Mon, Nov 7, 2016
||Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||GPXs: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
Blackrock Mountain previously climbed Thu, Oct 23, 2014|
There are two summits vying for the highpoint of the Sacatar Trail Wilderness in the Southern Sierra. Bob Sumner and I had made a weak attempt to reach them a few weeks earlier from the east side near Coso Junction. The road cutting into the Wilderness area shown on the topo map was a bit rough for Bob's 2WD Jeep Liberty, so we backed off and did something else. While we were driving to the alternate, I emailed Paul Garry who we knew had climbed the two summits recently to ask about his route. He was good enough to forward his GPS tracks that he used to approach from Long Valley to the southwest. Bob had investigated this approach earlier, but found it all private property blocking the Wilderness access and had dismissed it. Now we realized that was probably the better plan. We figured this was a good time of year to visit, when the cattle that are grazed in Long Valley have been taken to lower elevations for the coming winter months. Unfortunately we couldn't coordinate our schedules for a second try, but I had some time to do it solo on the second day of a three-day trip. I had spent the night camped at Fossil Falls on US395 and was up before sunrise to drive Nine-Mile Canyon Rd up to Kennedy Meadows and Long Valley. I had brought my bike to allow me to ride the 5-mile section of roads through Long Valley if needed. There are dozens of properties off the dirt Sacatar Trail and Long Valley roads, so I wasn't too worried about the Private Road and No Trespassing signs, knowing if someone saw me drive in they would probably assume I owned property nearby. I was happy to find the first 4.5mi of road ungated, allowing me to drive within a few miles of the summits. I parked outside a locked gate, just off the road and hoped that no one would be bothered by its presence. Tire tracks showed that the road is regularly used by the various property owners found on either side. Whether they were year-round residents, a bigger concern, was impossible to discern. I would have to take my chances.
I left the bike in the van and set off on foot by 7:15a. The tire tracks on the other side of the gate were older. In fact, several sets of footprints on top of the tire tracks told of visitors on foot since the last truck drove through this section of road. Hikers and/or hunters most likely, probably trespassing like me. I hiked half a mile up the road before turning east on a side road that turns out to be abandoned for all practical purposes. There are two small buildings on the property in this side canyon, a tiny cabin near the start and a newish-looking shed further east at the end of the road. But there have been no motor vehicles on the road for years as the brush is well on its way to taking it back. Once out of sight of the main road I was able to relax - I wouldn't have any worries until I got back from the two peaks. I followed the dry canyon east until it turns north and I was at the base of the first peak on its west side. I came across an odd sight - a dead fox, though it wasn't clear how it met its demise. Not so crafty, this one. From the drainage, it was a fairly steep 1,600-foot climb up in about 0.8mi, though juniper forest, mild brush and some rock scrambling. I reached the summit by 8:40a, less than an hour and a half after starting - nice!
A register had been left in 2008 by a K. Kyle Atkins who was working on climbing all the Sierra Crest summits between Walker and Donner Passes. I looked him up online later and found a newspaper article about this 70yr-old, who has more than 1,000 summits under his belt, including all the CA 13ers, interestingly enough. Garry and Christensen were the last two visitors, much as I expected, two months earlier. The second highpoint candidate is about a mile to the north over similar terrain, but without much drop between them. It took 45min to traverse between the two, finding a second, similar register here as well. The return went quite swiftly, thanks to the preponderance of sand found on the slopes in the area. I ended up dropping back down to the same drainage to get me back to the side road and then the main road before returning to the van by 10:30a. My relief increased as I noted, in order: the van was still there; no one was waiting there for me; the tires had air in them; no windows were broken; there was no note on the windshield; I saw no one on the drive back out to Kennedy Meadows Rd.
I had lots of time left in the day so I decided to tackle an odd one in Manzanita Knob, described in Jenkins Exploring the Southern Sierra, East Side. One can reach it most easily from the dirt road that passes through Osa Meadows, a side road off the paved Blackrock Road. I chose to start from the Blackrock TH instead, a few miles longer but would avoid the dirt road driving. I had no idea what condition those other roads were in and thought I would save the van the possible beating. After a good deal of driving, I reached the Blackrock TH by 11:30a and set out a few minutes later, the 4-mile route to Manzanita Knob nearly all cross-country following a ridgeline that forms part of the southern boundary of the Golden Trout Wilderness.
I climbed first to Blackrock Mtn, half a mile away and 800ft above the TH. I recalled on my first visit a few years ago that there was a register that had recently been signed by Barbara Lilley and some other aging SPS veterans, but I had no luck locating it (later I reviewed my notes and had found the register to the southeast about a quarter mile). From the summit of Blackrock, the going becomes more gentle and quite enjoyable through very easy cross-country terrain under forest cover. I noted dozens of Wilderness boundary signs periodically tacked to trees along the route. Views were fairly limited due to the tree cover, the only downside I noted in an otherwise fun ramble. I reached a saddle shortly after the first hour where I found a good dirt road coming up from the south. This was the Osa Meadows approach and by looking at the road it looks like I could easily have driven the van the few miles to this point. Oh well, live and learn.
An old Wilderness sign is found at the end of the road at the saddle. The road continues on the other side, though now used only for foot traffic. Logs have fallen across the road in a number of places and brush has narrowed the usable part in many places, but it provided an excellent route to reach within half a mile of the summit. The remaining cross-country continued to be pleasant and by 1:15p I'd reached the small rock outcrop serving as the highpoint. The register here had been left in 1987 by Gordon MacLeod and party, and was surprisingly busy, most likely thanks to its inclusion in Ruby Jenkin's book. She had made three visits while while scouting out info for the book. At least one of the entries touted the fine views from the summit but I found them extremely weak, at least from the highpoint. At other points on the return I found good views looking west to the Kern River drainage with the Needles visible to the southwest and Coyote Peaks to the northwest.
I bypassed the old road on the way back so that I could follow the ridge and go over bonus Peak 9,348ft. After returning to the good dirt road at the saddle, my return closely followed the outbound route. I noted there were numerous old logging roads I crossed that I hadn't noted earlier. There is a little-used trail as well, running from Osa Meadows to Casa Vieja Meadows down the north side of the ridge. I tried to find the Blackrock register but missed it again, though I did find a neat rock outcrop with a fine view of Olancha Peak to the northeast. An old steel Olympia beer can was found among the rocks with the year 1970 etched on its side. Not quite done when I got back to the Blackrock TH, I continued east up the other side of the pass for a last bonus summit, Peak 9,363ft, a short distance away. This one sported a register left by Terry Flood a few years ago. There were two other entries since then, one of them by Eric Su which surprised me some. It wasn't yet 4p by the time I finished back at the TH, but I was plenty tired and ready for a shower. I would spend the night here, having another, much longer hike planned for the following day to Indian Head in the Golden Trout Wilderness. But now - beer time!
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