Spanish Mountain

11 Nov 1995 - by Pat Ibbetson

On this beautiful Saturday morning I decided to put and end to a long time obsession of mine by making the long journey to the summit of Spanish Mountain (10,050). Spanish mountain has innumerable properties that make it an attractive mountain to climb, but all of these withheld, there is still something that pulls us towards its rounded summit, a mystical aura surrounding the mountain. Native Americans have many stories of the area, including a tale of the two brothers, Obelisk and Buck Rock. Mystique aside, Spanish Mountain is certainly a worthwhile hike. Its size alone commands respect. It is easily the most massive peak visible from any city in the U.S. Its west spur (Rogers Ridge) is over 20 miles long, and its south face soars for over 8,000 feet from the Kings River below making the Kings Canyon the deepest canyon above sea level in the world.

Although the peak is only 30 miles from my home, the drive was 3 hours long. Along the way I passed all of the places I had worked at that summer with the Forest Service. Having worked in the area all summer and fall, I knew first hand what the notoriously treacherous creeks of the area could do. My intended route was the Spanish OHV Trail which had been closed all year because of the damage caused by the previous winters generous snowfall. At the wilderness boundary I would then take the ridge for three miles to the summit. This would allow me to avoid every creek and stream in the area, all of which were still raging. I had never actually driven the Wishon road to its end, and I missed the unsigned gate which marked the beginning of the trail, which veered of due north.

It was a typical San Joaquin valley fall, the color of light just slightly odd enough to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Birds were still in the area and squirrels were busy preparing for winter's onslaught. I finally hit the road at 10:30 and began the instantly steep hike, which was boring and uneventful.

About 1 I reached the wilderness boundary. From here I side hilled around peak 9,368 to try and save some time, heading for the plateau due west of the summit. Huge talus blocks squashed that plan, but I pressed on rather than backtrack. At two I emerged on the rock strewn plateau and plowed through the talus for what seemed like eternity. Could the summit just be a mirage? After falling victim to another one of the Sierra's favorite practical jokes (the false summit) I reached the duff and sand of the north side of the peak and strolled to an easy finish.

At 2:30pm I stood triumphantly on my overwhelmingly most desired peak in the whole world, but I couldn't see anything. Absolutely nothing. To the west the Tule Fog had risen to almost 7,000 feet. To the south smog from Fresno was blowing up from under the fog into the canyon. From here it spread out over the entire mountain range. I couldn't even see Buck Rock, which was across the canyon. The Monarch Divide had no definition to speak of, just a dark brown blob. University, Whitney and Brewer poked their sharp little noses out from the exhaust but they were so far off that I couldn't get good pictures of them. Mt Goddard rose to the north, dominating the Sierras as it has done for millions of years. None of the other peaks in the vicinity could be seen. Castle Peak, Finger Rock, Hoffman Mtn were there, but it was too hazy to study them with any accuracy. Kettle Ridge was hidden under the muck and I felt like I was standing on an island in a brown sea. It was easier to see north west. Below was Patterson Mountain which I bagged while "on the clock" that summer and to the north were Eagle, Nelson and the domes of Courtright. I took a long time to eat, wallowing in my disappointment with the view.

I headed back around 3:30 bagging 9,368 on a path that kept me almost entirely on class 1 dirt. From here I regained the OHV trail and headed down to Garlic Meadow to survey the damage from the prior year's fire. While I was looking around the sun began to dip behind peak 9,295 so I hiked back across the meadow and up to the forested summit of peaklet 9,040+ where I regained the old OHV trail and headed down hill. After nearing benchmark 7,829 the sun went down and the cold darkness of the dense forest began to set in. By 7400 feet it was dark, and the only glasses I had were my sun glasses. I whipped out the Mag Light 3D but even it failed me as I dropped below 7,000 feet.

Not wanting to spend a long night alone in bear country I pressed on, at a snail's pace. The road here is much more curvy than indicated on the map, but around 7:45 the moon began to light up the white sand of the road and I began moving at a decent pace again. When I made the sharp turn due south I knew I was close and began galloping downhill. When I reached my car, I changed shoes and put my pack inside, apparently leaving my flashlight on top, where I left it as I drove off. I was already two hours late for dinner so I left it behind.

After calling home from the boarded up Wishon Village I drove back down McKinley Grove road. The Big Trees eerily large in the soft light of the moon and I was glad to get out of there, having seen practically nothing all day.

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