Sat, Jul 2, 2011
I had been whittling away at the HPS list for much of a decade, climbing the first ones inadvertently when I was chasing county highpoints in 2002. It wasn't until 2004 that I became aware of the Sierra Club list. Since that time I've made regular trips to Southern California, sometimes just passing through on my way to San Diego, other times visiting family members in the LA area, and occasionally spending up to a week in the surrounding mountains. At first I had recruited Matthew to join me on these HPS trips in the Sierra off-season (after we had already done the SPS peaks in the northern and southern portions of the Sierra), but he soon tired of them and turned his attention to the desert peaks which I was later forced to admit were far better in most respects. Still, I didn't give up on the HPS peaks and continued to plug away at them as time permitted. There was some irony in the long drives I would make from San Jose to reach them. I lived in the LA area for the first 24 years of my life but never climbed a single one of them. Thus, the long drives to revisit the land of my birth.
I had met Tom Becht during the 2006 Sierra Challenge and came to find he was also interested in the HPS summits, climbing them on most weekends. Since then I have climbed dozens of HPS peaks with Tom. They aren't always fun or pretty, but unlike Matthew, he never really complains about them. Having finished off all the outliers in the surrounding areas over the past few weeks, I had left the last nineteen peaks clustered around San Gorgonio. Two of those we had done the previous day, leaving seventeen to be done in two long days. The first of these was a tour around San Gorgonio itself, starting from the north side and utilizing the South Fork Trail. It would not be an easy day, to be sure. Joining us were Tom's coworker Jon, and Laura, who had driven down from Bishop on a July 4th weekend just to be there for the list finish. What a friend, eh?
Starting from the TH along Jenks Lake Rd, we were ready to go shortly before 6a. Whenever around the Eastern Sierra with Laura, it is no longer surprising to find her meeting an acquaintance somewhere during the day either at the TH, on the trail, or back in town at dinner. Outside her home base one would think it would be harder for her to pull off this trick, but she managed it just the same. Her friend Jeff and his friend were about to embark on a similar peakbagging tour around San Gorgonio, starting at the same time but going in a clockwise loop to our counterclockwise route. They were catching up for a good ten minutes before we started and then another hour or so afterwards. We paused at Poopout Hill after the first few miles to check out the old TH signs before the road to it was closed to vehicle traffic some years ago. Though there was a nice decade-old sign explaining the conservation efforts in the area going back almost a century, there were no hints suggesting where the name "Poopout" came from. My best guess is that this slight uphill on the return was the bane of backcountry travelers in reaching their cars after a long day.
By 7:15a we had reached the trail junction that marked our divergence point. Jeff and his friend went left to the Grinnel/Lost Creek Trail, while the rest of us took the Dry/Dollar Lake fork to the right. The trail had been mostly an easy grade to this point, but quickly begins a series of switchbacks as it climbs out of the South Fork drainage and up towards Dollar Lake Saddle. Shortly after passing a family with a couple of pre-teens who had managed to start before us, we came across a baby chipmunk sitting helplessly in the trail. It did not scamper off when we approached and appeared to be either injured or frightened or simply unaware of the dangers around it. It was shivering some and made no effort to keep Tom from picking it up. Tom passed in on to Laura who showed it to the family that was just coming up behind us. It may have fallen out of a nest from above or otherwise been abandoned. None of us knew what to do with the helpless creature and in the end Laura left it tucked in the shelter of a fallen log but we all guessed it wouldn't live much longer.
It was almost 8:30a when Tom and I reached Dollar Saddle, ten or fifteen minutes ahead of Laura and Jon. They were not planning on tagging all the peaks Tom and I had in mind, so were going to take a more leisurely pace. We passed a father/son backpacking team just before the saddle and they met up with us again as we took a short break there. From the saddle, Tom and I headed cross-country up the class 2 Northwest Slopes to Charlton, our first stop. The wide, sandy-topped summit affords good views of San Gorgonio to the southeast and the main crest heading west that we would follow for much of the way. The register was found inside a battered ammo box with a missing lid, the work of some summit vandals, no doubt. An Eagle Scout had made a project out of supplying a network of similar boxes along the crest from San Gorgonio to East San Bernardino, but in only a few years most have been beaten and disfigured or gone missing altogether. Who'd have guessed that hiking and climbing could produce so much agression towards these inanimate little boxes?
