Sat, Apr 18, 2009
Saturday was slated for our Desert Divide, Part II. Part I had been the previous December, though it was originally designed to do both parts in one long day. We came to find that it was not to be taken so lightly and had to abandon the project when only halfway done. In keeping with tradition, we did a bit of underestimation on Part II as well, thinking it would be a much easier day than that first one. So much so that we started out in the morning on an altogether different peak, thinking we could pick up a leftover from the previous day and still finish off the Desert Divide.
Our night had been spent at the same location I'd slept the previous night, at the parking lot south of SR74, the TH for the Cactus Spring Trail we used for Martinez and Sheep. Across the highway was the Pinyon Flat Campground, but it was still closed for the winter season. We were up early, just as it was growing light out around 5:30a. We left my van about a mile west on the highway at the junction of Palm View Drive, and together in Tom's Element headed north through the empty streets of Pinyon Pines. There is an interesting mix of new, expensive homes along with the older rundown variety, the latter making up the majority in this out-of-the-way community.
Somewhere we missed a turn and ended up on the wrong fork of the dirt road. Our fork started to wander left, or west, away from Asbestos. Since we found the 4WD roads rough and decidedly unfun, we chose to simply park the car where we could turn around and start from there. It's a short enough peak that a little extra distance couldn't be much trouble.
Indeed, it was pretty trivial, even for an HPS peak. We followed through the desert scrub around the SE side of Pt. 4,763ft, past a cowgully described in the HPS guide. A set of ducks led up the gully to the summit plateau, a rocky, undulating region of blocky false summits and eventually to the highpoint - taking all of half an hour. The sun had risen shortly before reaching the top at 6:30a, offering us views of San Jacinto to the northwest, the Desert Divide to the west, and the Santa Rosas to the south. A benchmark placed in 1939 was embedded nearby. The register was surprisingly old for such an easy peak, dating back to 1980. One of the earliest entries from 1981 was from Sam Fink and party. Sam was a prominent member of the HPS who spent many years cutting a trail along the Desert Divide south of Red Tahquitz, eventually becoming part of the PCT. Having since passed away, it is always a pleasure to see one of his signatures.
After descending back the same way, we drove back out to the highway, picked up my van, dropped it off alongside a road west of Rock Point, and together drove Tom's car up to Tripp Meadow on the west side of the Desert Divide for the start of the day's main course. We had eight peaks in mind along the way, from Cone Peak to Rock Point. There was no parking area for the start as we simply pulled off the dirt road across from someone's ranch home once we could drive no further. While the HPS TOPO guide still shows approaches from this area, only later did we note the warning in the HPS online guide regarding our approach from the south:
Do not attempt to hike Cone Peak from the south side via the end of Morris Ranch Road. This is the Trail's End Subdivision. They have recently posted all of this property as no trespassing. There is currently no public access from this area!
Oops. We hiked up the road to an unsigned gate that led to a trail heading up North Canyon. Though the creek was dry, it was shady and delightfully cool in the early morning, and best of all the trail seemed to be heading in the right direction. When we reached Hot Patch Spring (also dry) we looked for the trail turning sharply left and traversing up and out of the canyon. This was not easy as the trail is mostly unused and heavily overgrown. We lost what little remnant we were following and found ourselves wallowing in the understory of the oak forest. After some twenty minutes of this thrashing our way uphill through a gully, we emerged upon a ducked route just below the crest of the ridge. Seems we were back on track, and rather relieved that we wouldn't have to thrash our way the remaining distance to the summit, still some stretch away.
It would take another 40 minutes of effort to find our way up the little-used route. Normally I disdain the ducks along the way, but many of these were quite helpful. As we neared the rocky summit all semblence of a trail disappeared. Ducks could be found in competing locations and there was more thrashing to follow. Arriving at the highpoint, we found a wooden sign and the red HPS register cans under the class 3 summit blocks. We scrambled up to the top of the blocks, snapped a few pictures, and went back to the register to sign in. It was almost 10a now and we'd only gotten the first peak after almost two hours effort. Not a good sign.
We found more ducks heading north up the ridgeline towards the divide and Palm View Peak. Again, we found the ducks useful as they led us along a meandering route back and forth across the rocky ridgeline that would have involved yet more thrashing without them. Once we reached the PCT and started along it, it was a short ways to the forested and completely unimpressive Palm View Peak. No views to be had whatsoever, just an HPS register tucked among a small pile of rocks at the top. Perhaps there would be a view following a forest fire? There are good arguments to have this one excised from the list.
Heading south, we spent the next few hours hiking the PCT up and over Little Desert and Pyramid Peak, neither peak offering anything very special. By 12:30p we had reached the ducked turnoff for Pine Mtn, the highlight of the day. Though the distance to the peak was fairly short, it took us more than an hour to find our way to the summit block. At the saddle west of Pine Mtn we managed to lose the trail, not noticing it traverses off to the right, below the ridgeline. Instead we wandered up the chaparral-covered hillside, trying to scramble over and around a number of blocky pinnacles enroute. Much frustration ensued. Tom went back to the saddle to look for the trail while I stubbornly forged a route through the brush. There was evidence of cut chaparral everwhere one looked, making me think I was on some sort of route at first. But the cuts were very old and the chaparral had recovered nicely, and furthermore the cuts were everywhere, not just along a route. Possibly they were the result of firefighting efforts, but it was hard to guess, really. The stubbornness eventually bore fruit, getting me to the summit shortly before Tom who had found the trail and was only a few minutes behind.
