Red Mountain P750
Peak 9,377ft P300
Bear Butte P300
Peak 9,658ft P500
Peak 8,403ft P300
Mushroom Rock

Jun 13, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

Red Mountain
Bear Butte
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Our third day in the Sierra National Forest had us starting with an outing to Red Mtn, an almost-10,000-foot summit with more than 800ft of prominence. We had discovered the day before that the Red Mtn OHV route was still two days from opening, keeping us from driving that route. Not that we would have been able to, mind you, as we came to find it's a pretty serious trail that my jeep would not have been equipped to handle. With some quick research, I found an alternate route that worked quite nicely. We did several other hikes afterwards, including a 10mi, 3,000-foot gain effort in the Kaiser Wilderness in the afternoon. Overall, a pretty full day.

Red Mountain - Peak 9,377ft

At the corral along Forest Rd 8S10 near where we'd camped, is a road junction. The left fork goes to the Red Mtn OHV route which was closed, but the right fork is the continuation of 8S10 that made for an alternate approach. We should have simply driven it several miles to its end at a turnaround and started on foot by there, but we stopped about half a mile short of that, looking for an old trail that shows up on the old topo maps and my GPSr. Simply, the trail no longer exists in any form. We did find an old logging road that took us off the more direct route, but it met up with the OHV route just south of West Lake, about 2/3mi from our starting point. We then followed the OHV road for a mile and a quarter, marveling at the size and numbers of granite boulders that made this no ordinary road, but one of those rock-crawling, kidney busters that some folks just can't get enough of. Before reaching Red Lake, we left the road to climb up the SSW side of Red Mtn. The going is class 2-3 granite with a messy class 2 rubble scramble for the last couple hundred feet. It took but an hour and a quarter to make our way to the open summit, only 100ft below the 10,000-foot level and the highest point we would reach on this roadtrip. With the thunderstorm activity the previous evening, the air was clear and we could see for many miles, far north to Yosemite and Ritter/Banner, south to Mt. Silliman, and a long stretch of the Sierra Crest.

We descended the southeast side of Red Mtn and made our way to Red Lake and around its inlet which we found quite marshy - probably would have been better to give it a wider berth, but the lake looked lovely in the morning light. There were nice campsites along the north side of the lake, probably a welcome respite for anyone who managed to drive up the rough OHV Trail. On the other side of the lake, we took about 20min to ascend the unnamed Peak 9,377ft. It had a short, squat summit boulder that could have been a tough problem if it was 5ft higher. The summit is forested and devoid of any real views. We then descended northwest down to Red Lake again, this time crossing below the outlet, low enough to avoid the dense willows growing closer to the lake. We got back to the OHV road and retraced our steps for about half a mile, then went cross-country on a descending traverse to more directly return to the jeep. We kept looking for the old road/trail shown on the GPSr, but never found a trace of it. We were back to the jeep by 10:15a, much sooner than expected as we finished the main program planned for the day. We would find more to do soon enough.

Bear Butte

After returning to SR168, we continued up the highway towards Huntington Lake, stopping for a short hike to Bear Butte. The peak lies east of Huntington Lake, accessible by the same dirt road that services the popular Rancheria Falls Trail. We couldn't quite figure out why there were dozens of cars parked along the edge of the road close to the highway when the trailhead is a mile up the road. True, the parking is limited there, but one could easily park on the road above the TH to make shorter work of it. We figured that once the first few cars decided to park by the highway, most of the other folks figured the TH parking must be full. At least one guy hiking down the trail as we drove up gestured at us annoyingly, as in, "Why are you driving on this hiking trail?" Most of the folks were cordial of course and we drove slow enough to avoid kicking up dust. Past the TH we picked up speed and drove to the saddle on the east side of Bear Butte. From there it is a short hike of less than a quarter mile. The last 100ft is another pile of broken rock, but at least the summit is open to views all around - south to Red Mtn, west to Chinese Peak, northwest to Huntington Lake and north to Kaiser Peak. A small pine at the summit had been decorated as a Christmas Tree. Nice, easy summit.

