Smith Mountain, Blackrock Mountain, Manzanita Knob

6-Sep-03

By: Jerry Keating


This late-summer trip originally was scheduled for September 2002 to climb two peaks and to observe the recovery, whatever its extent, from the Manter fire of 2001. But the prolonged McNally fire of JulyAugust 2002 forced that trip to move farther south.

Our fortunes improved this year, although it was necessary to shift the trip’s base from the Troy Meadow Campground (which was closea for renovation) to the one at nearby Fish Creek. We also were lucky to have arrived Friday afternoon when the ground had started to dry out from a three-hour downpour on Thursday. That storm was so powerful it spread debris across the roads between Kennedy Meadows and points on the Kern Plateau.

With 14 climbers on hand Saturday, Smith Mtn. (9533’) was climbed via its north ridge. Then, we opted to drive on SNF Road 20S25 for 3.9 miles past Osa Meadows to a cul-de-sac at the Golden Trout Wilderness border. From there we headed northward in the wilderness for about 1.5 miles to Manzanita Knob (9121’).

Dick Agnos, active in SPS before moving to Maine but now living in Lone Pine, asked who would bother with such an insignificant peak. Well, we soon found a 21-yearold entry in the register with his name, Gordon MacLeod’s and Neko Colevins’ on it! The trio obviously had been in search of lesser-known summits. MacLeod, who was in our party, seemed amused. He knowingly repeated the climb.

While Smith Mtn. escaped any harm from the recent fires, scattered damage was evident in the largely fir forest en route to Manzanita Knob. The views along the route, however, made the hike well worth the effort. Among the landmarks sighted were the Western Divide, Kern River Canyon, Farewell Gap and the Little Kern drainage.

The danger of new fires remained high during our visit, and road signs warned against lighting campfires in undeveloped forest areas. Since we were staying in a developed campground, we Were able to enjoy a lengthy campfire.

Sunday morning, we drove to Blackrock Gap, and nine persons ascended Blackrock Mtn. (9635’). It was an easy hike through another fir forest that had been damaged by the McNally fire. The view was limited by the number of healthy trees surrounding the summit rocks.

This was an intro trip, and six participants were relative newcomers - Sufang Chen, Amy Jung, Yan Tong, Sara Shen. Others, however, had SPS experience dating as early as 1955. Besides Agnos and MacLeod, these participants included Bill Gray, Delores Holladay, Barbara Lilley, Barbara Reber, Nancy Keating and the writer.

Not wanting to see the worst damage of the 150,700-acre NcNally fire by exiting the plateau via Kernville, we decided to return home by the entry route. This route was bad enough in that it passed areas burned by the Manter fire, which started in Domeland. Most of the damage visible from the road was to pinyon pines, and these trees will be slow to recover because they are on the drier terrain on both sides of the South Fork of the Kern River.

The McNally fire was the largest wildfire in the history of Sequoia National Forest. It started at Roads End north of Kernville on July 21, 2002, and was not contained for six weeks after burning in both the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests. The fire also burned 16,800 acres within the Giant Sequoia National Monument and threatened three giant sequoia groves: Packsaddle, Long Meadow and Freeman Creek. The cost estimated by the Forest Service to manage the fire suppression and rehabilitation efforts was in excess of $59 million.

Barbara Lilley, participant on this trip had climbed Smith before, but Blackrock and Manzanita Knob were new for Barbara’s collection of peaks!


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