Pilot Knockout

28 Feb 1999 - by Aaron Schuman

Coming over Walker Pass, it stands steeply over the Kern Valley, a monolith, easily recognized from a distance, a guiding landmark. Its 6200 foot low elevation summit and its southern arid setting make it a unique climbing experience among Sierra Nevada destinations. It is Pilot Knob.

On February 28, 1999, we went to see how it looked up there. The party consisted of Arun Mahajan, Dee Booth, Pat Ibbetson, John Zazzara and yours truly, Aaron Schuman.

There is no public access to the area. Earlier groups have climbed it, with permission, from the property of Ben Rudnick, on Doyle Ranch Road. But based on Don Peterson's earlier scouting, we decided to enter from the White Blanket Ranch (2700'). This choice saved us three miles of boulder hopping in each direction.

To get to our starting point, we found Call Box 178-659 on highway 178, a couple of miles east of the village of Onyx. Opposite the call box, a gate is closed by not locked. About a half mile in on the driveway, there are two trailers in disrepair. This is the White Blanket Ranch, home to Josephine, Frank and their daughter. They are friendly and gave us permission to cross their land. Josephine didn't ask for money, but we gave her five bucks because we wanted to make sure that hikers would continue to be welcome there in the future. If you follow our directions, please remember to also follow our example and tip the ranchers. Josephine asked that we write her in advance, at PO Box 376, Onyx CA.

I've heard rumors that the USFS is planning to create public access to the south end of the Domelands Wilderness via the Bloomfield Ranch, but they expect to need a couple of years to implement it.

We walked across Josephine's bridge over the Kern River, crossed a low ridge, and entered the canyon that descends steeply from the peak. We hiked westward up the canyon all the way to where it arises near the summit. It is a brushy drainage, filled with yuccas, greasewood, sage and prickly pear. Many tumbled boulders and polished slabs blocked our way, incongruous remnants of a long-gone fluvial age. There certainly isn't any surface water there now.

At the summit ridge we scrambled for a couple hundred feet over class 2 rocks to the top, concluding with a squeeze up "Skinny Hiker's Chute." We rested on the acme, gazed out over the abyss, and admired the view of the Domelands all the way to the crest and the snowy summit of Olancha Peak.

Our ascent took four hours, and our descent took three, making altogether a moderate Sunday, and a pleasant encounter with a different side of the Sierra Nevada.

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