Wed, Mar 25, 2015
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I must sincerely apologize for visiting Robbers Roost during the Bird of Prey Closure, Feb 1 - Jul 1. I didn't know about this until my return from the other peaks I visited when I came across a sign on the backside of Robbers Roost. There was no sign at the gate I passed through, or anywhere along the Aqueduct Road. If there was a sign at the entrance kiosk at SR178 I missed it when I drove in at night. For what it's worth, the only bird I saw there was a single raven...
On the last day of a 3-day road trip in the Southern Sierra, I continued exploring minor summits on the east side between the main Sierra Crest and SR14 to the east. The night before I had driven in to a somewhat remote OHV camp area in Sage Canyon, about six miles south of SR178 and an equal distance west of SR14. The wind had blown strongly most of the night, buffeting the van I slept in like a baby's cradle. The wind and blowing sand had subsided by morning, leaving a fine start to the new day. Rising above the campsite to the north is Peak 5,352ft, an unnamed summit with more than 700ft of prominence that happened to be in the area of Robbers Roost, which I was most interested in. The summit lies within the Kiavah Wilderness which encompasses most of the Scodie Mountains. A nice fence borders the Kiavah Wilderness to keep motor vehicles out. The first 1/3mi was across gently sloping terrain, but that changes abruptly as one reaches the base of the peak. From there it's a 1,500-foot climb to the summit over 3/4mi. Luckily the footing was decent and I made good time, taking about 45min to reach the summit. I was surprised to find a summit register. It had been left by Jim Freeland the previous year in which he dubbed it Mt. Tata. Seemed as good a name as any, and from a number of angles it does resemble a breast remarkably well. The downhill went quickly, taking only 20min for the return.
I next drove back out on the LA aqueduct road I had driven in on, stopping when I was less than a mile SE of Robbers Roost. This large rock outcrop is striking from SR178 and I had often noted it as I drove over Walker Pass on my way to the Mojave Desert. I had looked up online what little information I could find, noting the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group had rescued a 22yr-old there back in 1983. I had also read somewhere that it was class 3, so I came prepared with no climbing equipment. The jagged rocks were a hideout for Kern County's most notorious bandit gang, led by Tiburcio Vasquez, which operated in the desert region during the 1870s. He was hanged in 1875 in San Jose not far from where I currently live.
A gate for a side road was locked at the aqueduct road so I simply parked there and hiked the short distance to the base of the formation. The side road leads to a wide parking area on the east side of Robbers Roost. From there I hiked a short distance north to find a class 3 gully on the northeast side of the highpoint. This was a fun bit of scrambling with a mildly brushy bit of class 2 in the middle that leads to a notch just north of the top. Here one can see another parking area on the west side and the easier approach that can be made from that side, entailing just a bit of class 3 right below the notch. Easy slabs lead from the notch to the highpoint - about 30min in all from the aqueduct road. The views are grand from the summit, stretching out over the Mojave desert to the east and south, the Scodie Mtns rising to the west. There are two other unnamed summits in the Scodie foothills that I was interested in. I had planned to reach those via another route off SR178, but in looking at them from atop Robbers Roost it seemed like it would make a nice desert hike to reach them from where I stood and I decided to go with the new plan.
I descended the easier west side route off Robbers Roost then headed cross-country to the northwest, eventually picking up an old jeep trail in the wash I ascended. A sign found here denotes the Wilderness boundary though it appears to have been ignored by at least a few OHV enthusiasts. The wash and jeep road lead up to a junction with a more significant old road marked with a spot elevation of 4,273ft on the topo map. I followed this second road west for about half a mile before leaving it to climb to Peak 5,253ft more directly. Along the road I came across a rather large lizard of a type I'd never seen before. It had interesting yellow stripes and was about a foot long from snout to tail. An online search later came up with the most likely candidate to be the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, an endangered species endemic to this area. It made no effort to escape as I approached, even as I got the the camera within less than a foot distance. I'm glad that I suppressed the urge to poke it with a stick to watch it move - seeing as it may have been a protected species. In any event, this was the most interesting find of the day.
The climb to Peak 5,253ft was nothing short of unremarkable. The views from the summit were at least nice, east across the Mojave, south to Tata and north to the more significant Peak 6,190ft where I headed next. I dropped north off the summit, descending a little more than 300ft to a saddle before starting an ascending traverse to Peak 6,190ft whose highpoint is located at the far northwest end of a rocky ridgeline. My route to the summit wasn't great - too much sidehilling and too much sand - but it worked, getting me to the summit shortly before 11:30a. An old rusty shovel was found at the top, origins unknown. Two miles to the west rises the higher Scodie Mtns HP which might have made for a nice continuation if I hadn't already been there and wasn't somewhat pressed for time. There was no register that I could find though I did a fairly decent search.
In descending, I chose to follow the SE Ridge down, which turned out to be the far better route (an even shorter route can be had from the north where SR178 runs within 1.3mi of the summit). Before reaching the saddle with Peak 5,253ft I came across an old fenceline and a trail that followed it down towards Robbers Roost. This was a great convenience that made the descent fairly quick with a little jogging. I followed the old trail/jeep track down to the perimeter of Robbers Roost where I found a sign indicating the area is closed for Bird of Prey nesting between Feb 1 and Jul 1. I felt bad about having violated this on the way up earlier, wondering why there isn't a similar sign found on that more obvious approach. Possibly removed by recreational users unhappy with the closure? I skirted around the perimeter of the nesting area on the south side to return to the van around 12:45p. It was an early finish but I still had some 5-6hrs of driving to return to San Jose that afternoon.
The fun wasn't yet over, it turns out. On my way over Walker Pass, one of the van tires began to make vibrations which only continued to get worse as I descended to Lake Isabella. I pulled over, thinking it sounded like I had loose lugnuts on one of the back wheels, but they all seemed tight when inspected. The noise continued to get worse as I drove into Bakersfield where I stopped at a repair facility to get some help. Being close to quitting time, they weren't eager to get involved, but one of the managers test drove it at least but couldn't guess what the problem might be. The noise became more pronounced as I drove across the Central Valley to Interstate 5 where I stopped for gas. This time I noticed that two lugnuts were missing, having snapped off. Ok, it was obvious I was right with the first assessment - I had failed to tighten the lugnuts sufficiently when I had repaired a flat a week earlier. I got out the lug wrench and tightened the other nuts as best I could. Back on the road, the noise was better but still present. I realized that if the wheel was skewed on the hub, I would probably not be able to tighten them sufficiently without jacking up the car. I made another stop to execute this new plan. More problems. The lug wrench, a cheap version that comes with the car, broke when the pin fell out. I had to hunt around in a dry creekbed to find a rock suitable to pound the pin back in and get the wrench working again. Then I broke a third lug trying to tighten it. All the jostling for the last 100mi had trashed the threads on the lugs and they were difficult to tighten. I got the other two tightened so that the wheel no longer wobbled, then borrowed a nut from another wheel to screw onto the threads of one of the broken lugs that were barely servicable. Two and a half lugnuts would have to do. They worked to get me home, whereupon the next day I learned through YouTube how to replace wheel lugs. The cost for five lugs and nuts was just over $20, not bad. Had the wheel come off while I was driving the cost would have been far higher. And scarier...
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