Olancha Peak

It was early in the season, but we were looking for somewhere in the Sierras where we could get some altitude in. Virtually everywhere above 8000 feet was socked in with snow, but surprisingly, despite the big snow year, Olancha Peak in the Southern Sierras was free of snow. We had been eyeing it from various nearby peaks for a few years and now seemed like a good time to climb it.

The day before, we headed over Sonora Pass which had just recently opened up.

Sonora Pass
Sonora Pass

We got into our motel in Lone Pine in the mid-evening and went to sleep early.

Alpenglow from our motel in Lone Pine
Alpenglow from our motel in Lone Pine

The next morning we left right after breakfast and drove out to the trailhead at Sage Flats.

Getting ready to go

By 7am, we were on the trail. Since the trailhead was on the edge of the Owens Valley, it was quite hot when we started out. After many of our recent hikes, we were thankful to be on a trail. It was not in the best shape, but for us, it was just fine. After only a few minutes, we entered the South Sierra wilderness.

South Sierra Wilderness

The trail stayed in the creek bed for the first few miles on the side of the hillside under a canopy of bushes where the heat got trapped inside. In addition, the trail was rocky and a little loose. This coupled with our heavy packs made this first section a little tedious. We pushed through this first section and soon came to an interesting sign.

Apparently, we had been hiking up a cattle driveway thus far. We reasoned that the ground had been torn up by the multitude of cattle that the ranchers must drive up to the alpine meadows high above. One would think that the ranchers could find easier access to a meadow as opposed to driving hundreds of cattle 4000 feet up into the high sierra, but I digress. Anyways, once we split off from the cattle driveway, the trail became more pleasant. It certainly helped that it also began to climb up the sides of the ridge now which enabled us to get out of the heat of the Owen’s Valley.

Nicely built switchbacks

As we made it onto the ridge, we were treated to views of Olancha pass which we had to eclipse. In the photo below, its that notch between the two bumps.

We have to go up there!

We put our heads down and continued to motor up the hill towards the pass.

Crags along the way

The higher we got, the more enjoyable the climb became and soon enough, we reached the pass. It had taken us 2.5 hours to go 5 miles and 3500 vertical feet to the 9200 foot pass. We were both feeling very strong and were proud of this time considering our lack of acclimatization.

The sign says Haiwee Pass, but this is definitely Olancha Pass

From the pass, we had a nice couple mile walk along Summit Meadow.

Summit Meadow

We passed by a wrangler’s camp used by the cattle drivers and took our first rest.

Wrangler’s Camp

A few minutes later we reached a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Naturally, we headed north on it, but the trail seemed quite vague and we had trouble with routefinding. This was uncharacteristic of the PCT which has hundreds if not thousands of hikers each year even in the remote areas.

PCT?

Not 10 minutes up this trail, we came to another junction with signs marking another trail as the PCT. This new one seemed much more official and the trail was very well-defined.

Will the real PCT please stand up?

In classic PCT fashion, it took all of about 30 seconds before we ran into some thru-hikers. They were a nice couple from Germany who were heading to Canada. It felt very satisfying as we passed them and continued to gain more and more ground on them as we headed up the trail. The trail began to snake it’s way up some pleasant alpine meadows while crossing several rushing creeks.

Heading up the meadows

As we rounded a bend in the trail, we spotted a large, black moving blob a couple hundred feet away. It took a few seconds to register, but it was a bear!

We were tired of lugging our overnight gear all the way up here, so we decided to camp at the first spot we saw. Eventually, we came upon a nice one just alongside the trail at 9800 feet and threw down our stuff. It felt good to get our heavy packs off our backs.

Campsite

We consolidated the necessary stuff for our summit push into a daypack and then took a short rest. While eating a few bars on a nearby rock, 6 or 7 more thru-hikers passed us. 4 of these people were completely naked. It was a little awkward as they passed and we only said quick hello’s to them compared to a few lengthy conversations with the fully-clothed hikers. Most of the thru-hikers seemed to be holding up very well and most everybody we met was in good spirits. Soon enough, we resumed our upward assault of the trail.

