Sat, Nov 12, 2005
Moses Mtn and North Maggie Mtn are two SPS peaks located in the western section of the Golden Trout Wilderness, just outside Mountain Home State Forest. It's a long drive to get there, and a long drive to get anywhere else once there. It had taken a couple of hours the previous night just to drive from the TH we'd used for Homers Nose, south to Porterville. Our plan was to do both of these peaks in the same day, though I had had my doubts before the weekend began. I expected I might be too beat after the outing to Homers Nose. Though it had been a long outing, it was not as hard as it might have been, and it looked like doing both Moses and Maggie were readily doable.
We had a strange night spent in Porterville. We'd picked out the second motel we'd spotted on our drive through town (the first looked even worse) which unfortunately was on the industrial and seedier side. No big deal, all we needed was a bed with clean sheets and a hot shower. For $50 we got that, but little else. The shower head was broken, shooting the water out in a concentrated stream so forceful that it hurt when it hit your body. The only adjustment possible was to hold your hand up to deflect the water while you let it rain down on you from there. Pretty funny, really. Sometime after we'd gone to bed, maybe 11p or so, a car pulled up next door and a cacophony of shouting and screaming kids started up that lasted God knows how long, and I felt like going outside and telling them to shut the hell up - but I didn't have the energy. Eventually the parents hustled them inside and they went to sleep, too. That part wasn't so funny. Our revenge would come when we arose before 5a, not making much effort to keep quiet.
Mike Larkin had said he might meet us at the trailhead in Mountain Home, and so we made a good faith effort to get there by 6a. But it was a much longer drive than we anticipated and it was well after 6a when we got to Mountain Home and ran into a locked gate. Rats - we hadn't counted on that. We were some five miles short of our planned trailhead, which would add ten miles to the day - doable, but not preferrable. I suggested we might try the west entrance, hoping maybe that one wasn't gated. Another 20 minutes had us around to that side, again looking at a locked gate. But this one was a mile and half closer than the first, and worth the extra 20 minutes driving. Our outing would continue undeterred, just longer than planned. We found no trace of Mike or his Jeep at either gate, so we gave up on his joining us. The weather was decidedly better than the day before, clear skies above a lower cloud layer that we had passed through on the drive in. The weather remained fine the entire day, and after the first fifteen minutes we were in T-shirts for the remainder of the outing.
It was just before 7a when we headed out, hiking the road through the park and to the Shake Camp TH. We had seen two parties camped in the campgrounds on the drive in, but saw no one once we ventured past the gate for the rest of the day. Mountain Home has some very large sequoias growing within its boundaries, and I thought I was going to sprain my neck from all the tilting up of my head to take them in. It was worth the risk. The trail out of Shake Camp was easy to locate and enjoyable to hike along through the forest. We had some views towards Maggie Mtn, but mostly it was forest-covered views. We reached Redwood Crossing shortly after 8a and headed cross-country at this point as suggested by Eckert in his trip report. Later I found that others suggested hiking another mile or two along the trail before leaving which is probably easier, but most ways work. One trip report had described it quite succinctly: there are many ways to climb Moses Mtn, none of them very good. So we were to find out.
We took a compass heading for Moses as suggested and started off in that direction, climbing the forested hillside on a rising traverse. For the most part the cross-country travel wasn't too bad, but there was some bushwhacking, some of it pretty thick, that was unavoidable on our route. We spotted what we guessed was the non-recommended slabby gully, and continued our traverse until we came to something else north of that that we could climb. I led us through more brush as we climbed a gully that tacked back towards the southwest as it crossed under some steep and difficult cliff sections on the East Face. We eventually came around to the realization that our climb resembled very little of what we were reading in the trip report, so we gave up and figured there must be many ways to climb this thing. As we got out of the brush, our route took us across a short class 4 section and some less-hairy class 3 before we found easier climbing in a better gully and soon popped up on to the ridge. We found ourselves south of the summit, but north of the difficult-looking south summit about a third of mile from the highpoint. The climbing along the ridge was really nice - solid class 3 rock, quite fun, and great views off the ridge left and right.
It was just after 10:30p when we reached the summit. There had been some snow encountered along the way, but it had done little to hinder our progress. Clouds were building up below and would sock in the entire Central Valley before the day was out, but they never rose higher than the 3,000-4,000 foot level. At 9,300ft, we had a pretty commanding view for a short peak. We could see north to the Kaweahs, east across the Golden Trout Wilderness, and southeast to the rest of the Southern Sierra. Fog started to blanket much of the Central Valley that stretched out for about 150 degrees of our view to the west. We signed into the register, placed in the early 1960's, perusing the names that filled 2/3 of the book while we took a break. Matthew had been none too keen on our ascent route, and I had to admit it wasn't worth a return trip, so I readily agreed when he suggested we look for another way down.
Leaving the summit, we headed north, following the ridge until we could bypass the cliffs immediately east of the summit and start looking for one of the other chutes we could descend. We started descending off the ridge when we could see a few possibilities, but none of them looked obvious. We ended up doing a descending traverse to the north, dropping into a chute that we found amply supplied with snow in the upper half, and yet more brush lower down. The recurring theme went through my head - many ways, none of them any good. In the lead heading down, I waited at several locations for Matthew to catch up before moving on. I didn't think the brush heading down was too bad, but I think Matthew had different thoughts on that. I was ahead a good distance when I finally dropped out of the brushy gully and down to the creek where I figured I would wait again for Matthew to catch up. I took off my boots and cooled my feet in the cold water, looking upstream and down for signs of Matthew. I could see 50-100 yards in either direction, but it occurred to me that I could easily miss Matthew if he passed on either side of me out of view. I waited about 15 minutes before deciding to head on to North Maggie, thinking I might spot him as I climbed the hillside above the creek.
