This now seems to be a new tradition in our family: Every June we drive about 170 miles north from our house in the Bay Area to take our son and whoever else can fit in our truck to the Wente Boy Scout Camp near Willits, California. While Matt works on merit badges (getting ever closer to Eagle!), my wife and I check in somewhere in the region to tag a summit or two. Last year it was Mount Saint Helena. This year it would be a peak that I've wanted to hike for several years: Mount Konocti.
This very imposing peak is an ancient volcano that dominates the Clear Lake area. The massif is composed of 5 named summits. The highest summit is called Wright Peak and it reaches an altitude of nearly 4300 feet. I had originally hoped to reach four of the summits that are accessible via the main trail system of the county park. The fifth and lowest summit- Clark Peak- is accessible from a different road that may not be open to the public. Of the remaining 4 summits, I was pretty sure I could convince my wife, Nora, to hike up three of them: Wright Peak, Howard Peak and Buckingham Peak due to the nicely graded dirt road that can be followed up to the summits of each of them. The remaining peak, South Peak, may involve some bushwhacking, so I hoped to quickly do that summit on my own since she would not appreciate such a hike. I brought our walkie talkies along in case we needed to communicate while separated. That was our plan but, as is often the case, Mother Nature had plans of her own...
To save money, we made reservations to camp at Clear Lake State Park instead of staying in a motel which is what I usually prefer since I don't much care for camping anymore. About a week before we left, a major and prolonged heat wave was predicted for much of the state during the week we would be on our trip. Temperatures would be in the100s. Drat! I told Nora and she indicated that she still wanted to camp. I knew that suffering in a sweltering heat wave would be less painful than the guilt trip she would impose on me for cancelling a camping trip that she was looking forward to. As is often the case, it's better to let her learn some things for herself.
We dropped Matt off and went through the usual time consuming chaos of camp registration. It was already getting hot by the time we left and drove the 50 miles or so down to our campsite. Transitioning from our airconditioned truck to the 100+ degree air to set up camp was shocking, indeed. We brought a lot of water, beer, and iced tea and took frequent breaks as we set up our tent and broke out the gear. Ugh! As promised, it was miserable. A slight breeze came up very infrequently and was usually very short lived. Not surprisingly, the campground was nearly empty. A trip to the nearby swim beach on the lake helped a great deal.
Konocti County Park opens at sunrise and we knew that we needed to be there when it did to get as early a start as possible to beat the worst of the heat for our climb. Getting to bed early and going to sleep would not be easy. It was hot! No sleeping bags were necessary. I used mine as a pillow both of the nights we were there and just layed on top of my pad frequently using a bandana to wipe off sweat. To make matters worse, a nearby group camp consisting of mostly young adults was a bit on the noisy side long after the 10pm 'quiet time'. There was also some kind of animal- possibly a bird in the middle of the campground loop often making some kind of loud chilling screeching sounds. A loud 'whoose-whoose-whoose' sound was coming from the west. One of the wineries maybe? We never did figure these noises out. All I know is that sleep would not be allowed to come to me (although, as usual, my wife slept quite soundly throughout most of the ordeal).
We got up at around 5am as the sky began to brighten. The temperatures were already in the mid 70s. Luckily, I'd studied the map and didn't make a single wrong turn on the sometimes confusing route through Kelseyville on our way to the county park. A good dirt road winds its way for about 2 miles up to the main trailhead where we each enjoyed a breakfast pastry before we started the hike. Curiously, small instances of cumulus cells with anvil tops were already forming in the distance with rain visible below the clouds. A few of these seemed to be forming nearby. The rain would be most welcome, but not the possible associated lightning. It turned out that the hot sun pretty much eradicated all our hopes of rain and threats of lightning by mid-morning.
The trail is well graded and easy to hike. There is an easement through some private property near the beginning which was the only part that featured any difficulty at all where part of the trail climbed a short moderately steep slope straight up a hill to some stairs before rejoining the main road / trail. From there the going is 'easy-peasy' and we soon reached the first switchback where Nora announced that she was sleepy-tired and needed to take a short 5 or 10 minute nap at one of the shady picnic tables there.
