Samon Peak 2x HPS
West Big Pine HPS
Big Pine Mountain 4x P2K HPS
Madulce Peak 2x P750 HPS

Fri, May 4, 2007
Samon Peak
West Big Pine
Big Pine Mountain
Madulce Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profile
Samon Peak previously climbed Mon, Dec 20, 2004
Big Pine Mountain previously climbed Thu, Nov 16, 2006
Madulce Peak previously climbed Mon, Dec 20, 2004

I was supposed to climb Royal Arches in Yosemite Valley, but my partner had to back out a few days before we were set to head out for the day on Friday. Not wanting to lose a climbing slot already negotiated with the family, I switched gears and decided to give the HPS Big Four another try. After the recent outing to George Creek, I felt like I was fit enough to give this grueling 40+ miles/10,000ft hike a good go, better than my previous two attempts. Both Matthew H. and Rick K. had completed this dayhike within the last year, and I had started to feel like I was being left in their dust. In order to be gone a little more than a single day, I planned to drive from San Jose to the trailhead in Santa Barbara County starting at 8p, hike for 15-18hrs, then drive back. I took a nap at home Wednesday afternoon to make the sleep deprivation easier, and it certainly helped.

I had planned on a six-hour drive, but was surprised to find myself at the trailhead almost an hour earler, just after 1a. Fueled by caffeine in the blood and Love Line on the radio, I zipped down I-5 in good time. Having been to the TH three times already, there were no route-finding problems, no guesses - just driving. 1a was actually too early to get to the trailhead. The first peak on the list, Samon Peak, has several miles of use trail that are hard to follow in places during the day, very difficult at night I could imagine. I needed to time it so I got to the turnoff for Samon just after it was light enough. So I put the car seat back, tossed a blanket over me, and slept for the next hour and a half. Happily I had no trouble dozing off.

When the alarm went off at 2:30a, I was up and on the road in eight minutes. The hike started off superbly, with a full moon just above the canyon walls, only a few scattered clouds, cool temperatures in the high 40's. I could easily see well enough to hike without a headlamp, but I kept one on all the same. Since I had actually seen a mountain lion on my previous visit here, they were no longer some mythical creature that I had read about, but whose existence I questioned. These were actual predators, ones known to have attacked humans for food and gotten away with it. Bears, snakes, and other wild creatures don't worry me, but mountain lions were a different story. And being alone at night and getting mistaken for a rather large rabbit had occurred to me. I figured the headlamp would let the lion know I wasn't his usual food, even though his night vision would probably be able to easily determine that anyway. I don't know, maybe I just wanted a few microseconds to actually see my attacker, horrific fangs, claws, screech and all before I was eaten. In any event, I nervously kept a careful eye and ear out for several hours in those lonely hours before morning. Of course one never materialized.

All the while, I hiked up Alamo Canyon, following the road that divides the Dick Smith and San Rafael Wildernesses in the heart of the Los Padres National Forest. This is just about as remote as you can find in Santa Barbara County. I reached the turnoff for Samon Peak just before Chokeberry Spring in about 3 hours, by which time it had grown light enough to see quite well. Thoughts of mountain lions had faded with the darkness. The moon had disappeared after the first hour as it was slowly overtaken first by wispy thin clouds that gave it a silvery halo, eventually disappearing altogether as the clouds came in thicker. I dropped three of my four waterbottles at the junction and headed up the steep drainage marked by an inconspicuous duck. The weather deteriorated to a very fine mist as I found myself climbing in the clouds. There was no sunrise today, only a slow graying to daylight. By the time I reached the summit of Samon, I was thoroughly cold and damp. I hadn't brought enough warm clothes to deal with rain, having only a windbreaker and a balaclava. I had a pair of gloves, but they were a thin pair made from leather, intended to help with the bushwhacking, not the cold. I ate one of my four coffee-flavored breakfast bars (the caffeine was designed to help offset the lack of sleep) and my strawberry milk. I grew cold from inactivity not long after reaching the top, so I didn't stay long, only enough time to sign into the register after finishing my quick snack.

On the way back down to the main road I managed to get myself almost completely soaked. The mist and drizzle had thoroughly wetted all the manzanita and other brush that encroached on the trail and it was impossible to keep the water from seeping into all my clothing. The long sleeve T-shirt was looking like a definite liability under my jacket by this time. Commonsense probably should have had me aborting the outing by this time, but it didn't stand a chance against my stubbornness and the nasty thought of having to reschedule this yet again. I don't do well once my hands freeze up, but I disregarded this danger and simply packed up the milk I had cached and continued up the road. Actually, even that wasn't so simple. My fingers were so cold by now that I had trouble operating the zippers on my pack and even the chest clasp. There was almost no pressure that I could exert between my thumb and other fingers to grasp or hold stuff. I felt like a mess, with only the distant hope that the weather might improve given enough time. It was a poor choice that I recognized even at the time, but I wasn't willing to give up.

