Peak 2,180ft P900
Peak 1,900ft
Devils Ribs
Mohrhardt Ridge P1K
Pole Mountain P900 CC
Koerber BM P1K

Tue, Oct 29, 2013
Devils Ribs
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4


I was in Sonoma County and environs to tag a collection of CC-listed peaks and P1Ks. I was parked at the end of Old Skaggs Springs Rd near the western edge of Lake Sonoma where I'd spent the night. This road is pretty remote with a few ranch homes along the way. The road now deadends at the lake, but once was the main thoroughfare through the area before the Lake was filled. It has been pretty much forgotten now as a barely-used trailhead. On either side of the road were two summits of interest, Big Mountain to the north (a P1K) and Peak 2,180ft to the south (an almost-P1K). Both were on private property but I'd hoped their remoteness would make doing them by daylight reasonable. I was up before dawn to tackle Big Mountain, the tougher of the two. Several white utility trucks came rumbling down the road while I was repositioning my van, evidently driving up to do some work higher on the mountain. I took a cross-country route to avoid at least one occupied home I knew to be along the summit road starting from the pavement. My plan was to intersect the road above the home and then continue on the road to the summit. It was barely light out with a heavy fog covering the landscape, but I could see enough to climb the grassy slopes without a headlamp. As I got within a few hundred yards of the road I heard first vehicles and then voices, faintly, above. I sat in the damp grass for a short while trying to decipher the sounds I was hearing. Was someone just opening/closing a gate? Were they working there? I couldn't really figure out what was going on, but it seemed I did not have the mountain to myself as I had hoped. The utility trucks I'd seen earlier were likely involved, but whether as foe or indifferent third party was anybody's guess. Though I was sitting in the open of a grassy slope, I was at first protected by the poor lighting, but the longer I sat there the greater my chances of being observed increased as the morning grew ever lighter. I decided to give this one up. Hopefully my chances would improve on the other peaks I had in mind for the day.

Peak 2,180ft

An hour later I was right back where I had started at the end of the pavement. It was 7:30a before I started across the dry creek and up the south side of the canyon. This unnamed summit was about 1.5 miles one-way, so not as involved as Big Mountain would have been. There was fencing in place to keep pigs out of Lake Sonoma, probably erected by the federal government which manages the lake and the surrounding recreational area. Holesl have been conveniently cut into the fence at various locations to allow the pigs to have greater freedom, probably done by pig hunters who would rather see their numbers increase than otherwise. With the exception of careful consideration for poison oak along the creekbed, most of the cross-country travel on these cattle-grazed slopes is pretty tame. In an open field not far from the bottom I found a small herd of cattle intermingled with a drift of feral pigs. This was something new and I paused to quietly observe them for a few minutes. Most of the pigs were young ones, including what looked like an albino. A few larger sows were with them. I'd have never guessed the two groups could be so indifferent about each other. As I continued on my way I was soon spotted about 50 yards away. The cows turned to watch me but made no effort to move anywhere. The sows were more spooked and soon had their young charges following them at a slow jog out of sight in another direction. I imagined the cows calling after them, "Hey, what are you afraid of?" and the pigs replying, "You don't have to worry because you're not on the menu until next year, but we might be someone's dinner tomorrow!"

I climbed higher up the mountain, using a combination of rough ranch roads, cow trails and more cross-country. The early morning fog had lifted some, but I was soon moving through it as I gained altitude. The sun began to show faintly, then poking through occasionally until I was very near the cloud layer when I topped out around 8:30a. The sunlight made beautiful patterns as it pierced through the oak trees and thin fog layer at the top. It had a surreal look to it even if the top proved not quite high enough for nice views. It would probably all burn off in an hour or two, but I was not going to wait around for things to improve. I took a few pictures from the summit after looking around for anything of interest, then started back down the same way.

Devils Ribs/Mohrhardt Ridge

Mohrhardt Ridge is a P1K in Sonoma County roughly halfway between Lake Sonoma and the coast. Getting there from any direction involves a lot of backroads driving. From where I was near Lake Sonoma, it was an hour and half of driving to cover 8 air miles. This is hilly country! The nearest pavement to Mohrhardt Ridge is Kings Ridge Rd, about two miles to the north. There are dirt roads leading to the summit, but they are far longer than two miles and appear inaccessible to public vehicles. I noticed that a named feature, Devils Ribs, was located along the shortest route to Mohrhardt that I'd identified. The first half of this would be cross-country over the ribs which I was unsure was even possible. After crossing this feature I should be able to pick up a dirt road shown on the topo map and satellite view. Devils Ribs would be both the key to reaching Mohrhardt and a bonus peak to boot.