With the heat wave in full force, my plans for a possible four summit trip gradually dwindled down to 3 summits and now I was hoping to at least tag the two 'ranked' summits- Wright Peak and Buckingham Peak. I knew that Nora was up for Wright, but not so sure about Buckingham. Time was of the essence and I reminded her that the temps were going to go up pretty fast as the morning progressed. It was already in the mid-eighties according to my GPS. I offered to tag Buckingham right then since we were at the trail junction for that peak. She could sleep for the better part of an hour while I accomplished this, but she said no. She was up for that, too. Could I just please wait for about 5 or 10 minutes. I happily agreed. I wish I could make her believe how proud I am of her at these moments. I wandered around with my camera for about 15 minutes while she got a little rest. Then were back at it.
The next three quarters mile or so climbs at an easy grade and was very pleasant with lots of shade. Another restroom and picnic table is reached where the trail made a sharp bend to the northeast. From there on up, there wasn't as much shade, but that's okay since the summit towers of Wright soon came into view and we could see that we were pretty close. Soon we were at a saddle where there is a junction with the spur road to the summit of Howard Peak. Should we also hit that one? We could decide later. It was already in the mid-nineties and we needed to keep going to our main goal of Wright Peak which was just a short distance ahead.
We came around the last bend in the trail before the summit and were surprised by the presence of a wrecked aircraft that had crashed here in 1970 killing both occupants. A sign indicated that they had been a retired couple who were flying from Santa Rosa to their home in Willits when they had become disorientated and lost in some bad weather.
Ten minutes after the plane crash site, we were at the summit of Wright Peak enjoying some spectacular views all around. To the south was Cobb Mountain and nearby Mount Saint Helena which we had hiked almost exactly one year earlier. Far in the distance was a hazy view of Mount Diablo. We're unfamiliar with this area, so I couldn't identify most of the other peaks that surrounded us. Far below to the east was vast Clear Lake surrounded by homes and resorts. In the distant east thunder cells dominated and obscurred the crest of the Sierra Nevada. The cells stretched in a long line that curved up to the north of our location. These clouds seemed to block any hope of seeing Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta in that direction.
The summit is pretty shadeless and the temps were steadily climbing up past the mid-nineties, so we ate a quick snack and rehydrated before packing our gear and starting back down the trail. We briefly considered hiking up the short trail to Howard Peak, but decided to continue on toward Buckingham instead due to the ever increasing heat. On our way back down the shaded portion, my wife stepped over a stick that turned out not to be a stick- it was a gopher snake stretched out across the road. When I pointed this out to her, Nora, who is deathly afraid of snakes didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did. In fact, she didn't laugh at all and refused to get anywhere near it. Smiling, I took a couple of pictures and we moved on.
When we arrived back at the trail junction for Buckingham Peak, I was only a little surprised (and a lot pleased) that Nora was willing to accompany me up this peak rather than rest in the shade. I'll make a 'peakbagger' out of her yet! :-) This trail starts out relatively level with many shady sections to hike through. After only about a third of a mile the grade steepens and the shade all but disappeared. My GPS reported a temperature of 104 degrees. Ouch! Luckily, there was a small but noticable breeze blowing. It wasn't enough to take the edge off all that heat, but it was better than nothing.
Soon enough we reached the summit which was adjacent to the edge of a razor-wire enclosed compound with cell towers inside. The views were nice, though not as good as the views from Wright Peak. We stayed only long enough for a couple of pictures, some snacks and liquids. Lots of liquids.
It was only a little more than 2 miles back to the car, but it seemed much longer due to the heat. The tempertures along the final mile and a half had reached 106 degrees. We were down to our last half liter of water, but that was okay. We had plenty more water in the truck which also had our ice chest containing ice cold water and other beverages.
When we finally got back to the trailhead another hiker drove up for a quick hike to the top. He was a local who seemed to do this regularly. I hoped so since he was only carrying 3 seventeen-ounce water bottles with him. He was the only other person we'd seen during our entire stay on the mountain.
We celebrated our victory by driving into Lakeport for lunch and milkshakes. We relished our trucks airconditioning before driving back to our sweltering campsite for one more unpleasant night before driving home in the morning.
Mount Konocti (Wright Peak, Buckingham Peak)
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