Fri, Feb 17, 2006
Having arrived about 20 minutes earlier, he had already surveyed the road's end, the ranch house a quarter mile from the end, and found the present parking spot out of sight. All our beta pointed to a landowner that had no sympathy for county highpointers, and wanted nobody crossing his land. Our plan was to start and finish in the dead of night so as to minimize our chances of disturbing him and any unpleasant encounter that might ensue. Because the ranch sits off to the side away from our route, we never came closer to the house than the quarter mile we had at the start. In daytime it would have been easy enough to be spotted, but at night - without headlamps - we may as well have been invisible. We started off shortly before midnight, hiking east along the dirt road which eventually angled to the southeast. There were some cattle standing along the road, disturbed by our passing and more than willing to give us a wide berth in the off-chance we turned out to be hungry carnivores out for a bit of a snack. When we came to some overhead transmission lines we turned north and followed a side road up towards Table Mtn. From our angle it was about the weakest excuse for a mountain to be found. We were hiking an easy grade up to a nondescript ridgeline that was completely underwhelming. The only difficulty was dealing with some biting cold - 29F when we started - but even that wasn't too bad since there was nary a breeze to make its impact harshly felt.
Shortly before reaching the ridge our road took a turn to the left that we didn't appreciate, so we hiked cross-country a short ways up the last steep gradient to the ridge. Here we turned east and followed the ridgeline to the top of Table Mtn. It wasn't much of a top - the ridge just sort of started heading down gradually which told us we'd reached the apex. Scrawny pines, likely heat-stroke victims of the blazing summertime temperatures, dotted the summit area and blocked any hope for decent views. We stomped around in the tall grass under the trees for about 20 minutes looking for something resembling a cairn or a highpoint, or evidence of previous highpointers. We found a few rusty tin cans and an old aluminum beer can for our trouble, but no register. Undeterred, we made our own with a pad of paper and pencil from my pack, inserted into one of the rusty cans. This we placed under a tree on the south side of the road in the near vicinity of where Matt's GPS said the USGS marker should be. He had taken a reading from the 7.5' USGS map, but we found no marker in the dark.
Our views weren't completely lacking as we could see east and south from the summit (a short walk provides views to the north as well). But the area is so remote that only a few lights from the Central Valley could be discerned. Leaving the summit, we returned by nearly the same route, with a slight variation of the road taken in the upper section. Scaring a few more cows back on the main road, we returned to the public portion of the road shortly before 3:30a. Safely back at our cars we parted, Matt driving back to San Jose, myself south to Los Angeles.
I only drove about 15 minutes back down the road, pulling over at the Parkfield cemetery to sleep in the van for a few hours. I slept cozily for until 7a when daylight awoke me. I spent the next two hours driving south via SR33 through the fabulous oil country around McKittrick, Taft and Maricopa. With all the aging pumps, piping, and other equipment scattered all over the place, it looked like a toxic waste site sprawling over hundreds of square miles. To do my part for the local economy I stopped at the Albertson's in Taft to get myself some breakfast. Further south, I took the Cerro Noroeste Rd up into the Los Padres NF around Mt. Pinos, with the intention of tagging some of the HPS peaks in the area. My first effort, to drive to the summit of Cerro Noroeste wasn't overly ambitious, but then again I was only working on three hours of sleep. I was foiled shortly after the turnoff at Apache Saddle where I was greeted by a locked gate with a sign, Closed for the season. Rats - I was afraid of that. Only slightly deterred, I pulled out my HPS maps and found two other candidates, San Emigdio and Brush Mtn, to be just north of Apache Saddle. Possibly because the road is south facing and the peaks are not as high as Cerro Noroeste, the gate was open and I was able to drive the van some three and half miles up the road, only 100 yards shy of San Emigdio's summit. The weather was starting to threaten, clouds obscuring views in most directions. It didn't look like I was going to have much time before the snow started to fall. After tagging the summit I drove back down the road about a mile and a half to a fork with a 4x4 road leading to Brush Mtn where I parked the car. I figured I could cover the extra couple miles on foot faster this way than driving back down and up the regular approach road to Brush. I jogged much of the route, taking less than half an hour to cover the two miles to the summit of Brush. Views again were limited. It was another ten minutes further north along the ridge to the HPS register, then time to head back.
