2016 Newport Harbor Christmas Light Parade Paddle

December 18th, 2016

The Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade is a Newport Beach tradition that runs for 5 days every December.  Boats decked out in lights and cruise the harbor while people watch from the shore or other boats.

I used to watch from the shore which has the advantage of letting you roam around and see all the houses many of which are decorated to excessive amounts as part of neighborhood competitions.  Then a few years ago we start paddling in Newport Harbor after work.  This became the monthly Pizza Paddle and when December rolled around we decided why not paddle out and watch the parade from the water.

The first year we tried to go Wednesday (the first night) and ended up delaying it until Thursday due to rain.  We had fun and didn't get run over by yachts.

Last year we planned Saturday (giving friends from others areas the chance to join us)  Rain was forecast and we went anyway.  Despite a rough launch and getting out there a bit too early we had fun.

This year we decided to try Sunday the final night of the parade.  And for once there was no rain forecast!

Palo Verde Peak In Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness

December 12, 2016
Palo Verde Peak (1,375')
[Pics] [Map]

We already hit our main objective for the area yesterday when we did Thumb Peak and Paint Mountain / Wiley BM.  Looking around for other interesting peaks in the area Palo Verde Peak stood out as being more prominent than most of the bumps out there.  And as it turned out it's a pretty interesting peak.

Paint Mountain BM, Wiley BM, and Thumb Peak In Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness

December 10th, 2016
Paint Mountain Benchmark (1,328')
Thumb Peak (1,375')
[PicsPaint] [MapPaint] 
[PicsThumb] [MapThumb]

The original plan for this weekend was to lead a trip to climb Little Picacho with a group of AMP staff and students.  A rash of work and illness related cancellations caused me to reschedule that trip and Kristen and I ended up doing some peaks south of Blythe.

That meant the drive was downright reasonable and we were laid out along the side of Wiley's Well Road a bit after midnight.

Newport Harbor Pizza Paddle - December 2016

December 6th, 2016
[Pics] [Map]

Once a month a group of us get together and paddle Newport Harbor after work. We launch from the beach next to the Newport Aquatic Center and paddle over to Pizza Nova in the main harbor in a combination of kayaks and SUPs. There we dock our boats, partake in feast of pizza and beer, and then paddling back to the cars. We do this all year round and in pretty much all conditions. Light, dark, rain, and the dead of SoCal winter where you're tempted to put a sweater on with your flip flops. 

You can find writeups of other pizza paddles here.  For notifications on when we're doing the next one see our facebook group Pizza Paddle Associates.  (Send me a message so I know you're not a spam bot!)

It's dark after work now and december is always hectic for everyone even without the rash of illnesses that seem to be going around so it wasn't a huge shock when we ended up with a small group meeting for the last Pizza Paddle of 2016.

Glow In The Dark Desert Peak Section List Finish #1 On Nelson Range HP (Try #2)

December 3rd, 2016
Nelson Range High Point (7,696')
[Pics] [MapwDrive] [MapCloseup]

This was the final peak I needed of the 99 that make up the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section List.  (Actually there's 96 now since 3 have been delisted since I started)

I hiked my first DPS peak in 2010 and as I got near the end everything I had left was either far away or trivial.  I settled on Nelson Range HP which is an easy peak near Saline Valley which is relatively close as desert peaks go.  And since *one or two* of my adventures have been known to involve headlamps what better way to make it interesting but to do it in the dark!  And why limit it to headlamps?  And thus was born Nelson Range HP (7,696') In The Dark / Matthew Hengst Glow In The Dark DPS List Finish #1 of 2015.  People signed up and it looked to be a huge gathering of friends and a fun weekend.

Which I promptly had to cancel on account of my unanticipated knee surgery.  One year of slow recovery later and it was *finally* time for the Nelson Range HP (7,696') In The Dark / Matthew Hengst Glow In The Dark DPS List Finish #1 (Try #2).

