Little Blue Ridge
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Naturally I was enticed. As someone who enjoys a good bushwhack now and then, I was curious to find out if it was truly legendary bushwhacking, and if I was sufficiently steeled to endure such misery. I made plans to climb it with Dingus Milktoast, a well-travelled rock climber and peakbagger. I had seen his name in many summit registers and seen his many posts on the various boards about the Internet, but had never met him in person. Dingus had already been to the summit of Little Blue three times, including a route he pioneered up Little Davis Creek which he dubbed the Milktoast Highway. Why he might want to go back yet a fourth time was a bit of a mystery to me, and I was almost afraid to ask - mostly I was glad to have someone along to take the guess out of the route-finding challenges, but I was also looking forward to meeting Dingus and having a chance to hike with him.
I left San Jose shortly after 4a, taking nearly 3 hours to reach Lower Lake, a small community near Clear Lake. I got there shortly before our agreed upon 7a meeting time, and not long after Dingus drove up in his white Cherokee. I had somehow expected him to be younger than myself (almost everyone I climb with is), but found him to be a middle-aged guy with graying hair, much like myself (though I have far less of the stuff). While Dingus went into the local coffee shop for a caffeine fix, I dumped my gear in the back of his truck, then went we off. We hoped to be able to drive to the trailhead along Rieff Road, but found ourselves a bit over a mile short when we hit a particularly nasty patch of mud. It took Dingus all of two seconds to decide not to drive further.
"This guy who lives here (pointing to an isolated home a hundred yards off the road) is a nut case. He came out to talk to me one time and went on about all the urban yahoos he's had to pull out the mud with his tractor."
Dingus did not want to become one this guy's yahoos, so we turned around and parked about a quarter mile further down the road where we could pull off to the side safely. Another mile and half each way wasn't going to make much of a difference. As we hiked up the road Dingus told me about his encounter with the nut case on a previous visit. He accurately predicted his dogs would be barking as we walked by, but neither they nor the owner came out to greet us. The muddy spot was just above this guy's driveway, and beyond that the road was in decent shape and would have been easy to navigate to the parking area. It looked like someone had recently taken a good spill into the ditch, sliding on the slippery mud off the roadway. There were hoses or conduits buried under the road that looked to have been smashed when the slid vehicle into the ditch - maybe the guy was pissed because people kept running over his TV cable?
In about 40 minutes we'd reached the trailhead and headed off on the unmaintained dirt road. The road was easily navigated for about a mile and half, then it began to deteriorate. There were several washouts along the road that I would have mistook for the end of the road. Dingus hardly paused as he walked around a washout and refound the road/trail through the brush on the other side. We followed this road until we were near the rock formation known as the Twin Sisters (the 7.5' topo has the label for these somewhat further south from their actual location). A few pieces of survey tape marked portions of the increasingly obscured route. A large washout below Twin Sisters marked our departure point down to Little Davis Creek. We followed a thin use/deer trail down, pausing in a few places to clear the route with the loppers we carried with us. We continued following a little creeklet until it emptied into the main creekbed at Little Davis Creek. It was 9:20a and Dingus announced we were at the start of the Milktoast Highway.
For the next two and a half hours we wandered a total of about a mile up the creek, sometimes walking through fortuitous grassy meadows along side the creek banks, but mostly walking directly in the creek itself. At Dingus's suggestion I had brought neoprene socks, and these turned out to be just the ticket for the hike up the creek that had us up to our knees in a few places, but mostly just about six inches of water. I had feared the water would be much higher and packed a wet suit just in case - fortunately this was never needed. I found the hiking in the creek quite enjoyable. We spent half our time clearing the route, half the time actually making progress. We slashed through any and all types of vegetation that were choking the creek, including a great deal of poison oak. Since there were no leaves on the poison oak at this time of year, it was impossible to distinguish the dangerous plants from the rest of the stuff we were cutting through, and I would pay for this bit of blissful ignorance in the following days. We never discussed how best to coordinate the grooming, but it seemed to work out fairly efficiently. Whoever was in front would lop through the biggest obstacles while the follower cleaned up the route behind. Where the stuff was particularly thick, one of us would crawl through and then we'd lop at it from two ends. This was the first time I'd ever carried or used a pair of loppers on a hike, and I have to say I was impressed how much could be cut in a short period of time.
We passed several cairns along the creek and each time I would ask Dingus if they marked anything significant - nope, just marking the trail. There were several sections along the north side of the creekbed that looked to match the grassy strip that marked our exit point, but Dingus would correct me and we'd continue moving up the creek. Whenever I was ahead of Dingus, which was about half the time, I would forge onward like I knew what I was doing. Most of it was intuitive to follow, but if I started heading off through the wrong side of a meadow or through the wrong opening, Dingus would correct with a comment like, "One of life's greatest disappointments lies down that path." So like a dog running off ahead of his master, I would run back, run ahead, go up the wrong creek fork, and run back again. If that got too tiring, I just let Dingus lead on.
It had been overcast and foggy when the day began, but it all started to clear out as we hiked up the creek. The sun barely penetrated down to the creek, but the meadow areas were warm and toasty. We had worried that the weather was going to help add to our misery, but it turned out to be almost as ideal as we could have custom-ordered.