There were no fences or No Trespassing signs along the Devils Ribs' side of Kings Ridge Rd where I parked, making it unclear if the land was public or private. A mixed forest of pine, oak and madrone covers most of surrounding terrain with an understory that was moderately open to cross-country travel, meaning no serious bushwhacking. It took less than 15 minutes to climb to the highpoint of Devils Ribs which was buried in trees and devoid of views, and frankly not really part of what I would consider Devils Ribs. This feature is a sharply sculpted rocky ridge separating two minor creek drainages, looking rather out of place among the more tamely forested landscape. It turned out to be the most interesting part of the day. A faint use trail, made by animals or hunters (or both) runs along most of its 3/4 mile length. It took about half an hour to work my way over the several bumps, or ribs. The views were quite open along the way, as was my person open to detection. There were some homes to the southeast along Kings Ridge, the nearest had a dog that was barking probably at me though it was too far away for me to see it. It was also too far for me to worry about it much - I couldn't imagine anyone chasing after me over this somewhat rough terrain.

At the west end of Devils Ribs I climbed up a short ways to meet the road I was expecting. I crossed at least one property boundary while following this road, giving me assurances I was on private property. The road goes out of its way to meet up with another road coming up from the southeast side of Mohrhardt Ridge before going to the summit, so I made a cross-country shortcut on both the way up and back to reduce the distance by a quarter mile or so. By 11:40a I had found my way to the summit, little more than an hour after starting out. A very tall communications tower is found here, surrounded by a fence. I found my way past this and onto the top of one of the enclosed buildings to enjoy my lunch and a rest break. Views are lacking due to the surrounding trees. One would need to climb a good ways up the tower to see over them, but I was not up for the challenge - it was a bit too far to the first platform to climb one of the near-vertical ladders comfortably. After lunch I reversed the route back down the road and along the Devils Ribs, returning in another hour.

Pole Mountain

Both a CC-listed peak and a near-P1K, Pole Mountain is located about 5.5 miles SSE of Mohrhardt Ridge. I drove down Kings Ridge Rd through the small town of Cazadero and a few miles south to Pole Mtn Rd. Though the name is promising, this steep, narrow paved road does not actually reach to the summit. It winds its way up out of the canyon to reach several dozen private homesteads, folks that like to live even more remote than the ones that live sprinkled along Cazadero Creek. Berkeley Music Camp is located nearby, which brought to mind the movie American Pie, "This one time, at Band Camp, ..." The pavement soon turns to dirt but remains surprisingly driveable despite the steepness of the terrain. About halfway up to Pole Mtn, Pole Mtn Road gives way to two dirt roads, both signed private. I drove down one that looked more remote, only to find that it ends right in someone's yard with several vehicles outside - this was not the nearly abandoned ranches I had hoped for. I drove back out to the fork and parked here to consider further. I didn't want to take my chances on the second road. Starting from here, Pole Mtn was still 1.5 miles distance up the NE Ridge, all cross-country by the looks of it. Good forest cover meant I would not have to thrash through chaparral, but it did not look like a trivial effort. I decided to give it a go.

My first concern was to get away from the two access roads and into the woods as quickly as possible, so I followed the lower, less-traveled road a short distance and then moved into the woods between the two roads. I was soon blissfully unconcerned with the rest of the world. Things got even better when I made two discoveries. The first was that much of the land I was treading upon turned out to be owned by the Sonoma Land Trust. They're not all that excited about letting people run all over their property as I've found in the past, but it keeps one from worrying about running into an angry landowner. The second was that the hills appear to be riddled with old logging roads, overgrown in this case, but still useable for hiking and better than the straight cross-country. In one section without any road that had horrendous downfall, I found a series of pink ribbons that seemed to mark a decent route through the woods. To keep things from being too easy, about halfway to Pole Mtn I got into some rather thick bushwhacking where forest gave way to some tough chaparral. As I was crawling on my belly and breathing in the dust from the dead branches that snapped off on my passing, I was considering turning around and calling it a day. It only takes five or ten minutes of this stuff to make me think it will never end. But end it did, and soon opened up to more grassy slopes higher up (staying on the south side of the ridge on the way back proved to avoid almost all the bushwhacking). Suddenly it became a delightful hike with open vistas and easy cross-country. A trail leading to a picnic bench set along the ridge added to the park-like feel that it had taken on. This, too, was part of the Sonoma Land Trust, but it must be reserved for special members or something like that - as far as I know there is no access to this area for the general public.

From a distance of more than a quarter mile I spied the lookout tower on the summit ahead. I could see a red pickup truck parked at the base, a sure sign that I wouldn't have the summit to myself. My concern now was that I would be unwelcomed, possibly chastised for coming up there and it was with some trepidation that I continued to the top (no way I was turning back at this juncture). I came across a well-graded dirt road leading to the summit. This road originates from the west, starting along Hwy 1, as the primary access route to the summit. It probably would have been the route of future effort if the current one had proved unsuccessful. It was 2:30p before I had made my way to the tower. As I walked around the south side of it towards the benchmark I spotted, a very pretty young woman looked up from what she was doing inside the cabin and waved to me with a smile. I smiled and waved back. So much for trepidation. The truck looked like a government firetruck, but the signs outside the lookout indicated it was volunteer run. Later I learned that OCD is the Occidental Volunteer Fire Dept for which this woman was likely a member. As she didn't come out to welcome me up, I didn't think it appropriate to knock on the door, so I never visited the cabin or talked with her. I walked about the base of the tower and took in the superb views, undoubtedly the best of any I'd seen this trip. Less than four miles away, a large swath of the Pacific Ocean is spread out to the west, from Bodega Head in the south to Fort Ross further north. Mohrhardt Ridge dominates the view to the north. I spent only a few minutes at the summit before starting back down. With the route dialed in for the return, it took little more than half an hour to get back to the van.

