Pilot Knob P500 SPS / ex-HPS / ESS
Mayan Peak P750 HPS / ESS

Fri, Feb 25, 2005

With: Matthew Holliman
Mike Larkin

Pilot Knob
Mayan Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

It was about ten minutes after 7a when Mike and I pulled off to the side of SR178 at our trailhead. It had been the usual long drive from the Bay Area and we were a bit late for our meeting time with Matthew. Matthew was at the trailhead ahead of us, though as we found out, not by more than about ten minutes. He'd been in Folsom the night before for a concert until nearly 1a, and had then driven six hours south to join us. He looked as fresh as ever and I would never have guessed he'd just gone the whole night without sleep.

Our objective this morning was Pilot Knob, one of the easier peaks on the SPS list and at the same time one of the harder ones on the HPS list. In peakbagging parlance, this was a Two-for-One deal. Matthew had already climbed it the previous year, so I was a bit perplexed why he was willing to forgo a night's rest in quest of a peak he'd already summited. His simple answer - "I need the exercise." The quickest route to Pilot Knob requires some crossing of private property near the start, between the highway and the South Fork of the Kern River. Having done some looking into the matter on the HPS website, I came prepared with a gift offering of $20 for Frank and Josephine Stone though I had failed to get the suggested permission beforehand. From the highway we walked through an open gate (this gate is not locked when closed, just latched) and hiked down the dirt road toward the Stone's property. As we approached we saw no one astir and wondered if knocking on the door (and possibly waking someone) would be more or less rude than just passing by. We decided to leave the envelope with the donation on the door of the main trailer parked in the large clearing. As we approached the trailer three dogs came scurrying out from under it, barking and yapping and pretty much ensuring there would be no one asleep anymore. We held our ground, unsure of the friendliness of the dogs, and through the window we could see someone moving about and putting on a shirt. Frank (we presume that's who the young-looking Indian was) came out to greet us, shushing the dogs. I handed him the envelope as he commented, "Heading up to the peak, eh?" Clearly he'd done this routine before, not asking what the envelope was for, and just calmly taking it from us as one would a receipt from the grocery store. Mike asked about the dogs names (Bear was the only one I remember), and they seemed to warm up to us better now that Frank had come out. We left them after a few minutes and headed on our way.

We crossed the South Fork of the Kern River over a pair of bridges, the first delapidated with a seemingly serious sign to stay off (but with little water under it), the second a more sturdy steel affair that crossed the main channel. It would have been very difficult to ford the river without swimming, and it is because of this that the routes to Pilot Knob are limited. Though the peak lies within the Domeland Wilderness, access is only practical where there are bridge crossings over the South Fork. About 50 yards after crossing the bridge we noted a use trail heading to the left, and we dutifully followed it. The trail, we found out later, crosses a smaller drainage first before traversing further north into the main drainage up which the regular route follows. The trail fractures numerous times, and it was one of these early tributaries that we wandered off on. With the hillsides crisscrossed by animal tracks, its hard to tell whether we were on a use trail or not, but it seemed to matter little. Though I knew the main track must head up the main drainage, I was intrigued by the ridgeline on our left and found myself heading in that direction whenever I was unsure about the trail. Matthew, having been up the peak already, didn't seem to have any opinion as to where the trail might have gone either, and we all found ourselves heading to the ridge as we made our way up.

After we'd climbed about a third of the elevation, the ridgeline grew more rocky. It was class 3 and higher in places to stay on the ridge, a bit of an underbrush bushwhack off to the north side to avoid these. I got ahead of the other two and found myself enjoying the combination of scrambling along the ridge and bushwhacking on the north side. When I got tired of one I would switch to the other, and in this manner I made my way up having the grandest of times. There were several rocky prominences that looked impossible to scramble over that I avoided, and these proved some of the tougher bushwhack parts to bypass. Where the ridge turned to the northwest I'd gotten around the worst of the rock problems, and from there I stayed mostly on the ridge or very close to it. I saw nor heard any sign of the other two. It was pretty obvious which way to go, so I didn't bother to wait - I would do that once I got to the summit.