Elsies Nipple, Meadow Hot Springs & The Long Drive Home - Turktacular 2016

November 27th, 2016
Elsies Nipple (8,368')
[Pics] [Map]

This was the last of the 5 day 2016 Turktacular trip and we knew most of it would be spent driving.  We had decided to try Elsies Nipple again and decided to divert slightly on the way home to visit a hot spring famous for having tropical fish in it.

Ferns Nipple From Grand Wash, Capital Reef Utah

November 26th, 2016
Ferns Nipple (7,065')
[Pics] [Map] [MapSat]

This was the 4th day of the 2016 Turktacular and the day we were hitting the main attraction.  When we'd looked up Capital Reef National Park Fern's Nipple and Georges BM had jumped out as things we had to climb while we were out there.  We had grand plans of hitting both today but found the southern part of the scenic road was closed due to recent rain damage limiting our options.  And as it turned out Ferns Nipple was more significant (and more fun!) than advertised so it worked out.

Google Earth view of our GPS track

Studhorse Peak #1, 2, & 3 and Driving Burr Gap to Boulder & Highway 12 Capitol Reef Utah

November 25th, 2016
Studhorse Peak #1 (7,002')
Studhorse Peak #2 (6,970')
Studhorse Peak #3 (6,98'0)
[Pics] [Map]

We picked Studhorse Peaks because of the names and a writeup we found online claiming they were a fun scramble.

Capitol Reef Arrival, Cedar Mesa Campground, Red Canyon, Thanksgiving Dinner - Turktacular 2016

November 24th, 2016

After last nights aborted attempt to camp near Elsies Nipple we'd ended up at the Sunglow Campground above Bicknell sleeping on a thin layer of snow.

Mount Stirling In The Las Vegas Spring Mountains DPS - Turktacular 2016

November 23rd, 2016
Mount Stirling (8,219')
[Pics] [Map]
3.4 miles, 1850 ft gain

Thanksgiving time and once again the plan was to escape civilization and go someplace awesome for the annual Turktacular trip.

Last year at this time I wasn't able to hike at all due to having knee surgery and settled for an overnight at a the always awesome El Dorado Hot Spring near Phoenix.

This year I was doing quite a bit better.  I was back to hiking and climbing and after a busy summer and after a few weekends of quick two day desert trips I was ready to get out for something longer and had a hankering to get back out to Utah.

I was also closing on finishing the Desert Peak Section List.  Of the 99 peaks on the list I'd just finished #97.  #99 would be Nelson Range High Point December 3rd & 4th but first I had one last orphan.  Mount Stirling out near Las Vegas.

I'd been out that way earlier this summer when I did Charleston & Mummy and decided against trying the peak due to the high temperature and low altitude though in hindsight I think I could have managed it as the peak is really short and easy.

Ubehebe Peak & The Grandstand at the Death Valley Racetrack

November 20st, 2016
The Grandstand (3,760')
Ubehebe Peak (5,678')
[Pics] [Map]

We'd come across Hunter Mountain Road from Saline Valley the day before stopping at a few cabins and mines along the way but today was the main attraction with two easy peaks in a really spectacular area.

The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley is located a fair distance away from Furnace Creek and the main Death Valley attractions.  The road to get out there loops north of Tin Mountain and is rather notorious for how bad it is.  The park recommends a 4WD which is a little silly since it's really just the washboarding but it's pretty extreme levels of washboarding.  As long as you go slow and don't mind the occasional piece popping off your vehicle there's no reason to rent one of the expensive Jeep available.  We of course were in the Party Jeep and it was still painful since I was rather attached to all those little bits.

Lost Burro Mine In Death Valley Via Hunter Mountain Road (With A Side Trip To Boxcar and Hunter Mountain Cabin)

November 19th, 2016
[Pics] [Map]

This weekend was an odd mishmash of exploring in the general vicinity of Saline Valley and Death Valley.  I wanted to double check the road would be passable for people coming out for the glow in the dark list finish the following weekend and then we settled on getting into Death Valley a new way and hiking Ubehebe and doing The Racetrack.

So this was more of a travel day than climbing.  See this for the Racetrack day.

