06 May 2017

Owens Peak

Owens Peak Wilderness, BLM

Link to map.

The scheduled Hundred Peaks Section hike was hitting in a sweet spot weather wise between far too hot the day before and a storm rolling in the day after and I was wanting to get a bit further afield than I have been getting recently, so I signed up. It does tend to mean a far too early meeting in a remote parking lot after already driving nearly two hours and then another few hours to get to the trailhead. The road up cannot be too bad as the Subaru made it. Watching it get there, often with a wheel floating a foot in the air, was certainly entertaining. A large rock leaving nearly enough road to get around right at the end seemed the most difficult obstacle, but was only a problem for the vehicle with the longest wheel base. It does not seem like a very early start as we collect at the marked trailhead.

Indian Wells Canyon
Looking back down the road up Indian Wells Canyon. Plenty of desert out there, but we are already up in the pinon pines.

The trail is really the old road blocked off where it hits the wilderness. It contours around, then drops down near a creek and continues up for a while before abruptly ending, or at least it did in 1952 when the surveyors put a benchmark at the top of the peak. They called it a four hour pack, but we have further to go and will be taking our time. There is one spur off to the left that goes a short distance to an old mine. Fire came through here some years back and there are a few trees across the trail. Otherwise, travel is pretty easy.

thin water sheet over a granite boulder
A little waterfall is found on along a stream just below the old road.

Now the old road vanishes shortly before it gets down into the creek. The remaining bit of trail vanishes under a tangle of fallen branches soon after and there is nothing but a use trail for the remainder of the trip. The use trail is getting rather distinct. For now, there is water in part of the creek and we slip a bit through one muddy spot. Mostly the area is rocky rather than muddy and we make our way along the middle twisting our way up the sides when obstacles appear.

goose berry
The mud comes with ripening goose berries.

big rock in the route causes a detour
Getting very rocky indeed and we twist to the left.

Gradually, it gets steeper. A thin, ducked trail heads off to the left in a small meadow, but we keep right. The other route might go up to the Pacific Crest Trail for access to Mount Jenkins. The creek bed seems to fizzle out as things gradually get even steeper. It does not look possible there was a road through by the time we get around the area the surveyors might have parked.

steeper and rockier
A lot more effort required as the slope increases, but still little enough slope that the dirt stays under out feet.

old yucca blooms on the rocky mountain side
More to climb and just working through whatever is in front of us.

The distinct line of the PCT carves a route along the slopes of Mount Jenkins to the south. It finds a saddle between, then vanishes to the other side. We slowly climb above its level onto a section of boulders, then a section of slabs. These slabs are particularly slow. Much of the rock is smooth enough to slide along, but there are spots of good texture for grip to encourage the casual climber to try the next step with insufficient testing. The biggest problem is the loose gravel and rocks over it all ready to come down on all below at the slightest touch. In some spots, even just slightly shifting weight sends a shower of pebbles down on the unlucky.

cut of the Pacific Crest Trail on the next mountain
The cut of the PCT on the side of Mount Jenkins looks like a road today.

steep rocks on the way out of the valley
Getting higher means more view.

steep and slick granite slope
Variously slick or sticky and covered in loose stuff, the slabs take some care.

We lose a couple hikers to the nuisance of the slabs. They are worried about how difficult it will be to get back down and decide they have come far enough. With one turning back early not feeling well, the group today seems to have a rather high attrition rate. The rest of us are greeted with easier terrain as we continue toward the peak.

Five Fingers and a granite ridge
The granite ridge line that dominated our north for the first hour and more is now below us snaking its way to Five Fingers far below.

Owens Peak almost
A burst of red from a paintbrush as we are almost to the top.

North and west and some south opens up upon hitting the top. There are a lot of clouds obscuring the very highest reaches to the north. We expected a bit of wind, but it is really quite pleasant. The summit register is passed around among the twelve that made it as we take on the important task of looking around.

into the Sierras
Looking north into the mighty Sierras. Perhaps one of those snowy things is Kern Peak? One far one looks about right.

flat valley below
The west contains an unexpected collection of farms and ranches.

Clouds keep moving in, especially in the north. A cloud moving over the top of us is making us especially cold. We get a little time at the top before deciding it is cold after all and turning back to face the slabs once again.

careful down the slopes of rock
Tiptoeing carefully down the randomly slippery slabs of granite.

Facing the slabs is a bit difficult. So many rocks are coming down in one section, we decide we can only do it one at a time. The rest of the hill sure seems a lot longer and steeper than it was coming up. I do take some time to stop for the flowers on the way down. It is still spring.

giant yucca just starting to flower
Most are just starting to send up their flower stalks, but one yucca is starting to bloom.

tiny flowers on a giant yucca
Most the flowers are closed up tight, but a few are open. The yucca is giant compared to the familiar form, but the flowers are tiny.

Eventually that steep slope lets up and we are back in the creek winding our way around downed trees and boulders. The light is quite exquisite as we get back into the open valley.

granite dome above grass and sage hillside
Back below the granite ridge line with its occasional little dome.

stiff yellow flowers
Flannel bushes were blooming near the start.

wide bed with a trail into the wide valley
The return to the wide valley of Indian Wells Canyon.

The return is marred somewhat as I notice the absurd notes of a car alarm and marred a bit more once at the cars and becoming aware of the unfolding saga of the disabling car alarm. Consulting with the original brochures, various internet sites, both dispatchers and tow truck drivers of the folks AAA called for us, and even one person's step dad who has a similar vehicle and works on it comes up with over half a dozen possible incantations to make the vehicle happy, but somehow the whining just keeps arising anew. It is quite late by the time we return to the problem of getting the long wheel base vehicle around the huge fallen rock. It is not symmetric and turns out to be a somewhat more difficult problem from this side. We end up driving a lot of it out in the dark exactly like we did not want to do. Still, that road cannot be that bad because the Subaru made it back out just fine, too.

©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 8 May 2017

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