The Mountains of California
Breckenridge Mountain • Highpoint: Breckenridge Mountain
• Sequoia National Forest
• Kern County

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

Date: May 29, 2009 • Elevation: 7,560 feet • Prominence: 3,280 feet • Distance: 3 mile hike • Time: 1 hour hike, 4 hours total • Gain: 550 feet • Conditions: Overcast skies then storms


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

Breckenridge Mountain is in the transition between the transverse ranges of Southern California and the Sierra Nevada ranges to the north. It is visible from Bakersfield, standing impressively high when you consider Bakersfield is 500 feet above sea level, and Breckenridge Mountain's summit is over 7,000 feet higher. A narrow paved road leads up and over the big mountain, dropping down into the little towns of Havilah and Bodfish near Lake Isabella. The mountain itself is home to communication towers and a forest-service lookout tower.

From the east side of Bakersfield, I followed Breckenridge Road, passing through suburbs for a few miles and then oil fields, until it intersected Comanche Road (which would allow access directly from state routes CA-58 and CA-178). At Comanche Road, I zeroed my odometer and continued eastbound on Breckenridge Road.

At first, Breckenridge Road meanders through sparse rolling hills and a few ranches. The hills then become more abundant, forcing the road to adhere to its steep lines and tight turns. I rarely exceeded 15 m.p.h., but enjoyed the drive. Too low for the big trees, the land here is covered in grasses, low scrub, and stately oaks, plus the occasional cow. It is quite pretty.

About 15 miles in, I had an interesting encounter with three local kids who had parked in the center in the road, one with a .22 pistol in his hand. I asked what was going on and the leader, a kid of about 20, told me they were "putting a rattlesnake out of its misery" after running it over. Yeah, whatever. The other two just stood there, while this one kid came up to my window. I asked him how far up the road was paved. The kid said "to the caves". I was surprised there were caves up ahead, so I said "caves?", and then he replied "There are caves?". I think he heard me say "caves" instead of "paved".

Still wanting to know about the road, I told him "I was surprised the road was still paved this far in, that I was expecting dirt by now." He replied was that it doesn't cost anything to drive the road. I think he heard me say "pay" instead of "paved". It became clear I was dealing with a real dope. I got no useful information from him, eased around their vehicle, and went on my way.

Panorama of the lovely countryside along Breckenridge Mountain Road

I continued eastward, passing through hillier country where there were more trees than not, passing by cattle, and slowly inching my way to the upper reaches of Breckenridge Mountain. About 20 miles from Comanche Road, I passed the Sequoia National Forest boundary, past a few little private in-holdings, a handful of junctions, and finally, 26 miles in all, to the turn for the lookout road, where the lookout itself was still five miles away, said the sign. I drove in three miles along this spur road, parking at a bend at 7,000 feet, leaving me a mile and a half of walking to the top and 500 feet of gain. I could have driven the rest but I wanted a little exercise.

The weather had been unsettled all afternoon with more puffy clouds than I would have liked. But it was holding steady for the time being and was sunny at times. I didn't delay. I hustled up the road to a bend, went left, and soon was at the end of the road near the lookout tower and a rock pinnacle whose very top was the mountain's highpoint.

In the twenty minutes I had hiked to here, the weather started to worsen. I could hear thunder from the east, a mean-looking thunderhead amassing over Piute Mountain. In just a few minutes, the storm began to develop over us, too. I had to get up that pinnacle somehow.

I studied the pinnacle from all its sides and found a vertical crack that looked like the best way to get up this pinnacle. But the first "step" was about 6 feet high and very awkward. I tried it once, backed off, tried it again, backed off, trying different ways to lean or position myself, all the while a crack of thunder being produced about once every two minutes.

Finally, I stopped lollygagging, stuck my foot in the crack, placed my hands higher, leaned like hell, and frictioned myself up that initial step. Above that, it was easy scampering to the "top", which is itself a four-foot pinnacle atop the main rock mass. I eased beside the pinnacle and tagged its top. A register log was in the cleft below me, but by now, I could feel sprinkles of rain. I eased back down onto the actual ground. There's nothing like lightning and thunder to motivate one to move faster.

There are two other small hillocks beside the road and nearby the main summit that "might be" as high as where I had just been. On the way out, I ascended both, taking a minute or two for each. To me, they were definitely lower, that rock pinnacle on the lookout summit definitively being the highest point. The sprinkles of rain had developed into a steady rain. There were lightning strikes and loud thunder. I ran my ass down that road to my truck. By the time I was to it, the rain and hail was coming down in torrents!

The hike was a success and had taken me about an hour, but man, that storm developed fast. I drove the spur road back to the paved Breckenridge Road, and debated my next move. It was only 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 (or if there were caves or if it would cost me anything), 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. 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, I drove and hiked Piute Mountain, where I also saw a bear.

(c) 2009, 2019 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. .