HPS PEAKS ROAD TRIP: Spikes Peak (1,927') 2X, Mt. Pinos (8,810') 2X, Sawmill Mountain (8,804'), Grouse Mountain (8,571'), Cerro Noroeste (8,282'), Ontario Peak (8,697'), Bighorn Peak (8,441'), Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399') 2X, Mt. Burnham (8,997'), and Throop Peak (9,138') November 17-21, 2007

Since I would lose the miles allowed by my car's driver's manual (between routine maintenance) if I didn't do some heavy driving, I opted to wait for a partner e-mailing me. Time ran out, and I left home by 4 a.m. Saturday morning, on a hastily prepared, short, road trip. I'd head south and figure out what peaks to climb, enroute.

Motoring southbound on Interstate 5, I kept notes, and hoped for a good number of peaks to count. I wished to maintain my yearly average of 30 peak ascents. Little did I know that this trip would do the job!

I exited at Santa Nella, CA, and headed west on Hwy. CA 152. I'd hike Spikes Peak, 2X, in Pacheco State Park. I paid the $5 parking fee, and set out for my daily exercise, then. I took different trails, this time, and passed by Pig Pond to then head for the direct trail to the top. Fog rolled in over the hills, and I enjoyed, again, the vista of so many wind power generators. San Luis Reservoir peeped over the hills, and the skies were blue and mostly clear. Some fog creeped in low, again, over from the ocean or valley, though.

The long range forecast had been excellent, and I'd make some good hiking time to the top. Summiting there, I didn't waste time. Only a sign to mark the peak, but all trail junctions were well signed. I took another trail headed back, and arrived back at the parking lot by about 10:15 a.m.

Feeling a bit drowsy sick from a typical, complete lack of sleep, the night before, I motored south again on Interstate 5. I had a room reservation, made in this day's early morning, as I committed to this trip. I was fortunate to obtain Net discounts on all lodging for these four nights out.

Arriving to my motel by 2 p.m., I went to sleep immediately, and woke later that evening, for a half hour, to get a dollar double cheeseburger. I then slept soundly till about 6 a.m., Sunday.

Continuing south on Interstate 5, I paid the most that I ever did, per gallon of gas, some 3.799, although from a bad choice of an exit. I might have decided on a really long road trip, even all the way to New Orleans, LA, but for the high fuel prices.

I thought of some peaks to climb. I took the Frazier Park Exit, to quickly obtain a hiking pass ($5), and then was set for this ridge traverse. One hiker once spoke of this trail as the best hiking in Southern California. I'd find out.

Up to the big Nordic center parking lot for Mt. Pinos, I set out for the peaks by about 8:20 a.m. It was a gated dirt road, leading in 2 miles, to the top of Mt. Pinos, the highest peak in the area. I couldn't find the summit register, a problem that plagued me on a few of the other peaks. I snapped many photos, but with my memory cards well tested, I had no great need to shoot so many photos, filling up my cards. The vistas to the sides showed the geologic, eroded, nature of the surrounding hills, and made for a few photos.

I continued along the trail to easily summit Sawmill Mountain, and found two registers, there. One marks the presumed, Kern County highpoint, a hundred yards apart from the peak highpoint. I didn't dally, and continued west along the trail. I had to hike cross-country about a half mile, total, round trip, to find the true highpoint of Grouse Mountain. No locals to keep me company or show me the way. Well, I had no time to e-mail anybody, and thought of doing this hike only during the day before.

A surprise upon climbing up to Cerro Noroeste was that the trail sign mileages, "4.5" from Mt. Pinos, applied to the end of the trail, not the peak summit. That was perhaps a half mile further, along the paved summit road. I had to scout about looking for the true highpoint again, searching for a register. No dice. Time was running out, and I snapped photos of each clump of high rocks to record exactly where I had been. Most HPS'ers aren't as thorough as me, I guess!

Back to the trail, I had a long way back to the car. Many Hundred Peaks Section trips do a car shuttle, with then only a one way hike to be done. I needed to lose weight, and wished to make this a worthy hike. I had met two backpackers, then later, two loose dogs, on this hike. Some more people appeared as I got back to Mt. Pinos, and then, I knew I had these peaks in the bag.

I motored back to Interstate 5 south, making a quick stop at the Pyramid Lake visitor center. Magic hour occurred as I approached Santa Clarita, CA! I then took Interstate 210 eastbound. Thoughts of a nice dinner in Old Pasadena appealed to me, but I wanted to get to my next motel.

They have extended I-210 all the way now to San Bernardino, and that threw me. No connect, now, with Interstate 10. I missed my exit, then lost, took surface streets over southward. Interesting to see the towns at night. I got a big burger for dinner, then came to my motel in time to have a smaller cheeseburger, later, and to get another good night's sleep.

Monday, I woke up relatively late, at 6:40 a.m. I had to find my way to the Mt. Baldy Road, and got some drink enroute. Soon, I was driving up this popular peak road, then stopped at a ranger station for more information.

Beginning my peak hike by about 8:30 a.m., I made great time to the high junction, Icehouse Saddle, in a bit over two hours. A few other hikers were resting along the trail. It was cold with wind at this point, forcing me to put on an additional layer that I had stripped off earlier.

Taking the signed trail right, I hoped for a good time to Ontario Peak. This took longer than I expected, cutting into my optimism. I arrived to a splendid vista of the towns below to the south, with fog or low clouds about distant peaks. The mileages stated on the signs seemed an understatement, but I finally came to the end of the trail atop Ontario Peak. A class 3-4 pinnacle stood next to some class 2 rocks. I found, by my water level in my clear plastic water bottle, that the class 2 rocks were gratefully higher. No register, again, though.

