Yolo County High Point Trip Report

Little Blue Peak

Date: December 9, 2001
Author: Craig Harris

I live in the Sacramento region and had hiked in this area long before I became aware of county high pointing. I was intrigued by Gary Suttle's implicit challenge of the "all BLM approach" to this peak. I decided to take up that challenge.

I tried his suggestion. hike down to Davis Creek, then scale the opposite ridge and bushwhack to the summit. Impossible! I tried the ridge in 2 different places. The chaparral on top of Little Blue Ridge is impenetrable; period. I don't know if I would have used that word until I got a look at that bush. A bulldozer or maybe a troop of 50 boy scouts are perhaps the only pruning tools that could make a dent! But while scouting up the ridges, I was able to spot a potential trail out of the canyon on the opposite (west) side, leading up to the area east of Butte Rock.

So eventually (it took 3 trips counting the abortive attempt on the ridge) I was able to blaze an all-BLM trail that circumvents the need to cross private property fences. If any of you decide to use "my" trail notes in the future, I offer the following name for the route, "The Milktoast Highway" [sic].

The approach road described in Gary Suttle's book is closed in winter. However, there are 2 alternatives.

1. From the town of Lower Lake (near Clear Lake), take Main Street at the junction of Highway 29. Main Street turns into Morgan Valley Road, which turns into Knoxville Berryessa Road at the Napa County Line. However, before the county line take a left onto Rieff Road. This road leads to the trailhead at the Yolo County line, where it becomes Rayhouse Road. There are locked gates at the county line and at the Cache Creek spillway on Highway 16.

2. The peak can also be approached from the vicinity of Lake Berryessa by taking the Spanish Flat cutoff from Highway 128. That road becomes Knoxville Berryessa Road and leads to the mentioned intersection with Rieff Road. The approach from Lake Berryessa is closed when the creek floods the many spillways crossing this road.

The approach from Lower Lake should be open year round and is certainly the best approach for a low clearance car. Oh, the dirt roads in this part of the coast range are impassable after a good rain. You will not be able to drive to the trailhead in winter without a 4-wheel drive or some good luck with extended dry weather. You can park lower down on Rieff Road at the bottom of the hill. You'll see a hand painted sign warning you about the mud. Heed that warning! About a mile extra walking. Watch out for the dogs at the castle.

From the trailhead, follow the approach road all the way to Davis Creek as indicated in Suttle's guide. Once at Davis Creek, turn left and head directly upstream for a mile or so (this is a ROUGH mile but at least the worst of the brush has been cut away). Eventually the canyon splits sort of, take the left hand branch. The right hand branch continues up to the cirque formed by the Little Blue Ridge and the saddle mentioned in Suttle's guide. The brush is so thick you couldn't go that way if you wanted to! Follow the left hand branch for a couple hundred yards, up, over and around some piles of big rocks and then exit the creek bottom on the right hand bank, climbing steeply at first, with the angle gradually easing. The path follows a ribbon of grass snaking through the chaparral and is literally the only way out of the upper canyon without a bulldozer. This ribbon of grass leads up to some gray pines visible from the creek bottom (digger pines for the more vulgar), becomes a path, then eventually a fire break road. Follow the road up the ridge (north westerly direction) to a 4-way junction. The left hand branch at this junction is the fire road coming from the Butte Rock vicinity (cited in Suttle's book). Turn right and drop down to the saddle separating the ridge from Little Blue Peak and proceed with original directions.

The "trail" is well-ducked, with regular cairns marking any important junction, any exit and entry point in the creek, and at intervals along the creek bottom and fire road. This to assure wary hikers they are still on track. It seems such an unlikely trail that I even had to reassure myself I was still on!

Advantages: The A Word - Adventure! This ain't no wennie-roast peak-bagging stroll. This is something more, something dark, something malevolent. But the bushwhacking is mostly done. The canyon bottom is impenetrable brush except in and along the creek. By following the creek, unnecessary cutting was reduced. This, while not technically accurate, is essentially the "All BLM approach."

Private land on the creek bottom is briefly crossed (see map for details). You will see some curious fence posts beside the creek should you venture down there, and while they appear to be useless for their intended purpose they are useful landmarks for the route. No one on earth would know or care if you cross this particular boundary line.

This hike is quite unique. Because it follows the creek, and in the wet season is IN the creek, the vegetation zones (riparian and coast chaparral) are in stark contrast with one another. There are some interesting rocks in the creek for the geologically-minded. Finally, this is a difficult hike. Because of the location, it's unlikely other hikers will be encountered. That makes it rewarding in and of itself, at least to a solo grouch like me.