I was also unable to operate my camera, so for a four hour stretch I took no pictures. There wasn't much to take photos of anyway, as everything was buried in the clouds and there wasn't a view of more than a few hundred yards in any direction. In this fashion I plodded my way all the way to West Big Pine at the farthest distance from the trailhead, some 18 miles or so. Though this was only the second of the four peaks, it gave me something to celebrate, as it was the only one of the four I hadn't been able to climb previously. Even if I didn't get all four today, I would be able to claim West Big Pine, and in all liklihood would not attempt the Big Four dayhike again in the future. I was barely able to open the register and had to hold the pencil in my fist to make a scrawled entry. The wind was blowing pretty good by now, but there were signs of improvement. The constant drizzle had stopped about 30 minutes earlier, and though my upper body was still quite wet, my pants were beginning to dry out. My hands were still the worst, as I was unable to find a way to warm them as I hiked along. The pockets of my pants and jacket were both damp, and the gloves were wet through. I tried various combinations over the last several hours to no success, but at least they didn't go completely numb - I could still flex my fingers on command, even if I could barely hold a pencil.

As I left West Big Pine, Hope began to prevail and seemingly against all odds, the weather began to improve. The first sign was a brief clearing near West Big Pine that gave me a few seconds' view to the south. Then the sun began to grow stronger as it periodically would shine brighter through the thinning clouds above. Just having the mist and drizzle stop was a huge boon, and I began to warm up a bit as I made my way back to Big Pine Mtn. It was just after noon when I reached the top of summit #3, and I was rewarded with some actual sunshine, complete with shadows and warming rays. Life came back to my fingers. I perused the summit register while I warmed myself a bit, noting some amusing entries from some of the HPS folks. Without question, Mars Bonfire is the most prolific HPS climber, having climbed every peak on the list more than 12 times each, and showing no signs of slowing down. Since a few of the HPS peaks are simple drive-ups, there are no rules as to the mode of transportation that can be used, and Mars (and many others) has often used bicycles where legal to make things easier. Big Pine Mtn is one such peak, since the road from the TH is technically outside the Wilderness areas found on either side. Another veteran HPS member, George Wysup, has often railed against the mountain bikes in his entries from other registers I have seen. In this one he seems to take a particularly sharp stab at Mars, though his animosity seems to go beyond just the bike issue.

It was almost 12:30p and nearly 10 hours into the hike when I left Big Pine Mtn to return east back towards the last peak, Madulce Peak. Samon Peak to the north was still buried in clouds, but things were definitely improving around it. By the time I got to the turnoff for Madulce an hour later I was feeling pretty good. The dread I had earlier about the cold and wet had dried up (sorry, bad pun) and I was feeling pretty good. For lack of anything more imaginative to do, I signed into the trail register I found at the start of the Madulce Trail. Maybe it would help the SAR team locate me should I get hopelessly lost in Santa Barbara Canyon on my way out.

It took a bit more than an hour to reach the Madulce Peak summit some 3.5 miles away. I had a longer break there, corresponding with the improvement in the weather. I had my third pint of flavored milk, saving the last one in reserve for the hike out, along with the last of my caffeine bars. The caffeine had done its trick - I was no longer tired and wanting of sleep. From Madulce's summit I still had about 10 miles to hike out which would take me another four hours. I was actually looking forward to this last part, the hike from Madulce Camp down through Santa Barbara Canyon. On my first visit to Big Pine Mtn four years earlier, I had gotten disoriented after reaching Madulce Camp in another drizzly, cloudy fog. In frustration I ended up climbing back up to the ridge crest and back down the main road, adding a good ten extra miles that day. Afterwards I found I had been on the right trail, but had doubted its course as determined by my compass (it had been only a temporary deviation to the southwest before dropping down into Santa Barbara Canyon). This time around I had absolutely no route-finding issues and no need to pull out my map the whole day. I cruised down to Madulce Camp, pausing only briefly for a few photos, before continuing on the proper trail down Santa Barbara Canyon.

With a bit more than two hours to go, I found my energy flagging as I hiked through the canyon. It was very picturesque, even nicer than I had expected, and I stopped often to take pictures of the various wildflowers that were coming to bloom. But it was a long two hours, and I found myself wishing the day was over with three miles still to go. As an additional hurdle, there was a good deal of poison oak in the lower half of the canyon, enough to make me watch the ground very carefully for every step. Thankfully the leaves were newly developed and still a shiny, redish green, making them easily distinguishable from a few other species that have similar leaf patterns but not the same poisonous qualities. It was almost exactly 16hrs of hiking when I finally emerged from the canyon and returned to my car. I never opened the last pint of milk, consuming only 48oz the whole day - cold and wet can sure dampen one's thirst! I paused only long enough to change into some fresh clothes before starting the 5hr return drive, getting me back to San Jose just after midnight. It was as compressed an outing as I could have managed. Thankfully it was also highly successful, and I can put the Big Four quest behind me, as I started plotting similar outings ahead for the Sierra...

John Martin comments on 04/09/21:
I know this was a long time ago but I'm curious what happened to the three water bottles you dropped off at the junction to Samon?
I collected them again when I got back down to the main road.
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More of Bob's Trip Reports

For more information see these SummitPost pages: Samon Peak - Big Pine Mountain

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