There are two summits on Pine Mtn, the highest being an impressively large and fantastically arranged chunk of granite. Two sides are overhanging, one side a near vertical wall with some 5.9 cracks (not really sure what they would rate, but they were beyond our abilities), and the fourth side was a low class 5 exercise in friction climbing. We were awed. Though we had read the Summitpost description and brought a rope, we came inadequately prepared. Aside from the rope and our harnesses, I had brought a couple slings and biners but no cams or nuts. After we had scrambled to the highest point we could both safely manage, the flaw in my gear selection became painfully obvious as we stared at the sloping block before us. What had I been thinking?
I had been thinking that low fifth class would be a piece of cake and we could almost waltz right up it. It was a bad bit of thinking, to be honest. Rock shoes would have helped too, but neither of us had thought enough about it to bring them. Tom had even less faith in his trail runners than I had in my boots, and had no interest in leading without gear. My only choice then was to back down or solo it. Up I went. It was a nerve-wracking affair. The first third was fairly easy with some small ledges to rest on and catch my breath. Never have I studied a piece of granite so hard for small depressions and features that I could balance a boot on or cup with my hand. Tom had been watching for a short while but soon turned away. Later he admitted that it made him too nervous to watch me. I have no doubt I would have done likewise if it had been the other way around.
Fortunately the rating was accurate and I was able to reach the top without the unthinkable happening. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Note to self - next time bring more gear. I walked over to the north end of the summit block where I found rap chains to tie the rope to. I then went back to the south side and tossed the rope down to Tom. I expected he could easily climb the slope using the rope as a hand rail of sorts, but he balked at the suggestion. "I'd like a belay please." Lazy me: "Really? Oh, alright..."
It was 2p when we both stood on the summit. Still four peaks to go and quite a few miles. It wasn't looking like it'd be an easy day. There was no register to be found at the summit, none found around the base, either. We rapped off the near vertical east side, our 30m rope more than sufficient to reach the rocks below. On our way back across the summit ridge I stopped to tag the other summit pinnacle, an easier class 3 affair, while Tom waited below. There were two benchmarks stamped "EVE" at the top and the red HPS cans below the block. I signed the two of us in, then rejoined Tom for the return to the PCT.
Next up was Lion Peak, another easy summit like Pyramid, just off the PCT, though without much of a view. Ken Point came next, also class 2, but more than a mile off the PCT. No trees here to mar the view, partly because of the lower elevation and partly because Ken lies in the rain shadow east of the main crest. The cross-country travel up from the old road was easy enough on the drier terrain. We found both the KEN benchmark and the HPS register at the slightly higher southeast summit. Back to the main PCT trail we went, then left it to head down the west side of the crest towards Butterfly Peak.
There doesn't seem to be any "primary" route to Butterfly, a smaller peak on the west side of the crest. The route up the east side follows a little used, old dirt road for about half the distance, followed by a short but steep cross-country route that starts where the road levels off and heads around the southeast side of Butterfly. Some ducking of the route helped get through the thick brush, and just after 6:15p we finally made our way to the rock summit. We had another hour of sunlight, and with only a single peak left, it looked like we might just squeak it in under the wire. Alas, it was not to be.
We tried the descent off the south side of Butterfly as the shortest route to Rock Point, but that turned out to be our undoing. Ducks led down the hillside into a gully, but things were not obvious from there. I saw what I thought were ducks leading out of the gully and up the far side, but Tom talked me out of it. Only after we had descended further into the Gully of Doom did we begin to realize the mistake. It seemed like the gully led in the same direction as the road/trail we were looking for, but looked to be running parallel without an intersection point. We gave up the gully to traverse south in the direction we expected to hit the path. It was hard going with alternately brushy and sandy slopes with giant boulders to surmount intermittently. We were losing sun rapidly by now and the prospect of wallowing in this terrain without headlamps was not a pretty one.
Salvation came in the way of the Prospectors Trail which we stumbled upon at its terminus at an old mine. Mostly it was just a hole in the ground that looked to have produced nothing, but the serpentine trail that wound its way down a second gully was a life saver. It was 7p when we found our way to the start of the trail at the old dirt road we'd been looking for all along. The sun was just about set. There was a mineshaft and abandoned equipment about, an old white pickup truck a few minutes down the road. We agreed that it was best to forgo Rock Point since it involved more cross-country and we had no headlamps with us. Besides, we were plenty tired by now.
I went ahead jogging down the road ahead of Tom, intending to reach the van and bring it back to pick up Tom. As luck would have it I ran into an older couple on the last 100yds of the trail on their way down as well. They were out for a stroll, living as caretakers of sorts for the nearby Girls Camp. I took them up on the offer of a ride back to the van, and on the way listened to his yarns and stories of yore. He was one of the builders of the Prospector Trail, he claimed, having built it to service marijuana gardens planted on National Forest lands, and giving it the name to throw off suspecting officials. Everyone "back in the day" had mining claims in these hills, he said, and every one of them was growing marijuana instead of mining. A very interesting, lively, and talkative character. Back at the camp/ranch, I got a ride on the back of his Harley for the whole 200yds further to the van. I hadn't realized the van was so close to the camp when we'd left it in the morning.
After picking up a thankful Tom, we drove to Idyllwild in search of gasoline and food. We found the gas easily enough, but could not find a darn place to procure food after 8p on a Saturday night. We ended up having to make do with the meager food supplies we had in the car, crashing at the campground in Idyllwild to spend the night. The Desert Divide had done a number on us for the second time now, leaving us a tired mass of flesh and bone. And we still had one more peak to claim on the divide - it would be our first target the next morning.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Asbestos Mountain - Cone Peak - Palm View Peak - Pyramid Peak - Pine Mountain - Lion Peak - Ken Point - Butterfly Peak
This page last updated: Thu May 22 17:19:33 2014
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