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.
We got into our motel in Lone Pine in the mid-evening and went to sleep early.
The next morning we left right after breakfast and drove out to the trailhead at Sage Flats.
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.
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.
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 put our heads down and continued to motor up the hill towards the pass.
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.
From the pass, we had a nice couple mile walk along Summit Meadow.
We passed by a wrangler’s camp used by the cattle drivers and took our first rest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Higher up, ran into our first patches of snow, but nothing presented too much of a challenge for trail-runners and hiking poles.
We also got our first views of the summit which appeared quite close by, but also very high above us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rocky trail down from the pass was a little tedious, but we all made it back in one piece.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We continued along Johannsen road for several more miles until we hit Middle Ridge Fire Road.
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!
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.
The beginning was fairly simple as we followed the old road/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!
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.
The ranch road looked to be used somewhat frequently until we reached a gate about 3 miles in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We didn’t take much time up top other than to sign the register left by David and Lisa and take some photos.
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.
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! 😉
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.
After a short but semi-unsafe road walk, we arrived at a gate which we hopped and began our hike.
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.
Soon, we crested the ridge where we walked for awhile to the top.
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.
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.
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.