Cerro Pinacate Mexican DPS Peak, Campout, and Lava Caves

November 12th & 13th, 2016
Cerro del Pinacate (3,937')
Carnegie Peak (3,707')
4.09 miles 1,900' in via the DPS route + Carnegie 
6.74 miles, 1,289' up and 3865' down out via the road
[Pics] [Map]
[Garmin Mexico Maps By Harlan Stockman]

Cerro Pinacate is one of the 4 Sierra Club Desert Peak Section peaks down in Mexico and one of the final three I needed to complete the list.

Normally it makes sense to combine this peak with a few in southern Arizona.  Ajo, Kino, and Baboquivari kind of naturally combine since they're roughly in the same area.  Except as this point I've done all of those twice (minus Kino which I've only done once) leaving Pinacate a very long distance orphan.

Red arrow points to Pincate

I'd actually attempted this peak before only to be turned back at the park gate for a very vaguely worded "security concern"  Having seen friends be let it before and after that I always wondered what was going on and this time when Jen called to verify we could get in she mentioned we'd been turned back.  Apparently that was the only time they'd ever shut it down and that was because they found some illegal radio towers and had kept out everyone for a season until it was resolved.

So here I was several years later still needing the peak and under the gun to get it before my December list finish.  With Jack Kieffer completely out of vacation days that limited our options for trying to do more than one peak so we settled on making it a party.  Come join us for a 400 mile drive, a campfire and overnight in Mexico, and a 6 mile hike (according to the DPS guide) followed by another 400 -ish mile drive.  We made plans for a festive happy hour and soon had 7 us signed up.

Canyon Point DPS From Cottonwood Canyon

October 6th, 2016
Canyon Point (5,890')
[Pics] [Map] [MapWPanamint]
5 miles, 3100', 3-4 hours (according to the DPS guide)

After climbing Panamint Butte from the west the day before our expectations had been lowered a bit.  Canyon Point seemed a little more promising due to the fact we'd be approaching via a canyon instead of just going up a ridge.

Panamint Butte DPS From Panamint Valley Big Four Mine

November 5th, 2016
Panamint Butte (6,584')
[Pics] [Map] [MapWCanyon]
7.1 miles, 4300', 11 hours

AKA a desert crap heap that really shouldn't be on the list when there's so much better stuff out there.

This and Canyon Point are some of the last few peaks I need to finish the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section List.  I've toyed with doing them a few different ways (there's a 4wd car shuttle loop option is apparently spectacular) but it was finally time to just get them done.  And with AMP just finishing I was ready for a good old fashioned desert car camp.

We decided to do Panamint Butte from the west climbing up from Panamint Valley at the Big Four Mine since the route up from Towne Pass was almost twice the distance and likely a bit much to be biting off at this point in my recovery.

Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) 2016 - Kaweah Group

Past the break is a very long quasi chronological sequence of photos following the 2016 Wilderness Travel Course in Orange County with most being specific to Kaweah Group led by myself and Paul Warren along with a staff of extremely hard working volunteers.

For more information on what WTC is and how to take the course see the official site here.  More posts on WTC by me can be found here.

This was the fifth year since we started Kaweah Group and the students this year were some of the strongest and most active we've ever had.  The best years are the ones where you can feel the group starting to gel early on and this year they were all planning hikes and other get togethers on top of coming along on any trips, paddles, or other activities we threw at them.  It made all the classes and outings a joy to participate in and the post class summer trip season one of our most active.

We also had more snow than last year's abysmal showing which is hopefully a trend which will continue.

Mount Ian Campbell WTC Experience Trip

October 1st & 2nd, 2016
Mount Ian Campbell (10,616')
[Pics] [Map]

Ian Campbell is a relatively minor peak in the Sierra Nevada.  It's not on any of the major peakbagging lists and doesn't appear to be visited all that often but it does feature a reasonable approach, a decently cross country summit climb, a lake to camp at, and on top of all of that it's low enough to allow backcountry fires.  All of this makes it a nice fit for a WTC experience trip.

