Brush Mountain P1K CC

Sat, Nov 9, 2019

With: Daryn Dodge
Sean Casserly
Asaka Takahashi

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


There are 32 peaks in California named Brush Mtn, Brushy Peak or other flavors of the same theme - sort of a measure as to just how much brush there is in the state. This Brush Mtn was of particular interest - it's on the CC-list, is a Wilderness HP, and happens to be the most prominent peak in CA that I had yet to climb, less than 30ft short of a P2K. When Sean texted to ask if I was interested a week before he planned to visit it, I responded with a simple, "I am." Craig Barlow had been the first peakbagger to pioneer a route to the summit, up what sounded like an awful route involving private property and homes at close proximity, heavy bushwhacking and a good dose of poison oak. When Daryn mentioned that he thought he'd found an all-public route, I expected it was a variation on Craig's route from the north that would trade off the private property for more brush and poison oak. What they'd envisioned was something altogether different. At the south end of the Elkhorn Wilderness, along the South Fork of the Eel River, was the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, a 7,660-acre research tract managed by the University of California. Along with their research mission, visitors are allowed day use of the reserve's modest trail system. We couldn't drive through the reserve, so we'd have about 4.0mi on the road to reach its end at the "White House" at the north end of the reserve, then about 3mi of cross-country to Brush Mtn. I found that the reserve allows bikes on the main road, so we all brought mountain bikes to make quicker work of those first four miles. Beyond the White House, one of the park maps showed a trail heading northeast to Tenmile Creek, about a mile in length. After crossing the creek (we expected low water conditions this time of year), we'd have to begin a 2,500-foot climb up the mountain to the summit. Sean had identified a forested gully from the satellite view that looked to be our best option to avoid brush. Overall, I thought the plan was ingenious but crazy, and expected us to encounter horrendous brush and walls of poison oak. I was glad to find neither of those problems and the outing went about as well as any of us might have hoped. The whole outing, car-to-car was just under 7hrs, hours faster than I had guessed.

We'd spent the night camped in our vehicles near the entrance to the Angelo Reserve. We were up early and starting off on our bikes shortly after 7a, riding on the gravel road through mixed forest in the chill morning air. We stopped to shed layers, check our route at one of the road junctions, and a longer stop to repair a flat on Asaka's bike. A little unexpectedly, we reached a locked gate signed for private property just before the last downhill section to the White House. Evidently one can only get to the White House on foot, so we locked our bikes to some trees along the road and followed the signed trail for half a mile to the White House. We thought this building would be like several others we'd passed by in the park, old but maintained for use by staff and researchers. At one time a pleasant two-story abode, the house has not been renovated nor maintained and is now shuttered, most of the white paint gone. It's located at the edge of large meadow, but it has a forlorn look to it and hardly inviting. This was somewhat important because Asaka was planning to wait for us here, not interested in the bushwhacking-fest we expected to follow. She'd brought a book with her, but there were no chairs, benches nor picnic tables to sit at. A porch would have to do. She was a good sport, waiting here for most of the five hours it would take before we returned. We left her one of Daryn's walkie-talkies and arranged to check in with her every hour.