Looking west from our campsite

Higher up, ran into our first patches of snow, but nothing presented too much of a challenge for trail-runners and hiking poles.

Snow patches

We also got our first views of the summit which appeared quite close by, but also very high above us.

Olancha Peak

Having come up from sea level the day before and only sleeping at 4,000 feet, I was feeling the elevation. We traversed about three miles at 10,000 feet and I felt the worst that I did all trip. I trudged through this section with a headache and sluggish legs, but soon enough, we reached our turnoff for the peak. Surprisingly, it had taken us an hour to cover this distance meaning we had been hiking at 3mph which is a good pace. At this point, we were only a half mile from the peak, but it was still 1600 feet above us. The only way to the summit was straight up so that’s where we headed.

Heading up to the peak.

Almost as soon as we began this near-vertical push, all my energy came back and I once again felt very strong on this section. It was the first time we didn’t have a trail during the trip, so it was fun to once again have to pick my own route. It didn’t take long for the pine and low scrub to turn into large chunks of granite and snow.

Snow and Rock

Surprisingly, the talus was quite solid and it made for good climbing. I made time on Scott during this section, but I always looked down to make sure he was still in my sight. The snow was very patchy and didn’t hinder us at all.

Heading up

As I neared the top, I spotted someone coming down, so I increased my pace in an effort to catch up to him before he veered off onto another route down the talus. It’s always fun to meet people on these remote peaks. Unfortunately, I never could find him again during my upward scramble. Near the top, the climbing got a little steeper and I picked out a fun class 3 route to the top although the peak can easily be kept to class 2. Finally, 8 hours after we started out, I stood on top of Olancha Peak.

Scott and I on top
To the east was the Owen’s Valley and various desert ranges including the Panamints and the Inyos
To the north was the Whitney region along with Cirque Peak, Mt. Langley, Mt. Russel, and Lone Pine Peak
Owen’s Peak (which we climbed 2 weeks ago) was visible far to the South
To the west was the Kaweah Range (right side of pic)
On top!

We spent awhile up top admiring the views in the perfect weather. Several PCTers had signed the register earlier that day and the man I had seen coming down signed in as Badass James. This also marked the most altitude we have ever gained in a day. From the trailhead at Sage Flats (5,800 feet) to the top (12,123) we had gained a total of 6,500 with a couple up and downs thrown in the mix. We were both happy with how we had held up. Our previous “record” was 5,500 feet of total elevation gain (lotsss of up and down) at sea-level in the Bay Area. After half an hour, we headed back down the same way we came up.

View back down to the PCT

We retraced our steps back down to our campsite. Along the way, we passed about 20 other thru-hikers. One of them informed us that today was the summer solstice which was apparently PCT nude hiking day. Lucky us….! Thankfully, the sun had gone behind the clouds and the evening had crept onto the mountain. The resulting cold scared away any other Birthday Suit-ers.

Back at camp, we finished setting up our tent and had dinner. The mosquito had a better dinner than us that night as we both got bit up pretty bad.

Camp life

We dozed off around 8pm and had a nice long sleep until 7am the next day. The sun woke us up and we quickly packed up and headed down.

Heading down…

The rocky trail down from the pass was a little tedious, but we all made it back in one piece.

Rocky trail

Over the two days, we totaled 7000 feet of elevation gain/loss and 23 miles. This is definitely doable as a dayhike (we even had time for it, but decided to stay the night “cause we could”), but if you have the time, I’d recommend staying the night to full appreciate the area.

Big Basin Mountain – Trees on the ground and in the sky!

In preparation for a bikepacking trip out to Henry Coe SP next weekend, we came to Big Basin to do a little shakedown of our bikes. Bikes are only allowed on double-track trails in Big Basin so we stuck to fireroads for the day. There was the usual crowds at Big Basin, but we were able to find parking close to Gazos Creek Road.

