Martinez Mountain P1K HPS / DPS
Sheep Mountain P300 HPS
Santa Rosa Mountain P300 HPS / DS
Toro Peak P2K DS / ex-HPS
Toro West Peak HPS

Fri, Apr 17, 2009

With: Tom Becht

Martinez Mountain
Sheep Mountain
Santa Rosa Mountain
Toro Peak
Toro West Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2


I slept in the back of the van at an altitude barely over 4,000ft, just off SR74 and high above the Coachella Valley. The temperatures had dropped to the 40s overnight, making for a cool, comfortable sleep. I was up before dawn in preparation for Tom's arrival at our 6a meeting time. We planned to climb the last DPS peak I've yet to climb in the state, Martinez Mtn. We also planned to hit up nearby Sheep Mtn, and possibly a few other HPS peaks if time and energy permited.

Despite his drive of several hours, Tom managed to time his arrival within a few minutes of 6a. He has a strong knack for punctuality which I appreciate a great deal. It didn't take us long to work out a plan upon his arrival and get a move on. For the most part, Tom let's me do the research on routes, provide the map, and drag his butt all over creation, not always by the easiest route or in the most efficient manner. Only later does he have regret about not checking the maps more carefully himself.

We left the van at the parking lot and drove his 4WD Element down the jeep trail. The DPS and HPS guides had slightly conflicting directions on where to start, so we tried to take advantage of the easier HPS route that utilized this 4x4 road. Unfortunately we didn't get more than about a quarter mile before the road became too rough for his car and we had to park it near a trail junction sign. Only a few minutes down the Cactus Spring Trail we came across a couple guys sacked out on the side of the dirt road next to the start of the hiker trail. This was as far as we'd have been able to go in any event.

The Cactus Spring Trail runs through a series of canyons on the north and northeast side of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Most of the route is downhill from the start to Horsethief Creek, then starts uphill to Little Pinyon flats and a saddle just west of Martinez Mtn. It's not terribly picturesque with mostly dry creeks and parched hillsides and is likely unbearably hot during the summer months, but in early spring it can be quite nice. We followed the trail past the old mine near the start, then headed east down the first of several side canyons, tributary creeks of the main Horsethief drainage. We went up and over several small saddles before reaching the low point of the day at Horsethief Creek around 7a. There was water in the creek, but not very much and it wasn't moving very quickly. We were happy we had brought all the water we would need for the day with us from the start.

We headed uphill from the creek, reaching the saddle between Horsethief Creek and Martinez Canyon at 8:45a. We turned left at a conspicuous duck marking the start of the use trail up the ridgeline to Martinez Mtn. This was easy to follow for about half the distance to the summit, where we lost it among a jumble of rocks. There seemed to be competing sets of ducks, neither of which were too convincing, but fortunately the cross-country travel here is easy enough. There was some interesting scrambling up large boulders, some modest confusion at the plateau around the lower west summit, and some final class 3 to get us up the very large blocks comprising the summit itself.

It was 9:45a before the two of us reached the rocky summit, taking more than three hours in all. The summit has a nice view of the Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea to the east and southeast, respectively. Behind us were the much higher summits of the main Santa Rosa crest. To the northwest lay the Desert Divide, San Jacinto, and further to San Gorgonio. Drier desert ranges could be seen to the north and east, including the Little San Bernardino and Eagle Mtns in Joshua Tree, and the Orocopia and Chocolate Mtns across the Salton Sea.

For the descent, we took the gully route described in the HPS guide. It is a moderately steep boulder-filled gully that made for a surprisingly fun scramble. The HPS does not recommend this route for large parties, but we did not find it particularly loose at all - in fact the boulders were well-seated for the most part. Once off the steep north slope of the gully, it flattens out to a sandy wash that was easy to follow, with little brush. Where the wash broadens and starts to turn to the left, or west, we continued our course in a roughly northwest direction. Without a marked route and without being able to see the summit of Sheep Mtn it was difficult to get an accurate bearing by dead reckoning. What I had thought would take half an hour once we'd left the main wash ended up taking twice as long, and it wasn't until shortly after noon that we reached the summit of Sheep Mtn. There was a false summit, Pt. 5,067ft that although clearly marked on the map, fooled us. To reach the true summit involved dropping almost 200ft to a saddle before climbing to the higher point.

The summit had a benchmark labeled "SHEEP",installed by the US Army at an unknown date. The better find was an HPS register dating to 1967. The first entry was from Cy Kaicener, a regular poster on SummitPost. Other entries were a Who's Who of HPS climbing running right up to the present date. The only older HPS registers I've seen were in some select peaks of the Southern Sierra.

Our return from Sheep roughly followed the one marked "possible" on the HPS guide, heading down the indistinct SW Ridge, probably the most direct way back to the Cactus Spring Trail. When we dropped off the ridge into the dry wash below, we had to be careful to continue heading southwest up and over some low ridges to get back in the correct drainage. Inattention in here could be costly since the washes flow northwestly, away from the maintained trail. It was 1:20p when our route intersected the trail at the junction of two sandy washes. An old, twisted branch and a downed signpost stretched across the cross-country route to help keep folks on the right trail. It took us another hour and ten minutes to hike back up the trail to our vehicle.

