Thursday, January 3, 2013

White Ledge Peak via Trespass Gully, Class 3-4. 01/01/13

Ahh, geeez. Where do I start with this one? I guess I'll say that White Ledge Peak has shut down so many attempts to reach it's rocky summit that the mountain has seemed to grow an aura of invincibility as time went by. When folks in our business think about White Ledge they shake their heads and mutter something unintelligible followed by a discussion of trail projects in the works that may some day be linked with the peak, maybe. So there it has sat, high above Ojai, viewed from Ventura, Carpenteria and Santa Barbara, and untouched for possibly decades until this first day of 2013.

White Ledge has been a no man's land for decades, literally. Any approach using the idea of the long vanished Ocean View Trail can expect to be met with an impenetrable wall of brush. This is not a fight somebody can win, take it from me (TR). The only other options for an approach to this peak involve crossing a combination of private property lands, Bureau of Land Reclamation holdings, and Casitas Water District land. It's complicated, and the jist of it all is that your not going to get permission to approach through the large private property holdings, and you aren't likely to catch a ride in with the CDF or CalFire because those same property owners generally don't even want brush clearing crews up in their hidden valley. Joe at USFS Casitas was of the opinion that most of the owners under White Ledge weren't very friendly. Good to know.

White Ledge via our new line "Trespass Gully".

On New Years Eve I sent Jack a text, said **Call me if you can get out**
He texted back, **Where we goin?**
T'was time for a parlay.
As to the access issue, I will not discuss how we arrived at the mouth of Trespass Gully. That shall always be held in brotherly trust between Jack Elliott and I. So don't ask where our day started. Really, I won't answer that. I can say that we took full advantage of the fact that nobody is up and about real early on New Years Day. We started the day at 04:45, stealthing up a road under a cold moon light. I can say that about 30 minutes into the morning we were startled by the eerie yowlings of a mountain lion across the canyon from us. I will also say that our total mileage for the day was... considerable.
But understand that this TR is about finding a new way up a long abandoned peak, a peak that has pushed back all attempts for many years. And you want to talk about how good that feels? Staring at a problem from every angle, talking to the USFS, looking at property lines and easements and fire roads versus ranch roads versus fuel breaks. Working the satellite data. Seeing a possible way up this thing now turning into the first stirrings of a plan to do just that. After a brief presentation to Jack during which I said, "There's a lot of ins and outs. A lot what ifs and what have yous. But this is my best guess at the best shot up the thing. From the angle it should go, but I have no idea what'll happen up there. Whatcha think?"  
"We go".
"Good man."

So lets start at the mouth of Trespass Gully, many miles behind us now, sweat turning clammy in the clouded morning chill, feet damp and muddy, scrounging through the pack for calories and Advil. The sound of a creek bubbling just 50 feet away, pouring down our new gully. A smoke, pills, and a few bites of food help me put the previous approach miles in the rearview. Those miles hadn't come free, Now we were quietly adjusting to the next stage of this reality. The reality where, if I had had to guess, our world would promptly go to shit.

I was right. We immediately plunged into a creek bottom of the worst sort. This thing was a true american horror show. Layers of deadfall sticks and limbs, brambles, nettle and poison oak vines, blackberry vines, stands of willows and springy scrub oak, slick and mossy rocks, decaying leaves a foot thick, and of course the creek itself. We saw what might be called an intermittent path the first quarter mile after which the only paths were 100% bear made. We were in a brawl with many years worth of dead biomass. It was exceedingly hard work, painful and bruising. We bashed forward through all. Not far up the creek we encountered the first real obstacle of the day, after which the hits kept coming. We were presented with a 15 foot high waterfall and the best option in this case was to climb a muddy and sketchy margin up the right side of the thing. We encountered dozens of these small waterfalls, each unique and beautiful, each presenting a problem to climb past. Some were easy, or easy but scary, while others were a brush-busting cussfest, and some were just plain sketchy. In between these falls we'd have to hammer through more deadfalls, feet snagging in the blackberry, limbs slapping at the eyes, sticks prodding random body parts. This went on for hours. Below are some shots from the lower half of Trespass Gully.

Jack and I had finally cleared a way through the first gate of hell, the reward for which was a drastic reduction in brush. The second half of the Gully is narrower and steeper, with significantly less brush than that morass below. Excellent! Trespass Gully had narrowed to a slab-sided chute requiring all sorts of craziness to ascend. We had an unending series of waterfalls to climb. One 200 foot section had a stack of falls that looked like nothing so much as big fish ladders. This section of the gully was unlike any drainage I've been in around here. We just kept climbing stacks of  waterfalls and rivulets, finding a way up. This is an amazing place, and the climbing was fun.
As you can see in the pictures below, some innate climbing ability is required for this route. I had brought along 90ft of 8mm rope which we did not need for either the ascent or the descent.

A view of White Ledge from high in Trespass Gully.

Jack, high in Trespass Gully.

