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508 Peak later climbed Wed, Apr 19, 2017|
We started just after 8a in a fog but after climbing a first low rise we began to find our way above it. Snow-dusted Olancha Peak on the Sierra crest to the west made for a nice backdrop on our right. Behind us, Owens Lake was shrouded in the same thin fog layer we had started in, hiding the dry lakebed from view. Because of the low clouds and haze we could not see our first target, Sugar Loaf, until we were within about half a mile. Navigation was not problematic because we had the summit dialed into the GPS and could pick out the right series of ridgelines to travel whether we could see the summit or not. After an hour and a half's time we reached the top where we found a generic USGS benchmark and a register. An old scrap from Erik Siering dated to 1999, but a more recent notepad was left by Trona resident Thomas Gossett in 2007. His "Praise the Lord" sentiments found in many of his register entries are in sharp contrast to the attempted murder/suicide he was involved in a few years later. The desert has its share of characters, to be sure.
We left the summit of Sugar Loaf via the opposite side, dropping several hundred feet to a saddle before starting up a gentle ridgeline to higher ground. We followed this and other connecting ridges for more than an hour, past a number of claim boundaries that are found, literally, all over the place. The hills here are composed of all sorts of interesting rocks and have been a magnet for prospectors in times past, before this became part of the Coso Wilderness. About an hour from Sugar Loaf we finally got a view of where I thought Lakeview should be. It is marked by an outsized block of rock on its north side, visible from more than a mile away. It would take about half an hour's further effort to finally reach the top. A glass jar tucked among the rocks was our first clue that we had found the right summit. I admitted to being a bit nervous and let Karl do the honors of opening it up. Barbara and Gordon had led a party of 12 Sierra Clubbers to the summit in 1978 and identified it as Lakeview Peak (success!). The next visitor, a Kansas geology student, left a 1995 entry. Erik Siering and Bob Sumner visited in 1999, with Thomas Gossett's 2007 visit making the last entry. Ours was only the 5th party in 37 years.
Haze marred much of the distant views, but nearer in to the south I could easily identify the three "pexes" (Apex, Bpex & Cpex) that Tom and I visited the previous year. We took a longish break at the summit, having a snack and working out a plan for the return. We both felt like exploring new ground rather than returning the same way, the only decision was whether to loop around to the west or the east. Had I done a bit more research I would have steered us about three miles to the west and Red Ridge, another Wheelock summit, but instead we settled on a looping route to the east, descending a prominent ridge in that direction that would minimize the flat walking across the desert and maximize our time at higher elevation along the ridges. It was on the descent that we really became aware of the variety of rock coloring found in these hills, with orange-red, yellow and purple varieties among the most interesting. We would periodically stop to examine these, once again wondering out loud and dreaming of finding that nugget or vein of gold bearing rock that kept the prospectors of old motivated. Our ridge ended at the confluence of several washes and we followed the combined wash out across the alluvial plain towards Owens Lake and our vehicles. It was 2:15p by the time we returned, a modestly full day. I tried to talk Karl into one more summit, but he had gotten his fill ("just the right amount", in his words) and wanted to get back to Santa Cruz earlier rather than later. I was on my own for the last one.
I was not so easily deterred, however. I drove back out the gate and then around to the east side of Red Hill where I found a pool of water from the most recent rain a day earlier. A fence separated me from the quarry property, running towards Red Hill and then apparently ending at its base. It wasn't at all clear where the quarry boundary was located (later I found that the summit and most, if not all the route I took was on BLM lands). I figured I could just climb it from this side, keeping more to the northeast so that I wouldn't be so obviously visible from the quarry should someone happen to look outside a window or while going to her car. The short climb would take less than half an hour to reach the summit, but it was a good workout. The moderately steep slopes were composed of gravel-sized volcanic rock, the same stuff the quarry was collecting to pulverize and sell for commercial purposes. Each step would sink in some, not quite as bad as a sandy slope, but far from the surer footing afforded by more solid rock. I reached the cone's perimeter a few hundred yards north of the highpoint, dutifully walking amongst the more solid and interesting rock found along the way. I found a small, simple survey marker inscribed with "RED HILL" and nothing else to give away its origin. The summit provides nice views of the adjacent Sierra to the west (with the next day's summits, Chukkar and Deer, prominently displayed), the Owens Valley and the Inyo Mtns to the north, the Coso Range to the east.
It was after 3:30p by the time I returned, the sun having already dipped behind the Sierra wall. I showered outside as the temperature was dropping, then drove south a further six miles to an unmarked DWP gravel road. The road services the LA aqueduct which flows several hundred feet above the valley floor through a series of tunnels on the western flanks of the range here. An unlocked gate at the highway does not prohibit access, a posted sign asks only that the gate be left closed when coming or going. I drove up this road to some clearings just before a second gate, this one locked. The clearings proved flat and sufficiently far from the highway that the truck noises would not bother me during the night. Another fine, free camping site discovered...
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