Once I reached the saddle at the top of main canyon from the east, I joined the regular route. It was pretty obvious I had done so because I was now haunted by the ducks of past climbers lining the route literally every 10 yards or so. I marvelled at the absurdity of it. The route was pretty clear - follow the ridge up to the summit. The cliffs on the SW side of the summit could be seen from below and were not hard to avoid. What then would compel someone or some persons to erect so many ducks? Did they really believe they were performing a public service in the interest of safety, or might it have been out of sheer boredom while waiting for slower partners? I must confess I spent way more time thinking about it than the situation deserves. It was almost 10:30a when I reached the summit, three hours after setting out. From below the peak had seemed so close and I had expected it would take less than two hours to reach the summit. The route we chose wasn't the fastest, but it still surprised me that it had taken as long as it did. The summit register was a bit of a treat, containing the original register placed by a 1960's era Sierra Club party including Carl Heller. This name was fresh on my mind since Matthew, I, and a few others were planning to climb the East Ridge of Mt. Carl Heller (unofficially named) this coming May. I had lots of time at the summit to wait for the others, and I went through much of the summit register perusing it for the usual names. There was some snow on the higher peaks of the Sierra crest to the east, a bit on some of the peaks to the south, but little elsewhere - there was definitely the feel of spring in the air.

After almost 30 minutes on the summit, I heard someone calling my name from below on the ridge somewhere. I shouted back and there was a brief exchange, though I didn't make out what was being said and there was probably the same problem that I was indistinctly heard. The voice had sounded like Matthew's which was a bit of a puzzle - it is very unusual for Matthew to ever shout loudly on one of our hikes. I surmised that there might have been a problem, possibly an injury he was making me aware of. Or possibly he was letting me know he wasn't coming to the summit so I wouldn't wait longer. I figured I ought to pack up and head back along the ridge to find him. As I headed back down towards the saddle, I periodically stopped to call out, mostly getting no reply, and the one time I did we could still not make out what the other was saying. It was only after I had reached the saddle that I saw a wave from further along the ridge, and Mike making his way towards me. It had been him doing the shouting - and then only because he had seen me on the summit, not because anything was amiss. He was as surprised as myself that neither of us had seen Matthew recently. Mike reported that Matthew had been a bit behind further down in the bushwhacking part, but had lost contact with him. I wondered if he didn't just give up the peak in frustration, and I felt not a little bad for leading the three of up along that route. Oh well, he'd turn up I figured. Mike continued up from the saddle - I told him couldn't fail to miss the ducks, and I headed down into the canyon.

Though steep, the descent was no more than class 2 down loose, rain-saturated earth, over granite slabs, some mild brush, and even a trickling stream - all quite fun really. When I was about halfway down the canyon I came across a few short cascades in the normally dry creek, and with the sun out warming the rocks I decided to stop for a Wilderness moment. There seemed little point in getting back to the trailhead early, as I would just have to wait for the others there. This seemed a far more idyllic spot, and I took the opportunity to take off all my clothes, wash briskly in the icy stream, and then sun myself on the smooth rock slabs to warm myself again. The short 30-minute break did wonders for my psyche, and afterwards as I headed down I lost all sense of haste. I wandered about taking pictures of the new spring flowers just emerging, knocked down the prolific numbers of ducks wherever I found them, and keeping a cautious eye on thunderclouds that were developing in a few places. I found a gravesite for pet dog, a piece of metalwork for a headstone that will probably outlast anything that my own grave is likely to be adorned with.