Peak 9,658ft - Peak 8,403ft

It wasn't yet noon when we finished with Bear Butte, so we decided to take on a bigger hike in the afternoon that we'd originally planned for the next day. A 10mi hike in the Kaiser Wilderness with 3,000ft of gain would be just the thing to keep us busy the rest of the afternoon. Peak 9,658ft lies on the western end of Kaiser Ridge, about 4mi from Kaiser Peak. The popular Nellie Lake Trail starts from the Billy Creek Campground at Huntington Lake, climbing through the forested Wilderness to the lake nestled in the drainage on the southwest side of the peak. About halfway up, the peak goes by bonus Peak 8,403ft, an easy effort we'd save for the way down.

With the campground still closed due to COVID-19 concerns, we didn't realize one could drive another half mile up from the lake to the trailhead, and instead parked at the day use lot at the lake below the campground. Seems others did the same thing - we saw a number of parties on the way up and down, but not a single car at the dirt trailhead lot. The trail is easy to follow though downfall from the past season has yet to be cleared. Though old, the trail signs are still intact and serviceable, marking the Wilderness boundary and trail junctions. about a mile from Nellie Lake we came across a father with four kids in tow, ages about 7-13, heading uphill. Several were struggling with the elevation gain and dad was already burdened with carrying several of their daypacks. A brave man, I thought. A cruel father, some of the kids seemed to feel. We turned off the trail where it goes over a saddle before the last quarter mile drop to the lake. Here we headed up northwest towards the summit, about half mile distance. The going is sandy with some modest brush, but overall good footing. Views open up significantly as the forest gives way to grass, flowers and open slopes. The final 100ft is a pile of broken rock, partially guarded by a band of low brush at the base. The views were being partially obscurred by clouds that had developed over the area in the afternoon, but extended north into Yosemite, across the deep valley formed by the San Joaquin River.

The light winds were cold now, driving us off the summit sooner than we might have liked. We left a register before starting down. Karl led us east off the summit, an alternate route choice with none of the brush we'd had on the ascent and a pleasant walk for half a mile along the open stretch of Kaiser Ridge. We intersected one of the spur trails after 3/4mi and used that to return to the Nellie Lake Trail. We turned off the trail again for the short climb to Peak 8,403ft, finding a surprisingly difficult summit block at the top. The 10-foot block was vertical or overhanging on all sides. It sat upon a larger block with a shoulder on the west side that could be climbed to get one close to the top. With an abundance of wood products scattered about the surrounding area, I declared that this was a good opportunity for some natural aid climbing. Karl expressed no small amount of concern when I suggested I could pile up some wood to gain access to the top of the higher boulder. I gathered half a dozen dead branches of varying lengths and leaned them against the west side of the summit boulder, arranging them to give me two steps by which to climb up to the top. It was a rickety sort of arrangement and Karl had to look away so as not to see the thing collapse under my weight and plunge me to certain hurt. I stepped very cautiously up, moving slowly to avoid shifting the logs under me, and then clambered onto the rock. I took a picture of Karl below (on the other side of the rock so as not to watch), then asked him to toss me up some small rocks that I could use to leave a register under. I was a little nervous reversing the moves on the way down, but again, slow, deliberate movements were called for and eventually got me down safe. I thought it was the most interesting summit of the trip, but Karl wanted little to do with it. We returned to the trail and continued our descent back to the cars at Huntington Lake, finishing up by 5:15p.

Mushroom Rock

Not quite done, we headed west of Huntington Lake into NF lands to find a place to camp between Mushroom Rock and Black Point. While Karl was off showering back by the lake, I drove the jeep up to Mushroom Rock. There are some very nice campsites in the immediate area, one of them right below Mushroom Rock. I thought it would make a great place to spend the night and sent a text to Karl to meet me there. I then scrambled up to the top of Mushroom Rock, easy class 3, to take in the view. At the same time I heard a chainsaw starting up and looked west to see a group of 7-8 teenagers camped at a nearby site excitingly cheering on one of their compatriots cutting down a tall dead tree. This was not going to be the quiet camp spot I had imagined and I sent another text telling Karl to meet me instead where we'd originally planned. Redneck-y teenagers with alcohol, ATVs and chainsaws - what could possibly go wrong?

We met back up a the junction between Mushroom Rock and Black Point. I suggested Karl should go visit Mushroom Rock since the views were nice just before sunset. He came back reporting a successful ascent with similar disdain for the youthful party camped there. We ended up driving the short distance to the trailhead for Black Point and spent the night there, quite peacefully...


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