Slate Mountain P2K ESS
Breckenridge Mountain P2K ESS

Mon, Jun 22, 2009

With: Ryan Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

At the beginning of a week-long roadtrip to AZ with Ryan, I decided to stop in the Southern Sierra to tag a few prominence peaks that I had passed by on several previous visits to the area tagging HPS peaks. This would help cut down on the long drive to Arizona by breaking it up into two days' travel.

Our long drive to Quaker Meadows was made longer by a road closure on SR190 near Springville. A forest fire had broken out somewhere up the road and a Caltrans Employee along with a CHP officer were blocking the road with their vehicles. Seems the fire had been put out earlier, but not before it had burned a flume which subsequently released a torrent of water that washed out the road. Caltrans would need to make a repair, and it didn't seem likely it would happen during the night. They helpfully redirected me on a two hour detour back to Porterville and then through Mountain Springs and California Hot Springs. It was after 3a before I got to the trailhead and was able to crawl in the back to sleep. Ryan had already been sleeping for a number of hours.

We were up before sunrise, a quick breakfast, then set out to find the Slate Mtn Trail. The topo map shows the trail starting from the Quaking Aspen campground, but with several loops through the campground in the early morning hour I was unable to locate it or find someone awake who could help direct me. We ended up driving back south a short ways on the highway to a signed road for Quaker Meadow Camp, a private church-based camp in the forest. Not long before reaching the camp, I spotted the trail on the south side and managed to pull the van off the road in a very small turnout. Not the usual start for the Slate Mtn Trail, but it would work and the six mile distance to the summit was reduced to five.

We started up from the van around 6:30a. The temperature was a chilly 37F at the start, but it shortly warmed to very comfortable hiking temps. Most of the hike was through forested slopes with occasional grassy meadows. Not much for views. We got some views to the west, notably of The Needles, after about an hour, but we were soon in the forest cover again. There were a number of large logs across the trail that had been there for some time. Smaller logs and rocks were piled up on either side to allow ATVs (more likely motorcycles) across them. We passed by a few old snowbanks, not enough to block the trail, but enough to toss a few snowballs at each other before our hands were frozen.

At the two hour mark we reached the crest where the trail moves to the west side of the ridge. A downed sign indicated we were about 5mi from Quaking Aspen or about 4mi from our car. Another mile to go to the summit. We looked for an obvious use trail heading off from the main trail, but were well past the summit before I recognized we'd gone too far. We backtracked to one of two ducks I'd seen that were probably markers for the summit route, though no use trail was spotted. We headed up from the southernmost duck, up steep slopes through the forest, up a tedious boulder field that Ryan thought was great fun, and onto the summit ridge. We found the highpoint a short distance south along the ridgeline.

Along with a survey marker, there was a register box complete with Gumby and Pokey in some capacity as mascots for Slate Mtn. The register dated to 1994 to which we added our own names. Ryan's artwork depicted his less than glowing review of the effort. The views were quite good, somewhat to my surprise. Ryan was impressed when I pointed out Mt. Whitney to the northeast, his first-ever view of the famous landmark. We could see most of the peaks of the Southern Sierra from Mineral King to the north, Whitney to the northeast, Olancha and Kern Peaks to the east, Owens and others to the southeast. The usual haze covered most of the Central Valley to the west.

We found a better alternative to the boulder field on our descent, finding somewhat of a use trail as well that led down to the northernmost trail marker we'd found on the main trail. It took us less than two hours to make the descent, after which we got back in the van for more driving.

Poor Ryan. He doesn't do well on windy roads and we did a lot of driving on windy roads this day. It was a very scenic drive south on SR190 and SR99 through Johnsondale, Kernville, Lake Isabella, and Bodfish on our way to the second peak, Breckenridge. Luckily Ryan was able to sleep through some of this, but mostly he hung his head out the window like a carsick dog wishing it over.

On the plus side, Ryan was thrilled to find that the van was capable of negotiating the last five miles of dirt road to the summit, eliminating most of the hike that I was expecting. We stopped at the locked gate and walked a few hundred yards to the manned lookout tower near the summit. We met the nice caretaker, Lori, and here dog Fiesty, talking a great deal about the lookout, her job, and her fabulous view. She kept a trailer down below that she did most of her living in, but a bed in the lookout was used about half the time depending on weather conditions. She was enthusiastic about her job even after many years of doing it, apparently well-suited to the lonely life that comes with it. She seemed to enjoy visitors, especially those that knew the surrounding peaks almost as well as she did.

After our tour of the tower, we paid a visit to the rocky class 3 outcrop that marked the highest point, about 100yds southwest of the tower. Among the rocks near the top we found a register dating back three or four years. The first entry was from a group of 11, a virtual Who's Who of highpointing, including MacLeod, Lilley, Helman, Gnagy, Earl, Hanna, Adrian, and others. There were six pages of entries and we added our own names to the last one, before tucking the register back in its hiding place.

Our driving was far from over for the day as we headed back down from the summit of Breckenridge, heading south on the Caliente-Bodfish Rd. Ryan continued his feeling of unwellness. After more than an hour we finally emerged at Caliente and got on SR58, a real highway. We stopped in Tehachapi for lunch and a reward from Starbucks, at which point Ryan began to perk up. We drove on for more hours to reach Needles at the AZ border where we stopped for the night. It was hot in the desert, still 99F two hours after sunset. Thank goodness for air-conditioned motel rooms.


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