Piute Peak • East-central Kern County
• Range Highpoint: Piute Mountain

Date Climbed
May 30, 2009

8,440+ feet

1 mile hike

45 minutes hike,
3.25 hours total

300 feet

Clear, nice

3,480 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

The start of Piute Mountain Road, 5:35 a.m.

View of the range from the southwest (exiting)

Rock outcrops at summit as seen through burnt trees. The northeast (right) outcrop is the highest

Top of southwest summit (Not the highpoint)

View of southwest rocks from the true (NE) summit

The southwest rocks poke up through the trees hiking in

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Today was my second of two days of a very quick four-peak excursion to the southern Sierra transitional zone of peaks in and around Tehachapi, southern California. Yesterday I had been successful on Frazier Mountain and also on nearby Breckenridge Mountain, albeit amid a powerful thunderstorm that dropped considerable rain with lightning. Hightailing it off Breckenridge, I worked my way into the Lake Isabella region for a place to camp for the night. By now the storms had begun to subside and the weather was calm once again. I did some exploring around the community of Bodfish and finally found a nice campground along the Kern River Road, camping at the Sandy Flat campground. Not a bad spot, right along the Kern River, but a bit crowded with the weekend crowd, including large groups and lots of kids. I was able to find a spot out of the way but I could still hear the noise, although I slept well.

I was awake before 5 a.m. today with plans to drive and hike nearby Piute Mountain, then head south and have a go with Tehachapi Mountain. Piute Mountain is a giant hulk of a mountain, similar in shape and geology to Breckenridge, which parallels Piute to Piute's west. Like Breckendridge, the slopes on Piute all lead up and up and up to the very broad top, where a map is handy in determining the true summit. Piute Mountain is higher than Breckenridge Mountain by nearly a thousand feet, and features the same mix of heavy forest and granitic rock outcrops. Also like Breckenridge, a decent network of roads lead up into the heart of the mountain, so that the hiking portion would probably be relatively small and simple.

From the campground I doubled back into Bodfish then south up the grade to a pass, where an obvious dirt backcountry road veers off to the left (east) from the main road. This is the north branch of the Piute Mountain Road, also known as Sequoia National Forest Road 27-S-02. I was on this road at 5:35 a.m. Aware of yesterday's weather, I wanted an early start so as to avoid any storms, especially while on Piute and its dirt roads. So far, everything was very nice, but there was a veil of high clouds in the sky as well as some general cloudiness over the distant peaks.

The road starts out fine but narrows after a short while. The road gets rather nasty in small sections during the first four or five miles, probably due to the large number of OHVs that use this road for fun and thrashing enjoyment. There were sections of erosion and rock, and I went ahead and used 4-wheel drive for its positive control. Mainly, the "problem" with the road was its narrowness and exposure! There were some stretches where I was rather antsy about driving the road, even though the road itself was passable. I just went very slow and hoped no one was coming the other way, there being literally no room to pass or pull aside.

Things improved at the 6-mile mark (small plastic mile markers are placed along this road). The road becomes slightly wider, and exposure lesss severe. Still, I was in first gear and never got above 10 m.p.h. At 8.5 miles a surprise: I came to a "town", a collection of vacation homes clustered together on a parcel of private property. Some were rather nice, and a couple had vehicles parked in front so maybe some people live there full-time. The town is apparently named Valley View, said a sign. Beyond Valley View, the road's condition improved significantly, now much wider and better graded, so that in some sections I was able to zoom through at a whopping 25 m.p.h. By now I was on the spine of the range, the road being mostly level, and in open sections I could make out high peaks, wondering which one was the summit. I knew I was close. I also spooked a bear along the way. He was walking along the road minding his own business, then took off running when he heard my truck.

Finally, the road comes to a major intersection at 16.0 miles (by my odometer) and 16.7 miles (by the plastic stakes). This is the split for Piute Mountain Road. Going right, the road is marked as 28-S-01 and leads southwest down into Walker Basin, or going left/straight, the road keeps the 27-S-02 designation and leads east down into Claraville and out through Kelso and Jawbone Canyon Roads into the high desert. Both roads are still named Piute Mountain Road on the map, though. I went right onto 28-S-01 (the sign being knocked over into the brush) and drove about 2/3 of a mile, parking at an open clearing near a rocky outcrop at 8,200 feet, due south of the "Piute 8435" summit marked on the map. It was 7 a.m. when I arrived, in pleasant still weather. Another truck rumbled up from the Walker side and I had a chat with the driver and passenger, a husband-and-wife team out for a drive and scouting for archery season. They gave me some good information about the road they just came up, and they also said they saw a bear, too. The immediate summit region had been hit hard by a recent fire within the last year. However, very little fire damage was seen along the northern road coming in.

According to the map, the summit of Piute Mountain is five distinct contours of 8,400 feet, three clumped close together on the west end of the ridge, one with spot elevation 8,417 feet. The middle summit also features an 8,440-foot contour and two distinct rock outcrops within this contour, while the easternmost region features a spot elevation of 8,435 feet and apparently the site of an old fire lookout. An unmarked road leads north off of 28-S-01 directly across of the rock outcrop where I parked. This road leads all the way up to the 8,435-foot summit, and didn't look too bad.

The hike up this road took all of 10 minutes and was very simple. At the saddle, I went to the middle rock outcrops first. They are situated on a northeast-southwest line relative to one another, and at first glance the southwest outcrop seems higher and also features a standing stick wedged into a cleft, so I climbed it (easy mid class-3 moves, 10-12 feet of gain). Once on top, looking over to the northeast outcrop showed that one to be obviously higher by about three feet, so I went there, found an easy low class-2 ramp and there I was, the top. I sighted west to the westernmost summit rock clumps and those rocks were obviously lower. Sighting east to the 8,435-foot summit, it too was obviously lower. Then I descended off the rocks and walked the road to the easternmost summit, looked back and confirmed that the summit is the northeast outcrop of the middle summit. Very simple, and ironically, made simpler by the line-of-sight views afforded by the recent burn. Otherwise this was very thick forest (and will be again in the future). The hike back to my truck went fast and I was gone for 45 minutes total, a round trip hike of about a mile.

Based on what the couple had told me about the southwestern Piute Mountain Road, I decided to go that way even though it is obviously steeper (and shorter) than the Claraville route. All went well, and there were some section where the road was pitched at grades over twenty degrees, but no rough stuff to speak of. I dropped a lot of elevation very quickly, taking only 8 miles to reach the paved roads in the valleys below, coming out near a town called Twin Oaks. I was out at 8:45 a.m., a total time of just over three hours on the mountain. The whole experience had gone well and quickly, much better than I had figured, since I really had no idea about the condition of the roads.

From here I followed these roads through some impressive canyons, eventually coming out to the main highway, CA-58, so that I could get myself into Tehachapi and a tangle with Tehachapi Mountain later this afternoon.

(c) 2009 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.