Sat, Apr 5, 2014
Burra Burra Peak
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Burra Burra Peak previously climbed Fri, Apr 13, 2001|
It took about 20 minutes to drive the road to the Dowdy Visitor Center where I arrived at the not-so-early time of 10a. Mine was the only vehicle besides the orange Element belonging to the volunteer working inside. He hadn't yet figured out how to turn on the electricity, so we used the old envelope method to collect my $8 and ten minutes later I was on my way. The Visitor Center is fairly new and in fine shape. Outside there are shaded picnic tables, tent sites and flush toilets, all overlooking the Pacheco Creek drainage to the north. But it was a glorious day to be out for a hike, not sitting at a picnic table.
The well-graded Kaiser-Aetna Rd continues past the Visitor Center, but gated such that only staff and those with inholdings could drive further north. I hiked down the road for several miles to Pacheco Creek with both Walsh and Tie Down Peaks prominent to the north, one on either side of the road. Walsh Peak was my first stop and the route I planned to follow was along an old jeep road shown on the USGS topo but no longer on the park map. I really should have known better. The Pine Ridge Association is a volunteer organization closely tied to the park. They have been producing the park map for years and it is really good. If a trail is NOT shown on the map, it often doesn't exist, or at least in a usable state. And so I came to find out. I had marked the old route in my GPS and left the main road in search of it. I found green hills, an old fenceline, pretty flowers, a horned lizard in the underbrush, but little in the way of the old road. Remnants of it did exist and following it worked better than the raw brush I was contending with before stumbling upon it, but overall it wasn't worth the effort. As it turns out there was a much easier way to approach the summit from the north that I found later. The old road, looking more like an old firebreak as it gains the ridgeline, bypasses the summit to the north, requiring a short, but not-so-bad bit of bushwhacking to reach the highpoint. Poison oak is the bigger obstacle and I spent more time in avoiding it than than in fighting the brush. The summit block is partially surrounded by the stuff and took some high stepping to get over. From the Visitor Center, it took just under two hours to find my way to the sunny highpoint of Walsh Peak.
A summit register found here dated to 1993, but most of the five pages were hard to read. The pages showed scars from the 2007 Lick Fire that had consumed a large portion of the park. The last entry was from 2008 when getting to the summit was far easier immediately following the fire. After a short break sitting on the summit block surrounded by poison oak, I returned north to the old road and then decided to continue along it in that direction. I found an easy-to follow section followed by grassy hills that I could use to return to the main road in a much easier fashion. There was still plenty of poison oak to contend with, but overall it was a much better route.
I crossed the Kaiser-Aetna Rd near its highpoint at a saddle on the Stanislaus/Santa Clara County boundary, climbing an easy grass slope on the east side up to a ridge where I found the flagged route marking the Tie Down Trail. This turned out to be the most pleasant part of the day, a very picturesque hike along the ridgeline separating the Coon and Pachecho Creek drainages. A few miles to the SE were the unnamed Peak 1,679ft and Tie Down Peak which I planned to visit. Along the way were fine views and plently of wildflowers. The oaks that dotted the ridge provided some shade from a bright sun, adding tremendously to the charm of this trail. I turned left at a junction off the Tie Down Trail and shortly reached another junction where the Yellowjacket meets the Dutch's Trail. There's no official trail to Peak 1,679ft about 0.7mi SE of this junction, but there are remnants of an old road that can help. The road is shown on the 7.5' topo, but I had some trouble finding it, resulting in some unnecessary bushwhacking (I should have started up further east where the road is indicated on the map), but eventually I came upon it and used it to reach to the summit shortly before 2p. The summit had no register and so-so views, trees blocking those towards the north. One could follow the old road down the southeast side to Pacheco Creek where the route is better defined. I would have done this, but I still wanted to visit Tie Down Peak so I retraced my route back north to the Yellowjacket Trail.
Tie Down Peak is the most interesting of the four summits I visited. It has a distinctive, rocky South Face that turns out to be the easiest approach as well. Not knowing this ahead of time, I approached from the northeast and north where I expected a more gentle gradient. What I hadn't accounted for was the profusion of poison oak found on the north side requiring great care to avoid. I made my way through this and a tangle of vines in the oak forest understory to eventually reach the summit by 2:30p. An ammo box contained a geocache that had been placed in 2012 with a handful of entries since then. After a few minutes I started down the SW side which I had at first thought would be too cliffy. This turned out to be steep class 2, but pretty much brush-free. After the initial descent on the loose rocky face, it became an easy grass slope descent all the way back to the Kaiser-Aetna Rd, the whole descent taking about 12 minutes. Surely this was the fastest route to and from the summit.
I hiked back up the main road from Pacheco Creek, passing a couple with a toddler in a ruggedized stroller. They were the only folks I had seen all day except at the Visitor Center. As I had plenty of time left in the day, I decided to pay a visit to Burra Burra Peak located SW of the Visitor Center even though I had visited it before. On that trip, I had approached from the Coyote Creek entrance where it made for a long day back in 2001. To keep it interesting, and not really learning the lesson from Tie Down, I decided to approach from the north via a cross-country route that while interesting, was fraught with bad stuff like more poison oak, some awful bushwhacking and a tick that would find its way into my ankle. Though enclosed in plastic inside a PVC tube, the register inside was completely soaked, mostly unreadable and wholely unsignable. It was a much too popular peak for a register anyway and I put it back where I'd found it, unimpressed. The regular approach from the SE has a nice use trail leading up from the Burra Burra Trail and I used this to return to the Visitor Center shortly after 4p. It was here that I discovered the tick and took a few minutes to remove it. It was a particularly uncooperative one, coming apart in several pieces. Ugh. I hate these things.
I had hoped to make a last visit to Lake Mountain found just off the entrance road during the drive in. The problem here is twofold - firstly, it lies on private property and secondly, it is illegal to stop anywhere on the road between SR152 and the Visitor Center. Since the whole hike would take something like 15-20 minutes, I didn't think this would be a problem, until I saw the ranger drive up to the Visitor Center as I was about to leave. Without any good idea how long he might be staying around before driving back out, I decided to leave it for another day. I've had enough citations for the year already...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Burra Burra Peak
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