For most of their length the Sierra Nevada are thought of as a massive fault block on the eastern side which slopes gently down towards the west into the Central Valley. Most of California's highest peaks lie along this crest from Whitney near Lone Pine to the Palisade Group near Big Pine.
To the south the summits drop down to 8,000 feet just north of Walker Pass and include Owens, Jenkins and Morris Peaks. Many people consider this to be the southern end of the range, but another range, the Scodie Mountains, is a continuation of the same fault block system with a few impressive peaks as well.
Many of us have climbed Scodie, Pinyon and Onyx which are in the north and western side of the range. But there is another peak, perhaps the most impressive in size, at the far southern end.
Its name is Skinner Peak and it is here that the main crest breaks down into a series of discontinuous summits such as Mayan, Butterbredt, Cross and Chuckwalla, while the Pacific Crest itself, the main divider between the waters that flow towards the Pacific and the basin and ranges, turns toward the Piute Mountains.
Skinner has steep slopes on all sides and the southwest face is the most impressive. The 7120 foot summit drops down to 500 feet in a short half mile. The recently built Pacific Crest Trail goes from 5355 foot Bird Spring Pass to within 100 feet of the summit before heading north towards Walker Pass.
Why such an impressive peak was not on the List was a great mystery to me until Dick Akawie showed up at our meeting location, the Walker Pass
Campground, on Saturday morning. "Alan, I wondered why you were leading this thing," he said, "then I got the new map". He showed me the old topo which had the summit on an insignificant bump down the ridge at elevation 5819 feet. All new topos (and the Sequoia National Forest Map) in which the peak lies, have the 7120 foot summit as the listed one. Someone several years ago wisely moved it.
We met at 7:30AM on a clear and frosty morning with a group of twelve adventurous souls. From the campground we drove west on Highway 178 past the town of Onyx to Kelso Creek Road. We turned left and drove 10 3/4 miles down to Bird Spring Pass Road where two signs are posted: one a BLM sign indicating an environmentally sensitive area (for off-roaders who apparently aren't too concerned about it), and another placed by the Boy Scouts telling us that John C. Fremont once passed over this way when there was too much snow on Walker Pass.
The road is suitable for most cars and there are only a few rocky spots to watch out for. There is ample room to park cars.
A cool wind, on what would have seemed to be a warm day, prompted us to get moving - which we did around 8:50AM. The trail starts off in typical high desert flora of sagebrush, Joshua trees and Pinyon on the shadier slopes. The Pacific Crest Trail winds around to the east side where the view opens up to the south and the entire San Gabriel and San Bernardino Ranges come into sight.
After some long switchbacks in the sandy soil, a crest is reached at 6500 feet after 2 1/2 miles. The summit of Skinner comes into view as the trail traverses the southeast ridge. After a few more switchbacks, the trail continues around the north side of bump 6931 before skirting the summit plateau. It is here that the most impressive views are seen of Whitney to the north, Telescope to the northwest, and the major ranges to the south.
We left the trail about where it reaches its highest point and cross-countried a short distance through the Pinyon covered plateau to the summit. First we went over to the benchmark where some old survey rubble remains, then over to the high rock about 100 feet to the north where Jon Sheldon found a register placed by Sam Fink some 14 years ago. In it were a few familiar names, including Gordon MacLeod.
We estimated that it was close to 4 miles after walking almost two hours with only a few short breaks. The gain is about 1700 feet from Bird Spring Pass. There is another road up Horse Canyon that goes up to 6200 feet. From there the PCT can be taken south to reach Skinner - also with less gain. That road seemed to be in good condition, although it would take over 16 miles of dirt road driving from Highway 14 to reach it.
We enjoyed an early lunch on top before leaving around 11:30AM. We descended back to the PCT and followed it back down to the 6500 foot level where a long sandy slope was too much of an invitation to ignore. Off we went down the slope reaching the bottom not far from the pass. We walked a short distance to the cars, reaching them around 12:30PM. There is a road 1/5 mile east of Bird Spring Pass that heads north up the gully and it saves about 1/4 mile of walking.
We all agreed that Skinner deserves to be on The List. It is a significant peak in a unique location with some of the best views compared to any on The List. I'm sure anybody who does it will feel the same way.
Dick and Shirley Akawaie went home afterward by driving down the east side of the pass and heading toward Highway 14. The road seems much better in that direction and even traces of pavement remain.
The rest of us drove back down to Kelso Valley Road and then over to the Onyx Peak starting point. We started around 1:30PM in warmer conditions and took the standard route up, reaching the summit around 3:45PM. We stayed for a short time as the sun began to sink behind the towering form of Nicolls Peak. We reached the cars just as it started to get dark around 4:45 PM.
Two went home, four went back to Walker Pass and the rest of us went to a nice Mexican restaurant in Wofford Heights.
Sunday morning signaled the arrival of the expected cold front and clouds began passing by at incredible speeds. Seven of us decided to do Scodie anyway. We took the route from the campground and more or less stayed on the route except for a wrong turn in one of the gullies which was soon rectified. The cold wind did not invite long rest breaks and we soon reached the top plateau where the wind really began blowing in earnest. The summit was reached around 10:30AM. We all took cover on the east side as 60MPH gusts buffeted the summit. Clouds were passing by at speeds resembling those in the Koyanisqatsi.
It didn't take long before we were off the summit and back down in the gully where things were a little more inviting. We retraced our steps back down arriving back at the cars around Noon.
Participants: Dick and Shirley Akawie, Doug Hatfield, Evan Samuels, Cristy Bird, Robert Bate, Jim Kilberg, Andrea Harpole, Jon Sheldon and Janet. Thanks to Martin for keeping things going in the back. It was a nice weekend.