I continued south on Kings Ridge Rd to SR116 along the Russian River. Well ahead of schedule, I was out of pre-mapped routes and needed to get to the Internet to find something else to climb. Guerneville, the largest town in the area, was only about ten miles up the highway, and it was here that I found the local coffee shop with WiFi access. With the help of a refreshing beverage, I was able to map out a route for one last summit on the day.

Koerber BM

This is the highest point south of the Russian River for almost 30 miles, with 1,300ft of prominence. Ownership of the land was not clear, but the GPS showed a trail along the ridge from the north coming up from the small community of Mesa Grande located on the Russian River. The hike would be almost eight miles all told, and since I was getting a late start it was assured I would be coming back by headlamp. I spent almost an hour driving around Mesa Grande and the adjacent Monte Rio looking for the mythical trailhead. The forested hillsides are peppered with funky homes out of the sixties and seventies, the sort of places you find in Topanga Canyon (and many similar canyons) in Southern California. Hippies brought out of a deep freeze around here would have no idea that decades had passed. The roads are extremely narrow and mostly one-way, with twisty turns that were difficult to negotiate in the van. I drove most of the roads I could find, some of them twice, before stopping at the local store for directions. No one had heard of a trail in the area I was looking. This was quite the puzzle.

I eventually went back to what seemed like the best of a bunch of bad possibilities. There are almost no places to park along the roads that aren't someone's driveway, but there was one I found at the far west end of Mesa Grande. I figured I could just duck into the woods and work my way towards the "trail" shown on the GPS and see what happens. If I spent an hour thrashing about in the woods without getting anywhere, well, that would be fun, too. Sort of. I started off on what looked like a good trail, but quickly devolved into some steep cross-country that had me guessing my luck was going to run out. I was using four limbs to get up a steep embankment when I happened upon - a road! Like Pole Mtn, the area appears to be laced with old logging roads. In fact, the trail I was looking for was part of this old road network, I came to find. There were faded white arrows painted on trees occasionally to mark the route, though I never did find its starting point. The land appears to be owned in whole or part by the Mendocino Redwood Company, a logging concern. According to the signs periodically posted, entry is allowed by written permission only. There were no gates or fences that I came across anywhere on the entire hike, and much evidence of mountain bike usage in the higher portions of the route. I suspect that the area is used primarily by locals with the company not much concerned with trespassing. They're probably just biding their time, waiting for the trees to get bigger so they can be harvested.

Sunset came while I was still several miles from the summit. I had hoped I might get there before the light completely failed me, but that was not to be. As far as views go, there were only fleeting views through the trees to the east, for the most part it was a hike through the forest. Once I found the first road, I was able to follow one fork or another all the way to the summit, arriving around 6:45p. I spent probably 15 minutes wandering around the very flattish summit looking for a highpoint and the Koerber benchmark. There were no rocky outcrops or anything else to call a summit and I had no luck locating the benchmark. The trees all around would have prevented views in the daylight anyways. Oh well - at least it had been an enjoyable hike. By headlamp I jogged much of the route back to the van, arriving around 8p. It was pretty cold by the time I'd gotten back, the chill of developing fog already in the air.

Mt. Heller

Though I was done hiking, I thought I might find a place to sleep atop Mt. Heller, a small hill overlooking Monte Rio only a few miles from where I'd parked. Driving through more backroads in the small communities along the Russian River, I found my way to the entrance of what turned out to be a private club. Just past the entrance which was abundantly signed for Private and No Trespassing, I was confronted by a security guard who stopped me in the process of turning my van around. I was completely honest with the guy, telling him I was trying to reach Mt. Heller which was shown on my GPS. He had a laugh, telling me there was indeed a Mt. Heller on the property, but it was really just a poorly named lump. I asked if the area was a gated community, but he gave me only the vague description of it as a private club. He was nice enough, but he couldn't let me wander around the grounds and I had to leave. Mt. Heller went unvisited. I ended up spending the night on the coast in the State Park just south of the Russian River Delta. I had the windows open to listen to the waves crashing on the beach, possibly the best white noise for falling asleep, ever. I would sleep quite well that night...


DS comments on 01/24/15:
Koerber BM is now easily reached from the south from the adjacent Willow Creek/Sonoma Coast State Park at the west end of Willow Creek Road ( 1 1/4 miles via logging roads). I couldn't find the benchmark either.
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