Del Norte County Highpoint Trip Report

Bear Mountain

Date: July 31, 2007
Author: Peter Maurer

Having done enough bushwhacking on Little Blue Peak (Yolo County CA) and reading the prior reports, I eschewed the ridge route for the traditional trail route. I followed Ken Jones's excellent driving instructions to the end of the road, arriving just at dusk for an early morning start. From the north, the turn-off to Little Jones Creek Road is about 12 miles from the California/Oregon border, and about 1/2 mile beyond a road marked Siskiyou Fork Road. Some other map changes of note: sometime in the last 10 years, the trail head was moved back about 3/4 mile to the saddle just before the Prescott Cabin shown on the USGS topo. The trail has also been re-routed, avoiding most of Doe Flat and staying higher up on the slope, dropping only to about 3800 feet, saving an extra climb out of Doe Creek. The forest service indicated that this was to preserve a grove of Port Orford Cedar from getting some type of root disease.

After a poor night's sleep, I awoke at 5:30 to a cold breakfast of granola and leftover pizza, since I discovered my stove not working. Was on the trail by 6:00 and made good time for the first 2-1/2 to 3 miles down to the junction with the Devil's Punchbowl Trail. Turning up the hill, the hike got more challenging, as this is one of the steepest half-miles of trail I have ever hiked. My calves were screaming along this stretch but it was over fairly quickly, then dropped down to cross the creek and begin the scramble over the rocks to the Punchbowl. Although this part of the trail is indistinct, it is well-marked by duck markers and I reached the lake shortly after 8:00. I refilled my water bottle here, then headed out for the gap leading to the ridge.

After reading the reports, it was clear that the third or southwest draw is the only one that is really do-able and noticing the difference in distance thought I'd try the west side of the lake, despite the warnings of brush. While there were a few thick spots, in my opinion, having taken the south and east shore on the return, this was much easier than the boulder scrambling and extra distance needed to go all the way around. About 2/3 the way along the shore, I began to angle up the chute towards the scree slope. I cut through some brush and a stand of fir but would recommend to anyone going this way to stay along the right edge of the triangle of trees that point up the chute. From here, it is a slow slog up the scree slope, the worst part of the climb! Every step had to be tested for stability and even that early in the day it is fully in the sun.

Near the top of the chute are two large mountain hemlock trees in front of a rock face that splits the notch. The left notch looked easier and more direct and leads to a rock face that from below looks like an easy scramble. Once on this rock, I found it to be a lot steeper than expected, very crumbly, and with a layer of sand that made each foothold precarious. This may be the class 3 stretch that Adam Helman described and it was dicey but I carefully ascended, at the end grabbing onto protruding roots and branches to assist in the climb. A short stretch through trees and shrubs led me to the ridge. From there, it was a simple scramble along the ridge, keeping as everyone recommends along the ridgeline to avoid the deeper brush up to the summit.

I summitted at 11:00, and enjoyed a 1/2-hour break for lunch and photies. A red can sat in the rocks below the summit but no register. I retraced my route down the ridgeline but continued on to the westernmost gap into the chute to avoid the steep, slippery rock. Going down the scree was almost as hard as going up, with footing even less secure. I took one bad tumble but fortunately only had a few cuts and scrapes. The long haul around the southeast side of the lake convinced me that my earlier decision was right. I refilled my water bottle, drank that, and refilled it again, my 4th liter of water so far that day. I enjoyed a much deserved swim and rest at the northern end of the lake. After feeling rejuvenated, I hiked back out the trail, where a cold Wild River IPA that I picked up at the brewery the day before was waiting for me.

This was a long, hard hike and climb but I cannot understand why anyone would try to go cross country through brush for this peak. Plus you'd miss a delightful swim in Devil's Punchbowl! Total time was 10 hours, including the hour swim. From there it was the long winding road back down to find a swimming hole in the Smith River and drive to Orleans for Humboldt County the next day.