Only some 30 minutes in to our ride, we came across the first of several downed trees we would encounter on the ride. They obviously had not maintained the road since the winter rains.

Sean crossing the log

We had only gone some 2 minutes down the trail before we ran into another, bigger tree. We had to crawl through a crack in this one to get by.

The Larger Tree

We continued down Gazos Creek Road through some smaller downed tress, and finally made it to Johansen Road. We were really enjoying the coastal redwoods and accompanying vegetation, but we were treated to a special surprise here. Karl (geocaching: Alpharoaming) had told us about this secluded and elaborate treehouse and boxcar somewhere back in this part of Big Basin, but we had no idea it was here. We were treated to views of a large and tall treehouse that somebody was living in along with 3 boxcars from 1973. Super cool!

See the treehouse in the top middle?

Boxcar and treehouse

Another view of the treehouse

We continued along Johannsen road for several more miles until we hit Middle Ridge Fire Road.

Sean on top of a stump

We didn’t take any photos on Middle Ridge trail since it was a a super fast, but fun descent on our bikes. We did stop off at Ocean View Summit to “bag” it for peakbagger.

All in all, it was 13 miles and 2000 feet of climbing in a leisurely 3.5 hours. Definitely recommended for a short afternoon outing!

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Little Blue Ridge – Yolo County Highpoint

This peak has been on our radar for about a year now – ever since we got into peakbagging. It was always in the back of our mind, but David and Lisa’s report made this shoot to the top of our list, so we had a chance to summit before the bush totally grew back. Sean doen’t mind a good bushwack every now and then, but he seems to deathly allergic to poison oak. He has had 5 or so cases of eyes swollen shut and the kind only fixed by oral steroids along with countless other more minor cases. In the past year, we have gotten much more careful and he hasn’t had a spot of PO, but the memory of those terrible cases has left some psychological scars. However, we figured it was either now when the brush wasn’t too bad or later when it was insane as CA CoHPs are an important list for us.

We drove up 3/10 as the peak is a lengthy 3 hour drive from our house. We were hoping to get in Mt. Konocti on 3/10, but we left too late and had to settle with just a pretty drive. We stayed at the America’s Best Value Inn in Lower Lake and I would highly recommend it. On 3/11, we drove to the trailhead. It had rained consistently the past week and the road had only had about one day to dry out. This made the drive a little interesting, but the 4WD on the 4runner got us there safely. We quickly packed up and headed out.

Mud-Covered 4runner at the trailhead

The beginning was fairly simple as we followed the old road/firebreak.

Hiking along the old firebreak

At about a 0.9 miles in, we saw a fresh motorcycle track coming in from the firebreak to the southwest. It had to have been the previous day since it was fresh since the rains. Surprisingly, we would never stray from this track until we had finished the bushwack. At about 1.2 miles in, there was PO across the road for about 20 feet and the old road narrowed into a singletrack trail for a few hundred feet. With a bit a sidestepping, this was easy to avoid as the PO hadn’t leafed out yet, but it might be more tricky once it does. However, a few small snips with some loppers would be all thats needed to get rid of these several strands. Past this, the road widened once again and we were continually amazed at the skill of the motorcyclist as they had managed to naviagte several nasty washouts and deep puddles of water that had us hopping back and forth to avoid.

We soon crossed a small creek and headed up the start of the bushwack. So far, we had been impressed with the motorcyclist, but we were pleasantly surprised and thankful that they had rode through the bushwack section as well. They seemed to follow the flagged track as we saw several faded pink flags on our route. There was hardly any poison oak in the bushwack and with the help of the motorcycle track, we had little trouble with this section. If future climbers could bring some loppers or equivalent, it might be possible to catch this section before it grows all the way back and turn it into a good use trail!

Typical terrain in the bushwack – you can see the motorcycle track in the middle of the photo

At the end of this section, we caught a firebreak heading west and we followed this before making a beeline across a usually pleasant grassy field to reach the ranch road. Due to recent rains, we ended up wading knee deep to pass through this impromptu lake.

