Butterbredt Peak, attempt on Peak 6274NOTE: This report was submitted in February, 2000, to the Climber.org list. The version appearing here is only slightly edited.
"Dirt bikes and barbed wire and guns! OH MY!"
I chose Butterbredt Peak as an objective for two major reasons: it's close to home, at just about three hours drive time, and all the reports I've read indicate that it is a quick hike that can be done in an afternoon. This light itinerary would leave me plenty of time to explore elsewhere in the area.
February 25, 2000
Despite the forecasts of poor weather, I was driving through Jawbone Canyon past numerous occupied campsites. Motor homes, SUVs, dirt bikes. As I rolled up through dry washes my headlights illuminated the ground on either side of the road - tire tracks everywhere. The concept of 'road' has little meaning in this region.
Soon the errant tire tracks gave way to sage-covered slopes. It was cold outside, and my malfunctioning heater was not up to the task. B-b-b-bbbrrrrr!!
As I turned onto the road into Butterbredt Canyon I noticed a definite change in the character of the road. Sand and moguls kept me on my toes. I passed Butterbredt Spring, with it's lifeless-looking cottonwood trees and iron pipe fence, then bent northwest up the canyon.
Joshua trees became the prevailing vegetable along the roadside, and the driving steadily became more tricky. The moguls got bigger and the sand deeper. I pushed the "4 HI" button and kept crawling along.
Only a few places looked like campsites. I passed several sections of wire fence before I came upon a nice flat at a junction of closed OHV trails. Since I hadn't passed a better spot, and the way ahead seemed to be the same as the way behind, I stopped and made camp.
I got out into the cold night wind. Pitching the tent was fun. Fortunately I had recently bought a Walrus Rapeede XV tent, so the chore only took a couple minutes. I have only used this tent a few times since purchase, and it has proved itself worthy.
I crawled into my comfy down bag and began to read. I read until I woke up and realized I had dozed. I tried to continue reading a gripping passage, but gave up when I cought myself re-reading the same paragraph three times! Lights out...
February 26, 2000
Sunlight on the tent wall in the morning is a simple pleasure. Trilling and twittering outside the tent was keeping me awake. It was the song of a single bird. The bird had apparently laid claim to this campsite first, and was making sure that I knew it. When I was fully awake, I just laid back and listened for a while - the breeze, the song of the bird, crows travelling by now and then, and a background of desert hush.
I got up, ate breakfast, and set about making coffee. While I was preparing the brew, a fellow drove up and stopped. He got out and struck up a conversation. My failing brain cell tells me his name was "Alex" something or other. He was a pretty nice guy, perhaps in his late 60's. He lived just north, near the junction of the Kelso Valley Road and the Piute Mountain Road, on a ranch aptly named "Sage Land."
We talked for about an hour, and I learned that he was doing volunteer work at Butterbredt Spring - repairing fences, checking on road and trail closures. We talked about the boundaries in the area, and the problems with dirt bikers ignoring the closures. I related my experiences as a responsible mountain biker, taking the position that there were bad apples in every barrel. What I would witness later that day changed forever my view of OHV users.
I told Alex of my plans for the weekend, and he said I'd probably enjoy the hike up Butterbredt Peak, but he hadn't been up the other peak about which I expressed interest. We bade eachother farewell, and I returned to the brew.
I had finished about half of my coffee when the dirt bike parade began. Groups of from two to eight riders passed by at regular intervals. At first, there seemed to be nothing unseemly about these groups of riders. One group of three passed by and continued about 1/3 mile up the road before turning onto a closed trail leading east toward the Dove Spring OHV Area. Alex had warned me that the dirt bikers were illegally using trails in Butterbredt Canyon, a conservation area, as a corridor between Jawbone Canyon and Dove Spring.
Several more groups passed, then left the main road and travelled on trails going both east and west. One group actually stopped at my campsite, exchanged friendly 'howdy's with me, then rode right past an unmistakable "Trail Closed" red stake and continued east toward the ridge. Only two groups of six riders each obeyed the closures in the area, and both groups appeared to be families.
The morning was maturing. I packed my daypack and set out for the ridge to the west. On the south end of this ridge lies Butterbredt Peak, and on the north is Peak 6274. The topo map showed that the latter was likely to be more craggy, and thus more interesting. I headed northwest, vaguely aiming for the peak, and contoured up through sage, chemise, Joshua trees, and grasses. Cow tracks were everywhere, as well as the calling card of the bovine, the Pasture Pastry.
The sand slope curved parabolically upward to rocky outcrops. I headed to the northwest of the rocks I could see. Keeping the outcrops to my left, I soon topped out on the ridge. A peak sat astride the ridge before me, but it bore little resemblance to the contorted contour lines on my map. This was certainly not my objective. I strolled to the top and climbed a boulder to get a view about. Further up the ridge to the northwest was my objective - a complex cluster of outcrops framed by the dark, forested slopes of the Piute and Scodie ranges of the Sierra Nevada.
Gun shots! Someone was playing with a big toy down in the canyon. I scanned the length of road, but saw nothing at first. Then a telltale glint reflecting from a shiny metal object indicated the presence of a vehicle. The shooting continued for a while, but I just ignored it and kept on truckin'.
The weather was outstanding - high 60's to low 70's with beautiful high clouds becoming lenticular. I wandered along the ridgetop, which had flattened to nearly a plateau. The occasional snow patch appeared as I gained altitude. Juniper bushes also appeared, subtly changing the landscape.
About halfway across this flat-topped ridge sat a lonely turret of grey granite, painted whimsically with lime green and rust orange lichens. There looked to be several interesting multi-pitch climbing routes up this turret. One route in particular caught my eye. On the west-northwest corner of the turret there was a complex outside corner system with outstanding hand-size and offwidth cracks and conveniently placed ledges. The rock quality was similar to that found in Joshua Tree, but the cracks were of a more alpine 'splitter' character and dead vertical.
