Quartz Mountain
Table Mountain
Bell Hill
Kennebec Hill
Blewetts Point
Peak 2,900ft P300
Peak 2,521ft P300
Peak 3,380ft P500
Grant Ridge P300
Peak 4,301ft P300

Sep 15, 2023
Table Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX

A little over a week after my last visit, I was heading back to Alpine County and the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness to join Kristine for another long outing. On my way, I spent the day prior in Tuolumne County on a Jeeping exercise, collecting a bunch of minor summits in the Sierra foothills and the Stanislaus National Forest. The first half of the day around the more developed areas of Jamestown and Columbia were relatively easy, but the second half had a few surprises that had me pretty worn by the time I was done.

Quartz Mountain

My first stop was this standalone summit south of Jamestown. Levi Cover had visited it in 2022, ascending from the east off Jacksonville Rd. I explored this option first, not liking the fencing installed by the guy who lives up the hill just south of the summit. I then tried around to the south where a dirt road goes high up the hill to a small clearing. This spur road was gated at Stamp Mill Loop Rd and would require me to walk close to someone else living near the gate. As a last try, I went back around to the north where a dirt road forks off Thistle Down Rd. I found this ungated and unsigned, and happily started up the dirt road. I didn't get far before a large truck came up behind me. I knew there were no houses up this way, so I suspected someone at Thistle Down Rd had spotted me going up. I got out of the Jeep to have a conversation that started awkwardly, but ended quite amicably. Steve was concerned that I might be up to no good, such as "coming onto my property to kill yourself." Is that a thing? I assured him I was just there to reach the top of Quartz Mtn and I was terribly sorry to have disturbed him. He warmed up and gave me permission as we shook hands after a few minutes. As he was walking back to his truck, I asked if it was ok to park where I was in the road. He looked at my Jeep and said, "You can drive up." That was a bit unexpected. And then he finished with, "It's fun," with a wry smile. Never one to pass up a Jeep adventure, I drove the rutted and overgrown road up to the summit area, stopping just shy of the summit boulders covered in poison oak vines. They would be the bane for most of the morning. There's an old mine prospect nearby, no views.

Table Mountain

This one is found between the Columbia Airport and New Melones Reservoir, at the cul-de-sac at the end of Vine Spring Rd. A drive-up, surrounded by upscale rural homes. About as bland as a peakbagging adventure can get.

Bell Hill - Kennebec Hill

This was the most interesting outing of the day, a 2mi+ ramble around Columbia College. There are four summits listed on PB around the campus, but I was only after the two LoJ ones with official names. Though it was Friday, the campus seemed almost dead, as I saw almost no one outside save for a couple of groundskeepers. I walked the paved road around San Diego Reservoir and past the Sugar Pine building to pick up an unsigned use trail on the west side of the building, SE of Bell Hill's summit. As I came to find, there are miles of trails throughout the campus, most of them quite good and well-used. Almost as if trail-building was a required offering at the college. I found my way to the uninhabited summit of Bell Hill in less than 15min, no sign of the overzealous property owner that Jim Retemeyer mentioned in his most recent ascent on PB. I saw no signage or indication of any kind that I had left the college grounds. I believe said owner is NE of the summit, the opposite direction of my approach and return. The summit is buried in a manzanita and oak forest, no views.

I returned back down the southwest side of Bell Hill and took a series of trails on my way to Kennebec Hill about a mile to the southwest. This took me unexpectedly through what I later learned is called Columbia's Labyrinth. It is an area of metamorphic rock shaped by water and errosion, a cool maze with twisty passages and some scrambling opportunities. I saw lots of chalk indicating its popularity as a bouldering site and some graffiti as a party spot for teens. It would be easy to get lost in the sea of rock without a decent sense of direction. I eventually emerged on the east side of the labyrinth and headed more directly towards Kennebec Hill. More trails, some signed even, lead along an old flume, then across a paved road and up the old dirt road leading to the nondescript summit. Views are weak due to manzanita. On the return, I passed through the Forestry Department's outdoor lab and along a paved road with signs indicating Stanislaus and Tuolumne River watersheds on either side. The whole outing was just over an hour.

Yankee Hill - Blewetts Point

These named points with little prominence lie on ridgelines to the east of Columbia in more rural parts of the county. Yankee Hill lies within a small section of Stanislaus National Forest, a Jeep road running just below the summit on the south side. I attempted to access this road from the east side, but it is blocked by a nearby homeowner who owns the 100ft strip of land to reach the NF. Another approach comes in from lower on Big Hill Rd, but I didn't want to drive back down there for what looked like a brush-fest to reach something with 40ft of prominence. More driving up Big Hill Rd and Mtn Boy Rd got me to Blewetts Point. Mtn Boy Rd is signed for Private Road, No Trespassing, but I'm not sure that's true. The road is somewhat rough in places, but has no gates and connects Big Hill Rd with Yankee Hill Rd, passing by Blewetts Point. The Columbia Ditch is an active flume carrying water from Twain Harte to Columbia College, and runs right by Blewetts Point. I had to jump across it to reach the highpoint. Others have reported hiking this trail to reach Blewetts Point, probably a lot more interesting than driving it - certainly more style points for doing so. The summit lies on BLM land adjacent to the NF. There are some decent views, but again, mostly of forested ridgelines looking one way or another.

