Liebre Mountain HPS
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Liebre Mountain HPS later climbed Thu, Nov 20, 2014|
Leaving the Bay Area at 1:30a, we had only darkness to contend with on the roads which were nearly devoid of traffic. We made good time covering hundreds of miles in the early morning hours, south on US101, across SR152, then down Interstate 5. Truckers on I5 seem oblivious to time of day or night, and the numbers of trucks plying this California artery seems fairly constant no matter when one chooses to join them. As we approached the Grapevine around 5a we had finally decided on our first day's effort - the Liebre Range. We hoped to make short work of the three HPS peaks there, giving us some spare time in the afternoon. Nearby was the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve which we expected to be in the height of bloom, and particularly spectacular with the amount of rainfall in Southern California this year. We made better time than we had expected and arrived at the TH to Liebre Mtn off SR138 right at 6a.
The skies were overcast as we started off, the tops of the mountain shrouded in the lowest cloud layers. It was fairly cold, and we both had jackets on as we found the PCT and started hiking. Adding to the dreary backdrop provided by the weather, the area had been recently burned, probably the previous summer by the stark appearance of things. Grasses and shrubs had started to reappear with the abundance of rain, breathing new life into the landscape, but it was insufficient to prevent some nasty mudslides that we noted. One rather large one had taken out nearly 50 yards of the PCT where it traversed around a steep gully. It wasn't long before we were in the clouds and our views looking back down were equally obscured as those looking up. We took advantage of the burned areas to do a little cross-country travel, hooking back up with the PCT where it crossed atop a saddle just south of Pt. 4923ft. The trail turned into an abandoned jeep track (dutifully noted by the HPS pink ribbons), and we followed this through the enveloping clouds towards the summit area. As we got higher the wet ground turned firmer, then frozen. Ice coated the trees and grasses at the summit, favoring one side in particular that indicated windy conditions overnight had created the wintry scene. About half of the flora near the summit had escaped the recent fire, and it seemed possible that this had been the frontline between the flames and fire firefighters, perhaps trying to check the fire as it crested the ridge.
Without our directions it seems unlikely we would have been able to pick out the highpoint in the fog we found ourselves in at the flattened ridgetop. We dutifully noted the sign and the dilapidated gate, following them to the clump of trees that held the summit register under a small cairn. Attaining the summit was decidedly anti-climatic. Looking around, it didn't seem like we'd have had any views even under blue skies, but the dismal conditions made it that much worse. At least it wasn't raining.
We headed back the same way we'd come, though using a more direct descent lower down to avoid some of the long switchbacks taken by the PCT. As we ducked down below the cloud level again we could see the sun shining down below on Antelope Valley, and hope brightened that the weather might improve as the day went on. We were back to the trailhead less than two hours after starting out, and wasted no time heading on to the next TH.
Heading further east, Oakdale Canyon Road follows the San Andreas fault through the lower foothills between Antelope Valley on our left and the Liebre Range to the right. It was a pleasant drive through sleeping ranch lands dotted periodically with homes ranging from the dilapidated to the luxurious, a curious mix of old homesteaders and new money immigrants in a part of California known mostly for its anonymity. The weather improved dramatically, as we got further east we could see that the clouds seemed to be localized to Liebre Mtn, the Tehachapis, and the mountains further west around Gorman and Frazier Park. We found our dirt road turn off, fully expecting it to be closed to slides and muddy conditions. Along with the Adventure Pass Required sign (which we conveniently ignored all weekend) was another stating Road Closed. There was no gate and the road looked passable at the start, so in order to avoid an extra six miles of hiking (three miles each way), we figured we'd drive up as far as the Subaru would allow us. It was slow going to be sure, but the road was in fairly decent shape the whole way. We parked at the saddle along the ridge named "Discovery Point" and took in the sun-drenched views into Santa Clarita Valley before us.
To our right we could quickly indentify Burnt Mtn with the radio towers giving it away. To the left and lower was Sawtooth, harder to identify because it blends into the background. As if to mock their given names, it was interesting to note that whereas Liebre Mtn was burned, Burnt Mtn wasn't, and Sawtooth from our vantage point was more of a rounded knoll than sawtooth-shaped. Ah well, such are the vagaries of mountain naming.