We continued south along the ridge, dropping a short distance to a saddle then up to the summit of Little Charlton, the only non-HPS peak of the day. Finding no register there, we continued south to the next saddle where we expected to pick up the trail again. We must have walked right over it because we soon found ourselves wandering around about 100ft below the saddle, through a trailside campsite but yet no sign of the trail. A familiar voice from above started shouting to us and then laughing when she guessed our dilemma. "Looking for something?" she asked. "Yeah, the trail," came the sheepish reply.
Back together again, the four of us continued on the trail around the west side of Jepson Peak for about a mile. The next peak on the list was Dobbs, about a mile off the trail on a side ridge to the southwest. Tom had already visited Dobbs and the others had no interest either, so it would just be me heading that way. Following behind the other three, I left the trail without so much as a "See ya later," dropping down before reaching the connecting saddle figuring I could shorten the distance with a more direct approach. It took only 20 minutes to reach the sandy summit. The top had no special views to offer but it did have a register dating to 1999, one of the oldest ones I expected to find on the day (I would be wrong by more than 20 years). It was badly weathered from only 12 years of age and seemed unlikely to last another decade.
It was 10:30a before I found my way back up to the trail and found the others lounging on rocks in the sun on the south side of Jepson. Laura and Tom decided to join me for the fifteen minute scramble up to Jepson's summit while Jon opted to continue along the trail. We told him we'd meet him at the next saddle east of Jepson. The register box we found had only a few scraps of paper and no book. Now that we were over 11,000ft in elevation the views were quite good in all directions. The only higher point was to the east, San Gorgonio, which would be our next stop.
We descended easy slopes from Jepson towards the east. Laura eyed the snow on the northeast slopes, wishing she could ski down instead of hiking and commented that she'd have to come back in the winter or spring to do just that. We picked up Jon at the saddle and spent the next half hour continuing east along the trail to the summit of San Gorgonio. At a trail junction we met up with another hiker coming up the Vivian Creek Trail and followed him to the summit. There were several other parties at the summit when we got there, Laura and Jon about ten minutes behind Tom and I. There were three register containers clustered about the summit, all of them filled with scraps and books of various makes, none of them dating back more than a few years. As the highest point in Southern California it is very popular, excessively so. Outside of the views, I didn't really like the summit on my first visit and didn't care for it on the second. There are far too many rock walls built around the large summit area for those spending the night and wanting to keep out the wind, but they look like so much trash to me. We didn't bother to sign the register and didn't stay more than a few minutes.
We headed south off the summit, dropping almost 1,000ft on our way to our next target, Dragons Head. There was some snow to cross, but mostly lots of easy boot-skiing followed by more tedious talus. A use trail goes up the NE Ridge from the connecting saddle, making for a class 1 ascent of a few hundred feet. The East Face of Dragons Head is an impressive display of cliffs and fractured rock, all of it horrendously loose and useless to climbers. But pretty to look at. We reached the summit at noon, finding the views swell. Our next summit, Bighorn, was about a mile to the east and nearly the same elevation, perhaps 100ft higher. We found the best register of the day on Dragons Head, a book in very good condition dating to 1973. I photographed the first 43 pages containing entries to 1981. A second book dated to 1975, the first page containing familiar names including R.S. Fink and Barbara Lilley.
We retreated back down the NE Ridge, then headed east across the shallow flats towards Bighorn. We were surprised to find a large and rather heavy bighorn skull in this flat area, though perhaps more surprised than we should have been considering the name of the peak we were heading to. After examining the skull we left it perched on a log for the next backcountry visitor to find. Unlike Dragons Head, there was no use trail up Bighorn Peak. Instead we found a tedious collection of sand and talus leading more than halfway up before larger boulders and easier ground presented themselves. It was 12:45p when we reached the summit of Bighorn. Hazy views included Palm Springs to the southeast, San Jacinto to the south, and the Beaumont/Banning areas to the southwest. San Gorgonio dominates the view to the northwest. Bighorn also had an old register, dating to 1975, and looking very much like the second register we found on Dragons Head judging by the names on the first few pages.
Descending Bighorn, we crossed the sandy tarn (the topo map shows a tarn here, but all we found was sand) and started up the steep slopes facing south to reach the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio's SE side. After more than 400ft of climbing we reached the trail, followed it a short distance around to the east side of the mountain and then began a long series of switchbacks heading back down almost 1,000ft. There was snow across the trail in many places making for tricky crossings in a dozen places. Luckily the snow was soft enough that a slip would be messy and wet, but probably not injury-inducing. There were other hikers on the trail now, mostly heading down after summiting San Gorgonio. These we passed one by one. We kept an eye out for Jeff and his friend, thinking we should have seen them by now going in the opposite direction. Either they had skipped one or more of the peaks we visited, or somehow got around us undetected. We saw no entries from them in any of the registers we found.
