Tue, Dec 2, 2008
Ryan met me for our our rendevous near the KOA campground in Banning at the early hour of 6a. We left his truck in the same nearby location that I had spent the night, and together drove up SR243 into the San Jacinto Mtns. The peaks on today's list were rather mundane, even for the HPS list. They comprised a group of three west of the main massif of San Jacinto that I had yet to get around to. Ryan had climbed Black Mtn previously by the same route, but gracious assented to do it again along with the others - mostly he wanted to get in a workout after a number of months of inactivity due to illness, and this seemed as good a way as any.
F1823>Starting around 6:30a just before sunrise, we headed up the Black Mtn Trail located west of the peak. This semi-popular trail climbs 2,500ft in under four miles, winding its way through chaparral and pine-covered slopes, offering some good views to the north. The high summit of San Jacinto to the east blocked the sun, leaving us in the chilly shade for the first few hours. By 8a we'd reached the saddle north of the peak, from where we picked up a use trail on the northwest side that took us up to the summit in another ten minutes.
There is a well-maintained lookout tower at the top. Though no longer used to monitor fires, it is manned by volunteers who provide access and information concerning the tower. We were an hour early for the posted visiting hours, but I doubt they man the tower during the week in the off-season. We climbed up to a lower platform on the tower below the main building, finding the access to the top barred by a locked grating. It was easy enough to scramble around the outside (a bit of exposure here) and onto the upper platform where we had a swell view of the area on all sides. Of greatest interest was the view to the east and a peek at Castle Rocks. We didn't know if we'd run into snow at the higher elevation and from what we could see there was no snow except on the even higher San Jacinto. It was a good sign.
We dropped back down to the saddle and then east to the Black Mtn campground which we found deserted, to no great surprise. We wandered through the campgrounds looking for a trail heading towards Castle Rocks, but found none after about ten minutes. Time to consult the map (which would have saved us the ten minutes had we done so earlier). There was no trail as we'd hoped. We had to hike back to the road and take that to the PCT TH. Castle Rocks was a lot further than we had guessed, taking an hour from the CG to reach the PCT trailhead, and then another hour from there to the summit. We ran into snow along the PCT as it follows on the NE side of Fuller Ridge, but it had been well-traveled for the most part and only a few inches deep. Where we had to leave the trail east of Castle Rocks' summit we found a thin use trail switchbacking up the steep hillside, marked by a duck. The partial snow coverage masked the trail, making it hard to follow, and it was eventually lost. No matter. We just kept heading uphill until we reached the rocky summit ridgeline. At least the snow wasn't icy and posed little danger. We scrambled up one set of rocks only to find the higher point was a short distance to the NW. Downclimbing and some bushwhacking ensued before we finally got to the right set of summit rocks.
It was a cool sort of summit with a small perch above a class 3 scramble, barely enough room to hold the two of us (and probably why Ryan's photo is cropped so). There was a fine view of San Jacinto's snow-covered North Face, but hardly enough snow to be considered "in season" for a climb of Snow Creek. Black Mtn to the west looked considerably less impressive, hardly seeming to qualify as a mountain.
We took less than two and half hours to cover the more than eight miles back to the trailhead, much of the downhill distance on the Black Mtn Trail done at a jog. Ryan didn't look like he was out of shape or recovering from any sort of illness, leading the charge back down. We needed to move on to another peak to see if we could slow him down.
We drove about 15 minutes south along the highway to an overlook NE of Indian Mountain. It was a fairly new overlook with fresh displays, stonework, railings, and handicap access ramps - quite deluxe, really. There was no obvious trailhead to get us to Indian Mtn, though we could clearly see the 4x4 road leading over to it. This route required a 400ft drop to a saddle followed by an 800ft climb to the summit. We wandered out to the end of the overlook, around the end of the wall, then down a steep embankment leading down to the dirt road. Exactly where the dirt road met the highway we hadn't quite figured out.
We started following the road down to the saddle, taking a short cut at one point to avoid a long switchback. The ground we trod, and much of the surrounding hillsides were covered with bulldozed and partially shredded chaparral. It was awkward to walk on and ugly to look at, and we were unable to figure out why the forest service would do such a thing. Later, back at the overlook, we read that many of the trees that had onced covered this area had been killed by a parasite. So perhaps this was an attempt to give a new generation of trees a chance to grow by removing the thick chaparral that had taken their place.
Once at the saddle we followed the road all the way to the summit of Indian Mountain. I'd like to report that it was a great scramble to an exciting peak with swell views, but none of that would be true. It was rather mundane, the only thing interesting was the summit rock that afforded the only thing close to a scramble. From the summit we had decent views of Black Mtn and San Jacinto to the east, while Lily Rock and Tahquitz Peak on the Desert Divide could be seen to the southeast. Haze obscured much of the views to the lower elevations to the west. Our return was via the same route, the five mile hike taking us less than two hours.
On our drive back to Banning we stopped off for one more quick summit, Ranger Peak. This peak had once been crowned with a fire tower (possibly before the nearby one on Black Mtn was built), but all that was left were the concrete piers. The peak was delisted by the HPS as "too easy" which gives you an idea of how trivial it was - all of about 100ft from the van to the summit, once we found the right location. There were no signs indicating where to find it among the various intersecting dirt roads in the area near the fire station, so that part was the trickiest (ok, not that tricky...).
Back near the KOA in Banning I dropped Ryan off at his truck and he drove back to his folks' home some half hour away. He was scheduled to come back the next day to join Tom and I for a far more ambitious outing along the Desert Divide. Meanwhile, I had another evening of dirtbagging it in Banning (dinner at Jack-in-the-Box and a shower at the KOA) before driving up to Mountain Home to find a place to sleep off the side of the road. I needed some sleep because the next day was going to be a tough one.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Black Mountain - Castle Rocks - Indian Mountain
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