It was 8:45p when we headed out to Burnt along a gated dirt road that otherwise would have let us drive to the summit. It took us less than 45min to complete the distance the summit, Matthew arriving some 5 minutes or so ahead of me. At the summit we found a leveled mountaintop, in addition to the radio towers was an FAA VOR station in the large, flat area. A fence surrounded the VOR, with signs warning trespassers of dire consequences. Matthew found the HPS register in a small cairn at the eastern side of the fence, and after signing we wandered inside the fenced area so we could walk around the summit area for views and pictures. The area is heavily covered in chaparral and doesn't look to have burned in many years. Sawtooth lay below us by some several hundred feet and about three miles to the southeast. The Santa Clarita Valley was partly obscured by haze to the south while Antelope Valley looked similarly to the north. To the southeast were the higher San Gabriel Mtns, though none of the snow-capped regions were visible.
We returned the route we came, then drove the car another mile and half or so to the TH for Sawtooth Mtn. It wasn't yet 11a when we headed out, and it looked like we would plenty of time left in the day after this third peak. The primary HPS route follows a nice firebreak from the dirt road all the way to the Sawtooth, about a mile and a half with a handful of bumps in between. It took about 30 minutes to cover the short distance to the summit, and by 11:20a we were snapping away at pictures. We were the first to sign into the register for the year, but that wasn't too surprising - only the HPS crowd seems to seek out these mostly forgotten hills. Matthew was well ahead of me on the return to the car, and I was feeling like the old man lagging behind. It was only a bit after noon so we figured we had time not only to visit the Poppy Reserve, but probably time after that for another peak.
We drove back down and out to the Poppy Reserve, and though it was a Friday the place was fairly crowded. We had to wait in line at the main entrance, pay our $5 fee, and poke around for a parking spot. The sun was shining brightly, but the wind had picked up, and most of the poppies were 34>closed up. Still, their numbers were significant enough that we were still able to find fields of orange though by far the most dominant color on the hillsides was yellow. I recalled a comment in the newspaper from a tourist in Death Valley recently having gone to see the wildflower displays. Somewhat exasperated, she had asked a park ranger, "Where can I go to see something other than yellow?" It made me chuckle as we walked along the concrete pathways with the hundred of other visitors to the area. We passed along a pair of researchers collecting pollen samples, sequestering their take in little test tubes and drawing the attention from all who walked by. We stayed at the preserve until a bit after 2p, then headed back to SR138 and I5. We looked at our options in the Frazier Park area and decided on the easiest of the bunch, Tecuya Peak, with a TH that starts within the town limits. We figured the southern aspect of the route would keep it mostly snow-free, and from the looks at the trailhead it seemed a safe bet.
From the fire station near the TH, we started out around 3p, following a dirt road through an OHV area (dirt bikes, ATVs) along a wide trail leading up to the SE Ridge of Tecuya. From a saddle we followed a thinner use trail up the ridge, under cover of forest. Behind us we could see the town of Frazier Park laid out below, snow-covered Frazier Mountain across the canyon to the south of us. The canyon was really the San Andreas Rift, slowly tearing the mountains apart in this area and leaving the low depression called Cuddy Canyon that runs east-west here. Above us was clouds, and it was soon apparent that like Libre Mtn earlier, we would have no summit views. It took us almost exactly an hour to reach the cloud-enveloped summit, having some large but easily surmounted snow patches to get over before we got there. The trees were all covered in wind-blown snow and ice, and the temperature was decidedly more chilly atop the mountain. With nothing to hold our interest save the thought of getting warm again, we didn't stay at the summit for even a whole minute.
Beating a hasty retreat, we were glad to get back into the sunshine, and jogged our way down to the TH just as the sun was sinking behind the hills to the west. Back at the car, we decided to modify our plans for the weekend somewhat. Neither of us was too keen to don the snowshoes to tackle more of the peaks in the area (the peaks here go up over 8,000ft, and the snow line was around 7,000ft on the south sides, about 6,000ft on the northern aspects. Instead, we headed further south, planning to tackle some of the plentiful peaks to be found in the San Gabriels. We spent the night in Valencia at the home of my sister who lived there with her family. We showed up unannounced and quite unexpected, as evidenced by the looks on their face when we drove up. But they were gracious hosts and made us feel quite welcome, and after showers and dinner I was feeling quite relaxed. While I chatted it up with my sister and her husband, Matthew was online studying potential peaks for the next day.
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