This was the last of the WTC trips I led during what turned into a rather busy climbing season.  With my knee noticeably improved post knee surgery I managed to lead 17 weekend trips in the period between the Spring and Fall Sierra Club Advanced Mountaineering Program class.  Several of the trips were a little more laid back but this was more than I'd been able to manage for several years and the quantity of trips tied with my all time season record.

It also made for a gloriously hectic few months of running out of town, coming back late, and working my rear end off at my job so I could leave town again a few days later.  And so it was with a mix of relief and disappointment that I reached this weekend and the final trip of the season before Fall AMP started and took up my weekends for the rest of October.

Kaweah Group Climbs Mount Clark In Yosemite WTC Experience Trip

September 24th to 26th, 2016
Mount Clark (11,522')
[Pics] [Map]

I climbed Clark before a few years back and it always stood out at one of the more spectacular climbs in the Yosemite high country.  Which is saying something considering it's Yosemite!

It's not an easy climb requiring a few exposed 3rd / 4th ish class moves near the summit and Sierra Club currently classifies it as an E rated trip.  However they're allowing it to be led by one E rated leader and one M with significant experience.

So after getting Laurent on board I pitched it as an end of season Kaweah reunion trip for those who did other trips with us during the summer and nearly everyone signed up.  Then some canceled and we took a few more.

Peako Baggins WTC Experience Trip To San Jacinto, Tahquitz, Jean, and Marrion

September 10th & 11th, 2016
Tahquitz Peak (8,846')
San Jacinto Peak (10,839')
Jean Peak (10,670')
Marion Mountain (10,362')
[Pics] [Map]

This was originally a WTC Experience Trip planned by Bill Payne and myself but unforeseen circumstances forced him to drop out and Jeff was nice enough to step in at the last minute.  So just a few days after popping out of the frigid Royce and Miriam Sierra trip we were sitting in a much warmer parking lot at Humber Park awaiting our participants for two relatively relaxed -ish days in the San Jacinto Wilderness.

Royce & Merriam Are Too Damn Cold

September 2nd to 4th, 2016
Royce Peak (13,280’)
Merriam Peak (13,103’)
[Pics] [Map]

For the last few years it's become a tradition for a few of us to do a longer harder trip over the Labor Day weekend. It's late enough where we're generally in good backpacking shape and you don't have any of the major issues like snow or mosquitos..

Last year hadn't happened thanks to my knee surgery but I was now back up and running and we decided to head up Pine Creek to climb Royce and Merriam.

WTC Experience Trip To Mount Silliman: Three Laid Back Days In The Sierra

August 26th to 28th, 2016
Mount Silliman (11,188')
[Pics] [Map]

Silliman is one of those peaks that gets led multiple times each summer by various WTC instructors to the point I'm convinced our program is the biggest source of traffic for that peak.  It's popular because it's a relatively easy trip and includes a very scenic camp at Silliman Lake and had enough cross country nav to count as a Sierra Club I provisional.

I'd done it before in 2011 as the traditional two day outing and the entire group lamented how they wished they had more time at the camp.  So when Paul Warren threw out leading it as a relaxed three day I jumped at the chance and it just so happened I had an open weekend between two more difficult trips in August.

Mount Winchell WTC Experience Trip

August 20th to 22nd, 2016
Mount Winchell (13,775’)
[Pics] [Map]

This peak was a repeat for me but considering I had an enthusiastic WTC group hungry for more adventurous trips *and* Kristen had just had her Sierra Club M-Rock rating issued it seemed like a perfect excuse to lead an old favorite.  And I always love any excuse to go camp at Sam Mack Meadow.

Newport Harbor Pizza Paddle - August 2016

About once a month a group of us get together and paddle Newport Harbor after work. We launch from the beach at the Newport Aquatic Center and paddle over to Pizza Nova in the main harbor in a combination of kayaks and SUPs. There we dock our boats, partake in feast of pizza and beer, and then paddling back to the cars. We do this all year round and in pretty much all conditions. Light, dark, rain, and the dead of SoCal winter where you're tempted to put a sweater on with your flip flops. 

