Pine Mountain P750
Sugarloaf Peak P300 ESS
Peak 7,782ft P300
Peak 6,902ft P300
Peak 6,852ft
Peak 6,606ft P300
Unal Peak ESS

Oct 17, 2019
Pine Mountain
Sugarloaf Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile

I had hoped to make another trip to Northern California but a weak storm system up that way dissuaded me and I headed to the Southern Sierra instead. This proved a fine choice, despite it being hunting season. I spent the first day in the Greenhorn Mtns on the western side of the range. I started off with Pine Mountain as planned, but then completely diverged from my itinerary. I ended the day's hiking at Greenhorn Summit around sunset, then driving down to Kernville where I topped up on gas and had dinner at the Kern River Brewery, one of Tom's favorite stops. I sent him a picture from inside the brewery to which he simply responded, "Bastard".

Pine Mountain

With just over 750ft of prominence, this had been the day's primary objective. It's found just south of California Hot Springs on the western edge of Sequoia National Forest. I drove up M56 through CA Hot Springs, then south through Pine Flat before leaving the pavement for a good forest road to Capinero Saddle, about two miles east of Pine Mtn. I had hoped to use other roads shown on the topo map to drive much closer, but these are all now permanently closed. I started on the old spur road from Capinero Saddle, quickly finding it choked with brush and downfall, making for slow progress. Heavy brush is found on most of the slopes, leaving me little choice but to use the old roadway. After pushing through this a bit, I discovered a decent use trail after about a quarter mile. This is part of a network of such trails that hunters use, mostly following the old roads. After crossing an old gate, I found the trail in better shape and my hopes improved that I could find my to the summit, briefly in view. About halfway to Pine Mtn, I came across 3 hunters in camo fatigues with orange hats, rifles in hand, slowly making their way up the trail ahead of me. The last in line spotted me as I slowly kept behind them at a distance so as not to disturb whatever animal (deer, most likely) they were stalking. After about 20min of this, they paused at a junction and waved me to come join them. Speaking in hushed whispers (which I found rather comical), they were quite friendly and didn't seem to mind my intrusion. "Hey, it's all our public lands," one commented. They wanted to know if I knew where one of the trail forks went to. I didn't. Seems we were all here in this area for the first time. I eventually went right while they went off to explore the left fork. The good trail continued up to the east side of the peak where the topo shows a fork going directly up to the summit. I found no sign of an old road and no reasonable way to go up cross-country. There was either heavy brush on the non-forested sections or poison oak underfoot in the forested parts. I continued on the trail as it goes around the east side of the summit to a saddle on the north side. Here I found clear going under forest cover that continued nearly to the top. Mild brush at the top proved little hindrance and I was able to make my way to the low summit rocks about an hour and a quarter after starting out. There was an old tin that once held a register, now rusted through and the contents unrecognizeable. No real views from the summit due to haze in the Central Valley, though there were some views of the higher Greenhorn ridges on the way back. Without the hunters to slow me down, it took only 50min to make my way back.

Sugarloaf Peak

It was after returning to Capinero Saddle that my itinerary diverged. I noticed that I was only a few miles from Sugarloaf Peak, a summit I had forgotten about on the ESS List I've been slowly working on over the years. So rather than return to M56 and the other peaks along it as I had planned, I worked out a route to get me close to Sugarloaf. More forest roads took me through the White River Summer Home Tract, then further up to paved M9 and another large collection of summer homes on the north side of Sugarloaf Peak. I should have continued up to Sugarloaf Saddle on the east side of the peak and hiked from there, but not knowing this, I drove through the summer home tract to follow an old road on the north side. This road is signed for No Trespassing but appears to be collectively owned by the homeowners. In any event, I found it blocked by downfall before it ends at a saddle northwest of the summit, so simply parked there and went up on foot. The route worked decently enough, taking less than 15min to reach the top. The summit is buried in forest without views, though I found myself now in clouds that would hang over the tops of the mountains for the rest of the day, an odd local weather event brought about by strong winds blowing over the crest. The most notable thing about the modest summit rocks was that they were infested with poison oak. At over 6,200ft of elevation, it was some 700ft higher than I've ever seen the stuff grow before. The rocks had somehow protected it from the 2016 Cedar Fire that swept over the summit and a huge swath of forest lands. Fire fighters did an extraordinary job of saving the summer home tracts, none of which had any reasonable cleared zones around the properties.

Peak 7,782ft

After returning to the jeep, I continued on M9 up to Portuguese Pass on the crest of the range. This minor summit lies about half a mile northeast of the pass where I parked. I used a motorcycle trail that runs above the roadway on the south side of the peak to get closer before going up cross-country for the last bit. I found an easy class 3 summit block with frostly, blowing winds that drove me off the summit rather quickly.

Peak 6,902ft

After returning to Portuguese Pass, I drove north on the main road along the crest of the range. Normally there would be good views across the Kern River Valley to the Kern Plateau, but these were all blocked by the heavy cloud cover. I passed a yurt signed as a Warming Shelter, used in the wintertime for snowmobilers. There were cattle grazing in one of the meadows I passed by, common throughout the Southern Sierra. Peak 6,902ft is another minor summit lying in the Bull Run Creek drainage east of Baker Ridge. A victim of the same 2016 fire, moderately heavy brush now dominates the slopes. A forest road that nearly reaches the summit on the west side is now closed and unuseable, but a lower road near Tyler Meadow is in good condition and gets within half a mile. I fought through the brush and wind to reach the rocky summit in about 15min and then quickly beat a retreat.

Peak 6,852ft

This was another short hike but had the most interesting summit of the bunch, a more challenging class 3 block to get one atop an airy perch, though no views due to forest cover.

Peak 6,606ft

This summit is found sandwiched between Greenhorn Saddle and Black Mtn Saddle. The latter is reached from paved Greenhorn Saddle via a good dirt road, used to access the HPS summits of Black Mtn and Split Mtn. A rougher dirt road can be used to get within a few hundred yards of the summit on the southwest side. I parked here and walked to the forested summit in a few minutes' time. Lots of downfall about the summit and no obvious highpoint, rather disappointing.

Unal Peak

This last summit is also on the ESS List, found just southwest of Greenhorn Summit. There is a well-maintained trail starting from near the saddle that goes to the summit in 2mi, via a loop. It was getting late when I started up the trail but I only went a short distance before studying the map a little closer. I discovered I could use the paved Rancheria Rd heading south from Greenhorn Saddle (goes to the ski area) to get within a quarter mile on the southeast side. Of course there's no trail and the route is very steep, but it worked nicely with minimal brush to get me to the top in less than 15min. There are several memorial plaques at the summit, at least three register boxes, and a pair of view benches (though no views today). I was back to the jeep a little after 6p. I found a place down by Lake Isabella to take a shower (it was 60F down there compared to 42F at Greenhorn Summit) before heading to Kernville for gas and dinner. After dinner I drove north from Kernville to the junction with Sherman Pass Rd where I found a quiet place to spend the night away from the occasional traffic.


Kirk D comments on 10/22/19:
Kern River Brewery rocks ! Although Kernville it is a bit of a drive from our Gardnerville home, Manor Market on West Line Street in Bishop carries a fine selection of the KRB family in addition to many other great craft beers.
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