Sun, Sep 5, 2021
I'd been interested in this string of four summits for several years now. Located in the northeast part of Domelands Wilderness on BLM lands, my first effort to reach them from the north was stopped by locked ranch gates. From the satellite view, it looks like one ought to be able to drive the dirt road south from paved Kennedy Meadows Rd, but I found this not the case. All the lands along Pine Creek are privately owned and unwelcoming. A longer, but still manageable route comes in from the south, initially on the PCT and all legal, and it was this that we used. We left the other vehicles at our campsite in Big Pine Meadow and drove in the Jeep on Chimney Peak and Chimney Basin Rds, an hour+ drive to where the PCT crosses the latter road around the 7,200-foot level. There is no parking area here, so we had to park the Jeep partially off the side of the road, about the best we could do. It was nearly 8a by the time we started out. Despite the trail's popularity, this was not the busy time of year for this section, and we would see no one all day.
The first hour was spent plying the PCT, about 700ft downhill on an easy gradient. The trail continues dropping into Rockhouse Basin, but we would leave it well before then. When due south of the first summit, Peak 7,168ft, we left the trail to descend steeply cross-country into the canyon below, another 400ft down to the (mostly) dry creekbed (this could be considerably more challenging in the spring). This area had burned in the Manter Fire 20yrs earlier but has yet to really recover. The large trees are all lying charred on the slopes, no new ones yet to take their place. The downfall wasn't horrendous, more of an inconvenience as we climbed the steep slopes, weaving through dry brush and downed trees. The upper part of the peak is a jumble of granite boulders, typical of the Domelands landscape, offering some scrambling opportunities. It would take us to the end of the second hour to reach its highpoint. TomB and I were about 15min ahead of the others, Iris continuing to take things more slowly as her knee works on its rehabilitation. The summit offers some pretty spectacular views looking into the Domelands area to the west, where Stegosaurus Fin, Bart Dome and other features could be identified among the granite wonderland. Rockhouse Basin spreads out below us in the same direction, the South Fork of the Kern River, now just a creek, lazily zigzigging through it heading south. To the north was our next summit, Peak 7,380ft, with the other two hidden behind it. We left the first of four registers on our summit before starting down the northeast side.
There were some large granite blocks going class 3 off that side initially, soon becoming easier, but brushier, especially lower down. TomB and I worked our way down towards a saddle and then up the south side of Peak 7,380ft, arriving around 11:30a. There were some trees for shade here which we used to advantage, resting up out of the sun while waiting for the others to show up. Iris was moving slower now, and it would be another 45min before she and TomG would arrive. Our outing today would be less than 15mi, so we had some daylight to burn, and frankly, hanging around at the summits seemed better than back at camp. It was cooler here, we had shade, all we were missing were a few cold ones. A little before 12:30p we started down from the summit, again off the northeast side. This time we went looking for an old road, now part of the Wilderness, that runs along the east side of the four summits. It is visible in the satellite view and we planned to use this for the return. For being out of service for a few decades, the road was in good shape, well-suited for foot and equestrian traffic, albeit a bit sandy. We spent an hour between Peak 7,380ft and Canyon BM, using the road for about a third of the distance. We went up Canyon BM from the ESE, finding another blocky summit, this one with a benchmark and remnants of an old survey tower. Iris and TomG were only about 20min behind us this round, giving me some time to reconstruct the wooden survey post and its supporting guywires.
The last summit, Peak 7,045ft, was the easiest of bunch, with less mileage and elevation gain from the previous summit. TomB and I were already at the summit as we watched Iris just finishing the descent from Canyon BM, TomG nowhere to be seen. We were puzzled to watch her veer northeast and east, wondering why she was taking a roundabout route, eventually realizing she had decided to forgo the last summit and start back on the old road. TomG was only a few minutes behind us, it turned out, having sped up his ascent once it was decided that Iris would skip the last one. We left our last register and then descended the SE side. We landed in a dry wash which we followed upstream to where it intersected the road. It would take another 15min from this point before we managed to catch up with Iris. Despite her limitation, she was getting stronger each day - she managed three peaks today and two the previous one. We followed the road to its end in a meadow east of Peak 7,168ft. There were the remains of a old ranchhouse and other buildings, mostly just the foundations, now part of the Wilderness. At one time, someone had a pretty cool ranch spread out a the end of this lonely road. I had thought the road might continue downstream further, around the southeast side of Peak 7,168ft to where we had started up earlier in the morning. This was decidedly not the case. Past some old fencing meant to keep the cattle out of the gorge, we spent about 20min working our way through boulders and brush, the most challenging section of the day. In front, TomB and I separated as we exited the gorge, Tom taking a shorter route back to the PCT while I went looking for our original route, overshooting it by a short distance. It was 4:30p when I had reclimbed the hillside to the PCT, after which I spent the next hour slowly catching up to TomB along the trail. We reconnected with less than 10min left to get us back to the Jeep where we arrived by 5:30p. It would be another 30-40min before the others would join us, giving us time to get into more comfortable footwear and enjoy a cold beer in the shade of the Jeep...
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