You can find writeups of other pizza paddles here.  For notifications on when we're doing the next one see our facebook group Pizza Paddle Associates.

Humphreys Peak (DPS) Arizona State Highpoint

August 7th, 2016
Humphreys Peak (12,633')
[Pics] [Map]

This was the second peak on a long haul DPS road trip to eastern Nevada and northern Arizona to pick up Wheeler and Humphreys.  See the writeup for Wheeler the previous day for how we got here.

I'd been by Humphreys before during a Turktacular but weather prevented us from attempting the summit.  Now that is was summer time it looked to be a pleasant half day hike before we had to haul back home to Orange County.

Wheeler Peak Nevada In Great Basin National Park

August 6th, 2016
Wheeler Peak (13,063')
[Pics] [Map]

I've been close to finishing the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section list for the last few years but only recently got serious about finishing it off.

I have all the hard ones (most done twice over) and most of the ones that require a really long drive.  However there were two that I've been staring at on Peakbagger for a while now due to the distances involved.

One is Wheeler Peak In Nevada.  It's the second highest peak in the state and really should be the state highpoint considering that Boundary (the actual highpoint) puts you just down a ridge from a higher peak right over the border in CA.

The other is the Arizona state highpoint Humphreys Peak just north of Flagstaff.  Easy hike, long drive.

Since the peaks are in the 12,500-13,000 ft range they are a bit easier to do in the summer.  They are also a long haul from Orange County but it seemed logical to try and knock them off together.

It was going to be a long weekend...

Kennedy Mountain via Lewis Creek After the Rough Fire

July 30th & 31st, 2016
Kennedy Mountain (11,433')
[Pics] [Map]

This was originally going to be a rest weekend between big trips but with my post surgery knee doing fairly well I couldn't resist running out of town again.  So on short notice Jen and I decided to head back to Roads End and grab Kennedy Mountain.

We'd been out this way last year and seen an early part of the Rough Fire just starting off in the distance.  Though we were never in danger of the fire reaching us we had an unfortunate amount of smoke blocking the views though Harrington was a fun enough scramble to make up for that.  Then due to two of us coming down sick the last morning we'd skipped Kennedy but consoled ourselves with the fact we'd get to camp at Frypan Meadow again when we came back.  It's a nice enough campsite that was something to look forward to.

Then the area burned during the latter part of the Rough Fire.  We were anxious to see if Frypan was completely gone.

Newport Harbor Pizza Paddle - July 2016

July 27th, 2016
[Pics] [Map]

About once a month a group of us get together and paddle Newport Harbor after work. We launch from the beach at the Newport Aquatic Center and paddle over to Pizza Nova in the main harbor in a combination of kayaks and SUPs. There we dock our boats, partake in feast of pizza and beer, and then paddling back to the cars. We do this all year round and in pretty much all conditions. Light, dark, rain, and the dead of SoCal winter where you're tempted to put a sweater on with your flip flops. 

You can find writeups of other pizza paddles here.  For notifications on when we're doing the next one see our facebook group Pizza Paddle Associates.

San Joaquin & Two Teats From Yost Lake Trail WTC Experience Trip

July 23rd & 24th, 2016
San Joaquin Mountain (11,549')
Two Teats (11,352')
Day 1: 3.1 miles, 1,600' Day 2: 12.2 miles, 3,800'
[Pics] [Map]

So there's a peak in the Sierra called Two Teats.  And like any peak with an entertainly juvenile name (Mollie's Nipple, ManlyWhipple, ect ect) I'm always game.

Two Teats is normally done in conjunction with the SPS peak San Joaquin as a dayhike from Minaret Vista.  From there it's about 6 miles each way and there's a trail.  I've eyed it before when I was in the area but that always seemed a bit on the pedestrian side vs the other options around there.

Then came the day I was looking for a reasonable 2 day backpack involving a peak suitable to be a WTC Experience Trip.  I wanted wilderness, low -ish mileage, preferably camping by a lake, and a peak with a great view.  And as it turns out they made the area behind June Mountain a wilderness area (Owens River Headwaters Wilderness) a few years ago and the trailhead from June Lake is extremely  low utilization making it almost perfect for an experience trip.

