By Paul Armes
The trailhead for this hike is just off Highway 178 on the Yankee Canyon turnoff. There’s a big dirt turnout on the right. You can see the trail start right from the turnout and head toward the hill.
The first mile of this hike is tough. The loose sand added to the 1,700 feet of elevation gain definitely tests your legs and hiking poles. Your poles become ski/dirt poles on the way back.
The trail is pretty clear to see most of the way up, but as you get to the rocky section it’s a little tougher to follow. But just know, you’re going straight up.
Once you get to the top and the trail levels out, things get a little easier. There’s not much more elevation to gain, but now you have to cross the top of the hills and make your way toward the radio tower and top of Cooks Peak.
The bushes are not too thick since they are still recovering from the Erskine Fire. Again, the trail at the top is easy to follow but at times thins out. There aren’t many other ways to go, and a little scrambling makes it exciting.
The views get pretty amazing at this point too. You can see the whole lake on top of Mt. Mesa— Lake Isabella and the whole dam project.
As you keep going along the ridge and are slowly still climbing, you come to this super-jagged rocky section. When you see it from the road, it just looks like a couple of rocks, but it’s full-on crazy fun exploring this mini peak! You can scare yourself and go class 4 or easy class 3 around it.
You keep following the ridge until around 2.5 miles, where you’ll come to a big flat area on the very top right before you reach the radio tower. It’s an easy trail, and you’ll be just bushwhacking until you get to the base of the tower.
At the base of the tower, there’s a dozer-cut line/road you can’t take up or go straight up the side. By now you’re by the fence on top of Cooks, and it’s just 100 yards or so to the actual top.
I’m not sure why, but on the top I was swarmed by every flying insect alive! So I spent most of the time by the big ol’ rock you can see by the tower from the flatlands.
Approximately halfway back, you will have to climb a 225-foot hill before the super-steep sand slide to the bottom. Use those poles!
This is a fun, awesome hike to see the lake. There is an easier way but that’s no fun, so I won’t share it.
Leave no trace!