Monday, November 19, 2012

Samon Peak... I think? I'll explain. 11/16/12

Evening in Cuyama Valley

Okay, well here's a weird one. I thought I had summited Samon Peak while out and about last Friday. The GPS said I did, and I believe it, but by that time I was so deep in a cloud that I couldn't find the summit marker or the register. And that's the sucky truth. I'm not at all confused about where I was, just that I didn't, as they say, get the t-shirt. Aside from that I had a very nice 25 mile day in the rain.

Madulce Ridge with the summit lost in the clouds.

A sunrise laser beam aimed at Madulce Peak

When I took to the hills on Thursday evening I was well aware that the forecast was not favorable for the type of day that I had planned on. I decided instead to take a crack at Samon Peak. To that end I pre-positioned myself up Santa Barbara Canyon for an early morning start. I parked at Willow Flat instead of at the eastern gate for Buckhorn Rd. Willow Flat is a lot like Grassy Flat on the Sespe in one respect...the names are no longer relevant. See, Grassy Flat is neither grassy nor flat, and Willow Flat has only a nappy old juniper tree. I guess things change. Anyway, I parked it here instead of another half mile up the road in case I decided to link Samon with Madulce and come out through SB Canyon. It didn't work out that way but whatever, I had a great day.

Here's the "meadow" that's mentioned in route directions for Samon Peak.
I crawled into the bed of the truck and knocked out early under cloudy skies. When I woke at 0300 the first thing I noticed after killing the alarm clock was the rain. Oh good. Crawling out of a warm bag and into shell gear at 3AM isn't anything new for me, but I'd rather it was snowing. I have a feline nature and part of that is an antipathy for being cold and wet. I don't enjoy those two things when combined. And especially without coffee. Already 2 strikes on the day. No coffee to be had so it was Go Go Gadget Gore-Tex! time. I got myself put together pretty quickly and was out the gate at 0330. In the rain.

It was a black morning. And did I mention it was raining? After a mile of chasing the beam from the headlamp I was pretty warmed up and feeling about right. I hit the gas and started trucking up Buckhorn Rd. This road is one of those routes that I prefer doing in the dark. The road is smooth and foot friendly with very few rocks, which makes for easy walking. Also, it's just better to not be able to see how steep the first five miles are and how far away the various loops in the road are. I have heard that this long and tedious grade can be bad for morale. I know this route pretty well and I let the miles fall by while listening to the rain fall on my hood. It was a peaceful walk, quiet. I enjoyed the climb for what it was.

Anybody know anything about an old telegraph? wire strung on the high south shoulder of Samon Peak?
At the top of the grade I headed south, following Buckhorn Rd. The sky began to lighten in the east but overhead was a solid ceiling of ominous clouds coming in from the west. Now that I was up above the canyons I was greeted by a persistent northerly breeze that came on at 10-15mph and never seemed to go away. The wind and the rain seemed to get along like old friends, lucky me. At sunrise the first rays of light cut a straight line under the cloud ceiling which was a neat, if too brief show. Soon enough the sun was behind the clouds and my day returned to dripping grey. As I neared Chokecherry Spring I started keeping an eye out for the use trail which leads to the summit of Samon. That junction is currently marked by twin yellow hazard tapes, 1-2/10's of a mile north of the spring.

I couldn't make out much from the start of the summit trail. The clouds ceiling was now less that a hundred feet above my head. Wind, rain, and pretty soon I'd be up in that cloud. How damn exciting is that? Up I went. The lowest portion of the summit trail ascends the northern side of the ravine that drains to Chokecherry Spring. After a brief, steep and brushy climb I traversed WNW across the small meadow that's mentioned in all the guides, and continued climbing the route up the NW side of the ridge. So far so good. I was soon in the clouds, drenched on the outside, breathing water, huffing up this steep and muddy track. I finally popped out on a high saddle with one arm of the ridge heading south and the summit ridge a short ways up and right. I waded through the cloud until I ran out of places to go up, and this might have been a little comical to an outside observer. I wandered all over the top of that thing, looking everywhere for the marker, but the cloud was so thick that I couldn't see more than a foot or two. As I mentioned above, the GPS said I was there. What I remember of the summit (and I fully expect to be told by some of you that I may or may not have actually been there) is a rocky pile of broken brown rock, about 8 feet on a side. West of that pile, and down hill about 15 feet is a second, smaller pile of the same rock. If this ain't the top of Samon Peak then I need a new GPS.

Samon Peak. I was somewhere up in that mess.
Buckhorn Road.
Buckhorn Road.
Buckhorn Road.
After wandering around in the cloud a bit I headed over to the south pointing shoulder I mentioned before. I followed a bear track out that way for a while, and was surprised to find the old wire and glass insulators strung along the ridgeline's length. As for the summit, I'm completely comfortable with the idea that I have to go back in better conditions. I liked the peak but I just couldn't find the marker in all that cloud.

I abandoned the peak and descended back to Buckhorn, hit the gas and got outa there. From below the clouds I could see patches of sunlight to the north. That's where I wanted to be...out of the rain dammit. I just rolled on out to the long grade back into SB Canyon and the end of the day. I had a great time out there despite the weather. Some days are just wet and windy and you can't do anything about it except stay home. I guess I'm not that guy.

I figured my exertions at around 25 miles for the day, which took me 10 hours to accomplish. I'll be back to sign that summit, next time I'll wait for a clear day.


  1. Haha. Classic self-portrait in the hood. . .grim faced in the wind and rain. . .corners of the mouth pointed down. Made me laugh. Reminds me, for some reason, of one of those old hook jawed salmon. I guess it's the look of going against the grain and swimming up stream.

  2. Nicely done Stillman. My memory of the peak is that it is the third bump (false summit) to the west that has the benchmark. Sounds like you might have only made the first one. Can you post lat/longs of how far you made it?

  3. Thanks Jack, and I guess I don't need to tell you that those hook beaked salmon have just gotten laid, um, I mean spawned. Live to spawn, spawn to die.

    To KnowWhere, thanks for the thought, but I don't really use my GPS for anything other than location checks so I don't have a track I can reference. Maybe I should start using the device to its potential. I'm just going to have to go back and claim the summit. It's a long walk but an easy peak, I'll be back.

  4. I was wondering where the trail junction for this was at, I was looking around for it but passed by it twice when mountain biking up Buckhorn. Definitely a long haul for day hike!