I was ahead of Tom by about ten minutes when I reached the trail junction at Mine Shaft Saddle north of San Gorgonio. The mystery was cleared up when I found Jeff, friend, Laura and Jon all gathered at the saddle. Jeff and his partner had found the first three peaks on their agenda harder than anticipated, particularly Ten Thousand Foot Ridge which they described as "A lot farther than we expected." That gave me some cause for concern since these were the last three peaks that I had to do as well. Still, it was hard to reckon what they had done with the last seven hours since we last saw them, as the distance was only about seven miles. Could the cross-country be that rough? Tom caught up in time, we rested a bit longer, then took off again. Laura and Jon were heading down while Tom was to continue with me to Lake Peak and Ten Thousand Foot Ridge.
Lake Peak is immediately northeast and up from the saddle, though finding the summit is no easy feat. Most of the mountain is forested and the upper ridgeline is large and contains a number of possible highpoints making it non-obvious. Even the coordinate from my GPS's database has the summit several hundred feet from the actual highpoint. Shortly before 3p we found the large pile of boulders leading to the highpoint, suddenly open to views. San Gorgonio, Little Charlton and Charlton all had good profiles from this spot. We stayed about ten minutes to give Tom a chance to eat his lunch (which he'd so far dragged around for nine hours without an opportunity to eat it).
After lunch we continued east across Lake Peak towards Ten Thousand Foot Ridge. We found the cross-country not all that difficult and within twenty minutes had the rounded summit in view to the west about half a mile distant. In fifteen minutes more we had dropped to the intervening saddle and made our way to the summit. As on Lake Peak, there was a register book in the usual nested red cans, though neither dated back more than a few years. We retraced about half the route back towards Lake Peak, then it was time to leave Tom. I still needed to visit Grinnell Peak to the northwest, Tom having already done so previously. He continued along the Lake Peak ridge while I started a descending traverse towards Grinnell.
It took an hour to reach the summit of Grinnell from the previous summit. I had more trouble locating the highpoint as the summit was both spread out and covered in trees. The GPS again proved unhelpful in locating the summit with a coordinate that was off by hundreds of feet (I wish Garmin had provided a way to update summit locations with correct coordinates). I found the red cans amidst a cairn and another book placed by Mars Bonfire. He must tire of having to replace so many registers so often on these popular summits.
I headed west off Grinnell, continuing cross-country and eventually dropping down to the Dry Lake Trail below the lake. Twenty minutes later I came across Tom who had seen me plying the switchbacks above him and had stopped to wait for me. About ten minutes later we crossed the two streams just before the junction with the Dollar Lake Trail, noting a good many additional hikers along the route now. All that was left was the final hour down the trail to Poopout Hill and back to the South Fork TH.
It was around 6:45p when we got off the trail, Laura and Jon already lounging outside the vehicles, drinking libations and looking rather relaxed. It did not take Tom and I long to join them, though first we found semi-secluded locations to rinse off and get some clean clothes on. Ok, Tom did a better job of finding or rather creating seclusion. I was far less modest and just rinsed off behind the back of the van. Luckily no one was around that part of the parking lot for those few minutes to be offended. We had chips and guacamole, other snacks, and eventually dinner as well in the parking lot as we watched the sun setting off to the west. A truck drove up with a caretaker or some other non-ranger government personnel inside, an older gentleman with a penchant for talk. In the course of the 30 or so minutes he was there he had told us most of his family history and their connection to the immediate area dating back more than 60 years along with a great deal more information than any of us realized we had asked for, or wanted for that matter. Laura, Tom and Jon all managed to extract themselves from the conversation before he was quite through, leaving me to hold up our end of the head nodding and "Is that so?" He eventually left us in peace, evidently not at all concerned that we planned to spend the night there or of the presence of alcohol. It turned out to be a relatively quiet place to spend the evening sleeping in the back of our vehicles - after the libations had been consumed in due time, of course.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Charlton Peak - Little Charlton Peak - Dobbs Peak - Jepson Peak - San Gorgonio Mountain - Dragons Head - Bighorn Mountain - Lake Peak - Ten Thousand Foot Ridge - Grinnell Mountain
This page last updated: Tue Dec 13 15:22:06 2011
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