Sun, Apr 19, 2009
This was the third of three days I spent with Tom Becht climbing HPS peaks in the area along SR74. Aside from the first peak, the rest of the day was rather lame. Lots of driving to marginal summits.
We were up before 6a at the campground in Idyllwild, sneaking out before the kiosk was manned. We dropped Tom's car off along the highway and drove in my van out to the same location it had been parked the day before. The route we intended from the west wasn't the primary route described in the HPS guide, but was marked "possible" and looked to be the shortest way there. It turns out to be a very nice way to go, thanks to the work of some trail builders.
From the road we hiked through an opening in the fence that led to what looked like an easement for the water district across a grassy meadow. There were no signs barring entry, and may have been perfectly legal for all we could tell. There was no one at the nearby ranch home that we passed at the far end of the meadow. Later we guessed it wasn't a private residence but a clubhouse of sorts for a riding club. Across the meadow we picked up the road heading up the hill to a water tower. At the tower we expected cross-country pain through moderate brush, but instead we found a nicely clipped trail leading all the way up to Rock Point. We gave praise to the trail builder the entire 20 minutes it took us to reach the summit block.
The summit block was most impressive. There appeared to be two possible routes up, but the only one within our abilities was on the sunny east side of the block. We'd neglected to bring a rope with us, primarily because we were too lazy to carry it, but it wasn't necessary. I went up first, almost before Tom had gotten his pack off. Though the start was vertical, there were good, bomber holds that made it safe and fun. I then descended to photograph Tom and his efforts. He got a little blood letting for his trouble, but he managed to work out the moves and find himself atop the massive block in turn. No register was found atop or down below around the base. We went back via the same route and were back at the van shortly after 7:30a.
So much for the fun part. There was much driving after this, all of it in Tom's Element to deal with the dirt roads, rough at times. It took an hour to drive to the summit of Thomas Mtn. The only difficultly was determining whether the highpoint was the north (a campground location) or south (concrete pillars from an old lookout tower) end. As they were separated by only 100yds, we visited both of them. In the car. The views were so-so, due to trees surrounding much of the area.
More driving. We followed the road NW towards Rouse Hill, taking another hour on the disagreeable dirt road. Rouse Hill is just that, a hill, really just a bump along the very long ridgeline that is Thomas Mtn. Here we had to park along the road and actually hike, nearly a quarter mile to the summit. There was a benchmark and an HPS register dating to 1996. Decent views to be had, at least.
More driving. Another hour to get down off the hill and back to the highway, then a short drive to where the PCT crosses SR74. This is the starting point for Lookout Mtn. The summit is located at the northwest end of the Santa Rosas, an easy hike that took us all of half an hour. At least the hiking was pleasant and I got to add another section of the PCT that I'd never visited before - even if it was only ten minutes worth. There is a use trail heading uphill from the PCT saddle which was easy to follow. The junction was marked with a duck. There was another benchmark and register combo at the summit. We dutifully signed in and took pictures, then headed back down.
More driving. Almost another hour to reach the starting point for Little Cahuilla. This was the most difficult peak of the day, taking more than an hour and half for the round trip effort. The hillsides are heavily cloaked in chaparral making cross-country travel extremely difficult. Fortunately there is a pruned path cut along the undulating ridgeline that looked to have been serviced fairly recently. Another register, another sign-in, one more peak to go.
We drove back along the same dirt road to the start of the Cahuilla Trail. We found a Forest Service ranger in her truck at the parking lot there. She was looking for illegal motorcyclists on the Cahuilla Trail. The area is open to off-road vehicles, but you have to stay on the approved roads and routes. The Cahuilla Trail is open only to horses and foot travel, but because it goes to the highest point in the area, it is tempting for motorcyclists to ride up there. Indeed, there were treads to be found as we hiked along. The trail itself was pretty decent, a pleasant hike with good views from the trail. There were grassy areas with nice wildflowers about the summit ridge. Trees at the summit blocked much of the views, though.
It was 4:45p before we were back at the car, out of both HPS peaks and time. We had climbed (the word "climb" is used loosely here) all 18 of the peaks we had hoped to, so in that regard it had been a successful three days. For me it was the end of a longer 10-day trip that had some memorable visits to summits in the Arizona desert and elsewhere. All that was left was the long, 8hr drive home...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Thomas Mountain - Rouse Hill - Lookout Mountain - Little Cahuilla Mountain - Cahuilla Mountain
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