My initial plan was to bag Timber Mountain (8,303'), too, but I first had to hike Bighorn Peak. A slight saddle and trail connects these two former peaks, and it was warm enough in the day to give me confidence. The trail over to Bighorn is slightly worse, but I topped this peak, too. The view to Old Baldy (Mt. San Antonio, 10,064 feet) through the ghost forest was nice enough.

I was figuring times in my head, and it started to look like I wouldn't be able to climb a third peak and get back by dark. I had two headlamps, but I couldn't be sure or remember if they would work, after so many years of being in my pack. No time to check quickly.

Myself enjoying dining and watching TV, I took the easy choice, and headed back to the cars. Nearly 4,500' gain, anyway. Keeping times, I took a big rest stop, and knew I was O.K. on daylight, then.

Returning with about a half hour of daylight left, I drove off to watch the alpenglow and moon above, driving down the mountain highway.

I like seeing towns, so took more surface streets back to my motel. Lots of cars and people! I washed up, then went for food. I chose a big traveler's service area along CA 71, and had a fish taco to help along with my diet.

Tuesday was to be an easier day. But, I got up earlier, and took Interstate 15 north to CA 138. I'd have a nice breakfast in Wrightwood, CA, remembering a fine meal, decades ago. It was then that I'd find that the approach road, the Angeles Crest Highway, CA 2, was signed closed. I asked at the cafe, but had no sure replies. The ranger stations were closed this early in the morning. Where the gate was, and how bad the washout was, were critical to my plans. Only one way to know for sure, so I headed up to check it out myself.

Coming to the large PCT parking lot at Vincent Gap, I was relieved that I could still bag one or two peaks. The highway gate blocked the road further. I had developed heady notions of as many as 14 peaks for this trip, but the changed plan, the day before, moderated my ambitions.

Taking the Pacific Crest Trail toward the top of Mt. Baden-Powell for my 2X, I pondered over a traverse to bag two more peaks. The road closure had prevented me from getting to a higher, and more convenient, trailhead for the peaks I wanted, but at least, I'd get my daily exercise.

Nice to see the trail changes since 1984, when Boy Scout markers indicated the precise mileages every tenth of a mile or so. I topped out in 2:19, then hiked back down slightly to a trail junction. I sauntered west along the PCT to bag Mt. Burnham. This required an easy, off trail, jaunt of many yards. I had to make a decision. I could go further west and bag Throop Peak, and hopefully a trail would lead back to CA 2, whereupon I would hike along the closed road back east to my car. Or, I could go back over Baden-Powell, and more surely back to my car.

Ten peaks for the trip sounded better. I went over to bag Throop, and saw the nice side trail descend nicely back to the paved highway. Good views all the way.

I had a big worry about what closed the road. If it was a big washout, I might be stuck on the wrong side of the closure, unable to get back to my car. I saw parts of the highway from the peaks trails, and surmised it was O.K. to walk.

Back to a highly hidden trail start, I sauntered down this most scenic road, then, from Dawson Saddle back to Vincent Gap. This runs about six miles, all downhill. I snapped photos, and enjoyed the new blacktop. The light was right, and it was a beautiful moment, for me.

The section of highway that had collapsed was easily passable on foot, so my worries had been for nought. I was back to my car by 4 p.m., and now fretted slightly about the announced closure, the next day, of the entire Angeles National Forest, due to wind and fire danger. I might be locked in, with a closed gate.

Another user appeared then, and informed me better, and I took off, stopping for a few photos at Inspiration Point. Much better views from atop the peaks.

I eventually came to U.S. 395 north, and filled up at Kramer Junction. Gas was generally much cheaper, back in Southern California, down there to 3.159. I snapped photos of the gas prices, and also my meals. Being not possible to get Kodachrome locally, that saved me from carrying my film camera and lenses, about 4-5 pounds extra. Great to not have to pay for film, too!

Lodging in Ridgecrest, CA, I woke up at sunrise to get home early on this big travel day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I stopped for my usual photos of Mt. Whitney, and many other High Sierra peaks. Some high clouds, with contrails, and blue sky. A scattering of white characterized the higher peaks and their north slopes. This now probable, icy snow, deterred me from climbing another easy peak this day, so I skipped on motoring up to a High Sierra trailhead or pass.

Nice to see the U.S. 395 highway towns, again, I kept notes and shot many more photos as record. Mammoth Mountain had the most snow, much man-made. Deciding to take Interstate 80 home, I saw the new freeway on the north end of Carson City, NV. Very little snow on the high peaks, up here, too.

Snapping up some $60 worth of bargains at the Reno outdoor clothing outlet, this was soon followed by my return to Northern California civilization, more traffic jams, and home.

I hiked roughly 50 miles, with 11,000' gain. Using under 31.8 gallons of gas, I drove 1,250 miles, and shot about 1,200 digital images and movie clips. I spent $280 cash, plus about $160 on lodging. Never wearing more than three layers, two light ones and one sweater, daytime conditions were very mild for this time of year. No bugs to bother or bite me, and no lotions to have to apply. I drank lots of water on the trails, and dozens of cold sodas while back to the car.

Whether this is another dry month, or winter, remains to be seen. I hope to do more hiking this year, with even another big road trip to do, if a good, sharing, partner comes forward. Nothing big, as far as weather, seems due in the next week or so, and I have a few more travel plans. Otherwise, I can save my car during a highly hoped-for wetter winter, for when I get city-bound, too much.