Chatsworth Peak 2x P500
Three Sisters Rock 2x
Peak 3,166ft 2x P300

Sat, Nov 2, 2019

With: Barbara Lilley
Robert Wu
Tom Becht
Caren Becht
Karl Fieberling
Scott Barnes
Iris Ma

Chatsworth Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profile
Chatsworth Peak previously climbed Sat, Jun 27, 2009
Three Sisters Rock previously climbed Thu, Mar 9, 2017
Peak 3,166ft previously climbed Mon, Apr 18, 2016


Chatsworth Peak

I've been a fan of Barbara Lilley for many years now. Aside from the hundreds of registers I've seen placed by her and Gordon, I'd seen her at several Sierra Club SPS/DPS banquets, but only got the chance to converse with her in the past year. We were supposed to to a hike together to Chatsworth Peak last Thanksgiving, but wet weather had her canceling. She never really seemed to understand why I wanted to do the hike, considering I'd already done it. Seems she repeats summits even less often than I do, and didn't seem to quite understand that I just wanted the privilege of doing a hike with Barbara Lilley. Over the past year, with the help of Laura Newman, I was able to convince Barbara to let me get her summit records online, something she initially dismissed as too much work. It was a lot of work, trying to identify many hundreds of unnamed peaks by only their old elevations from the 15' maps, but with the help of Scott, Iris and Laura, we managed to get most of her records online over the course of the year. During this time I had many correspondences with Barbara, earning some level of trust and finally arranging a second attempt at Chatsworth Peak for her 90th birthday. Her birthday was Oct 14, but Laura couldn't arrange the hike until Nov 2 due to various commitments. In the end Laura couldn't join us, but by now Barbara was keen on the peak and had agreed to let me pick her up at her home in Simi Valley.

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I pulled into her complex shortly before 9:30a on a Saturday. My only experience in this age category is my 87yr-old mother-in-law who would need help getting in and out of vehicles, up stairs, and the like. Barbara would have no such issues. She could not only get in and out of the jeep without trouble, but she was quite capable of doing many things - she still skis at Mammoth Mountain (free to those over 80yrs) as recently as June, driving herself there and even sleeping in her truck. A 90yr-old dirtbagger - my heart melted. We drove to Santa Suzanna Pass where we met the others in our party, a collection of Southern California Sierra Challenge folks who also wanted the opportunity to meet and hike with Barbara. We took two jeeps up Lilac Ln and onto Mesa Dr, but probably any vehicles would do. There are half a dozen No Trespassing signs on Lilac Ln on the drive up, but these seemed to be regularly ignored and it's not clear how enforceable they are (they may have been installed by the residents living beyond the sign, not the city or county). I had stopped by here earlier in the morning before I got Barbara and talked about my plans with a resident who cheerfully told me I could just drive up.

We stopped after the road turns to dirt and meets with Bell Ranch Rd, up from Pioneer Pass. I was going to drive further, but Barbara scoffed at me - seems she wanted a hike, not a drive-up. I could only have gotten another 100ft it turns out, due to a barrier across the road. We parked and got out, Barbara putting on her gaiters for the brush she knew we'd encounter. The others packed up some items we had to take to the summit and after 10min or so we set off at a leisurely pace. Barbara had warned me on more than one occasion that she's slower than the usual peakbagger, to which I tried to reassure her that we had no reason to hurry and would be happy with whatever pace the group could manage. She wasn't fast, to be sure, but she wasn't as slow as she led me to believe. The route is about half a mile each way. The first part is a flat dirt road to the start of a steep paved portion that climbs with one switchback to a water tank. The last time I was here there was a grumpy homeless guy living behind the water tank, but he was gone now, as was all the trash he'd collected and a few rusty cars that had pre-dated him. In fact almost all of the junk that I had found on that first visit 10yrs earlier had been cleaned up, making for a much more pleasant experience than I had remembered. Above the water tank, a somewhat brushy dirt road continues most of the way to the summit. Karl was out front with a pair of clippers I had brought, but there wasn't really much need to clip as the brush was fairly light and not really an impediment. Near the top it is necessary to leave the road to avoid summit towers and the occasional resident/technician/not-really-sure-who-the-guy-is-that-does-stuff-up-here that had been mentioned by others. This part is class 2 which Barbara managed on her own without trouble, getting us to the summit rocks in about 30 minutes. The summit block looked harder than I remembered. It's a tough mantling move from the south side, an easier class 3 slab up from the northwest. Here's where I started getting nervous. I was hoping Barbara might be satisfied with just touching the summit block, but when she saw the other clambering up it, she wanted to as well. The mantling move of course was out, but we went about trying to figure out the easiest way to get her to the northwest side of the block, no easy task with more class 3 scrambling to reach it. Iris and Karl helped me guide Barbara through this, all the time I was very anxiously trying to ensure she didn't slip. I could think of few things more ignoble than being known as the person who broke Barbara Lilley, or worse. We took her water bottle, her fanny pack and eventually her sunglasses to help her through the tough sections, finally reaching the start of the crux on the northwest side. She looked at it for a moment and suggested maybe this was a good time to provide her a belay. I had brought a short rope at her suggestion earlier, not really thinking we'd ever use it. She looped the rope around her waist and tied a bowline quite nicely. But the rope was not snug and would surely cause her harm should it have to take her weight. I took the other end up to Scott who would provide a hip belay from the summit, letting him know this part was just for show. He seemed to relish the task of old-school belaying Barbara to the summit. She wanted to follow my footsteps up the slabs, so I told Iris and Karl to watch her carefully from behind. I didn't realize that the slope was more than Karl was comfortable enough, so after a few feet it was just Iris to ensure her safety. Barbara once again proved up to the task and it was with no small measure of relief that we were happy to see her to the top of the sandstone block.

