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July 16, 2021
Paul Gipe

Covid Escape: Baker Point Lookout and Botanical Area

As part of our Covid-19 inspired exploration of Central California, we headed back into the Greenhorn Mountains of the Sequoia National Forest to reach the Baker Point lookout. The lookout is a two-hour drive from Bakersfield and a one and one-half hour hike to the summit.

We wanted to do this last year but the forest was closed due to the Castle Complex fire, which raged just north of Baker Point. There’s no access in the winter. Late spring would be ideal, but that was not to be. Mid-July in the midst of a historic drought and historic high temperatures may not be the best time, but we had to seize the opportunity before another fire closed the forest again.  (The whole state is a tinderbox.)

I thought the 80 F (28 C) forecast for the area was acceptable and certainly preferable to another day in Bakersfield at 105 F (41 C). Unfortunately, it made for a very warm hike on an exposed trail of broken granite at 7,500 feet (2,300 meters) in bright sunshine.

The California Wilderness Coalition provides the best description of this 2.75 mile roundtrip hike. While short, the rocky trail gains 500 feet and at that elevation requires more effort than expected, but the view from the summit is worth every bit of it.

Haze from the fire near Yosemite National park partially obscured our view, but on a clear day the lookout offers outstanding vistas down the canyon of the Kern River’s North Fork. To the east you can see Cannell Peak, and Sherman Pass Road. To the north are the granite outcrops of Dome Rock and the Needles.

The abandoned lookout is in the midst of the 780-acre Baker Point Botanical Area. The trail was lined in places with the endemic, Kern Swertia or Kern Frasera (Frasera tubulosa), a member of the Gentian family. Nancy also found another endemic, Colville's wyethia (Wyethia invenusta), on the rocky trail to the lookout.

Here's the location:

Here's the route we took from Bakersfield:

The last four miles to the trailhead are on an unpaved Forest Service Road. CalWild’s description said a high-clearance vehicle was necessary, though they added that they had seen a Honda Fit at the trailhead. That gave me some confidence that we could do it in a Chevy Bolt EV.

There’s no cell phone reception in this remote location. Once we left Glennville we didn’t see another vehicle or another person until we returned. I didn’t know if our Bolt could make it or if we’d get high-centered trying. It would be a very long walk for help.

The road to the trailhead is peppered with water bars and these were some serious water bars. While the Bolt has a short wheelbase, we couldn’t take the water bars head on or we would have simply dug the nose in and that would be that. I took each water bar slowly, and at an angle that took us to the lowest side of the water bar. We scraped bottom a few times and hit hard twice, but we made it to the trailhead and made it out again. The next day I examined the undercarriage and there were no obvious dents or damage.

Once again, we’ve shown that the Bolt is a fully capable car and that it gets us where we want to go without burning fossil fuel.



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