Tue, Oct 1, 2013
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I'd spent the night sleeping in the van at the Shake Camp trailhead in Mountain Home and was on my way by 7:30a. The trail starts off climbing about 300ft up a ridgeline before beginning a traverse north into the canyon formed by the Middle Fork of the Tule River. After several miles the trail reaches Redwood Crossing where one can see sequoias in the Mountain Home Grove. As the placename further suggests, the trail crosses the river here, an easy boulder hop in the Fall with low water. Somewhere past this point I ran into the first of three hunters plying the same trail. It was the first weekend of a government shutdown that had all the Park Rangers absent from Sequoia NP. Whether this had been an impetus for them to hunt in this area I don't know, but the trail pretty much leads into the park and nowhere else. Even without the shutdown, this remote part of Sequoia is infrequently visited by people, let alone rangers. I reached the first trail junction at 9a, taking the right fork towards Summit Lake. The trail then begins to climb a series of short switchbacks, rising 1,000ft up a south-facing, chaparral-covered hillside. Views open up to Moses Mountain to the south and Windy Ridge to the east. It was after 10a when I reached the Park Boundary a few minutes before Summit Lake.
I continued past the campsite at the lake and a number of trail junctions as I made my way northeast to Windy Gap. Reaching the gap before 11:30a, I was less than a mile from the summit of Quinn Peak. I left the trail network at this point, heading up to Windy Ridge over easy cross-country through open forest. The forest relents just before reaching the rocky summit, leaving open views for 180 degrees upon reaching the top. Stretching north to southeast is the broad, upper drainage of the Little Kern River, framed by the high peaks around Farewell Gap to the north and the southern extent of the Great Western Divide ending at Angora Mtn to the southeast. I found no register or benchmark on this or any of the summits I visited today.
Not originally part of my plan, I decided next to pay a visit to Soda Butte, a much lower summit about a mile and quarter to the southeast. I roughly followed the ridgeline connecting the two, which happens to also be the Park boundary. The initial drop along the ridge was over broken, class 2-3 rock, but this became easier as I dropped lower. Nearing Soda Butte, I passed through a large section of burned forest, from the looks of it fairly recently. The only thing on the ground making a comeback I noted was the buckthorn - this slope won't be so pleasant in 5 years' time. I reached Soda Butte's summit by 12:45p. No forest anywhere about the top meant a 360 degree view around the Little Kern River drainage. To the northwest was Quinn, looking about as impressive as it's modest summit can. To the southwest was Peak 10,278ft, the highest summit in the immediate area and the next stop on my tour. A broken glass jar near Soda Butte's summit suggests it had a register at one time. I packed away the remains to dispose of them later.
I dropped off the steep SW side of Soda Butte, making a beeline to the next peak, first dropping 800ft to Soda Creek before climbing 2,300ft back up to Peak 10,278ft. This was the part I was most concerned about when I had stood atop Quinn and considered this extra effort. It turned out to be well worth it, because the cross-country proved to be no big deal and the NE Ridge of Peak 10,278ft had some fun class 3 scrambling. From its summit, I continued west along the connecting ridgeline with Sheep Mtn, which also happened to be the Park boundary. An hour later I reached what turned out to be a false summit of Sheep, but I met up with one of the hunters I had seen earlier. He and his buddy were using binoculars to scan Pecks Canyon (just outside the park) for deer. Finding none, he had passed the time watching me traverse from Peak 10,278ft. He was intrigued to find that my sole purpose was to wander around the landscape and then return to the trailhead. He commented about how fast I was moving, but I reminded him I wasn't carrying a backpack or heavy rifle.
A few minutes after leaving the hunter I reached the highpoint of Sheep Mtn atop Windy Ridge. Someone had left a small stack of rocks on a fallen tree to mark the spot. Fifteen minutes later I was back down at Summit Lake, cruising through the campsite and soon back outside the park and on my way back to Mountain Home. It would be 6p before I returned to the car, covering some 25 miles over 10.5hrs. With a bit of daylight remaining, I decided to visit a couple of unnamed summits within Mountain Home (in fact, the only two summits in Mountain Home with more than 300ft of prominence). They were both short, steep cross-country jaunts to non-descript bumps devoid of views. Sunset came as I topped out on the first, and by the time I had reached the second I was almost in need of a headlamp. I managed to stumble my way down in the dark back to the van without one, finishing the two peaks in about an hour. I spent the second night in Mountain Home, off the side of the road near the northwest entrance. I still had a few summits lower in the foothills that I wanted to visit in the morning before heading back to San Jose...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sheep Mountain
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