Peak 2,900ft

So much for the small bumps. Now onto the bigger ones. The next five are all located in the NF, on forested ridges sandwiched between the Middle and South Forks of the Stanislaus River. Access is via the well-graded Italian Bar Rd out of Columbia. I had driven this road in the van back in 2015 to visit American Camp Lookout, the most prominent summit in the area. Peak 2,900ft is found about 2mi NNW of Italian Bar Camp. From the satellite view, Peak 2,900ft appears to be a brushfest. Forest Rte 3N03 gets within a quarter mile on the west side, which appears to have more forest than the south and east sides. The summit's east side is a private section, so the west side route is really the only legal way anyway. It's a steep route, climbing 600ft, and though most of the understory isn't too brushy, it's absolutely loaded with poison oak. There's no dancing around the stuff, but most of it is below knee level. Wearing gloves and long pants, I would keep my hands above my waist the whole time and consider the pants and boots contaminated when I was done. Upon reaching the rounded SW Ridge, the rest of the way to the summit was pretty brushy, the dry, dusty variety, but at least the poison oak wasn't too bad along there. I spent 45min in reaching the highpoint, pretty slow for a quarter mile. No views at all in the heavy chaparral I was surrounded by. I collected some rocks for a small cairn and left a register here. The next person to visit will surely get a laugh for their trouble.

Peak 2,521ft

I drove back to Italian Bar Rd, following it northeast to cross Rose Creek and find my way to a saddle east of Peak 2,521ft. This one is also quite brushy in the satellite view. I had first tried to start at a bend lower on the road, hoping to traverse across the south slope where there appears to be more breaks in the brush, but I didn't get 20ft before giving up. At the saddle there is a use trail heading west towards the summit that give one great hope that this will be a piece of cake. It is not. The use trail only goes a short distance along the ridge before ending at the edge of a steep drop on the north side. A mining claim sign is found here, and a nylon handline running down the slope to Eagle Creek, presumably where the claim is located. This still leaves about 1/3mi to the summit. There is a very old track in the underbrush where some sort of trail once existed. It is terribly overgrown now, and this a pretty tough bushwhack. In places, one can traverse along the north side of the ridge to avoid particularly heavy stuff, but there is lots of poison oak on that slope. For the most part, I tried to stick to the old track, fighting my way through, but it was rough. I was crawling in a number of places, even on my belly a few times, questioning my sanity. It took almost a full hour to reach the summit, thankfully only half an hour for the return, now that I'd partially cleared the route. I built another small cairn and left a second register. Views pretty weak on this one. It was after 3p before I returned, still with 3 more summits on the agenda. I had thought I'd easily finish early today, but now I was wondering if I'd even finish. Luckily, the last three summits were all far easier.

Peak 3,380ft

This one is found about a mile and half south of the previous summit. I drove back down Italian Bar Rd, then onto the lesser Forest Rte 3N11 that runs east across the 5mi length of Grant Ridge. This dirt road goes around Peak 3,380ft on its north side. There is a spur road going to the summit, which is found on NF lands. The starting point is in the NE corner of a section of private land, but the gate on the spur road is unsigned and unlocked. I decided to not drive the little-used spur, walking the short distance to the summit, taking a rather boring picture of the rather blah summit and its view, then back down, all in less than ten minutes.

Grants Ridge

This is the highpoint of Grants Ridge, a few miles east of Peak 3,380ft. I parked off the roadway to hike about 100ft to the highpoint. It is quite brushy, but nothing compared to what I had done earlier, and with out any poison oak, I bulled my way to the highpoint with ease. There's no obvious point to mark the location, no views of any kind, so I just wandered around a bit to cover my bases. A good-sized pine tree rises from what appears to the be the highpoint, so I called it good. A five minute roundtrip exercise for this one.

Peak 4,301ft

More driving to the east eventually returned me to Italian Bar Rd, bypasssing the rural development along Jupiter, Eagle Creek and Grub Gulch. An OHV trail runs west from Italian Bar Rd across Peak 4,301ft, high-clearance needed. This was another 5min effort from the trail that passes just north of the summit. There is more forest at this elevation and less brush, making for easy cross-country. Decent views, too, overlooking the South Fork Stanislaus River drainage. I could see storm clouds developing east over the crest, suggesting rain at the higher elevations. I would get some short bursts on the drive over Sonora Pass later, but nothing substantial. After returning to the Jeep, I drove back to Italian Bar Rd and then out to SR108 at SugarPine. I found a place off the highway to shower before continuing the longish drive over Carson Pass and then north on US395. I would end up camping in Little Antelope Valley at the same turnout I'd used 10 days earlier. I'd been up early, since before 5a, so I had little trouble bedding down in the back of the Jeep around 8:30p...


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This page last updated: Tue Sep 19 09:18:04 2023
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