Sanel Mountain P1K
Snow Mountain CC
Ward Mountain P300 CC
Pritchett Peaks East P1K

Mon, Dec 2, 2013
Snow Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

I took a day to drive north to Sonoma County to tag a handful of P1Ks and CC-listed summits. All were on private property, though there was no one in the areas I visited, far as I could tell. Most of the land is used for ranching and hunting, though it is sprinkled with a handful of smaller private lots. A storm was predicted to slide through the area Monday night which kept me to just the one day of peakbagging - while I don't mind a little unexpected rain, planning a hike in such conditions is not something I enjoy.


These three summits are located about six miles southwest of Hopland off US101. A good dirt road, County Road 110, leads to a saddle between Sanel and Snow. The road ends here, surrounded by gates which branch off into private domains about the area. I was a bit troubled when I pulled in around 9p the night before upon finding a cabin right near the end of the road. Parking without my car drawing attention the next day seemed impossible. It turns out that this and other cabins sprinkled throughout the area are not regularly occupied, instead they were all hunting cabins and trailers that are used seasonly in the Fall. When I hopped the initial fence to start my way to Sanel, I was a bit disconcerted to see an ATV parked nearby. I suspect the absent owner uses it to negotiate the rougher dirt roads after driving his normal vehicle inside the gate and parking it.

Sanel is the highest of the three with 1,200ft of prominence and just over a mile from where I parked. I followed ranch roads up to Pt. 3,183ft where Sanel could be seen 2/3 mile to the west. It would have been easiest to continue along the ridge in a north-trending arc around the connecting ridgeline, but I thought this might make it easier to be detected by one of the surrounding landowners if they were on the property. Instead I went the direct route, dropping down into the drainage between the two points, steep but easy cross-country. The ground is heavily rooted, sure signs of feral pigs, and as I was climbing up to Sanel out of the drainage I spooked a family of them that had been napping under a tree. They were almost out of sight before I could get a poor picture of them fleeing. Deer also seem plentiful - no wonder it is a popular area with hunters. It took about half an hour to find my way to the antennae-topped summit. Coastal fog lay low in the surrounding valleys on three sides, but to the east there was a nice sunrise view to Mt. Konocti and the Mayacmas Mountains. Still nervous about encountering landowners at the cabin near where I parked, I beat a hasty retreat, eager to get on to Snow and Ward before they came out to check on me (of course there was no one there, I later determined).

Back at the van I resupplied with an additional quart of Gatorade and quickly ducked under the fence on the south side of the van. Snow Mtn is brushier and more forested than Sanel and it is not a simple matter to just walk to the summit though it is only 1/3 mile away. I followed animal trails through the chaparral and stunted forest around the west side of the mountain where I knew there was clearer access to the summit based on the satellite views. There is a string of rocky sections found on that side that can be linked up to make for minimal bushwhacking. With a last bit of weaving through the puny woods, I found my way to the top. Happily, there was even a real rock outcropping there that offers both an actual summit one can stand on as well as a partial view to the south and southwest. An animal had made a nest of sticks in the summit rocks so I skirted around it so as not to disturb the home.

I dropped southwest and then south off Snow Mtn over mostly grassy slopes, aiming for Cummisky Creek. The area around the creek appears to be part of the Insight Hunting Preserve which I guess sounds more altruistic than calling it a hunting club, which it is. My plan was to follow the creek east until at the base of Ward Mtn, then use one of several old roads found on the north side of Ward that are depicted on the topo map. The plan was good, but execution not so much. The creek, mostly dry at this time of year but with some pools and flowing water in places, is interesting geologically with a variety of colors and patterned rock that this whole area (around The Geysers) is known for. There were stretches easy to travel down, and others too brushy, forcing me to one side or the other. After half a mile I was positioned at the base of Ward on the northwest side and started up.

Almost immediately I came upon a very old road, little used, that I had been expecting to find. My mistake was following it in the wrong direction, uphill towards the west. In hindsight, I should have followed the downhill side to the east because it soon would have started up to Ward. After following the old road for a quarter mile and realizing it was going away from Ward, not switchbacking up as I had hoped, I decided to leave it and head cross-country for the open patch of hillside that I had seen just below a section of road I had spotted earlier. The next half mile devolved into some awful bushwhacking that was made bearable only because I knew the distance to salvation to be relatively short. Eventually I made my way to the clearing I had spied and the road found just above it. Less than fifteen minutes later I was at the summit of Ward Mtn.