After leaving Asaka, the three of us went back up the trail to a trail junction, looking for the trail to Tenmile Creek. We didn't know it at the time, but the unsigned trail we wanted forks off about 10yds from the White House. We hiked up the Alquist Trail a short distance before deciding it was climbing higher than we cared, after which we began some steep sidehilling through forest understory and a bit of thrashing, wasting about 20min before finally stumbling upon the trail we'd been looking for much closer to the river. We noticed from the start that the understory was not as brushy as we'd feared, and in fact was pretty open for the most part. There were the brown, leafless branches of poison oak in many places along our route, but never overwhelmingly so. It was impossible to keep from contacting them all, so we had to consider our clothing contaminated from the waist down. I was the only one that had gloves on for the hike and I thought it was pretty brave of the others to do without. I was very happy to find that I would not break out in poison oak from this adventure. We followed our trail until it petered out, then continued along on various animal trails and some cross-country to reach Tenmile Creek around 9:20a. As expected, it was not difficult to find a way across without taking our boots off and we were soon on the north bank of the creek making our way to the forested gully. Once we reached its starting point, we would spend well over an hour making our way up the thing. Lower down, brush made staying in the bottom of the gully a chore, so we favored animal trails on one side or the other that often took us 100ft or more above the bottom, but we would eventually make our way back to the gully to keep from veering off. We knew thick brush awaited us if we exited the gully too soon, so it seemed best to stay in it as long as possible. There was water in much of the gully's length, even a small waterfall we came across about 1/3 of the way up. We stopped at 11a to make a check-in call to Asaka, a little surprised to find the walkie-talkie worked just fine. Continuing up, we found the upper part of the gully drier and less brushy and the easiest walking seemed to be in the bottom of the gully. When we finally reached the end of the forest in the uppermost part of the gully, we moved out into the brush section just below the summit ridge, finding conditions pretty much as Sean had described from the satellite view - plenty of breaks in the brush to keep us from having to do any real bushwhacking. By 11:15a we'd reached the ridge with the summit in view and a route along an old firebreak evident. We were all pretty ecstatic by this time, realizing we were going to make it to the summit without any real pain. It took only another 10min to make our way to the open summit where we pronounced our route an unqualified success.

We spent probably ten minutes hunting around the large summit area looking for the register Craig had reported leaving. We looked in the brush and various rock outcrops that seemed likely places to leave one. Eventually Sean noticed it a short distance down the slope from the first scattered cairn we'd found in the largest clearing. It seems some animal had investigated the glass jar and rolled it away from the cairn. Once retrieved, it would take quite some effort to get the lid off so we could sign our names to the paper inside. We paused for lunch here, Sean enjoying a very deluxe-looking bento box his wife had prepared for him - not the sort of thing one usually sees on such an outing. We took in the fine views to be had from the summit, east to Iron Mtn, west to the Pacific Ocean, south to Cahto Peak and north to Mail Ridge and Red Mtn. In all we spent about 40min at the top, making another call to Asaka before we started down.

Not surprisingly, the return went much quicker, thanks to the 2,500-foot descent. I was using the GPSr to roughly follow the same route we'd taken on the way up since it had worked so well, while Sean and Daryn were exploring new options, partly by choice and partly by accident. We got separated on several occasions, once with Sean off by himself, later on my own, but we all ended up back at the bottom of the gully together and from there we pretty much stuck together. We crossed back over Tenmile Creek at the same location we'd used earlier, then went about finding the trail we'd missed somehow. Once on it, we followed it for almost a mile right back to the White House, the junction now obvious. But since there was no signage, you kinda have to know where to look to start out on it. At our last check-in with Asaka, she had said she was going to start back on the bike since she expected to be slower, so there was no surprise when we didn't find her at the White House. The bike ride back took less than 45min, seems we were riding faster, taking fewer breaks and probably motivated like the proverbial horse returning to the barn. Just ahead of the others, I caught up with Asaka as she was getting her bike through the gate at the very end. We were done before 3p and it looked like I'd be able to get back home in time to have dinner with my wife. The others were planning another day in the area, so after a chilly shower and fresh change of clothes, I bid them goodbye and headed back out to US101 and home. It was a very short roadtrip, but well-worth the time and effort to get this one...

Craig Barlow comments on 11/13/19:
Glad you guys were able to make it without too much pain. Sounds like it was definitely better than my route!
seano comments on 11/17/19:
"There are 32 peaks in California named Brush Mtn, Brushy Peak or other flavors of the same theme..." I think this is a list you should work on completing, Bob! It seems like you could probably even enlist others in the effort.
hightinerary comments on 11/18/19:
Excellent idea, Seano! And I just noticed an especially worthy high point called Ubiquitous Cholla BM. A must-do P50 if I've ever seen one.

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