From the summit of Moses we had pointed out a line that looked to follow a vague West Ridge up to the lower summit west of North Maggie. Our thought was to avoid the snow on the north and northwest side of the peak by staying on the sunnier west and southwest slopes. Figuring I had the best chance of finding Matthew if I stuck to that route, I decided to follow it. At first I headed up an avalanche chute until it became choked with brush, then moved to the forested slopes on one side of it. Higher up the forest gave way to manzanita, but it was never too thick and I found easy enough passage through it. The ridge itself had some class 5 rock formations blocking the direct line, but I found some enjoyable class 3 slabs that I used to bypass more of the brush and manzanita. The slabs gave way to a slope of large blocks. Being on the north side of the ridge, these had been shaded from the sun and there was snow making what would have been straightforward class 2 boulders a bit trickier. The ridge narrowed and topped out at a local highpoint where I had a view of the north slopes of N. Maggie and the lower western summit, white as winter. One to two inches of snow had barely melted and covered the steep, rocky slopes (this view is of the same slopes during the descent). They looked miserable to traverse, so I resigned myself to continuing along the ridgeline and up to the west summit. Though for the most part enjoyable (with a short class 4 downclimb where the ridge was narrowest), it took a good deal of time, far more than I had expected. If Matthew was following me I imagined he might be hating it by now, and if he had taken a different route he might handily beat me to the summit (and wonder what had become of me). The slope eased some, but a continuous covering of snow on the mixed forest/rock slopes made the going difficult. My boots were wet and my feet growing cold as I tried to stay in the weak November sun as much as possible.
I reached the west summit just before 3p, about half a mile from the summit of N. Maggie, separated by a saddle some 400 feet lower. That saddle was the reason I knew climbing the west summit was not going to be the shortest way to get there. It only took about 10 minutes to descend to the saddle, followed by a 25 minute climb to North Maggie's summit. It was 3:30p with only about an hour and a half before sunset, and I was making mental calculations as to where I might find myself before darkness overtook me. If I could get back to the trail before the light gave out I could easily manage the rest of the return by headlamp. I found the register, another SPS one place in the early 1960's, but no signature from Matthew. I had been regularly scanning behind me for signs of him on the whole ascent, but saw and heard nothing. If he had gone another route, he was still behind. Noting the setting sun, I wondered if he hadn't decided to turn around rather than be caught near the summit at sunset.
We had discussed returning via another route altogether that would allow us to ascend nearby Maggie Peak as well, but it seemed ill-advised now. The peak was a good ways off to the southeast still, and though lower, the return would be via a trail that was not well-represented on my map and might create confusion trying to find my way back in the dark. I figured it would be better to head down to the creek and trail we knew rather than try a new route. Knowing a return the same way I'd ascended would not get me down before dark, I opted to try a different way to descend. Rick Kent had given me some advice the day before, suggesting the north slope and then a descent to the northwest was the best route. So off I headed north, following the ridge down from the summit. Everything was covered in snow as I had imagined, but the ground itself was surprisingly easy to negotiate. There was almost none of the boulder hopping I had done too much of during the ascent, and in no time at all I had made my way down to the saddle marking the departure point from the ridge. I followed the slope of the drainage down to the northwest, staying north of the small stream that cut down the middle, both to stay in the sun as much as possible as well as to avoid as much snow as I could. In the beginning of the descent I had paused a few times to call out Matthew's name, but no response ever came. I became more convinced Matthew must have turned back. At least I was now hoping so. If he was significantly behind me on the same ascent route, he would find it tough getting back to the trail in the dark. The lower parts of the slope were steep and forested. In the failing light I had to pay particular attention to the small dead branches near face level that would swipe my melon if I wasn't careful.
Expecting to find the trail as I neared the creek I was surprised to find a well laid out camp instead. A deluxe fire ring, with wooden benches and a neat pile of wood nearby, I almost felt like stopping to make a warm fire rather than continuing on. Looking around, I found no trail. Darn. It was after 5p now and the light was failing fast. I stumbled into the creek (literally, soaking my already wet boots further) but still found no sign of a trail. I decided to pull out my map, discovering it showed that the trail crossed over to the west side downstream of my location. At least that explained the missing trail. I wandered into the woods on the west side of the creek but it was very dark in there and I could find nothing resembling a trail. I decided to just follow down the creek channel where it was lighter, and shortly I came across the trail as it forded the stream. Easy going now. I hiked along another 15 minutes or so until I dug in my pack for my headlamp, and from then on it was a slow fade from dusk to night as I marched along the trail back to Mountain Home. The moon came up, adding a friendly glow to the night and I eventually found myself enjoying the quiet and peacefulness of the hike. Walking along the broader roads through Mountain Home I was able to take in the towering sequoia giants by moonlight, thoroughly enchanting.
It was 7p when I returned to the car, just over 12hrs - so much for an easier outing than Homers Nose. I found the light on in Matthew's car, Matthew calmly perusing maps and books he had open in the car. I was surprised to find that he had returned five hour earlier, having decided to call it a day after the descent from Moses Mtn, a pretty good indication that he had not found the outing nearly as enchanting as I had. We returned to Porterville for the night, spending the rest of our waking hours trying to come up with a plan on where to go the next day. Considering nearly every peak one of us hadn't climbed in the Southern Sierra as well as HPS peaks in Ventura and Kern counties, nothing seemed to grab our interest very strongly. This was definitely not the highlight weekend of the year...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Moses Mountain - North Maggie Mountain
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