We ran that Gully all the way up to a small saddle which links the summit with its smaller sisters to the south and west. I continued north up a rocky and exposed spine, summiting a few moments later. Man O Man, the view from the top of this one is truly unique. I was just super stoked to get this summit.
There wasn't a summit register when we got there but there is one now. The only adornment on the summit is a very old wooden cross that has baked up there for so long that what had been an inscription on one side was now illegible. We took care to re-erect the cross. We spent over an hour on the summit, partly because neither of us were particularly enthusiastic about descending, but also because we both understood that this was probably a one time thing. Yeah, we did it, but the best one word descriptor for the ascent is: BRUTALITY.  That was a seriously difficult climb. Our summit smiles were shaded by pain and dirt and some expression that is very difficult to describe; a far away, knowing stare, elevated a bit beyond the concerns of the norm and appearing to be repeatedly boggled by what he can see with his own eyes. We were worked.

The snowy White Ledge Ridge

That's me being really happy. This was a good one.
Jack on the White Ledge summit ridge.

Jack, topping out on White Ledge.
Peakaboo, the shiny new summit register can see you.

The newly restored summit cross.

Santa Cruz Island from the summit.

At last we wrapped our heads around the idea of descending this thing. Bad things happen on steep descents and I reminded Jack to take care, take his time, and I explained the penalty for dropping a rock on my head. We were on the same page. Work it out bit by bit. Help each other out through the drops, work as a team. We downclimbed the dozens of waterfalls and hacked our way back down the gully. Entering the forested and overgrown hell required us to change tactics and we smoothly switched back into the veteran brush fighters that Jack and I have become over the years. This brush nightmare seemed without end, the day was blurring together. The cloudy light filtering through the canopy was the same grey shade that it had been this morning. I was getting tired. Real tired, but that's when I saw the exit which had been this AM's entrance. We were out. Well... out of the gully with miles to go anyway.

Jack, high in Trespass Gully.

Jack, under the face of White Ledge Peak.

Jack, descending yet another obstacle.

Lake Casitas, Ventura and Anacapa Island.

By the end of it all we had spent 14 hours on the go, much of it on some seriously steep terrain.The drive home featured long and pained sighs, exclamations of "we did that?", "hoooly shit" and "Christ on a crutch". Fortune favors the bold. We are the conquistadores of the useless. 
"Yard work builds character.", isn't that what dad always said?

I can't endorse it, but if anybody takes on Trespass Gully I'd enjoy hearing about it.

Kings crest from atop White Ledge Peak


  1. Stillman you mad man! This looks like an amazingly gnarly trek. I found your blog via San Gabriel Forum many posts back & have enjoyed them all. The shot of your buddy on White Ledge is great & the one of him down climbing "another obstacle" is insane. Godspeed out there & keep on posting.

  2. So jealous. White Ledge Peak has been my Moby Dick since I could see it every day from my meeting rooms from work. I always scan for it while driving along the 101. Some day, I will be the first modern traveler on top. Now I know I will one of the first in a long time. But not the first.

    Congrats, my friend. Gnarly indeed.

  3. Holy Hades, Batman, that's insane. So sweet, and the photos are fantastic.

  4. Thank you gentlmen and fellow travelers for you kind accolades. Anybody does this thing again I'd like to hear about it. -Stillman

  5. Gnarly Dude! Good job on bagging this peak!

  6. Absolutely incredible views!! WOW!Congratz!

  7. I once thought I could get there from the Murietta Divide. No such luck. Thanks for getting me there on your legs. John Brooks

  8. It ain't happening from the Divide. -DS

  9. David, you think the 14 hours up TG was harder than bushwhacking from where you stopped on our previous attempt in December? What was the length of that first attempt before you turned around and how much longer would you estimate? Sounds like it was too overgrown to even think possible, but maybe the conditions have changed now...

  10. Jeff,
    The conditions for an approach from Divide is a no go. Many have tried... Myself included. -DS

  11. Hi David,

    Have you ever been up De La Garrigue, Chisamahoo or Laguna from hwy 150?

  12. Jeff,
    No. No. And no. They're on the list, but access is an issue. Especially in Coyote Creek. DS

  13. Thanks for better info. I've been told it is White Ledge Peak that I see from my kitchen window in Mira Monte. From this angle, it resembles a volcano - the two adjoining peaks helping to form the top. I was mislead by viewing a YouTube video of a couples easy day hike up a fire road to "White Ledge Campground in Ojai"
    which come to find out, is off Sizar Canyon in upper Ojai. This was quite different from your experience and miles to the East. Thanks for setting me straight.

  14. I should add that the only "peak" I have ever climbed was Mt Baden Powell, as a teen at scout camp. We went from Wrightwood, via "37 switchbacks" and continued via trail to Crystal Lake.

  15. Hopefully you've realized by now that a good three miles of the once impenetrable Oceanview Trail are now open which could perhaps get you closer to White Ledge Peak.
    Awesome photos and journey you made getting there. That took some real cahones.

  16. An old Carpinteria explorer of our homeland spent 30 days on White ledge as a bet in 1961 he lost 35 lbs but won the bet. He's still around Carp town and worth anyones time to ask him to share his story