Though my feet were wet through, they never got cold and were actually quite comfortable. Not so with Dingus. While he had similar socks as myself, he found his toes were going numb with cold and this was beginning to take its toll on him. He slowed down as the cold sapped his strength, and was none too glad when we reached the correct grassy slope. Climbing ahead again, I came across the pair of loppers Dingus had lost on his last visit up the route in December. We hiked up to a small clearing on the slopes near some pine trees several hundred feet above the creek and took a break. Dingus took off his boots to warm his feet in the sunshine. He'd brought a spare pair of boots with dry socks that I looked upon with a bit of envy. Oh well, I would have wet feet all day - at least they weren't going to be cold. As we sat there lunching, Dingus asked if I'd be offended if he packed a bole. "Huh?" I asked. He repeated the question, but it didn't help me. "What the heck is 'bole'?" I replied, stumped at the possible meaning of this word in this context. Was he going to take a tree part and stuff it in his pack? It soon became clear that he was saying "bowl," not "bole," and his reference was to the little pipe he carried for the purpose of partaking in this extracuricular activity. My first reaction was to say, "Not if you plan to share," but that seemed a bit rude so I simply said, "Not at all." And of course he did share anyway.
Refreshed in several respects, we packed up and continued up the grassy slope, part animal trail, part grassy swamp, part firebreak. I was ahead of Dingus again when I reached the main ridgeline where our firebreak met the dirt road. Ah - all easy from here. I consulted my map and then started hiking up road towards a rounded summit not far from me. It took all of five minutes to reach the small rocky top where I found a small cairn but no register. To the southwest I easily recognized Butte Rock, though it seemed to be closer than my map would indicate. To the northeast was a large summit that looked higher than what I stood on, but I figured it might be an illusion since there were no higher hills behind it for reference. Puzzled, but not as puzzled as I should have been, I sat around a few minutes until I heard a faint shout. I whistled back. I heard a second shout. Was Dingus injured? How could he be? I started jogging back down the road to see what was wrong - maybe it wasn't the creek that slowed him down, I thought, maybe he had a stomach ailment or something. I returned to the junction with the firebreak, but saw no sign of Dingus. I shouted, he shouted back. Then it occurred to me that he wasn't injured at all, I had simply headed off in the wrong direction. Where I had taken a left off the firebreak, I should have taken a right, and the higher summit I had just viewed was indeed the summit of Little Blue Ridge. Duh.
After rejoining him, I showed Dingus the map I had marked from the Internet that showed the route going up the east side of Little Blue summit. That had been obviously wrong. We hiked down the road to a saddle, then up the remaining half mile to the top. The last section was rather overgrown, so we took some time to groom that as well, and by 1:45p we were on the summit. The right one this time. We took another break here to rest and snack some more, along with another refresher from the pipe. Dingus knew every bump and valley for some 30 miles around us - a more experienced expert I couldn't imagine. He knew the history and geology of the area and could identify rocks in the creek, plants along the banks, and had named 5 different types of trees where I saw only "pine tree." For my part I couldn't even hold a map right - Dingus had to point out I had my map upside down as I tried to match the landscape to the paper while we gazed from the summit (I'd like to further point out that I had little trouble identifying the ranch roads and various ridgelines, all of it making perfect sense - I could probably have managed the same trick with any random topo put in my hand as long as it didn't have something really obvious on it like a glacier or the Pacific Ocean). I was clearly getting stupider, and had to decline the last offer for a refresher from the pipe.
Rather than retracing our steps down the creek, we hiked back along the ranch roads. I did the easy scrambled up Butte Rock while waiting for Dingus to catch up, after which we both headed down the roads together. In the vicinity of Twin Sisters, just before we'd have become visible to the ranch house ahead, we struck off through the brush and down the slope. There was some evidence of previous cutting, though we were not able to find a way without some amount of bushwhacking. Still, it was quite mild compared to the Highway. We had passed about a mile through private property, and would have been scolded if found out - definitely not the preferred route unless you are short on time or willing to chance an encounter with unhappy landowners (we had seen a truck drive along one of the roads we used about 30 minutes earlier). It was almost 5p when we returned to the trailhead and started back down Rieff Rd towards our car.
Halfway back to the car, we once again came upon the muddy section. But something was different, and we both paused to ponder it. Stretched across the road was a black hose with water running out of it. It appeared to originate from some hidden spring on the uphill side of the roadway. The hose had not been in that position in the morning, and was probably what we mistook for a conduit that had been run over. Someone had come out and set up the hose, evidently with the plan of making the road even muddier and more impassable. It didn't take us long to conclude it was the nut case who lived in the nearby house, the same guy who had complained to Dingus of having to drag the fools out of the ditch with his tractor. This guy was clearly insane. Then again, he might have been charging $100 for each tow and neglected to mention this to Dingus, in which case it might appear to be a brilliant, profitable little side business. It was hard to believe someone might sabotage a public roadway for profit, but here was undeniable evidence. Dingus dubbed him the Mud Pirate, and we got some good laughs in considering this guy's exploits: Avast ye mateys! - Let me sink me hook under yer axle and I'll winch her out but good. And I'll take yer purse of gold for me trouble! We took pictures of his setup to warn others before we continued on. This dude is one to watch out for!
We were back at the car just after 5:20p, a nine hour outing. It was several hours longer than we had planned, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. We drove back to Lower Lake before parting, myself to San Jose, Dingus to Sacramento. One of the tougher county highpoints in the bag.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Little Blue Ridge
This page last updated: Thu Mar 25 13:47:16 2010
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