Crossing the mini-lake on the way back

The ranch road looked to be used somewhat frequently until we reached a gate about 3 miles in.

Hiking along the ranch road

This gate looked very new and didn’t have any locks on it, just a chain looped around holding it shut. On the other side of this gate, the road was still very easy to follow, but it was definitely not used by vehicles and our worries of being caught greatly decreased.

The New Gate

We followed this road for another 1.5 miles or so taking care to avoid the random PO shoots sprouting in the middle of the road.  Along the way, we had a great view of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.

Lassen on the far right and Shasta in the middle left

We finally reached the final saddle where the firebreak heads right up the summit. Sounds easy right? No. There was an enormous amount of downfall and within all of this there was a lot of PO – the most we had seen all day.

So this is the “trail”?

More of the great “trail”

We considered turning around, but we figured this was the easiest this hike would ever be and we better finish it out. We persevered and finally summitted.

Summit Cairn

We didn’t take much time up top other than to sign the register left by David and Lisa and take some photos.

Made it!

Views to unkown (to us) terrain

Snow Mountain (maybe, not sure) from the top

 

Once we returned back the below the downfall, we Tecnu-ed all over and set out for the car. We were feeling a little better by this point thanks to the Tecnu we had applied. On the way back, we stopped at the “famous” white couch.

A grand view of the route to Little Blue Ridge

We finally got back to the car after a little over 5 hours on the “trail”. From here, our new PO Prevention process commenced. Gloves and plastic bags were used in excess and Fast Orange motor oil was readily applied. Finally, we drove back down on the now completely dried out road and back home.

And good news: As of writing this on 3/15, Sean doesn’t have a single spot of poison oak. Maybe he has immunity,*wait*…that’s a scary idea he probably should NOT test out! ūüėČ

Sunol Ridge – Alameda County Prominence Peak

In perusing the maps, we realized that we had missed an easy P1K near our house. We headed out early one morning to rectify this situation. The peak is owned by American Tower Corporation and is not technically open to the public, so we hoped the fog and heavy rain the past few days would help us stay undercover.

We found a parking spot just down the road from the classic Palomares Road entrance.

Parking Spot

After a short but semi-unsafe road walk, we arrived at a gate which we hopped and began our hike.

Entrance

The whole hike turned out to be a road walk. We were correct in assuming no cars would go up the road in this weather since there was running water and heavy mud on much of the road. After a short walk in the canyon, the road began to steeply switchback up the hill.

Typical Road Hike

Selfie in the mirror

Soon, we crested the ridge where we walked for awhile to the top.

Foggy morning

Since we couldn’t see the top, we always assumed it was around the next corner so this ridge walk turned out to be a lot longer than we though it would be. Finally, we made it to the top. With the heavy fog, we could only tell it was the top because of the towers on top.

Towers up top

Selfie on the highest ground

Even with the fog, we didn’t want to linger too long on top so we headed back down. It cleared up for a bit and we got some nice views.

Break in the clouds

 

A quick, but rewarding hike that I’m sure has some great views. 4.5 miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain in 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down.

Mt Patterson and Bodie Ghost Town

Mt Patterson, at 11,663 ft is the second highest drivable point in California, located in the Sweetwater Mountains straddling California and Nevada, just north east of Tioga Pass and Yosemite in the Sierras.

At the summit is a rare 4.5/5 geocache that would fill the last spot to complete our Fizzy grid challenge.  What a way to finish this challenge that to grab this cache!

We’d been planning this drive to the top for months. ¬†It required getting work time off, planning a route for the ascent, good weather, and most of all…getting a 4 wheel drive to get us to the top! ¬† Around July, 2017 the pieces started to fall in to place. ¬†We were going to be on vacation in early August in Truckee. ¬†We decided on the best route. ¬†And a big decision was made to purchase a new 4Runner TRD Off Road Premium!!! ¬† This car was perfect for Patterson and all our adventures to come.