With plenty of daylight remaining, we thought we'd make an easy jaunt up to Santa Rosa Mtn and Toro Peak. We found the turnoff for the Forest Service road leading to the summit ridge easy enough, but were surprised at how long it took to drive the windy dirt road to its end - nearly an hour. Unfortunately for us the road was blocked by snow and downed trees a mile before reaching the ridge, forcing us to do yet more - gasp - hiking. Good thing we had lots of daylight!

It was after 4p before we reached the summit of Santa Rosa. There was very little snow to be crossed, and what little we found was easy enough. The summit of Santa Rosa is a small pile of rocks amidst what looks like a popular, unmaintained camping location. The brick remains of a chimney were all that were left of a structure that used to stand nearby. It was a fairly unimpressive affair as summits go, with trees blocking most of the views. We could see Toro Peak to the east and the area around Asbestos Mtn some miles to the north. The summit register was housed in one of Mars Bonfire's signature plastic Accelerade containers, the register going back barely six months with only a handful of signatures. One gets the impression that registers don't last very long on this easy-to-reach summit.

We hiked back down to the junction and followed the road east again, heading for Toro Peak. The summit lies on Indian land not open to the public. To avoid the Indian property, the HPS has designated nearby Pt. 8,316ft as Toro West Peak, the "official" HPS peak. Because Toro is also a 2K Prominence peak and those folks don't recognize the alternative, we were headed for the highpoint on hostile lands. Because of the snow blocking the road and ours being the only vehicle around, we did not expect to find anyone to keep us off. And since the top has been leased for a small menagerie of communication towers, we didn't feel we were disrupting sacred grounds.

At the property boundary, the gate was open and mostly buried in snow. This rendered the "No Trespassing" sign unreadable, though hardly a defensible excuse. We were knowingly trespassing. Where the road makes a sharp turn to the west for the last several hundred yards to the summit, a second gate as found, this time with an unmistakeable warning sign. Beyond it a short ways was a complex of diesel generators and fuel storage containers. The generators were humming away as they've probably been doing all winter long. At the summit we found the expected array of antennae, and just to the west was a clump of rocks marking the highpoint, unmolested by the surrounding development. There was another Accelerade register left by Mars Bonfire from the previous summer. This one had only a few entries, much like the other. I'm not sure if the HPSers all got the message that the official point was moved, but at least Mars and a few others are continuing to come to the higher one.

It was 5:30p as Tom and I sat at the summit, soaking in the hazy views, not so great in the afternoon. I knew Tom had had enough by this time, but I was somewhat determined to reach the HPS peak to the west which would require some cross-country travel up and down the ridgeline. My reasons for wanting to do so were weak, but it seemed almost incomplete if I didn't visit the official HPS site. I told Tom my plan to which he laughed and said something along the lines of "Have fun." So I left Tom at the summit and headed west, knowing he would likely get back before me.

I went up and over the lower west summit of Toro Peak, the point that more accurately deserves the name "Toro West Peak". Then down about 500ft through forest along the rocky ridgeline to a saddle. Here things got a little confusing. Pt. 8,316ft is not so well-defined as you might gather from the HPS guide, but has three different rocky outcrops vying for the highpoint. The easternmost one appears to be the proper one according to the map, and seems a little higher than the others, but it's hard to tell. The highest block of this point was pretty decent class 3, a bit harder than the usual HPS fare. I looked around for a register near the top and then again around the base of the summit blocks, but found nothing. To be sure, I visited the other two vying highpoints in turn, but found no register there either. I had seen no ducks or use trail or any evidence that anyone makes the pilgrimage to this other point, and concluded that perhaps the HPS alternative is in name only, for legal reasons. That wouldn't be too surprising, really.

After tagging the three points, I continued northwest down the ridge, reuniting with the road where it passed just below and north of a low saddle on the ridge. From there it was only another ten minutes back to the car. Tom was already there as expected, and had taken the time to turn the car around (a tricky manuever on the muddy, narrow road partially blocked by snow). As we drove back down the road the sun set some 20 minutes later - we had certainly gotten the most out of the available daylight. We had hoped to also get to Asbestos Mtn, but that would have to wait for the following day - we were done with our adventure for the day and had a tougher outing planned for the next day.


Anonymous comments on 11/08/09:
Thanks for posting! Your description of the hike to Santa Rosa and Toro Peaks sounds like a bad dream come true for me.
I remember back in the late 60's hiking to Steve Ragdale's cabin on the top of Santa Rosa during a snowstorm and warming up to a nice fire. Now, there's only a chimney left?
Toro Peak was a nice summit block of boulders with incredible views in every direction. Now, locked gates, generators, antennae, and it's illegal to trespass there?
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