with his truck and chainsaws), remote, flat, and oddly, had cell service. It would do nicely...


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