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It was 8:30 when we started from the secondary parking lot, crossing the shallow creek that we surmised is the reason for the closure (winter rains can swell Spring Canyon Creek and make the crossing dangerous). Today it wasn't even a quarter inch deep. We passed by a Scout and a couple adult leaders, the trailing end of a group from Ojai doing a weekend backpacking trip into the Sespe. The other Scouts we found half an hour later at the Dough Flat TH. They asked about their companions, looking a little bored waiting for them. We suspected they were in for a long day, judging by the progress of the first one we encountered.
After a brief study of the map shown at the TH kiosk, we started up the trail and into the Sespe Wilderness. Whiteacre came into view within 15 minutes, recognizeable from the photos that Stillman had posted on his blog. I had his route entered into my GPS which we had planned to follow, but as we hiked up the trail we noticed that the cross-country travel in the area did not look particularly difficult. Almost a mile short of where we had planned to leave the trail, at a place called Squaw Flat, Tom and I decided to try a more direct approach up to the main crest whose highpoint is Whiteacre Peak. For the most part is was pretty good, with very little bushwhacking. There were some ticks in the grass down by Squaw Flat, some poison oak to watch out for, and a bit of brush where we started climbing, but a use trail in the beginning and little brush on most of the ridge made things easier. In all we spent about an hour on the cross-country portion reaching to the crest.
At the crest we landed on a grassy plateau where we turned southeast. Views opened up as we made our way along this easy stretch leading to the notch that we could see clearly ahead. We stayed right of the brush, bypassing the thicker chaparral found on the NE side of the ridgeline. After climbing a short ways to the base of the notch we spotted the blue fixed rope described in the TR. We spent some time exploring to the right of the rope, hoping to find another, possibly easier route up to the summit plateau that could bypass the rope. One option after the other turned into a bad idea and after about ten minutes we concluded that the rope was the better bet, or at least the surest one at this point. It seems we could have skirted the base of the cliffs even further to the south, but the exit up to the summit area was far from obvious. The rope section is short, only about fifteen feet, but it helps what might otherwise be a class 4 corner to surmount. Above this, one crawls through a brushy tunnel followed by some steeper slopes before popping out on the summit plateau. Stillman had described this next section with some gnarly brush but it turned out to be less problematic than I had feared. Stillman and party had turned east where they thrashed through some heavy brush before finding a use trail. We found the use trail on the way back and it is fairly good travel if you can find it. It's almost impossible to locate initially on the way up if you haven't been there before, but on the way back it's more obvious. Tom stopped me from starting the brush-fest by suggesting we explore to the west, closer to the edge of the cliffs found on the west side. This turned out to be entirely satisfatory and required almost no thrashing. The route eventually becomes easier over rockier terrain that becomes quite easy. Lots of ducks start to pop up as one approaches the summit, not all of them helpful.
There are at least three ways to approach the summit blocks. Stillman's route followed eastward along a narrow channel found immediately north of the summit blocks. One can look up and see the gap that must be jumped as the final obstacle. We declined to follow this channel thinking it too brushy, choosing to circle back around the west side to approach the blocks from the south. Enough brush was encountered in this effort that I wouldn't recommend it. The better route seems to be along the channel just north of Stillman's which we discovered by following the ducks on the way back that led through an easier channel. But all three routes work at no more than class 2 save for the final leap across the gap. One doesn't actually have to leap as Tom demonstrated, simply stepping between the two (I was more nervous doing that manuever and made a leap, instead).
We were atop the summit by noon, taking 3.5hrs for the ascent. We found the old condor transmitter on the lower summit to the east, and on the highpoint were the benchmark and SVS register. Though 14 pages have been filled since it was placed in 2002, a careful look at the entries notes a number of repeats. John Wilson, who'd left the register, made at least seven ascents. He was responsible for installing the blue rope in 2003 and one of his partners, Kim Coakley, made nearly as many visits. Their visits ended suddenly after 2007, with David Stillman and Jack Elliot the first in five years when they summitted in 2012. They returned in 2013 with Mark Jiroch, the last entry until our visit in 2014. We spent about 30 minutes taking in the views under blue skies with some coastal haze towards the south. The extra prominence gives it a commanding view of the Sespe Wilderness and other places within the Los Padres National Forest.
After packing our stuff back up, we lept back across the gap and took the alternate way off the summit blocks heading east. I was ready to drop into the brushier channel when Tom pointed out the ducks just to the north - good call, that. We made our way back to the notch with little trouble, then down the notch itself with the aid of the rope. We avoided some poison oak below the notch that had just started to leaf, noting some bear scat along the way. Tom had pointed out an even shorter return ridge we could descend and this worked out even better than the ascent. Very little brush with most of the route an easy, grassy stroll along the rolling ridgeline, returning us to the trail less than a mile from Dough Flat. We came across an older group of Sierra Club folks heading in on a backpack trip. There were a few groans when we mentioned they might be sharing the campsite with the Ojai Scouts. We were back in Dough Flat by 2p and after another 45 minutes of non-eventful hiking on the road we at the parking lot for a 6hr15m CTC time.
The afternoon got even better when we stopped in Filmore for a snack. We thought we'd been invited to Tom's dad's girlfriend's house (that's a mouthful) for a beer, but found a wonderful meal had been prepared to go along with the beers. Deluxe!
This page last updated: Fri Apr 4 16:42:00 2014
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