Cow Heaven Peak
By: Jerry Keating
When originally planned, this SPS trip was to climb two easy peaks on the Kern Plateau and allow participants to get a distant look at how well the Southern Sierra had started to recover from the 73,724-acre Manter fire of summer 2000, which started in Domeland and spread downward toward Kennedy Meadows. That plan had to be scrapped because an even more massive fire named McNally broke out July 21 nine miles north of Kernville and quickly made its way onto the Kern Plateau. Although the McNally fire didn’t reach Smith Mtn., our main objective, it did spread into the Golden Trout Wilderness and approach Blackrock Mtn., our second climbing objective.
Containment of the McNally fire was reported on August 29—nearly six weeks after its origin near the Road’s End Resort on the Kern River. That resort was among three residences, five commercial properties and six outbuildings destroyed in the fire. The acreage ultimately grew to 150,696—more than twice the size of the Manter fire. The fire-fighting cost, as of September 8, was $53.3 million and still growing. All this because a Bakersfield resident, lacking a required permit, started what she believed to be a safe campfire along the Kern River.
The fire spread rapidly, but the areas of greatest interest to SPSers include: from the river up to almost to Sherman Pass and then northward before turning eastward and enveloping Bonita Meadows and the Bald Mtn. Botanical Area. The fire also crossed the Cherry Hill Road but was stopped before reaching Big Meadow. Sirretta Peak was spared as were Taylor Dome, Smith Mtn., Crag Peak and Kern Peak.
Nine Mile Canyon Road was kept open to the Kennedy Meadows area, but travel beyond the South Fork of the Kern was banned to allow firefighters to move without delay. The incident command center, including tents and trailers, was located at Kennedy Meadows and was still there in September during the mop-up operations. Kennedy Meadows CG remained open, but all campgrounds on the Kern Plateau, including the one we’d hoped to use at Troy Meadows, were closed.
With 20 persons on the trip roster, the leaders opted to substitute BLM’s Walker Pass CG as the meeting point and list “Cow Heaven Peak” (7166’) on the Kiavah Plateau as the prime objective. That peak first shows up in SPS literature as one John Robinson and three others climbed in February 1959 on the way to Scodie Mtn. Their climb, however, started from peak’s desert side and came up Cow Heaven Canyon. Our approach, instead, would be from the Walker. Pass side and benefit from the thick pinyon forest along the Pacific Crest Trail. Starting at the campground (5050’), the route follows the PCT for 4.9 miles to the Kiavah Plateau (6880’) and then proceeds cross country for 0.75 mile in a southeastly direction through a partly burned area to the peak.
Eleven participants started for the peak Saturday morning, and 10 signed in at the summit. The register was started on March 16, 1980, by Gordon MacLeod, Harvey Hickman and Bill Sanders, who had come up from Cow Heaven Canyon. Next entry was by Cuno Ranschau on March 29, 1981, After that, there were eight other parties, the largest of which had three members.
Signing in as our summit party were MacLeod (2X!), Barbara Lilley, Rich Gnagy, Rayne & Mary Motheral, Bruno Geiger, Delores Holladay and the leaders, Jerry & Nancy Keating and Walt Whisman.
The view from the summit was exceptional. The haze above the McNally fire had cleared, and the Whitney group, the Great Western Divide and Olancha Peak were easy to identify. Domeland also was clearly in view, as was Sirretta Peak.
After a long-happy hour Saturday evening at camp, Sunday activities were the choice of the individual participants.
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