Breckenridge Mountain • East-Central Kern County
• Range Highpoint: Breckenridge Mountain

Date Climbed
May 29, 2009

Elevation
7,560 feet

Distance
3 miles hike

Time
1 hour hike,
4 hours total

Gain
550 feet

Conditions
Humid, then nasty storms!

Prominence
3,280 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Distant view. Storms a-brewing!
 

A little closer in
 

Yet closer. See the cow?
 

Road to lookout
 

Rare open view of summit
 

Hiking the road
 

Signs at top
 

The Lookout sign
 

The cleft and the pillar

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Summitpost


I was on my first day of a short, compact two-day swing through Southern California, hiking some prominence peaks surrounding Bakersfield. Earlier, I was successful on Frazier Mountain along Interstate-5 above the Grapevine grade. From there I drove into Bakersfield and worked my way along its east side, and after a lunch and getting some supplies, planned for the second hike of my day: a drive up, and a short hike, to the summit of Breckenridge Mountain.

Breckenridge Mountain is a giant hulk of a mountain, located in the transition between the transverse ranges of Southern California and the Sierra Nevada ranges to the north. Breckenridge is visible from Bakersfield, impressively high when you consider Bakersfield is at 500 feet above sea level, and Breckenridge's summit is over 7,000 feet higher. The mountain is basically one giant mass, everything pretty much leading uniformly up to the top. Breckenridge is within the Sequoia National Forest, and a good road traverses the range from Bakersfield to the little burgs of Havilah and Bodfish (near Lake Isabella) to the east. The area television stations use Breckenridge Mountain to house its big towers, while the forest has lookout, hence the good (in relative terms) roads. Everything looked logistically easy, if only those dark clouds would disperse.

To get into the range, I followed Breckenridge Road, passing through some suburbia for a few miles and through some oil fields also, until it intersected Comanche Road. I mention Comanche Road only because it's a good reference point as well as a good way to get to and from the main highways (CA-58 and CA-178) out this way. At Comanche, I zeroed my odometer and went in on Breckenridge Road. From here to the top I would be treated to the real grandeur, the spectacular scenery along the way.

At first Breckenridge Road meanders through rolling hills and ranch properties, going in and out of the many folds in the earth, up and down hill and dale, all the while the big mass of Breckenridge still way far off in the distance. As the road ascends, the hills become more numerous and the road steeper and curvier, the hillsides now covered in gold-colored grasses and stately oak trees. I went slow, often no more than 15 mph, and enjoyed the views.

About 15 miles, I had an interesting encounter with some local kids who had parked dead center in the road, one with a .22 pistol in his hand. I asked what was going on and they told me they were "putting a rattlesnake out of its misery" after having run it over. Yeah, whatever. One kid, the leader, approximate age 20, did most of the talking. He came to my driver's side window and we had a chat. Of interest to me was the road. I asked them how far up the road was paved. He said "to the caves". I said "caves?", and he replied "there are caves?". I think he heard me say "caves". I tried again. I said I was surprised the road was still paved this far in, that I was expecting dirt by now. His reply was that it doesn't cost anything to drive it. I think he heard me say "pay". The kid was apparently a real dope. I didn't really get any good information from them, but they seemed harmless (except to snakes) and soon enough they got moving and so did I.


Panorama of the lovely countryside along Breckenridge Mountain Road

Back to me, I continued my journey, passing through some hillier country where there were more trees than not, passing by some cattle, and slowly inching my way up to the upper reaches of Breckenridge Mountain. About 20 miles in from Comanche, I passed the Forest boundary, then some little private in-holdings (another few little ranches), some junctions, and finally, 26 miles in all, to the turn off to the lookout road, where the lookout itself was still five miles off to the south, said the sign. I drove in and went three miles, parking at a bend at about 7,000 feet, leaving me with a mile and a half of walking to the top and 500 feet of gain. I could have driven the rest but I wanted some exercise.

The weather was unsettled, but holding steady and even sunny at times. I figured this would take me an hour round trip, so I hustled. The hike up went quickly, up the easy road and easy slopes. In time I came to a Y-split and went left. The summit is a ridge of three areas of near equal elevation, although the farthest-east point is the summit, complete (as I would discover) with a rather challenging rock outcrop holding the highpoint. However, the weather had really started to get nasty. A giant thunderstorm had built over Piute Mountain (tomorrow's objective) across the way, with loud rumbles of thunder coming in more frequent outbursts. The sun was now blocked and the storm seemed to be developing above Breckenridge, too.

I hustled as fast as I could, coming up to the lookout and snapping a blurry photo of it (presumably, holding the camera steady not my immediate concern). The summit outcrop is quite daunting from the road so I hoped there was an easier way to the top up the back way. I walked around back, by a truck and camper for the lookout guy, and found two or three clefts that went up to the top, which is a pillar of rock about 4 feet high above the rest of the rock mass, which itself was about 12 feet tall. The rock was solid granite but the holds were kind of awkward, or sloping outward, and I made a couple of attempts in the various clefts, all the while hearing rumbles of close-by thunder, until I finally quit lollygagging and just willed myself up the one move that was stumping me down low.

Once above that, there was one more slightly awkward move to get close to the pinnacle, which I stood next to and tagged, it being about shoulder high to me at this point. The familiar red canister was tucked into a cleft nearby, but I didn't stick around to sign in. I downclimbed the rock and onto the ground. Descending this summit region, I checked out the next one west. I walked around the fence there, tagged all high rocks, but didn't delay. I ignored the western-most bump since it didn't seem to hold anything that seemed as high as where I'd been, by observation.

The hike down went as fast as I could move, as by now the storm above me was in full gear, letting off bolts of lightning and stupendous thunder about every five seconds, then dumping rain and hail as I ran like a son-of-a-bitch back to my truck and took refuge in the cab. The hike was a success and had taken me about an hour, but man, that storm developed fast! I drove the road back to the paved Breckenridge Road, and debated my next move. It was only about 3 p.m. I wanted to be in the Lake Isabella area tonight, and while this road went down into the Havilah/Bodfish area, I didn't know if it would remain paved or not, and given the rain we were having, I didn't want to chance driving slick muddy and potentially steep roads in these conditions, so I backtracked out the way I came in. Yes, I knew this would add a lot of distance to my trip, but I consoled myself that at least I'd get to enjoy the scenery again, which I did (and got slightly better photos as well). Another upside was I drove the CA-178 route through the spectacular Kern River Gorge for the first time ever. And, wouldn't you know, I ran over a snake on the way. How ironic.

I spent that night camped at the Sandy Flat Campground off of the Kern River. The next day: Piute Mountain.

(c) 2009, 2013 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.