PILOT KNOB (6,200+') May 10-11, 2003

Finally the time has come for a Sierra peak this year! I signed up for a joint SPS/PCS activity, which had been scheduled for the previous weekend. Storms forced a delay, so I became somewhat out-of-shape in the interim.

We met at the Walker Pass Campground, which accepts donations. This is just west of Walker Pass (5,245') on CA Highway 178, the southernmost pass across the Sierra Nevada. So, Saturday morning, we carpooled back west to the State Ecologic Reserve, started our hike, and managed to cross the South Fork of the Kern River using a bridge.

Two hikers were slow and weren't up to it, so they stayed below to explore. The remaining ten of us basically followed ducks and use trails up a steep pinyon pine forest with grassy, brushy, and rocky slopes. We maintained a good pace, but the 3,400' gain was to take some time. The weather had been cold the night before, and it was cool in the morning. We all drank plenty of water, and I began to slow a bit.

Coming to the spur ridge nearly to the summit knob, we rested, and I finished a liter of water. Shooting plenty of pictures, I enjoyed the views and my first, new, listed Sierra peak in three years.

The final 400 feet or so wound through more rocks and oaks, then ascended a high class 2 gully. I had a problem with my three packs, so took off my big pack to make the moves a bit easier. Climbing on good granite, I joined the group on the summit, and began snapping photos in both film and digital. My 6-7 pounds of camera equipment proved a real weight, but the continuance of my peak photography does require some effort.

Having started at 8:26 a.m., I topped out last at 1:22 p.m. I suffered some knee pains, so enjoyed this climb a bit less than normal. I sometimes re-think my whole philosophy on why I do this!

We posed for a group summit photo for our newsletters, and then decided to start down the peak at about 1:50 p.m. I had some more leg pains which made me slow a bit, and I lagged to the rear of the group. We didn't have much to do this day but go back to the campground, eat, and have a nice rest and sleep. We thought the climb would go quickly, but the route was tedious, with small ups-and-downs.

The leader did a fine job of leading us down, and we anticipated the end of the climb, with the green fields and oaks of the South Fork Valley below. Cars moved along the highway, and we knew it was just time to complete it. We found our other hikers, and then came to the footbridge across the South Fork of the Kern. My parkway walks helped me finish this final stretch of flat dirt road back to our cars. I was out of water, and aching. What it takes to do a worthy peak!

Back by 5:35 p.m., we quickly motored off and drove the several miles back east to our campground. Climbers began setting up for dinner. I laid out my chips, and then we had a fresh salad tossed, with apples, walnuts, cranberries, cheese, soybeans, and dressing. Delicious! Salsa and more chips hit the spot for me! Fifty pounds overweight, I am urged to diet and exercise. A peak weekend fits this bill perfectly!

The night was nicer than last, but I went to sleep earlier. Last night, I was gazing at the clear mountain sky, and saw maybe 10 meteorites.

Getting up early the next morning, we made some breakfast, and then left the camp by 7 a.m. The plan was to climb Owens Peak (8,453'). I had already done this peak another way in 1988, so didn't "need" it. I wished to have a 2X, so started with the group from the Owens Peak Trailhead along the east side of the range.

I was still aching and slow, so after a mile or so, I signed off the hike. I estimated another hour for the group to wait for my pace, round trip, so the leader agreed. We had a long drive home that night, and I also wished to be alert to take the wheel.

I hiked down the trail to stop for photos. The flower display was profuse, and plenty of lupine, goldfields, and baby blue eyes dotted the trailside. I caught sight of tiny hummingbirds feeding off the flowers. I managed to capture a few photos and a movie clip of these delicate animals flitting about.

There is a nice car camp site, next to some pines, near the trailhead. I photographed lizards on rocks, and the view of Aquila Peak, or Five Fingers (5,174'), to the east. The group was quick, so came back to the cars by 3:30 p.m.

We were shortly off, finished the rough road carpool, and all parted for home. We left the dirt road to come back to CA 14, then motored back west on CA 178, then to Interstate 5 by Bakersfield. Driving north, I was home before midnight.

The stats for Pilot Knob were given as 6 miles, 3,400' gain, round trip. I hiked some 3 miles with 1,000' gain the second day. I snapped some 170 digital images plus maybe 14 slides of Kodachrome.