I ended up taking nearly as long on the descent as I had going up, as it was 1:30p by the time I returned. Passing by the Stone's residence on the way out, the two cars we'd seen earlier were now gone. The dogs came out to bark and greet me, but were actually wagging their tails as I paused to get their picture. I laid down off to the side of the highway to take a nap beside the cars while I waited for the others. I dozed on and off for the next hour before a few raindrops drove me inside the car. They turned out to be fleeting and no new ones fell before the others returned. I found a tick on the back of my neck, getting him off just before he'd had time to start digging in. I'd brushed several others off me earlier during the hike - evidently the flowers weren't the only things blooming in the spring-like weather. Matthew came back at 2:45p, still no sign of Mike. Matthew reported having had enough of the ridge and moving down into the canyon before heading higher. Sometime later he gave up on the summit attempt, as we'd guessed, he wasn't nearly as motivated as he'd have been if it had his first time. I had guessed that Mike would be about an hour behind me, judging from where I last left him and the pace I took coming down the canyon. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we only had time for one of the easier peaks we could find. Originally we'd talked of climbing Lamont further to the east, but we could see thunderstorms and rain having their way over the peak as we looked off in that direction. We decided to call it a day and head back to town for our motel and wrote a note to leave on Mike's Jeep. After doing this, it struck me that we might be able to drive out and climb Mayan Peak, probably the easiest one in the area. Mike had climbed it just five days earlier, so it seemed we wouldn't be depriving him of anything if we went out that way without him. So I ammended the note and we hurried off.

West on SR178, then 20 miles south on Kelso Valley Road. The road is remote, yet paved, and in surprisingly good condition considering the few numbers of people that would seem to make use of it. Halfway there we drove through a short downpour, and we were rather glad that we had another ten miles of driving - perhaps we'd be able to get out of range of the localized weather. We left the pavement and drove southeast along a stretch of sandy road that had not many days earlier been a small river by the looks of it. The road bottom where the water had flowed was nicely compacted while the sides, some three to six inches higher were composed of loose sand that easily crumbled. We could more easily have parked at the turnoff along side the pavement and started from there - the distance and effort is about the same. Somehow I thought from the map that we might gain some additional elevation using the side road, but this was not the case.

Leaving the car, we headed up the southwest side of the pyramid-shaped peak. It seems to be about the same level of difficulty on all sides, sandy class 1-2 slopes that were helped by the recent rains that consolidated the slopes somewhat. It took us all of 50 minutes to reach the summit - Mike was accurate in his assessment from a week earlier. Looking east we could see rain falling a few miles off and we weren't too keen on getting caught in it ourselves. A crack of thunder was all we needed to confirm this opinion. Taking our pictures and signing into the register, we left the summit. We had found many ducks on the ascent, much as on Pilot Knob, and it seemed even more silly on this peak. There was simply no hard way to go, no bushwhacking, no route-finding. So, over the ducks went as I passed them on the way down. We were two thirds of the way back to the car when we heard a shout from the northwest. Mike was hailing us from the WSW slope (the more direct route from the pavement). He had decided to come out and climb Mayan again, just for the fun of it. I felt bad then that we hadn't waited for him - I just didn't think he'd be interested in a second ascent in less than a week's time. And as we found later, he was only five minutes behind us in getting back to the Pilot Knob TH. Oh well. We waved, shouted that we'd meet up at the motel, and off we went. The lower half of the peak was the most fun - a beatifully sandy descent with deep, cushy steps, and it took us only 25 minutes for the return. We got back to the car just as the sun was both breaking through the cloud layers and descending behind the hills to the west.

Back in Wofford Heights, we got our room at the Barewood Inn - a pleasant motel that has been recently remodelled. It seemed to be the nicest place in the area and we thanked Mike for providing the beta and reservations to boot. Mike's folks live only a few minutes from the Hotel, so after we had a chance to shower and unpack, Mike came over to the motel and the three of us headed to Kernville for dinner. Not a bad ending to a pretty decent day. Tomorrow we expected would be a snowshoe day - quite different than today's outing.


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