Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sulfer Peak [SVS], 11/28/12

Alright, now here's a peak that I hadn't done. I'd looked at it a million or so times but hadn't gotten around to ticking it off the list. Sulfer Peak sits squarely above Tar Creek and is accessed via the old Tar Creek Trail which continues down to the Sespe. This was a really cool peak. A great climb culminating in one of the best "view summits" in our neighborhood. This is an adventurous climb, not too big on mileage, but mean enough to make up for that. This peak is, in hiker parlance, a "Seldom Visited Site", or in this case "Seldom Visited Summit" (SVS). The most recent signature in the summit register was dated 05/2009.
The weather forcast had improved a bit and the latest rainy system wasn't scheduled to hit SoCal until the afternoon. I figured I could get in and out before the rain hit. I got an uncharacteristically late start, began walking from the Tar Creek TH at 0645. I jogged down to the creek and continued across to pick up the trail on the other side. This portion of the route climbs out of the creek and heads roughly north before heading west across the foot of Sulfer Peak. This trail is in pretty good shape, though some portions are a bit brushy and there are a few washed out parts. If you find this part of the day to be brushy and unpleasant then maybe Sulfer Peak isn't your cup of tea.

Left to Right: Bear Haven, sun on Topatopa Peak and Devil's Heart, and Sulfer Peak on the far right.

Bear Haven and the West Fork Sespe.

I banged out a quick couple miles under Sulfer and I was soon beneath the largest and longest ridge descending from the summit. I jumped off the trail and started heading up. Here's where the day gets interesting. There is no trail up this peak. I can say this with authority. On my ascent I found several trail ducks but these didn't correlate to anything I'd call trail, historic or otherwise, so how about a nice big serving of brush, rocks, and charred manzanita? The ridge climbs for roughly 2 miles, gaining around 2,200ft of elevation. It's not a nice climb, but it is entertaining. 

I hung a right and started uphill shortly after passing this culvert and that rock.

Looking back down the "Brush Buffet" toward Tar Creek.

Ridge to the summit, which is visible way in the distance.

The first mile or so ascending from the old Tar Creek Trail is 100% brush busting. No bueno. Fortunately I have experienced the absolute worst the the SLP can dish up so I wasn't unduly impressed by the brush. It's brush. It's in my way. Figure it out. As I climbed this ridge it became rockier in areas and I was able to connect a series of rock slabs together. Ascending these slabs is easy and direct, sure there's stands of brush to bust through but on the whole I'd say that the middle third is the easiest portion of the summit run (if you can get onto the rocks). These slabs are on the eastern side of the main ridge to the summit and are clearly visible on Google Earth imagry.  

Find the rock slabs through the middle of the summit slog. It'll help considerably.

Easy street. Find the slabs.
Eventually the rocky slabs of purple sandstone terminate and it's back to brush munching. The last several hundred yards to the summit are pretty tough, very brushy and extra unpleasant. In fact, I'd say the whole thing, starting from the trail below, is pretty burly. Those of you who have a good sense of what I define as "burly" will understand. Nothing for free. It was a good fight.


I achieved the summit in 2hours:58minutes from the truck. This is an open and rocky summit, perfect for taking in grand views of Topa, Hines, Cobblestone and Whiteacre peaks. I was a bit surprised to find a small cairn at the high point. Inside the cairn was a summit register with a handfull of scribblings dating to 2004. Like I said, not many folks have come this way. I really enjoyed this summit, the whole day really. Tough Peak. Good stuff. After a 40minute summit sojourn it was time to turn it around, especially if I didn't want to get rained on. 
The summit cairn with Whiteacre Peak immediately behind it.

Topatopa Peak from the west, if you enlarge the picture you can see a hint of the old fire tower on the summit.

I started down, reversing the path that took me here. My recomendation for those who might want to do this peak is to bring a GPS and keep the track open all the way up and down. Getting off route on the descent can put you on the wrong arm of the mountain or even worse, in a drainage. Use care on the descent and it will save you from ending up in a true briar patch. If all else fails, below is a white sandstone slab that drains into Tar Creek. This feature is visible from almost anywhere with a view on the south side of Sulfer Peak. Before getting there the trail back to Tar will be visible. It's all about how much abuse you incur in the process of getting down, a little or a lot.

When descending, aim for this prominent drainage which flows into Tar. The route back to Tar Creek can be seen on the left.

This peak is a great hike, probably not everybody's idea of fun but I certainly thought so. If you're looking for an amazing perspective of the Sespe backcountry I have to say that this summit should scratch that itch. I had a really good time up there. And I felt the first sprinkles and eventual rain as I crossed Tar Creek and headed back up to the truck. I got real dirty, ate some brush, garnered a new collection of scratches, and had a stellar day.

Sulfer Peak boasts some of the most dramatic views of our local backcountry.


  1. Cool trip. I've always wondered about that peak. It took you a lot less time than I would have guessed. Cool pics, I definitely have never seen Bear Heaven from that perspective before. Good stuff.

  2. Thanks Eric,
    I have to guess its a 10 mile day. It's tough, but not extra bad. You should do it. I really liked this one. -Stillman

  3. DS, loved the directions re: "this culvert and that rock" ... I think that sums up a disproportionate amount of SLP directions. Great post.

    Did you scout out of any of the approaches from the north? I've often wondered what shape the old trails going in and out of Pigeon Flat might be in (see the '43 Devils Heart quad); probably no better than Green Cabins these days, but still ...

  4. Hey Red,
    You know, the north side of Sulfer Pk is pretty low angle and, being the north side, it is extra brushy and I can't fathom getting through there. No man's land.
    The SLP has got to be one of the least hospitable environments in California. Finding realistic ground level landmarks can be a challenge.

  5. Nice trip report, thanks!

    If found this one marked as "Sulphur" Peak on the topo.

  6. Sounds pretty epic. I'm jealous, especially since it has been dumping up here in the bay area but you web log is getting me amped to get outside in the mud and rain. I miss the Sespe.


  7. Howdy JB,
    If the Sespe had feelings it would miss you too. It's a rugged and taxing place, but those that go know that the SLP has its gems. Thanks for reading.

  8. DS,
    Alright, found another one.
    I know that rock and culvert well.