While doing a solo cattle impact survey of archaeological sites in the western portion of the Kaiser Wilderness I climbed two of the three mountains which, for lack of something better, I will call Nellie Peaks. The Nellie Peaks formation is the westernmost alpine formation on Kaiser Ridge. Nestled in a bowl south of the peaks is Nellie Lake (from which I got the name). The highest point of the group is peak 9,658 which is one of, if not the, most prominent peaks in the western Sierra and can be seen from over half of the San Joaquin valley, as well as many of the peaks of the region, for example Ritter, Silliman and Abbot.
The main objectives of my survey that day were the meadows along Home Camp Creek, one at the junction of the Coarsegrass Meadow trail and the other between 8,600 and 8,300 feet along the Home Camp Creek trail. The first meadow was more like a swamp than a riparian zone and during my survey I managed to fall almost waist deep into a small clay pit, permanently staining one leg of my pants. The gortex layer of my new Vasque Alpines amazingly kept my foot dry, even though submerged for almost a minute.
The second meadow was reached by a hike up the creek that was nothing short of grueling. The overgrown trail was so steep in places that I had trouble keeping my balance. I spent well over an hour searching for a prehistoric lithic scatter that was nowhere to be found. Luckily, there was no evidence of cattle activity in the area so I didn't have to write anything up. Now was the hard part. I had to identify any high probability areas that were passed up during the initial examination of the aerial photos of the region and survey them as well. Tucked beneath the western slopes of peak 9,285 is a small tarn and an extensive meadow complex.
The most interesting way to get to the tarn was of course by climbing the barren peak towering over Nellie Lake. I aimed for peak 9,501 but over shot the summit and instead ended up at the saddle on its eastern side. From here the top of peak 9,658 was only 250 feet up, but after about 120 feet the rock started getting progressively harder and I was forced to sidehill around and gain the summit from the north. My effort was rewarded by a panoramic view of the central valley that, as far as I know, is unmatched anywhere in terms of quantity and quality of views. After photos and lunch I headed down. During my descent I spotted some small flakes of a cloudy black material that could have either been obsidian (indicating activity by native americans) or basalt (ejected from any of the four nearby volcanoes). My hunt for more pieces inadvertently led me over the high point of peak 9,285 which is a practically worthless sand plateau, although the view here was also excellent.
The fall is definitely the best time to visit the western Sierras, although perhaps not Kaiser Ridge. There is something odd about Kaiser. Something spooky, even creepy. I'd heard this many times in the past but now I was experiencing it first hand. Perhaps it is the way the sun filters through the canopy and warms the ground, sending little clouds of dust into the air or maybe its the forest itself, so dense that a person could actually get lost within hearing distance of the road. The trees in the area are of massive proportions and the beams of sunlight that find their way down to the Bracken Ferns that blanket the ground create the atmosphere of a horror movie.
Kaiser Peak, one of my most wanted, was less than an hour away. I could have hiked over to Line Creek Lake and bagged Kaiser in the process but I was freaked out and wanted nothing more than to get back to my car (if it was still there...), even if it meant passing up overtime and Sunday differential, so after checking out the tarn I headed down hill as quickly as possible (having 10 pounds of government forms on my back didn't help...). As shadows began replacing daylight I got closer to Huntington lake, but I never once caught a glimpse of it. Shortly after passing the Mary's Meadow trail a bitter chill filled the air. I practically dashed downhill after putting on my jacket, but an eternity seemingly passed me by and the sun finally went to sleep. When I reached the trailhead my worst nightmare had become reality...my car was gone!
A quick assessment of the situation revealed that I was at the Billy Creek trailhead, but my car was at the Home Camp Creek trailhead. No biggie, there just happens to be a mile long trail linking the two. As the twilight surrendered to darkness I began hearing the soft murmur of the creek and soon after I reached civilization.