So I listed it and after getting the melon themed happy hour and a few descriptive terms thrown out by the lovely and wonderful WTC outings chair it was on.

Charleston Peak & Mummy Mountain DPS Peaks Above Las Vegas

July 16th, 2016
Charleston Peak (11,916')
Mummy Mountain (11,529')
[Pics] [Map]

This was going to be a weekend spent at home catching up after spending the last few running around in the mountains but I couldn't take it.  Two days after getting home from Mineral King and managing some semblance of catching up on sleep I was ready to get out again.

Charleston Peak and Mummy Mountain are two peaks on the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section list located just north of Vegas.  I've eyed them for years and even attempted them once (on New Years 2012 which turned that into just Griffith Peak) but either conditions were not promising or I ended up making other plans.

But now with less than 10 DPS peaks left before Decembers planned Glow In The Dark DPS List Finish #1 they suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.

Mineral King, Timber Gap, Pinto Lake, Peak 10,021' (Originally Mineral Peak) WTC Experience Trip

July 9th & 10th, 2016
Ranger Point (10,021')
[Pics] [Map]

"Come join us for an easy two day backpack to Mineral Peak in Mineral King.  We'll hike in, camp by a lake, do a fun peak with a great view, and be out early."

Sounds great doesn't it?  It was enough to get a full permit of 15 people out with Garry McCoppin and I bright and early Saturday morning in early July.  It unfortunately would not be the trip we'd actually lead since a permit snafu left us with no option but to hike up and over Timber Gap adding an extra thousand feet and quite a few miles.

But hey, as the bumper sticker reads "Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure"  (Not tacked on the end there is "At least in hindsight")

Cherry Lake To Lake Eleanor Loop via Main Jack and Falls Canyon

July 1st to 5th, 2016
Sachse Monument (9,405')
Chittenden Peak (9,685')
[Pics] [Map]

Jen, Kristen, and I originally tried to do this loop for the 2015 Memorial Day Massacre figuring the low altitude made it a good fit for an early season high mileage peakbag.  We were corrected by a combination of a snowstorm and dangerously high water crossings which caused us to turn around during the second day of a planned five.

Having now successfully done the loop I'd strongly recommend not trying it that early and in fact even later than the 4th of July would probably be ideal.

For me this summer the 4th of July weekend was the only real option for doing a 5 day trip so I decided to go for it.  It would be the longest trip by a fair margin that I'd done since knee surgery last November but had a fair amount of wiggle room so we could adjust the trip as needed.

Stats ended up being 75 miles and 11,270 ft gain doing just two of the optional peaks but seeing a lot of really spectacular terrain in an area that a lot of us LA area based folks don't often go to.

Also this trip was notable for having the worse mosquitoes I think I've ever encountered in the Sierra.  And these weren't just your average isolated hoard but lasted for days in numbers that basically just had to be endured.

Waucoba Mountain from the East Along Saline Valley Road

June 26th, 2016
Waucoba Mountain (11,123')
[Pics] [Map]

Waucoba Mountain is a peak in the Whites that I've made plans to climb in the past but never actually did.  It's relatively short, relatively easy, relatively accessible, and all around not very distinct.  The best thing to recommend it is it's a decent shorter day and a good workout that pairs well with doing White Mountain.

After climbing White Mountain the day before this was the last remaining DPS peak I needed in the area so it was time to get it checked off sore knees and hot weather or not.

White Mountain: The California 14er You Could Technically Drive Up

June 25th, 2016
White Mountain Peak (14,2246')
[Pics] [Map]

This was a free weekend between a buttkicker 3 day backpack to Tehipite Dome and a planned 5 day trip near Sonora Pass over the 4th of July.  I was tempted to stay home on account of aching knees but in the end it seemed like a good opportunity to pick up two of the stranglers I had left on the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section list ahead of my planned December glow in the dark list finish.

White Mountain is the highpoint of the Whites and one of 11 peaks above 14,000 ft in California which makes it a popular peak to visit.