I walked on through increasingly rocky terrain. Less Joshuas, more junipers, and a substantial snow cover on the north slopes - the remote feel of the place was increasing.
The rock towers guarding the summit were large. Some were 300+ feet tall. I looped around and between them, carefully picking my way through snow-covered boulders and shrubs, slipping on wet lichens. I followed a rock wall that faced northeast, then made a jog left and began a scramble up a class-2 chute toward what appeared to be the final summit mass. I topped out in a notch only to see, perhaps 1/4 mile distant, a ridge with outcrops that were obviously higher than my present position. The final summit was a rounded blob of rock with no easy route of ascent visible. There weren't even any cracks to be seen on the thing. A few more towers of nearly the same height stood nearby. Between my position and that ridge lay a broad and complex cleft, a veritable no-mans-land of rounded boulders and cliffs and domes. I was sure that to continue would involve far more than 1/4 mile of walking and scrambling, and then there was that inaccessible sugarloaf of granite...
Conceding defeat, I scrambled around a bit on the class-3 terrain on the sub-summit. There were many neat caves to investigate, and secret gardens of sage and lichens and grasses and junipers. I settled in for lunch and took some pictures of the far-off snowy Sierra Nevada and more local subjects. Most prominent on the northern horizon were Olancha Peak and Mount Langley, but I could just barely make out Mount Whitney at the blurry limit of vision. Telescope Peak could easily be seen to the east, across the dunn and tawny void of the Mojave Desert.
Time flys...the sun was going down. I retraced my steps to the flat area on the ridge, then veered left (east) and descended a sandy canyon directly to the road. While I descended, I watched three vehicles coming up the road. The scene was both comical and frustrating - the trio would drive for a few tenths of a mile, stop, point guns out windows and shoot at something, then drive on. This happened several times before they disappeared over the pass at the head of the canyon. Even then, I could still hear the occasional echo as they 'shot' their way northward.
I returned to the road and strode back to camp. As I was not interested in encountering any crazies, I packed up camp and decided to move north.
The drive along the rest of the Butterbredt Canyon Road was challenging but not difficult. It certainly was only passable with a high-clearance vehicle, but I was following what looked like the tracks of street tires. The road descended from the pass, then got rougher before spitting me out on the pavement of the Kelso Valley Road. I made a right turn (north) and skipped over to the Piute Mountain Road, then drove west into the mountains. After driving several miles through lots of snow and mud, I reached the Sequoia National Forest boundary. About 1/2 mile past the border I found an acceptable camp site. To continue up the Piute road would involve more mud, and increasing amounts of snow. I parked and pitched camp again.
Not long after cranking up the stove for dinner, I heard a great deal of noise coming down the road. I counded about 20 jeeps and two large pickup trucks, all in the same convoy.
Though I was at the 6000' elevation, the weather was quite mild. The spot I had chosen - a nice sage flat at the edge of the forest - was sheltered from the wind. After dinner I settled in to read some more and watch the stars peek through a broken layer of clouds.
February 27, 2000
Again I awoke to sun warming the tent wall. The heat was short-lived, however. Clouds obscured the sun, and just as I was about to get up the snow began to fall. The weather outside was unstable, but my camp was positioned beneath a gaping hole in the storm. The peaks to the west were tearing a gap in the swath of cloud. Snow was falling, but the sun was shining through. I packed up camp, then made some coffee.
Sitting in my Crazy Creek Chair, sipping java, reading my book - life is good! The flakes were falling, but I was lounging in the sun on the leeward side of my truck. Six more jeeps rumbled down the road - stragglers from yesterday's group?
The weather slowly improved as the morning wore on. Time to head down the mountain.
I drove down the Kelso Valley Road, then along the Jawbone Canyon Road, and parked at the 4600' saddle immediately south of Butterbredt Peak. The time was 12:30. The peak was obscured by a low cloud. I could only see the bottom 200 feet of the mountain.
I started up the ridge expecting to be turned back if the weather broke, but was rewarded for my efforts. As I climbed, so did the cloud, revealing the ridgeline a little at a time. I had guessed that the whole ascent would involve nothing more than sand slogging, so I was pleasantly surprised when I managed to squeeze off a nice pitch of class-3 scrambling on well-weathered dark granite. The scramble was breif, and before long I returned to the sand.
Milipedes began to appear. I passed perhaps a dozen of the little critters as they wiggled across the sand. These critters are hard to miss - they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
By 2:30 I was on the summit, enjoying the puffy-cloud views in all directions. I snapped some pictures while reading the summit register. The register on this peak was a strange record of multi-use dialogue and argument, in addition to being a simple record of visits. Dirt bikers and staunch environmentalists battled it out in those pages. Something I had not seen (or maybe not noticed) in registers on Sierra peaks was the practice of denoting the number of peaks (maybe the number of listed peaks?) climbed by the person signing. Many signatures had a little 'mountain' drawn next to the name, and within the outline of the mountain was a number. Many were between one and two hundred, but several were above the two hundred mark. Some even had a "x2" next to the number...impressive. The third oddity I noticed about this register was the proliferation of 'rubber-stamped' cartoons. The most amusing of these was a small beaver outfitted with coiled rope and an ice axe standing atop a peak with an expression of triumph on his face. Next to the beaver 'toon was written the name "Bucky."
I descended the canyon that splits the south and southeast ridges, where I picked up a motorcycle trail that lead back to my parked truck. I arrived at the truck at about 4:00 PM, making for a 3-1/2 hour round trip. My time could even have been shorter if I had avoided the rock scrambles on the way up and taken a more direct descent, but why would a climber do that? (:D)