I have not been out there lately bagging peaks as I had done in the past. There are many reasons for that, but let’s just say that more important things came up last year. Anyhow, I of course kept myself busy and in decent shape with running and bouldering mostly in the local Santa Monica Mountains. But I knew it’s just a matter of time until the urge to climb a mountain became too strong to ignore. Over the last few months I also re-awoke my kids’ interest in the outdoors and mountains again after some years of voluntary hibernation. After some planning and thinking, I decided to drive to the Five Fingers in the Southern Sierra Nevada and explore that area. I have seen these rocky outcroppings east of Owens Peak in the Indian Wells Canyon many times on my way up and down highway 14/395. And my interest to climb them grew stronger each time. Since my kids are very enthusiastic about the prospect of climbing some rocks and given that the approach to the Five Fingers is short, I considered it a good plan. I was certainly aware of the difficulty of climbing these rocks, with the easiest routes ranking in the class 3 category. Failure to reach the summit was something I knew could happen easily but I did not let that thought spoil my interest to go there. So, the original plan was trying to climb the highpoint of the Five Fingers via the class 3 chute on the north side. It sounded pretty reasonable to me. The kids were excited about it too. At the minimum I wanted to get a first-hand view of Morris Peak, Mount Jenkins, Owens Peak, Russell Peak, and Backus Peak around the Indian Wells Canyon. Also, I was hoping for a good wildflower sighting as well.
We left Los Angeles on March 27 at 6:30am and turned into Indian Wells Canyon Road shortly before 9am; a couple of miles on a good dirt road until we parked the car at the Powers Well just south of the Five Fingers and outside the Owens Peak Wilderness (elevation: 3,440’). This area seems very popular with shooting folks as there were dozens of empty shotgun shells and other calibers lying around. One note of caution if you drive north on highway 14: don’t take the first left turn into the Homestead Café at Indian Wells. The Indian Wells Canyon Road is just a bit further north and you should take the next opportunity to get on the south-bound side of the highway, drive a short distance back south before turning right into the dirt road.
|Five Fingers||Going Up|
It was a gorgeous morning with clear blue skies and comfortable temperatures in the mid 60s. Eying the hillside and the Five Fingers towering above I realized that the goal of reaching a summit with the kids seemed getting more and more remote. The rock towers (or fingers) loomed much bigger than I expected from looking at photos. In any case we started slogging up the steep hillside. I let my kids picking the route which seems to get them more excited. I just told them some landmarks we wanted to get to and they happily led the way. We needed to break quite often as the trail-less ascent over sand and talus was fairly steep and exhausting (slope up to 35%). Luckily, and to my surprise we found ourselves among a great variety of wildflowers, which were not easily visible from the dirt road below.
As I realized that the summits were probably too difficult for the kids, we aimed towards some rocks about half-way up the mountainside, which required some easy and short class 3 climbing (elevation: ~4,100’). Scrambling up some slabs and rocks, the kids had plenty of fun. Above this section we would have needed to traverse west beneath all Five Fingers to get to the approach for the highpoint (chute between Finger 4 and 5). However, I was a bit reluctant to lead the kids among all the boulders and beneath the rock towers to that chute knowing that we will probably not make it to the summit anyway. So I decided to traverse east and up again towards a saddle east of the First Finger. The traverse and climb on the steep and sandy slope was pretty tough but we tried to find more solid rocks whenever possible. Just shortly below the saddle there were some bigger slabs again, which we gladly took up.
After we reached the saddle gorgeous views opened up north and east towards the High Sierra and the Mojave Desert (elevation: ~4,700’). The road below and our parked car seemed very small from here. We had a quick snack among the rock towers. I was checking out the tower east of the saddle (I don’t think these are counted as one of the fingers). But there did not seem to be an easy route up. After the quick snack we continued west and further up towards the - what I think - First Finger. There was a small saddle just below the east face where we decided to take a longer rest and have our lunch. While the kids were eating I climbed a little bit further up on the east face of the First Finger until a definite class 5 section began. Not disappointed at all I climbed back to the kids and enjoyed the views with them. Knowing that everything from here on would be too difficult for the kids we decided to get back to the car. After listening to some complaints about having to go down the steep slope again, I told them we will be down at the car in less than 15 minutes. Of course the kids did not believe me, thinking it’s just one of my remarks to keep their spirits up. However, after we started our descent I showed them how easy and fast one can descend on a sandy steep slope. Having regained all their strength and excitement we were back at the car in a little over 10 minutes. After taking a few more pictures and re-assuring ourselves that it was a lot of fun – even though we did not summit – we got in the car.
|View North||Lunch Spot|
Since it was only shortly after noon, we decided to drive to Lake Isabella. One of the reasons was that I wanted to check out the PCT trailhead to Morris Peak, as well as the approach to Russell Peak. The drive towards Lake Isabella was nothing short of spectacular. I wondered why I have never been in this area before. But I am sure I will be back many more times. We spent some time in Lake Isabella, ate there, and drove back the long way to Los Angeles, where we arrived around 6pm. Although the actual hike/climb was only a fraction of our day and most of it was sitting in the car, it was nevertheless a beautiful and fulfilling day.
As many said before: It’s the journey and not the destination.
The overall stats for this outing are not impressive but also not indicative of how much fun we had: 2.1 miles out and back over trail-less terrain with ~1,340’ of elevation gain.