Of the three peaks, it has the best summit, open to views in all directions. Old picnic benches are the only adornment found there. Fog still enshrouded the lower areas towards the south and west, but had burned off towards the north and east. Though it had been interesting, I decided to avoid much of the return along Cummisky Creek, instead utilizing a road that ran west along the ridgeline in that direction. This route proved speedier as I had expected it might, and an hour later I was back at the van. I drove back down County Rd 110, taking in the interesting collection of homesteads that I had missed in the dark the previous night. Back in Hopland, I drove south on US101 to Cloverdale, about 15 miles away.

Pritchett Peaks East

On my previous visit a month earlier, I had been unable to reach Pritchett Peaks from the south as I had intended because of unusual security controls around the Lake Sonoma Dam that I had planned to start at. I gave up before even starting that first time. For this second attempt I planned to approach from the north, a shorter route, but traveling almost entirely on private property. The nearest road that travels along Icaria Creek is private, with access blocked near US101. Hot Springs Road, another mile to the north, is public and provides access to Lake Sonoma from Cloverdale along York Creek. I had considered starting from the end of the road and following the edge of the lake to Pritchett, but the satellite views shows it to be extremely brushy. A better, shorter route appears to start halfway along the road where it runs along a ridge, dropping to Icaria Creek and then using an old road to the summit from the northeast side. There are few places along the road to park and there are occupied homes sprinkled on either side. With the aid of the satellite view I found a rare turnout across from an old road heading down to Icaria Creek.

Starting out just after noon, I followed this old road down towards a branch of the creek I had not planned to use. The road ended in a small turnaround at the edge of the dry, brushy creek. Not liking the looks of the creek, I hiked back up the road a short distance and went cross-country over grassy slopes hoping to get onto my original, intended route more directly to the road on Icaria Creek. This didn't work out as hoped and I was soon enough back down at this brushy branch of the creek only a short distance downstream. I got somewhat lucky in that rather than having to fight my way for 1/3 mile through the creek, I came across a very old, unused road that doesn't show up on the topo, but still quite serviceable to get me to the main road. The topo maps shows the main road as Kelly Road and depicts it as a paved or gravel road, but this is a mistake - it is dirt and appears to see little traffic. I had been concerned that it might be busier, but upon seeing it, it was obvious that the animals in the area use if far more than humans.

As I started hiking east on Kelly Rd, I realized I could save almost a mile by climbing cross-country up the slope to the south to intersect the old road to be found higher up. I was happy to find this did not involve any heavy bushwhacking, and even happier to find this old road I was looking for not only existed, but was in decent shape. There were tire marks from motorcycle usage which lead me to believe the rest of the route might be clear, but this was not the case. The good trail ended after a quarter mile and I had some trouble finding its continuation. I started down what looked like the correct route only to find it didn't seem like much of a trail. I had second thoughts. If it was going to be this bad the rest of the way, I'd never make it. Backtracking, I eventually found the correct route. Though now badly overgrown, it was still usable with gloves to push aside the buckthorn and other brush. This rough section went on for another quarter mile until I got onto the northeast slope heading up to Pritchett. Here, forest cover took over for the chaparral and the route underneath was clearer. It was terribly steep and covered thickly with leaves and forest duff, making this last 800ft of climbing tiring. By 1:40p I had reached the ridgeline and the property boundary. On the other side of a fence were federal lands surrounding Lake Sonoma, public at least in name. Emerging from the clautrophobic confines of the understory on that last part, the views suddenly open to the south and west. The summit was less than five minutes away to the west, overlooking the lake and the surrounding terrain. To the northwest was Pritchett Peaks West which I had considered for a bonus peak, but the route looked very brushy and difficult and I didn't have the energy to pursue it.

The return took barely an hour in part due to a better use of existing roads. Near where I had joined the old trail at the 1,000ft elevation mark, I found another branch leading down to Kelly Road to the northwest. This road hadn't seen vehicle traffic in decades, but it was good enough to get down to Kelly Road and Icaria Creek with only a few minutes of jogging. From there I did a better job of using the other old road branch I had stumbled upon earlier, taking this close enough to the original road I had started down that it required only a few minutes of cross-country up the dry creekbed to connect the two routes. I was done before 3p, but without enough time to seriously consider another hike. I still have to come back for the P1K Big Mountain on the west side of Lake Sonoma, but that will have to wait for yet another visit.

I spent three hours braving rush hour traffic over the Richmond Bridge and down the East Bay, taking an hour longer than it had the night before, but I was still back home before 7p - making the door-to-door turnaround almost exactly 24hrs. Not a bad way to spend the day...

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