It's also the easiest.  While Mount Whitney has a trail all the way to the top White takes it one step further and has a drivable jeep road all the way to the summit.  The only thing preventing this from being the other other DPS drive up other than Navajo Mountain is the gated research station along the way.  This turns it into a 15 mile and 3400 ft of gain round trip stroll.

Tehipite Dome Attempt #3 -ish and Spanish Mountain 2x WTC Experience Trip

June 17th to 19th, 2016
Spanish Mountain (10,051')
Tehipite Dome (7,708')
[Pics] [Map]

Tehipite Dome has become something of a bane of my peak climbing career.  Allegedly 3rd class with spectacular views it's a long drive and long hike so not the sort of peak you really want to have to do more than once.

The first time I tried it in 2012 I came down so sick the second day I could barely get out of my sleeping bag turning our aggressive three day loop backpack into just getting Spanish then hiking out.  Then in 2014 I went back with friends only to run into enough snow we had to abort.  Then a rescheduled attempt in 2015 was aborted before we even left home due to major storms across the Sierra.  Then a potential late season redo was killed due to the area being burned by the Rough Fire.

But it was now 2016 and this time was going to be different!  Jeff Atijera, Laurent Hoffman, and I were back leading a strong group including 5 Kaweah staff and 6 students from this year's WTC class and we came loaded with what we thought was more precautionary gear than we really needed for the 3rd class crux based on the beta we could fine.  And the weather looked spectacular.

This also had the distinction of being the first WTC experience trip of the season and one of the harder ones I was going to lead this year since I was trying to ramp back up gently after having a microfracture done on my right knee in November of 2015.

Mount Mary Austin via Baxter Pass

June 4th & 5th, 2016
Mount Mary Austin (13,051')
[Pics] [Map]

I was up in this area to climb Diamond Peak and Black in 2012 but after a rough first day climbing from the cars at 6k, setting up camp at 10k, and then doing the 13k Diamond via the north chute my fellow carpool riders were completely trashed by the time we made it back down to camp.  Figuring I'd be back here sometime I elected to hike out the next morning with them rather than make them sit around and wait.

I've always intended to go back in the spring for Black (and nearby bonus bump Mary Austin) but dreaded the climb up Baxter due to the condition of the trail.

4 years later I'd mostly forgotten and finally figured it would be worth another shot.

Packsaddle Cave North of Kernville


I found out about this cave by accident coming across it on a topo map while looking for a new area to spend a few days backpacking through for the annual Memorial Day Massacre trip.  It ended up being a multi day loop with a car shuttle on Highway 99 hitting the cable crossing at Durrwood Crossing and then swinging south to visit Packsaddle Cave.  The writeup for the entire loop can be found here but I thought this was interesting enough to deserve it's own writeup.

Getting There

You can get to Packsaddle multiple ways.

From Highway 99 Near Fairview Campground - Roughly 5 miles and 2k gain round trip

From Brush Creek along Sherman Pass Road - Roughly 4.4 miles and 1800 ft gain

From the south passing Salmon Creek - 8.7 miles and 3500 ft gain

If these three I've done hiked the second and third.  The Brush Creek route is dry and hot but the southern route is beautiful passing through heavy vegetation and with views of some spectacular waterfalls.  These trails are also dirtbike accessible if that's your thing.

The trail to the cave is marked with a duck in the middle of the trail and is located just a few hundred feet from where the Packsaddle Cave Trail meets the Rincon Trail.  There's a footpath that runs a short distance up the hillside to the cave entrance which you can pick out from below.

The Cave

The cave has suffered vandalism as is unfortunately almost the rule with open caves like this.  You can see multiple places where people set fires or spray painted the walls but it's still well worth exploring.

It's deep enough you're going to need a headlamp and be ready to do some crawling if you want to explore all the way.

The Massacre

For more about our particular visit that included crossing the Kern at the Durwood Cable Crossing and hiking most of the Rincon and the rather nice armed gentleman we ran into in the cave see the full trip report here.