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Black Mountain #3, Tehachapi Mountain, Lightner Peak

21 September 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Another day, another Black Mountain? Collect one, collect two, collect them all... So OK, it's a contest. There are six of them, who can name and locate all six off the top of your head? As of the hikes described here, my collection now includes #1, #3, #5, and #6. I still need #2 and #4. Final trivia question: why are they all called Black? #6 maybe made sense, but of the others I've visited, who knows?

Anyhow, last Friday, I was hanging out at my local truck stop (Flying J, Frazier Park exit from I-5) when I lucked into a vanload of peakbaggers in the crepuscular morning (that's George's $10 word, not mine), heading for points north. We're allegedly reintroducing Sandy Burnside to the fine art of hiking, but between me and thee, she's not forgotten a thing, she's just a bit careful on wonky terrain, to avoid being sidelined again. Smart woman.

As I understood it (I was a bit sleepy, and may have this totally wrong, but it makes a good story, so bear with me?), the group was divided into two vehicles, approaching the Tehachapi area from different directions, perhaps to avoid alarming the locals. Our party, in George's Villager, was to approach from the west, and consisted of George, Sandy, Joe Whyte, and myself. Maximizing our obscurity, we took a shortcut George knew about, exiting at Keene/Woodford and reconnoitering the Tehachapi train loop on the way. The other group, which had been dispatched up the Antelope Valley freeway and infiltrated Tehachapi from the east, included Zobeida Molina, Pat Brea, Laura Joseph, and John Meehan.

Whichever direction we had come from, we rendezvoused flawlessly near the end of Quail Springs Road in residential Tehachapi. No one summoned the sheriff to complain about scruffy hikers lowering property values, even after we slipped through the barbed wire fence and proceeded to accidentally terrorize a few of some rancher's cows.

Because, sigh, that's what Black Mountain #3 is: a cow pasture! We didn't run into that many cows, but cow scat, and cow trails were everywhere. The trails sometimes ran in a useful direction, and we headed uneventfully up the ridge to the summit. I think we were lucky we were doing this in the cool of the morning, since this peak is low and exposed and probably heats up quite nicely in the summer. The views are good, but I dunno, other than a peak to keep Tehachapi Mountain company (especially now that poor Double Mountain is suspended), I'm not sure that #3 has a lot going for it.

Now Tehachapi Mountain, on the other hand, wow! Once George dealt with a mild navigational issue (he seems to know all the obscure roads in or near Tehachapi, whether by design or exhaustive search I do not know), we arrived at the Tehachapi Mountain Park. Parking near the shower building (which was open, so we could have showered then or later, if the peak siren hadn't been summoning us upwards and onwards), we headed steeply up through the lovely pine forest to a road, which headed less steeply up the hill to a trail, which headed a bit more steeply on up to the summit. This was my first time here (though I've been to the park before), but already this is one of my favorite peaks. The hike is nice, the forest is beautiful, there were no cows, and shade all the way! Because Double Mountain has been bad and is under suspension, we only waved at it from the Tehachapi summit, wondering inconclusively which of the two was taller, before wending our way back to the cars. We wanted to tackle Lightner before darkner (I am not responsible for that pun), if you know what I mean.

Only truly crazed peakbaggers would ever consider Lightner to be in the same neighborhood as Tehachapi. "Only thirty or fifty miles or so!" But such a drive! We headed down 58 towards Bakersfield (avoiding the fun shortcut with the train loop), then headed up through Caliente and across Walker Basin towards Bodfish from the south. A sign near the beginning promised us this drive would be a slice of history ... it was open range and we might see cattle on the road. Ah yes, Elsie staring at me while occupying the centerline, very nostalgic! Though this time, anyhow, we didn't have to deal with anything in the road more intimidating than the occasional squirrel. The curves were adequately challenging. This is one nearly endlessly winding bit of road, from Caliente (the town not the mountain) to the Lightner parking area off the Breckenridge Road. Do not plan on averaging 60 MPH. Do not plan on averaging 30 MPH. Do plan on seeing some spectacular scenery (unless you're the driver, in which case, please watch that road!)

Once we had finally arrived, we wondered briefly why Breckenridge Mountain isn't on the list -- it's tall, it's scenic, it's in the right region. Why not dump the Black Mountain cow pasture and draft Breckenridge? (It's probably a driveup, I should hush.)

Each of the three mountains we did that day was very different -- Black was bare, Tehachapi a pine forest, and now Lightner! I thought Lightner couldn't possibly be nicer than Tehachapi, but now I'm unsure -- the hike to Lightner is through a sun-dappled oak woods, and in early autumn, with a hint of color tinting the leaves, was unlike anyplace I've yet been on the HPS list. The hike itself is one of those that goes a bit up, a bit down, a bit up, a bit down, across various intermediate summits, but we'd been warned, so simply enjoyed it, arriving eventually at the impressive chunk of rock that was the summit. George and Laura climbed up and fetched the register, the rest of us stayed below and appreciated their efforts.

Worries about darkness had long ago faded -- there was still a lot of daylight when we got back to the cars. I thought I heard George ask me, "Would you like a pear?" He has the most wonderful pears, from a tree at home, crisp and tasty. I may need to get my hearing checked, because what he handed me was a beer. I coped, it was crisp and tasty, too, and really did hit the spot. But now to figure out how to beg a few of those pears, yum! (George and Sandy -- thanks for including me, I had a wonderful time! Not to mention the pears, the beer, and the brownies...)

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