Mt. Provo P900
Elizabeth Peak P900
American Camp Lookout P900
Red Hill P300
Bald Hill
Joaquin Peak P1K

Oct 15, 2015
Red Hill
Bald Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Profile

With a volleyball tournament scheduled for the Stockton area on Saturday, my wife sent me out to the hills for a few days beforehand with instructions to meet her and my daughter at the Waterfront Hotel in Stockton on Friday night. As part of my quest to tag all the CA summits with more than 900ft of prominence, I had a small handful of such peaks in the Sierra foothills along SR49 between SR108 and SR4 which seemed to fit the parameters I was accorded. It turns out the first three on this list were drive-ups, or nearly so, whereas the last two proved more difficult. In my driving I also picked up a few bonus peaks around Angels Camp. A fairly easy day by most standards.

Mt. Provo

Located about 2mi SE of Twainharte, a good dirt FS road (Mt. Provo Rd) winds its way from paved Confidence Rd outside Twainharte to within about 1/3mi of the summit. I drove in from San Jose late at night and parked in a small clearing outside a private homestead northeast of the summit and spent the night there. The last section of dirt road was too rough for the low-clearance van. In the morning I examined the homestead I was parked outside of. At one time, some effort was made to erect a fancy ironworks entry gate. The cinderblock supports on either side of the gate were never finished and it appears little became of further development. The land appears to be the final resting place for a bunch of useless crap, sadly not unusual for folks living on the edge of the grid in Gold Country.

I hiked the short distance to the summit when I awoke in the morning around 7:30a. A clearing at the summit has been regularly used for camping, most likely by hunters combing the local hills. Shotgun shells littered the area in a colorful display of insensitive littering. Trees at the periphery blocked any sort of view though I did get a view of Elizabeth Peak to the north on the way up and down.

Elizabeth Peak

This summit lies 2mi northwest of Twainharte on the opposite side of SR4 from Mt. Provo. You can drive to the summit in any vehicle when the appropriate gates are open. I found USFS employee Richard at the helm of the cab atop the 55-foot lookout tower. He shares duties with another employee, seven days on, seven days off, though they sleep down in town (Tuolumne) rather than in the cab these days. He was a very personable fellow and seemed to enjoy having someone to talk to. He gave me lots of background and history, most of which I promptly forgot because I was most interested in the fantastic view - "What's that over there?" "Where's American Camp?" "How's the road to get there?" He seemed to enjoy his retirement job and I have to commend the FS for finding such folks. I wonder if they have to actively go out looking for them, or more likely, do such folks naturally gravitate to the Forest Service for this kind of work? In recent years the summit has seen a flurry of activity to erect cell towers. Richard described the various companys (Verizon and ATT) that were competing for subscribers in the area and the latest technology they brought to the mountain (one of them has installed 6G, he says, though I have my doubts). I imagine Richard can't but help and go down to talk to the service technicians that arrive for installations or maintenance. Before I left I photographed the benchmark directly under the lookout tower.

American Camp LO

This summit is located above the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Stanislaus River, and as such is a difficult area to reach. There are no paved roads in this stretch of National Forest lands. I drove through Columbia (which I toured briefly on my return) along SR49 and then to some backroads to find my way to Italian Bar Rd. This good dirt/gravel FS road services a number of private inholdings and mining claims on the South Fork of the Stanislaus. There are a handful of folks living down there on FS lands on a long-term basis. The few I saw were huddled around their individual campfires, one of them in the same position when I drove out several hours later (maybe sleeping off a hangover?). Where the road goes over a bridge to the other side of the river is located the Lost Dutchman Mining Association's camp. This private camp is one of several properties owned by the association in the Western US, whose members can take a turn at prospecting the river for gold in a rustic setting. "Rustic" in this case means dilapidated and sorry-looking. Perhaps the members have been delinquent on their dues...

Once over the bridge the road begins to climb up the French Creek drainage, passing through several junctions before reaching the 2,900-foot level. I had to stop here after 8mi because the last mile of FS road to the lookout had rutted sections I dared not attempt. The hike is an easy one, though not particularly interesting as it travels along the road through the forest. The lookout, located in a clearing at the rounded summit, has been decommissioned, the lower several stories of stairs removed to keep out the curious, the cab an empty shell. The place is littered with shell casings, beer cans and other detritus too heavy for the hunters to pack out with them after a hard weekend's work. The cab and roof of the lookout have been used for extensive target practice over the years. I'm guessing these are not the most safety-conscious of folks - shooting straight up at metal objects with random chances for ricochets doesn't seem the smartest of endeavors, but then neither does the idea of climbing a rickety lookout tower with missing stairs (which I gave some serious thought to). So much for American Camp...

