Bull Run Peak
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The Greenhorn Mountains are subrange on the west side of the Southern Sierra. They are largely forested and mostly devoid of features interesting to rock climbers and peakbaggers alike. The highest point, Sunday Peak, is not much over 8,000ft in elevation and is one of four HPS summits in the range, and not very exciting ones either. The summits I was after today were the remaining peaks over 7,000ft, none of which would be very long or difficult or particularly interesting, for that matter. It was sort of a "cruiser" day, a lot of short hikes punctuated with more driving to explore the range north to south. Having spent the night parked alongside the paved Forest Service road that runs across the top of the range, I was up by 6a to eat breakfast and soon thereafter negotiating a not-so-great but low clearance drivable dirt road around to the north side of Tobias Peak.
Tobias is the second highest peak in the range, home to a fire lookout tower. One can drive to the summit with a suitable vehicle, but not being so equipped, I started from the road at Tobias Pass on the north side. Rather than follow the road for two miles to the summit, I took the more direct cross-country route up the forested north side, climbing maybe 700ft in little more than half a mile and taking less than 30 minutes. There was no tower to the lookout, just a cabin set upon a foundation atop the rock-strewn summit. Might be the only handicap-accessible lookout in the state. The cabin was locked up tight and I couldn't tell if that was permanent or just outside visiting hours. It certainly didn't look like a well-maintained facility. A couple of newer communication towers with a low profile were located to the southeast, below the horizon, leaving the views from the summit unobstructed. Sunrise had come shortly before, leaving the view west bathed in shadow and the haze of the Central Valley. To the south stood out Portuguese and Sunday Peaks, while to the north stretched out a vast sea of progressively higher summits reaching as far as the Mineral King area with the distinctive "V" between the summits of Florence and Vandever. The return route I used was a slight variation of the ascent, traveling through a brushy meadow made easier by cow trails that run through many of these hills. Hunting and grazing are more common activities than peakbagging in these parts.
After returning to the car I drove partway back to the paved road before parking on the NE side of Bull Run Peak (the 3rd highest summit in the range), just south of Bull Run Pass. This short cross-country jaunt would take less than twenty minutes. The summit rocks helped provide a decently-defined highpoint, but I found a register at another nearby location. It had been left in 1992 by Ruby Jenkins while gathering data for her Southern Sierra guidebook. It contained other names I recognized but wouldn't have expected on such an obscure peak, including Terry Flood, the Gossett brothers from Trona and Richard Piotrowski. After adding my own entry, I moved the tin containing the register to the higher point and placed it under a small cairn there. Jogging most of the way, it took only seven minutes to get back to the car.
Next up was another named summit, Peel Peak, located on the west side of the range's crest, several miles from the pavement, starting just west of Potuguese Pass. Here my GPS failed me. There exists a trail leading from the road to very near the summit. What I did not know at the time was that the trail has been moved from its original location. My GPS showed the trail at the older place, which started at a bend in the road along an old dirt track. An overgrown, but still usable track can be found through the buckthorn and to the end of the road a short time later where it meets the edge of the forest. I followed old boot prints on again / off again through the thick duff in the understory as I made my way down a ridgeline leading towards Peel Peak. Ten minutes shy of the summit I crossed a nicely graded dirt road that one can apparently use to drive much closer. A bit further through the woods brought me to the lichen-covered summit rocks embedded deep in the forest without any possibility of views. A register held a single sheet of notebook paper with nine other names in the 4 years it had been there - not a popular peak, to no one's surprise, though I was somewhat amused to see Shane Smith had visited it. On the return I found the newer trail and followed it all the way back to the paved road. There's nothing to mark the trail aside from a worn fiberglass post half hidden in more buckthorn (for anyone looking for it, it's next to a yellow Switchback Curve sign). It was only two minutes of hiking down the road from where I had parked the van at the old TH.
I drove back up to Portuguese Pass, then south on the good dirt road that heads south to Greenhorn Summit on SR155. Just south of Portuguese Pass is the TH for the Sunday Peak Trail where I stopped for my next peak. Having already been to Sunday Peak, I planned to use the first part of the trail to get me close to Portuguese Peak, then cross-country to its summit. Had I read the SummitPost description for the peak I might have done the more standard route - hiking the trail to the saddle between the two peaks, then taking the horribly brushy SE slopes to the summit. Turns out my route worked much better with very little brush to contend with. The east side of the peak is steep but forested and the understory generally clear aside from the great amounts of pine needle duff. It took less than twenty minutes to cover the 2/3 mile distance. At the summit I could see the brushy route towards the saddle to the south - not much fun there. Someone had even added white flagging in places, but there was no trail cleared - just the assurance that someone had suffered similarly before you. My advice - take the steeper east side route. In a pair of red nested cans was a register left in 2000 by the eccentric Pete Yamagata of the Sierra Club, Mother Lode Chapter fame. Barbara and Gordon had visited in 2005 and they, along with several other entries, commented on the heavy brush. The return went even faster - all of nine minutes to get back to the start.
I spent the next hour driving to Greenhorn Summit and then further south along the crest towards the Alta Sierra Ski area. I was interested in an unnamed summit, Peak 7,140ft the highpoint of the Greenhorn Mtns south of SR155 with more than 1,000ft of prominence. The peak turned out to be a bust - completely devoid of views due to forest cover, no obvious highpoint among several possibilities, no register anywhere. Just a small pile of rocks to mark one of the likely locations. There wasn't much effort though it was all cross-country - twenty minutes sufficed for the round trip.
A short drive of about a mile on a dirt road took me along the base of the ski area, through the Shirley Meadows area (some sporadic cabins dotting the forest) and to a saddle between Shirley Peak and Cooks Peak. This was as short a hike as one can make of Cooks Peak. A use trail runs less than a quarter mile up the steep slope to the summit. There was a proliferation of useless flagging that I removed on the way down - I've never seen so much flagging for so short a distance. A large summit cairn is found in a small clearing at the top, no views to be had aside from a partial one to Shirley Peak to the west. Richard Carey left a register in 2007 that was mostly filled with entries from the KRVHC (Kern River Valley Hiking Club). As peaks go, this one was a bit silly.
Once back at the car, I could have simply hiked the half mile up the hill to the west to Shirley Peak, but that would have been too difficult. I had fully descended to the depths of laziness by this time and was unwilling to put out more effort than necessary. Why hike half a mile when a quarter mile will do? I drove back out to the paved road and then around to the west and south side of Shirley Peak. A high clearance vehicle could have easily gone to the top, but I stopped at a clearing less than a quarter mile from the top where the road got rougher. It took three harrowing minutes to hike up the road. I was spent.
Shirley Peak is the highpoint of the ski area. A chairlift is found here along with a small array of communication towers. Not much in the way of views, and though I looked around the likely hiding spots, I found no register. This was an even sillier summit than Cooks. I took the more direct route through the trees back to the car, arriving eight minutes after I'd left. This was close to a new low, even for me. Turns out there was another peak in the area I didn't know about, Unal Peak, that even has a trail leading to if from Greenhorn Summit, but that would have to wait for another visit - maybe a quick drive-by on my way over SR155. It was only 1:15p, but time to be heading home. I took a quick rinse where I'd parked for Shirley Peak, then started off home down SR155. It was my first time down this long, winding road, but I enjoyed it very much as a scenic alternative through the Southern Sierra. So ended what seemed a very quick three days in the Sierra...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tobias Peak - Bull Run Peak - Peel Peak - Portuguese Peak - Cooks Peak - Shirley Peak
This page last updated: Sun Feb 10 10:50:42 2013
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