Barbara was quite happy in that moment, thrilled to summit a peak that had been on her mind for more than a year now. Her focus and delight in reaching a summit has not seemed to dim after a full lifetime of doing the same thing many thousands of times. We took a few summit group photos, but did not linger long at the top since it was a bit windy and chilly. In reversing the moves we had Barbara scoot down the crux section on her butt, Iris and I helping to hold her feet in places as she worked her way down this 10-foot section. We then reversed all the other class 3 moves across the various rock sections to get back to terra firma on the southwest side of the summit block. I could finally relax. In the small clearing, we set up a camp table that Tom had carried to the summit and brought out some cake and cupcakes, along with one of Barbara's favorites - cans of Bud Light. We sang Happy Birthday and enjoyed some mirth with the refreshments before packing everything back up and heading down.

After returning to Simi Valley, we took Barbara to lunch at the Black Bear Diner, a short distance from her home. It had just recently opened and this was her first time visiting it. She had a very healthy appetite and seemed happy to answer our questions (she never met Fred Beckey, for example, and didn't like Andy Smatko's early start times) as our leisurely lunch went well over an hour. Afterwards I drove her back to her complex and then returned with Scott and Karl to the original meeting place at Santa Suzanna Pass.

Three Sisters Rock/Peak 3,166ft

Tom had gone off with Caren to visit his father who lives in the area while Scott and Robert were planning to head home. I had planned a climb of Three Sisters Rock for Sunday, but now that Iris and I were the only ones left to camp on Saturday night, I thought we might be able to do the climb with the remaining hours we had today. Scott and Robert were enthusiastic about this and Iris readily agreed when we met her back at the pass. It would leave Tom in the lurch since he was planning to rejoin us Sunday morning, but I was happy to toss him under the bus for the sake of Scott and Robert. We piled into our vehicles and headed off to Soledad Canyon, about 40min away.

I had been to Three Sisters Rock two and half years earlier, finding my way to top of the northern summit, but not so the higher middle summit. The rock formations are a conglomerate mix of granite rocks embedded in sandstone and impressive-looking both from a distance and up close. I figured a rope and gear might allow one to climb the northeast side of the middle formation and it was with this plan in mind that we set out from the PCT TH at Indian Canyon, about three miles from Three Sisters Rock. We spent about an hour and 20min hiking two miles of the PCT and another mile on a powerline road to get us to the base of the middle rock. Iris and I were just ahead of the other two when we arrived. I tossed off my pack and walked up to the rock, examined a few locations while talking to Iris about it, then sort of stepped up a few feet and worked my way with no particular difficulty past the crux section that had stopped me on that first visit. "Huh. Maybe we don't need the rope after all," I commented. And so we didn't. How I had missed this previously, I wasn't sure, but it seemed no harder than class 3-4 now. The others followed up in short succession, but we still weren't sure if the rest of the 100-foot route would go as easily. Looking up, I noticed two bolts, the first of more than a dozen we would find on the route - someone had been up here years earlier to put up what seemed to us to us an over-bolted route. The rest of the face turned out to be steep but with ample holds to keep the difficulty to class 3, a bit easier than the crux at the start. It took less than 10min for the four of us to make our way to the summit, far easier than we had expected. This was very fortuitous, it turns out, because it would begin to grow dark in less than half an hour - we'd have never finished the route without headlamps if we'd gotten out the rope and other gear. We left a register at a small cairn we found atop the large summit area, then reversed our route back down the same way. Scott found some additional enjoyment at the crux making it harder than necessary, which we joked would garner an "alternate start" line on the topo we imagined to find its way to a guidebook. Though not a Top 100 CA Classics Scramble, it might make the top 200 and is otherwise an interesting formation and worth a visit if in the area.

On our way back I paused our party near the powerline road/PCT junction to comment there was a bonus peak above us. It was now close to sunset but Scott immediately jumped on it - "Of course we have to go up there!" It was a short diversion from the trail route, a minor point offering no technical challenges but it gave us a fine sunset view of the western sky that we would have otherwise missed. Somewhere on our rough cross-country route down the south side of Peak 3,166ft I noticed that the key fob I keep in my pants pocket had slipped out through a seam that had come undone. We searched a short while in the tall grass where I had slipped and noticed it missing, but it seems likely it had bounced out somewhere earlier on the return from Three Sisters Rock. I've known for some time that I shouldn't be hiking around with my key fob so carelessly placed and would pay a $300 price for the lesson. Luckily I had a backup key that would at least keep me from getting stranded when we returned to the TH shortly before 7p. Aside from the costly mistake, it had been a fine day, one we enjoyed a good deal. Rather than camp the night, we all decided to head home from here. It would be 1:30a before I would get back home to San Jose, but with the change to Daylight Standard Time I would be getting an extra hour of sleep, a nice little bonus...

Scott Hanson comments on 11/07/19:
I have some non-climbing questions which you may choose to answer or not. Did she speak at all about her climbing history with Gordon? What did they both do for a profession? At what point in life did they both decide to become full time mountain climbers? Thanks.
Barbara worked for Hughes Aircraft for 30yrs before retiring in the mid-80s. Not sure about Gordon. The other questions I could only speculate about since we didn't talk about those specifically.
Laura N comments on 11/13/19:
Bob, you really know how to make the ladies happy. Barbara really is one in a million. L

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