Sunday, December 30, 2012

King's Crest (Peak 4864) and an attempt at White Ledge Peak 12/27/12

The moral of today's story is that it's sometimes a nice thing to have a Plan B. I started the day committed to taking an honest crack at getting to White Ledge Peak using Murietta Canyon as the approach. I didn't give myself very high odds of success in that endeavor which is why I had figured it'd be wise to have that Plan B. Good thing too.

My morning started at 0500. It was cold. And windy. As I marched through a darkened Matilija Ranch I was pelted with granules of snow that were being blown down-canyon by the arctic breeze. Overhead was a glittery sky ablaze with the silver glow of a full moon which shone with a cold palor, and a luminescent halo ringed her. I trudged along in the frigid pre-dawn, head down, eyes watering, crunching footsteps on the frozen soil.

I reached Murietta Divide, took a left and started up the steep climb to Divide Peak and the end of the East Camino Cielo motorcycle trail. This short piece of trail is a bit of a grind, and being on the steep north side of the ridge, it was extra cold and windy. Having reached the ridge I continued east on the MC trail, following that track until it stopped going east. At an unmarked junction where the MC trail takes a last turn to the south to it's terminus, I continued east toward White Ledge Peak. 

The ridge to White Ledge Peak, from the end of E Camino Cielo.
White Ledge Peak has been a no man's land for such a long time that I haven't even heard of anyone who has been there. I have gotten pretty accustomed to bad brush and that hard earned tolerance gave me a small hope that I could find a way through the manzanita planet that was once known as the Ocean View Trail. Leaving the MC trail I ascended a narrow and brushy track that was clearly the work of someone trying to reestablish that old trail. The route was good, though nearly overgrown, and it only lasted for about a third of a mile. Brush cuttings along the way indicated to me that no real trail work had been done in at least a couple of years. This "trail" continued east under the crest until the ridge descended to a saddle. Here the trail came to an abrupt halt. Several trails continued from there, the paths of wandering parties who were coming to the conclusion that their trail had concluded and the day was about to get much more difficult. I had hit a solid wall of brush. I continued eastward at an abysmally slow pace, twisting and shoving through acres of healthy manzanita, scarcely making progress. I kept at this for over an hour before reaching a rocky point. I dropped pack for a bit and really thought about what I was doing out here. I had maybe done a half mile of this cursed ridge and that yardage had cost too much in time and energy. I gazed at White Ledge and understood with sterling clarity that this was not the route that would get me there. It had been worth the try.

The ridge from hell. Lake Casitas to the right.

Admitting that I wasn't going to get to White Ledge on this day took all the pressure off me. Now I could have some fun. I quickly backtracked to the MC trail and headed south out to the stubby summit of at the end of E Camino Cielo. Standing atop the cluster of rocks that crown this nob I could clearly view Catalina, Santa Barbara. Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands. I lingered here for a while before returning toward Divide Peak to the west. Here's where I started implementing Plan B.

Backing up for a minute, if you were to climb through Murietta and ascend the Monte Arido trail to the motor cycle trail, and if you looked up and left (east) once you popped out on that ridge trail, you'd  see a steep, bouldery, brushy climb to the sky. The summit at the top of this brush-fest is called Peak 4864. It is considered to be the highest point in the Santa Ynez Range, that chain of ridges that make up the front range of the coastal mountains, the mountain chain visible from Hwy 101 all the way from  Sea Cliff to Goleta. I figured that I since I'd been shut out on White Ledge I owed it to myself to stand on top of something tall and pointy. Up I went.

The route up King's Crest ascends this rocky brush buffet from the Divide Peak MC trail (E. Camino Cielo).
Class 3 ridge climbing on the north side of Peak 4864. Murietta Canyon below.

Snow flurries over Matilija canyon.
There isn't any true trail up King's Crest. Climbing the thing is kind of fun and adventurous with lots of route finding and rock-scotching. The first step got me up onto the crest of this peak after which I had to traverse for some distance to reach the summit. This traverse was interesting and I found that the best route for me was to ditch the brush and scramble across the rocky northern side of the crest. If you aren't a rock climber you may find this approach to be sketchy and exposed (Class 3). A few minutes later I discovered (much to my surprise) a small summit cairn with a register. I took a few minutes to watch a line of clouds that were dropping snow all over the mountains (Reyes, Matilija and Dry Lakes Ridge) to the north. The view to the south and west were the same incredible vistas that I'd been seeing all morning, the Great Blue Pacific.

I finally turned my attention to the summit register (there is no benchmark). This Peak was named King's Crest in 1990 by Mark King when he claimed the summit as a first ascent. If you look at the original summit entry you can see where he wrestled with whether this point should be called "crest" or "peak". His party had attempted White Ledge Peak, also unsuccessfully. The register indicated that ascent parties (mostly the same few people again and again) had visited on an annual basis for the first few years before tapering to a trickle. The most recent visitor had signed the book in October 2010. Curiously, there isn't any mention in the register of Peak 4864 being a "high point" until the late 90's. This peak is unnamed on maps.

The view toward SB and Jameson from halfway down King's Crest.
After a bit of lunch I descended back to the MC trail and walked over to a 5 acre park I call the Divide Peak Boulders. I wandered around for a couple more hours, enjoying the day, staying out of the wind. I wandered all over the area before reluctantly turning back to the Monte Arido descent to Murietta Divide. 
Divide Peak Boulders.

Divide Peak Boulders.
Divide Peak Boulders.

Divide Peak Boulders.

Anacapa Island.

Santa Cruz Island from the Divide Peak Boulders.

Haddock Peak from atop Peak 4864.