On Sunday, August 6th, 2017 we left the Truckee cabin at 6am and drove down highway 395 towards Bridgeport.

Sunrise on highway 395 heading south to Mt Patterson

 

About 20 miles after the town of Walker, at about 7:30am, we turned off the highway at Burcham Flat Road and hit the beginning of the off road adventure.  We got to Lobdell Lake about 9am.  After that the road becomes very rough and the true ascent begins.  One factor we had to consider was that thunder clouds would form after noon so we had to get off the mountain before any possible lightening strikes.

Our first challenge was a known creek that sometimes is impassible. ¬†Given it had just rained a few days ago, we were a bit worried that it could be too full. ¬†Sean had read a tip about walking in the creek to judge the height…which he happily did.

How deep is the creek?

 

Scott being a newbie 4 wheeler with a newbie 4 wheel drive was quite nervous to cross this creek. ¬†Here’s a video of the crossing. ¬†Noticed the hesitation and even the backing up to position the car’s approach…on the left side of the road where the rocks were most firm.

 

Once past the creek we came across a sign for Mt. Patterson, almost like a trailhead. It looked quite inviting, almost like the road improved from here on out, but no, it definitely did not improve.

As we went up, the road got progressively worse, with steep hillsides and mud. As descended into the last valley before the final climb up, the road turned into a stream with the recent rain and we got some new styling on our from all the bushes encroaching on the road. We didn’t take many pictures here as we were concentrated on the drive, but just know: don’t try this road in a full size car like we did. Park at Lobdell Lake and just hike from there; it would actually be a very nice hike to the top, albeit on a road. Maybe if you had an atv this would be better suited for you, but even then, i’m not sure.

Standing in one of the washouts that we tried to repair

 

Finally, after about an hour and a half of nail-biting driving, we reached the top of the mountain. This was a huge accomplishment because it had been a long time coming, and the road had been much harder than we had anticipated.

On top!

 

We took some photos and found the geocache. From up here, we could see over into the Sierras and way out into the Nevada backcountry. Due to the incoming storm, we had to get off the top pretty quick. The drive down was mostly uneventful as we knew what to expect. We did discover one new thing though; just after the last few switchbacks there is a road leading down the hillside that we decided to explore. It led to a super cool rock cabin! Don’t know how old the thing is, but it was probably for some kind of mine.

The rock cabin

 

Once back at Lobdell Lake, we could relax, knowing rest of the road out was easy.

The car with Patterson somewhere back there.

 

While on Burcham Flat Road, we got heavy rain and saw lightning on top. Good thing we got out of there when we did!

With some extra time before sunset, we decided to visit Bodie Ghost Town State Park about an hour or so south on 395. At the turnoff, there are signs warning people about the road quality, which is a nicely graded dirt road. Wish the people maintaining this road can do the one to Patterson… The actual ghost town was quite well preserved (although it is a State Park) and we had fun walking around for about an hour.

The closed off mine

 

Bodie!

 

At about 6:00, we started the long drive home, taking an alternate route that dipped through Nevada on Sweetwater Road. We got to see the backside approach to Patterson up to Belfort which we hope to take next summer. Overall, it had been a great day outing and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting Patterson and Bodie!

Buzzard’s Roost Hike

Our route to Buzzards Roost. The red line was us going out to Buzzards Roost and the Blue Line was us coming back.

 

The main goal of this hike was to get a geocache on Buzzard’s Roost.  We’d been eyeing this cache for over a year.  It had never been found.  It was on a remote peak that was little visited.   That morning mom dropped Sean and Scott off at the Lower Lola Montez Lake trailhead at 7:30am.   It was very cold but sunny and also happened to be our wedding anniversary!

At the trailhead, just off highway 80 on the north side, across from Sugar Bowl. We’re pointing to Buzzard’s Roost.

We started off at a quick pace and that led Scott to mistakenly estimate that we’d finish the hike by 11am.  Hmmm.  That was 6 hours off.  We didn’t get back until 5:30pm.

