OverviewThis seldom-visited peak lies along the southern Sierra Crest. This is a semi-arid region where the peaks are relatively low, and mostly covered in high desert scrub and pinon-juniper forest at the highest elevations. I personally find this region quite pleasant for hiking, especially in the fall and spring when temperatures are moderate. Like most Southern Sierra peaks, Skinner Peak rarely has any running water. There is a small intermittent stream on the south side not far from the trail head, but it's best to assume that you will find none, and carry what you think you'll need.
The peak was named for William Skinner, a Wisconsin native who moved west to mine for gold in the mid nineteenth century. He settled near the mouth of Pinyon Creek in the Kelso Valley where he lived with his wife, a local Kawaiisu Indian woman.
The peak may be approached from either the east of the west. From the east leave highway14 approximately 3 miles north of where the divided road becomes two lanes above Red Rock Canyon state park, or approximately 8 miles south of the juntion of Highway 14 and westbound 178 to Lake Isabella. You're looking for an obscurely marked dirt road designated SC 65. Approximately 5 miles from the highway you'll come to a cattle guard and a covered aqueduct. Turn left here, then continue south almost 1 mile to a junction with county road SC 106. This road will eventually meet up with county road SC 120, which you will follow to Bird Spring Pass at approximately 5,300 feet. There is a small parking area at the pass.
From the west, leave Highway 178 near Weldon and take Kelso Valley Road south to the hamlet of Kelso. Turn left on SC120 and follow the road to Bird Spring Pass. It is also possible to come in from the west by taking Jawbone Canyon Road from Highway 14 (just before Red Rock state park), and following the signs for Kelso/Weldon/Isabella until you reach SC 120. This is a scenic alternative to the eastern approach described above, but it does take a little more time.
It is also possible to approach the peak from a trailhead to the north. Follow the directions for Bird Spring Pass via Highway 14 above, but intead of turning left at the cattle guard, continue straight on SC 65 until reaching a saddle at approximately 6,250 feet. Park where the PCT crosses the road. Note that SC65 does not continue on to the west, so if you plan on doing anything else in the area, you will have to backtrack.
SC 120 is fairly well maintained (it provides access to radio towers on Wylie's Knob just south of Bird Spring Pass). Unless it has recently snowed or suffered rain damage (see Bob Burd's comment), there is no reason an average 2wd vehicle couldn't make it from either side. The western approach seems more likely to be washed out or damaged than the east due to several stream crossings (dry most of the time) and road cuts along steep, sandy slopes. The principle impediment to low-slung vehicles are the large waterbars that have been constructed across the road. Take them slowly and at an angle and all will be well.
The Mojave Desert is criss-crossed with dirt roads--it can be quite confusing at times. Friends of Jawbone Canyon puts out a great map of dirt roads in the area. All of the approaches described above can be found on it, as well as several variations. The map is available at Jawbone Station just south of Red Rock Canyon state park on Highway 14.
There are two straightforward routes up the peak, both following the PCT to a point just east of the summit. From Bird Spring Pass, follow the PCT north about 4 miles to the point where the trail starts to descend (approximately 7,000 feet elevation). Leave the trail and wander southwest through pinon and scrub a couple hundred yards until you find the summit. This may not be as easy as it sounds. The summit area is rather flat, and is covered in small trees and scrub. On a foggy, somewhat snowy day in April the summit rock looks like this from the other likely candidate, a group of rocks to the east. There is a register placed by the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section. Until you find the register, keep looking.
8 miles R/T, 1,900' gain
From the alternate trailhead to the north (reached by following SC 65 to the saddle at 6,250 feet), follow the PCT south about 2.5 miles to around the 7,000 foot elevation where the trail levels off. Follow the directions as above for the Bird Spring Pass route.
5 miles R/T, 1,200' gain
Motorized and mechanized vehicles are prohibited within the wilderness area. Bummer, no mountain bikes. The wilderness area boundaries are complex, but you can assume a setback of 30' from the centerline of dirt roads, and 300' from paved highways. Please be kind to the desert (and avoid getting a ticket!) by keeping your vehicle within these limits, and use only existing roads and car-camp sites.
For more information you can contact:
Bureau of Land Management
Bakersfield Field Office
3801 Pegasus Drive
Bakersfield, CA 93308
Bureau of Land Management |
Ridgecrest Field Office
300 S. Richmond Road
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
CampingThere are no developed campgrounds nearby, but most of the surrounding area is BLM land, and you can camp just about anywhere you like.
Mountain ConditionsSkinner Peak is high enough to get occasional snow in the winter, but low enough for it to melt away fairly quickly. It will be quite hot in the summer time, and there is no water.
For weather info use your favorite on-line forecast service. Conditions for Lake Isabella should be a good indicator for this peak. Just subtract a few degrees for elevation, and assume that it will be windier. The BLM rangers are spread thin in this area. Don't count on them knowing what conditions are like. You probably won't see one anyway.