Now, you may not believe this, and lord knows I was was surprised when I ran into three guys ascending the Monte Arido as I was going down (there was an Eric, and Tristan who works at the Trek store in Ventura, and another fella whose name I can't conjure up). Anyway, these guys were going after that peak too! What the hell? Nobody climbs the thing in over 2 years and all of a sudden 4 people go up it in a day?!? On a Thursday in the winter? Weird.

I had a good day on the ridge tops. And it was good to prove to myself that I need to find another way to get at White Ledge.
A peek into Murietta Creek.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Whistler/Blackcomb BC and Mt Baker WA. 12/21/12

Merry Christmas from the Great White Pacific Northwest! Ruth and I are just back from Canada (where all the cold air comes from) and northern Washington. My parents live in Bellingham WA, about 40 minutes from the Canada border and an hour and fifteen minutes from Mt Baker ski area. We had a good time visiting them before we spent a day boarding knee deep powder in the trees on Blackcomb at Whistler. This place is a huge operation, two big mountains and a nice village that was basically rebuilt for the Olympics a couple years ago. The mountain had been getting pasted with inches of snow daily for the past week. This is why people go to Whistler. Powder.
We had a fantastic day at Baker, which had received 18" of pow overnight. I spent the morning cutting up knee deep, untracked fluff. Baker shows up in pretty much every ski and boarding magazine. This relatively small operation is a locals' mountain. We've been there so many times that we actually recognize some of the other skiers that we've seen there over the years. I took quite a bit of video footage which may make an entertaining clip. Anyway, Mt Baker remains, and will always be, one of our favorite places to ride.

Upper Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler BC.
Blackcomb Mountain.
Lower Blackcomb, from Lot 7. Brrr!
Horseshoe Bay, Sea to Sky Highway, BC.
Powder for breakfast, Mt Baker WA.
The brand new Baker Bus! A serious improvement over the old one.
Mt Baker Highway.
The Nooksak River.
Mt Baker Highway.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lockwood Peak and San Guillermo Mountain, 12/16/12

I took off for Frazier Park early Sunday morning under ominous skies. The radio kept telling me that I was going to get rained on and possibly snowed on. Whatever. I was gunning for a couple peaks that I hadn't visited, Lockwood and San Guillermo. These two minor peaks decorate the northern rim of Grade Valley and happen to be listed as Sierra Club HPS peaks. I knew Grade Valley Rd would be closed for the winter and that closure adds at least four miles to what would be the standard approach. This hike, as described, ran 17 miles and took me 7.5 hours.

It was 34 degrees when I started walking. A damp fog clung to the ground and the road was wet with mud and snow. I trudged through an eerie silence. After about 2.5 miles I reached the first turn of the day and turned left on the Piano Box trail. I followed this for a little less than a mile before continuing east on the Yellow Jacket motorcycle trail (which is a way fun ride if you've got a bike).

Low clouds over Lockwood Valley.

These colorful trees mark the start of the Yellow Jacket trail.

I followed the twisting and bumpy motorcycle trail through forest and meadow. I eventually arrived under the north side of Lockwood Peak. The way to the summit ascends a deep ravine or gully. There isn't much in the way of signage to tell you it's time to find a way into the ravine. I found a single small trail duck which was mostly buried in snow and no obvious path into the gully was visible. I started cross-country through ankle deep snow, hoping to come across a trail. At the mouth of the ravine I encountered a decent trail that ascended the gully, sticking mostly to the right hand side of the drainage.
Yellow Jacket Motorcycle Trail.
This view is your cue to start up the north gully of Lockwood Peak. Note the highly visible trail duck and path.
Ravine, route to Lockwood summit.

Yaktrax, cable chains for your feet. Indispensible in snow.


I wasn't all that impressed by this gully ascending Lockwood. Sure, it was steep, but it only took me about 20 minutes to climb the thing. At the top of the ravine is a saddle and hooking left from there leads quickly to the summit, which is just a scorched and bald nob with great views of Mt Pinos, Frazier Peak, and Alamo Mountain. I signed the book and got on my way.

I made quick work of the descent from Lockwood and headed back west on the Yellow Jacket. Back on the Piano Box trail I took the southern branch of the loop and continued slogging westward through more forest, mud and snow. Back on Grade Valley Rd I took a left (south) and in a tenth of a mile I turned right onto the road that heads to Pine Camp and the start of San Guillermo. I banged out this stretch to the campground and started fishing around the edges of the camp, encountering many trails leading off into the woods. The trick here is to identify a path that heads in the same direction you want to go. There are many options and I found the path to the summit with a little bit of luck and common sense. The take-off for San Guillermo Peak isn't very obvious.

San Guillermo is the tougher of the two peaks on the day's agenda. This route climbs a steep ridge in a series of five "steps". By the time the hiker is atop the third step the summit is just up and right. The higher portions of the summit ridge burned in the Day Fire and the path through the burn areas is subjective, but the overall way to the summit is pretty easily identified. This is a steep little climb, short and sweet. The summit is another charred nob, the only ornamentation is the red coffee can register we all know so well. The view from this summit is pretty neat and takes in everything from the Lockwood badlands to San Rafeal Peak. The view of Mt Pinos is pretty unique.

The summit of San Guillermo Mountain.

San Guillermo Mtn Summit
San Guillermo Summit Ridge

All in all I felt that these two peaks made a decent day hike, and most of the miles were accumulated on nice trails, which keeps this day in my "easy" category. I enjoyed being out in the woods and having the whole park to myself. It was a great day for animal tracks given the mud and snow. I had a fun run out there.