Red Hill

I hadn't really expected to be able to drive so close to the last summit and thought it was going to occupy my time for most of the day. With extra time, I resorted to searching the GPSr for other objectives while I was driving Parrots Ferry Rd between Columbia and Angels Camp. Red Hill is found along SR4 just west of Vallecito. The Twisted Oak Winery, one of many new wineries that have popped up in the area, lies just below the summit on the north side. Though not part of the winery property, I found an unlocked gate separating the winery and the adjacent property (conveniently, unsigned for No Trespassing) and used this to hike the half mile distance to the summit. A pile of dark-colored rocks marks the highpoint near some oak trees, views marginal.

Bald Hill

This small summit is located north of Angels Camp, adjacent to the realigned SR4 section that bypasses town. The state highway easement allows one to hike up the portion of hill immediately abutting the highway, the highpoint then located near some stately oaks a short distance to the east. Surprisingly nice views for such a little summit.

Joaquin Peak

About 10mi NW of Angels Camp and just south of New Hogan Reservoir are two P1Ks on private lands. Both appear to be most easily accessed from the south off Pool Station Rd and Riata Way. The junction of these two roads has an entrance indicating Riata Way and all the lands along it are not public, but part of a semi-private rural community. The area is signed for No Hunting but not No Trespassing as far as I could tell. On the south side of Joaquin Peak is a small side dirt road called Spur St that ends in a turnaround. There are no homes at this point (there are a few along Spur St and plenty along Riata Way), no fences or signs. So I parked and started up the grass/oak slopes towards the summit, about a mile away. The unfenced portion lasted only about 1/3mi, whereupon a barbed-wire fence was encountered shortly before reaching the main ridgeline. I followed fence and ridge until I found a dirt road (not depicted on the topo map) which appeared to be used recently only by deer. There was evidence of cattle grazing, but no cows present anywhere. Half a mile from the summit the road forked and I took the left branch that travels below the summit on the west side. I passed through a barbed-wire gate latched with a simple wire loop and continued about 100yds until I was stopped short when I spied a pair of large, ivory-colored dogs. I quickly ducked and started to back out, knowing that dogs mean people, dogs bark, and barking generally gets the attention of said people. Unfortunately my scent was picked up, one of the dogs spied me and began to bark. I made haste back to the gate I had come through, hoping the dogs wouldn't chase after me - no way I could have outrun them. They were still barking and getting closer when I passed back through the gate and disappeared out of sight. Back at the road branch I decided to try the right fork on the east side of the ridgeline, figuring I was far enough from the dogs to escape detection. I followed this for half a mile until I was directly under and east of the highpoint indicated on the GPSr, then did some mild bushwhacking to find my way to the brushy summit at a small rock outcrop. Looking south, there appeared to be a higher point a few hundred yards away, but it was a far brushier approach from what I could see and I felt like I'd worn out my welcome.

When I had retreated to the fork in the road I could see a fresh set of vehicle tracks that had come from the westside fork I had retreated from. Evidently, whoever owned the dogs had come to check things out, perhaps even noting my footprints in the loose dirt on the road. Figuring I had dodged a bullet, I hastily retreated south via the route I had come, not relaxing until I was off every vestige of road and back on the cross-country descent track. In all I spent about an hour and a half to tag what I thought would be an easy summit, but not so in the end.

Back on Riata Way, I took another fork leading to the access road for the paved route leading to the top of the adjacent Bear Mtn. The satellite view had shown towers atop the summit and it seemed I just needed to get around a private ranch to gain access to this road. Unfortunately I found the road gated at an unexpected location in a wide open space without any place to discreetly park without drawing obvious attention. As it was already past 5:30p with less than an hour of daylight remaining, I decided to punt and come back after doing more research.

It had been much warmer than forecast on the day, as high as 88F when I drove through Angels Camp and not all that conducive to hiking. Rather than spend a second day in the foothills as I had planned, I decided to drive up SR4 to spend the night and hike the next day at higher elevation and cooler temps. Without a specific location in mind, I simply drove east until the outside air temperature had registered 55F - a good sleeping temp. This got me nearly to Tamarack by about 7:30p. I would spend some time while making dinner to peruse my road atlas and GPSr for suitable summits in the area...


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