Happily hiking along the trail all bundled up in 35 degree weather.

The trail was a mixture of single track and fire roads.  The fire roads pass several very remote cabins.  One was very fancy with an automatic gate and grand entrance.

The most remote cabin had a funny design on the tree.

 

After about 5 miles from the start, we arrived at Lower Lola Montez lake.

Sean standing out on the big rock at Lower Lola Montez

 

We rested for a bit and then went to find a geocache.

Looking toward Sugar Bowl

 

Looking east to Castle Peak. Sean and I climbed this a couple years back.

 

Looking down at Lower Lola and north towards Buzzard’s Roost

 

From here you’d think we were on the summit but we still had a long way and lots of adventure to go.  As we headed from back from this small rocky outcropping next to the lake two hunters walked by.  They were the only other hikers we saw for the morning.

From the lake we headed up the “Hole in the Ground” trail expecting to soon see a junction with a small trail heading north west up the canyon.  This is where the adventure really started.  The trail we were seeking was on both the DeLorme and OSM maps – both credible sources.  We never found the junction.  So, we decided to bushwack our way up the canyon.  We were so grateful to have our Garmin GPS to guide us in the general direction.  After a while of wading through thick heather, we had to cross the creek in the small canyon to continue any further.  This required crawling on all fours through thick bushes over the rocky creek.  Somehow we made it across.  Going up the other side what do we see but a wonderful sight!  A poor excuse for a trail, but it had switchbacks and gave us great peace of mind that this was in fact the original trail on the map.  We were so happy!   The trail led us to the top of the canyon and onto big wide 4WD roads.  It was up here that we first came across some snow – left over from the first snowfall of the season.

Snow!

From here on we were on and off 4WD roads until we got about .2 miles from the Buzzard’s Roost summit.  There was no trail the last .2 miles, just scrambling straight up the steep rocky slope.  In this general area was the prize we’d been seeking all along.  The Buzzard Roost Pi geocache.  It had never been found despite being placed 1 1/2 years ago.  It a puzzle geocache (you have to solve the puzzle online to determine the coordinates to the cache).

We found it!

This photo of geocache location is the exact same location and angle (minus our mugs) as the black and white cover of the Yuba Trails volume 1, published in 1985.

From here we made our way to the summit.  Frankly, the summit is not very dramatic itself, but still provides wonderful 360 views of the high Sierras.

Buzzard’s Roost peak

From highway 80 the peak looks to be covered in brown dirt but it is actually dead Mule’s Ear plant – visible in the photo.

We ate lunch on top.  Sean brought his healthy pre-made salad expecting to find a fork inside.  Oops!  No fork.  We ended up using the plier on Scott’s Leatherman knife.  Yuk!  But it worked.

Pliers and salad

From the top we then headed back down along pretty much the same route to the top of that darned canyon.  We wanted to mark this old litte used trail that we were so ecstatic to find so we placed a new geocache.  Here’s the link to it:  https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC6X9RQ_between-lola-and-buzzard  At the time of this writing nobody has found it yet.  OK…it is pretty remote and on a tiny trail.  But still, you should find it!!!

Came upon this Bearing Tree while going back to the top of the canyon

 

We bushwacked our way from the top of the canyon over to Upper Lola Montez lake.  The lake is not as accessible as Lower and more remote with no formal trail to it.  At this point some other caching friends from the Bay Area called us for a Lifeline on an urban cache in San Jose.  It was so strange to get a phone call way up here on the cliffs by the lake.

Refilling water at Upper Lola Montez

As we headed back down to the lower lake there were many many ducks (cairns) to guide the way.

If you look carefully, there are 7 ducks in this photo.

We saw on family of backpackers at the lower lake.  From there we made our way back to the trailhead.  We had a great welcoming by Alexander and Katie who walked out on the trail to greet us.

Our stats from the GPS for the day

 

Overall this a super fun trip filled with lots of adventure and reward for finding the Buzzard Roost cache.