Time to tick another one off the list, Cobblestone Mountain. For a guy who doesn't really classify himself as a "peakbagger" I sure seem to end up standing on top of a lot of mountains. For today's mission I was joined by Nico, a frequent commentator on this blog and a connoisseur of our local backcountry. This was our first time out as a team, a "getting to know you" trek. In the end, it was rough, hot, and prickly, but for all that, a supremely satisfying day.
|That's Cobblestone Mountain behind the sign.|
Cobblestone Mountain is one of the more remote and challenging peaks in the Southern Los Padres (SLP). Tackling this peak is all-around difficult, starting with the drive to the trailhead. Nico and I met at my place in Ventura at 04:15, piled in the truck and sucked down coffee all the way up I-5 to the Gorman exit. We followed Gold Hill Rd through the Hungry Valley OHV area and eventually made our way up Alamo Mountain where the Buck Creek trailhead takes off. We made sure not to park in the handicapped slot at the end of this 17 mile 4WD road.
The views from the parking area are impressive. I gazed east into the rising sun at the endlessly undulating White Mountain Ridge. Looming huge in the distance stood Cobblestone, an alarmingly large mountain. I could tell right then and there that we were in for it. It's rare to start a hike from a point at which you can visualize the majority of your route, and the more I looked at this ridge and that peak the harder it looked. Cobblestone has presence.
We set off with the sun in our eyes, treading through golden grasses blushed by lupine, the shattered limbs of deadfall trees silhouetted by the rising sun. We didn't have much of a trail, even from the outset. We followed intermittent single track for a while, diverting frequently to skirt around countless fallen trees. This area had burned during the 2006 Day Fire and as we passed through blackened stands of lifeless pines I realized that only the south facing slopes of this east-west ridge had burned. I noted that the trail was really just a path within a bulldozer track now grown over. Within a mile we were approaching Sewart Mountain, which is at roughly the same elevation as the parking lot. On Sewart's bald summit is a small crag of granite in which we discovered yet another rotting and saturated summit log ( I refer to Haddock Peak).
|A graveyard of giants.|
|ESE to White Mtn Ridge and Cobblestone Mtn, from Sewart.|
Leaving Sewart our route began to descend sharply toward Buck Creek. This downhill grade is a beau coupe bummer, steep and brushy, characterized by fallen trees and over a thousand feet of elevation loss. Periodically the trail would evaporate into a huge patch of ceanothus or poodle-dog plant. We soon reached an unmarked junction between those peaks to the north (Snowy Pk and Black Mtn) and the ones on our agenda. At this point we stashed a good amount of water before traversing through a hellish expanse of overgrown ridge. In the case of this hike, what goes down must come up, and as we climbed out of the brush we became properly introduced to White Mountain Ridge.
|Buck Creek Canyon, which clearly did not burn in 2006.|
|Interesting succulent, they were sparsely scattered across just the saddle between White Mtn Ridge and Cobblestone.|
The nature of this route can be reduced to descending and re-ascending things in thousand foot increments. Nico and I understood all this going in, but I'll admit that I was impressed with the difficulty of the over-all day. While fighting with brush and struggling up frequent grades wasn't any fun at all, the rugged views and a cool breeze smoothed things out. We finally ascended White Mountain Ridge to a point directly north of Cobblestone. A thousand feet below us lay a narrow saddle which connects our ridge with Cobblestone. Just getting to the saddle below, and then ascending 1,500 feet up Cobblestone to the summit would be tough enough, not to mention the return trip. Somewhere in here the day got sporty.
|At the saddle between White Mtn Ridge and Cobblestone.|
The descent from White Mtn Ridge to the saddle was ugly. There is no trail and the best path of descent is to proceed straight down. This portion of the route is about 45 degrees steep, loose, and avoiding the profusion of prickly plants is impossible. I ended up tearing a new pair of Columbias and pulling several yucca spines out of my leg (I found 5 more in the shower that evening).. Above me I could hear Nico dealing with the same discomforts. Finally we stood on the saddle which separates Fish Creek to the east and Agua Blanca creek to the west, with Cobblestone in our faces and the escape route up to White Mtn Ridge at our backs. Time to get to work.
|Nico, grinding up Cobblestone.|
Though long and steep, the route up to the summit of Cobblestone was obvious...do not look for trail, just go straight up from the saddle. This climb of roughly 1,500 feet is pretty straightforward and I didn't find it to be all that difficult. Nico stuck with me the whole way up and we hit the summit together. The view from Cobblestone is grand, expansive, and unique. All the peaks of the SLP are visible from this summit. On the summit itself is an aluminum Sierra Club summit log of the type seen on many Sierra peaks. To put Cobblestone's isolated remoteness into context, the summit journal was last dated in December of 2011, and summit entries date back as far as the mid 1980's. This peak sees little traffic.
|White Mountain Ridge, Black Mountain in the rear, from Cobblestone.|
|Left to right: Mt Sewart, Snowy Peak, Black Mtn, White Mtn. Mt Pinos in the distance.|
|White Mountain Ridge, taken while descending Cobblestone.|
|Nico, staring at the hardest climb of the day, back from Cobblestone and up to White Mtn Ridge. There is no trail and the best approach is straight up.|
|White Mountain Ridge is very pretty, well worth the hike.|
|Enjoying a nice view during a time-out.|
|Nico, consulting the oracle.|
|White Mountain's summit register. There is no USGS marker.|
|Skeletons of the Forest.|
We reversed our course from White Mountain and headed west on this remarkable ridge. I ended up putting Nico in front for much of this stretch, letting him set a pace he could live with. After a while I was noticing some subtle indications that he was headed for trouble. Though most of this ridge is wide open, some sections are brushy and route finding in these areas is problematic. About the third time Nico steered us the wrong way I took over the lead, but kept our pace slow. I also curtailed my water intake in case he ended up needing mine. I knew I'd be fine but was a bit worried about Nico. The guy is built like an ox, but in this heat his gait was getting sloppy and he was flushed, panting. We slowed it way down when the White Mtn Ridge ceded to the flank of Sewart Mtn. We reached our water cache, four liters of the stuff, none too soon.
|Me, Cobblestone Mountain.|
|Nico, headed west on White Mtn ridge.|
|Nico, navigating an area of deadfalls.|
|Old ammo, dropped a long time ago. Remington 700 Mag|
So, the first time out with Nico had it's issues but he's the first to admit that he doesn't do real well in the heat. Aside from that he is solid, experienced, and generally knows what he's about. We're headed out again this coming weekend but this trip is on the water so we should be good.
As for the day, I give Cobblestone high marks for the toughness of the climb and it's remote location. The views from the summit are remarkable, unique. My favorite portion of this route is the White Mtn Ridge, which is reminiscent of Reyes Peak Ridge and other high and piney parts of our region. I'd like to come back to the area and tag a few of the other near-by peaks, but I think it'll have to wait until things cool down. All in all, this is a tough one, nothing for free.
Nico figured out the math on our route:
6-7,000 feet of elevation gain
roughly 10 hours (too long, but a good day)
|Nico, headed for home.|
To see me dig a festering Cobblestone yucca needle out of my knee (and do a somewhat professional job at it) click this link