Disadvantages: Difficult creek walking, 500+ feet of additional elevation with which to contend, not a civilized a trail. This is not a hike for little old ladies, little kids, or the faint at heart (to me an advantage, but tastes differ). Finding the correct exit point from the creek could be a problem. Two pieces of advice: go until no more cut branches are encountered and look for gray pines and grass on the hillside up and to the right. It's a very steep and unstable slope at first. Go a little farther to find a better line. The exit point itself is well marked by a big cairn and is on the opposite side of the canyon from Little Blue Ridge.

Recommended Extra Gear: In wet season, neoprene socks, sturdy hiking boots that you don't mind getting wet, gaiters, a hiking stick (ski pole without basket excellent choice), dry tennis shoes and socks for exiting the creek (stash wet boots there for return hike) and a small pair of pruning shears (while the heavy lifting is done, the first few parties using this trail should consider sprucing up the place a bit). I'd recommend wearing jeans and long sleeved shirts and consider taking a nylon wind breaker as additional armor against the underbrush. Don't wear polypro or wool or anything else that tends to catch in the brush. Sunglasses or safety glasses are a good idea and a hat with a brim is almost mandatory. Allow 6 - 8 hours hiking time round trip with a nap on the summit. Do this hike in the winter or spring, when the area is alive and cooler (and wetter).

I've been up Davis creek all the way to the summit twice now. I'm sure substantial vegetation grows back each year, but I cut a lot of crap out of the creek bed. The trail wanders in and out of the creek, always seeking the easiest way.

On my last trip I lingered on the summit (late February 2000 I think) until near sunset. I was getting sick and beginning to run a fever. I definitely shouldn't have been playing hooky from work, bushwhacking up a trackless canyon. The thought of descending back down that creek bed in the growing dark was unpalatable. Also, I wanted to reconnoiter Butte Rock, so I returned the private way. Butte Rock was cool and worth the scramble to its top. On the way back (gee, these roads are ever so civilized), I saw people about the house, so I found a path that descended partially into the Davis Creek canyon, hooked up with the aforementioned road and returned that way. At the trailhead I encountered a man and his dog and we chatted.

This guy (I forget his name) lives in the unmistakable castle a short ways down Rieff Road. He's started a vineyard on his way to making a winery. Anyway, he told me a few things of interest about the area, and I thought I'd pass them on. Please note that I have verified none of this.

1. The guy that owns the house on the private property approach DOES NOT like people crossing his property. My guy said he's odd and abrupt. He goes out looking for hunters and poachers. My guy seemed to know I'd been on that land and he made a point of saying it wasn't a good idea (despite my protestations to the contrary). Turns out turkey poachers come into the area frequently (I didn't know there was such a thing!). I didn't tell him what I was up to. I generally don't like discussing my backcountry objectives with curious locals. If this property owner becomes more adamant about keeping hikers off his land in the future, the Milktoast Highway might actually see some traffic!

2. Rayhouse Road from Highway 16 marks the original road from Sacramento to Clear Lake, before Highways 16 and 20 were cut through the coast range and into the Cache Creek canyon. Wagons and stagecoaches used to make this trip.

3. Employees of the Homestake Mine, the unmistakable gold strip mining operation down in the valley, purposely burned the area. He said about 10 - 15 years ago they flew around in a chopper and dropped the equivalent of napalm on selected areas of the chaparral. The purpose? To make access easier for the surveyors! Said they almost burned his house down.

4. Active mining has occurred in this area for well over 100 years. Down the road just before the lake on Davis Creek there is an old kiln. According to this guy, Mexican miners constructed it prior to the Mexican/American War to extract quicksilver from the abundant cinnabar found in the area.

5. I wrote to Gary Suttle and described my route (that letter formed the basis for this TR). Gary replied that a BLM ranger he met when he was in the area to do the peak described the "all BLM" route. The ranger claims to have done what I failed to do, bushwhack along the Little Blue Ridge. Gary thought this guy did it some time in the early 80's. I have speculated he did it after the area was burned. If you doubt my assessment of that approach. Try it!

Geologically, the area marks a significant outcrop of the coast range ophiolite. The terrain west of Little Blue Creek is believed to be the bottom of the Great Valley Beds; oceanic crust. The Knoxville formation gains it's name from the old abandoned mining town of the same name, near the present Homestake site. The serpentinites and associated rocks are believed to have once been basement ocean floor, pillow lavas, sheeted dike complexes, peridotite, etc. all being key markers. Only some of this evidence is visible along this hike. The Franciscian formation farther west marks the line of subduction where an entire oceanic plate is believed to have been consumed beneath the edge of North America. That consumption is believed to have contributed to the extensive volcanism of the northern Sierra, the Cascades and the Sutter Buttes in particular. All that is left of that plate is currently being subducted beneath Washington, Oregon and CA north of Mendocino.

Anyway, the purpose of this report was to propose and authenticate the "all BLM" approach to Little Blue Peak. I dare you to try it! Good luck and be sure to post a report when you're done.