On the return I came across a ranger parked at the Marion Campground at the saddle between the two peaks. I walked over her way, figuring I'd have a short, friendly conversation. The first thing I heard was, "Didn't you hear me calling you?!" Of course I hadn't. She then asked if I was the owner of the Nissan van blocking the 4x4 TH back towards San Emigdio. Uh, oh - busted. I had really doubted anyone would be up that way in the hour I planned to be gone, so I didn't take care to park very well. And further, I wasn't sporting an Adventure Pass on the van which I figured would just irk them even more. Before I could get too worried about my predicament, the ranger explained that they needed to get everyone back down to the main road because they had to close the gate with the impending storm. After my profuse apology the ranger seemed in a much happier state and we parted on good terms. I had done some good at least by acting as the sweep for Brush Mtn and saving her a drive out to that peak as well.
Back at the van I found what at first looked like a ticket on the window - turns out it was just a note written on a blank ticket envelope asking me to return to the TH. I drove down to the main road only to find myself behind a locked gate. The ranger, having taken the other road down from the mountain, soon had driven back to this gate to unlock it for me. She struggled with the lock for a good five minutes before taking me up on my offer to help her with it. This was no simple lock. To foil persons equipped with bolt cutters, the lock was housed inside a steel cylinder that had only a small opening on the bottom to fit one's hand up. With a single hand, one had to insert a key into the lock dangling from above without being able to actually see the darn thing. It was so complicated it was comical. The ranger further griped that every gate in the area is unique, as though each time they had to come up with something to outdo the ones done before. We finally managed to get it open, but it took quite some time - even once the lock was open it was hard to slide out the steel clasp holding the gate tight, and then figuring out which way to push the gate to unjam the mechanism took even more time. And after all this was done, the ranger pointed to the west side of the gate where a few hardy scofflaws had managed to simply drive around the gate through the brush. Your tax dollars hard at work!
As it was only noon and the storm hadn't started in earnest yet, I figured I had more time if I could find something that didn't require gated dirt roads to access. Antimony and Eagle Rest Peak seemed to fit the bill. Less than ten miles further east along the main road, I found a turnout along side the road to use as a trailhead. I figured I could head cross-country up the north bank of the Tecuya Ridge to intersect the dirt road atop it. My initial hope was that I could get both peaks in the afternoon, but after a quick view of the beta showed it to be a 5,000ft+ effort, I was resigned to the hope of just reaching Antimony.
Climbing up from the main road, it was easy enough to make my way cross-country up the steep slope. A bonus award presented itself in the form of a use trail that I found halfway up, making a few switchbacks before topping out at the road atop Tecuya Ridge. A few snow flurries started to fall as I made my way along the road heading northwest. A fine selection of upper layers including a rain jacket and four pairs of gloves were tucked away in my pack making me believe I was prepared for most anything the weather could throw at me. Plus I knew I could run back to the van in short order if things got too nasty. Clouds were rolling slowly about the mountain tops and it was almost impossible to get a view of anything more than a quarter mile off. I came across a gentleman in a 4x4 who seemed lost, asking if I knew where a particular campground was. We perused my map but found no mention of his campground. When I mentioned I had already been locked out of one access road earlier, he thought better of continuing the hunt and decided to get out while he could. Further along, I lost the road (how does one do that?) for a short distance before regaining it as I dropped to the saddle immediately southeast of Antimony. From there I followed the old abandoned road up through three switchbacks until it crested on the west side of the peak. I found a use trail leading to the summit which soon rewarded me with the decidedly unimpressive views of an approaching storm. By now about a quarter inch of snow had fallen, though most of it had melted off as the snow sought to reach equilibrium with the warmer earth. It was just about 2p and had taken only an hour and a half to reach the summit. Had the weather been finer I might have been tempted to try for Eagle Rest Peak, but as I couldn't see it or the intermediate peak inbetween (not to mention the weather could easily grow worse), it didn't seem a fruitful exercise. So back I went.
Snow continued to fall as well as to melt, but it started to stick more during my return. Back on the south-facing slope below Tecuya Ridge, the snow was no longer collecting much on the ground, though the pines craddled it between their tiny needles. It was 3:40p when I returned, the clouds looking yet more threatening to the south from whence the storm was approaching. It had been a non-plus day of driving and peakbagging, certainly not one to be remembered fondly in the future. About the only good thing was that the weather held out and I stayed dry for the most part. Rah.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Table Mountain - Antimony Peak
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