Thursday, May 23, 2013

San Rafael Peak (HPS), 05/22/12

What the hell is going on with me and BEARS!?! This is getting ridiculous!

All I wanted was a pumpy morning and a view summit. I didn't ask for yet another huge bear.
Colbert is right! Number 1 threat to America? BEARS!!!
Godless Killing Machines indeed.

So yeah, let's talk about the whole reason for the day, San Rafael Peak. This is another of the Angeles Sierra Club's Hundred Peaks recommendations, and a damn good one at that. I love a good climb and this peak has steep in spades. The route starts in Grade Valley/Mutau from the Johnston Ridge TH. A short time after crossing Mutau Creek the Johnston Ridge Trail turns south. Continuing on toward Little Mutau the trail climbs east up a shallow wash which transitions into a narrow ravine before switching back out of the ravine and climbing to a saddle. The path down Little Mutau continues east off the other side of the saddle while those who are here for the peak hang a right and start uphill. The total mileage there and back comes to around 10, and the elevation gain comes in at 2,400', 300' of which is on the way back. All sounds pretty good right? Well... ever since crossing Mutau Creek I'd been following the  enormous track seen below.

I followed this big print until I met the owner.
Now I understand that some of you have trouble swallowing that this is the #8th or 9th bear I've found myself within 100 feet of since last November when all this started. That was in Kings Canyon where I  encountered four bears in two days, but since I got back from that trip I keep running into these guys and I'm not sure what's going on. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that I'm pretty quiet compared to many folks, certainly more quiet than two or more people. But I didn't ask for this.

In this particular instance I rounded a bend in the ravine, looked up and saw this big sunuvagun looking right at me from about 40 feet away. He stood there, all cinnamon in the sun, shaggy and huge, looked away and casually started walking across the dry creek and up the hillside to my right. I moved to where he'd been and tried to spot him in the brush on the hillside. I looked all over for him and then my eyes went back to an odd shadow, just something unusual about that shadow 50 feet away. Glanced back and realized that the "shadow" was the bear, standing on two legs staring at me. Errr. I got my wits together in time to snap this lousy shot of him vacating the premises. Enough with these bears!

My eighth bear encounter in the last 9 months. 
Those are trail markers and this is the trail.
 This trail, the one I'm getting back to talking about, in the Sierra Club's notes they describe the navigation as "Very Difficult". All I got to say is that a bucket full of common sense and experience might be helpful. I'll explain.

As seen in the shot below, the two or so miles over to the summit involve some pretty gnarly steeps. This is a use trail, and in places it is obvious, plain as day. In other areas it is nonexistent, that's where the common sense comes in. I had a feeling, which was later confirmed, that I was the first person up here since the USFS reopened Grade Valley. So I got to contend with a winters worth of pine needles, leaves, branches and deadfall trees. I imagine that the state of the trail will improve over the summer but as of now it is pretty feral. This is a devilish route. Sucker trails abound. Staying on route requires nearly constant vigilance.

This shot looks southwest to the summit of San Rafael Peak. The route climbs the dragons back ridge. Taken from atop the first step above the Little Mutau Saddle.
 As you can see from the photo above, the ridge up SanRaf has one long grind and a few lesser ones. They are steep, extra steep in places. And a lot of it is sand and gravel. Which sucks. But a lot of it is open and grassy and really pretty. The views are panoramic, even while still climbing. You just work it out somehow and then you're there. It took me 2.5 hours from the truck to work it out.
The summit register dates back to 05/1974. I wasn't even 2.
Sulfer Peak, Devils Heart and Topatopa.
Devils Heart Peak (low left) and Topatopa Peak.
 And these incredible views are why I now love San Rafael Peak. My goodness! The gang's all here. I turned in a big circle and started dropping names. Out of all the named peaks that I could physically see, the only one I haven't stood on is McDonald. And that my friends, is a curious feeling. I'm running out of peaks. 
The one and only Cobblestone Peak.

As I mentioned before, the summit register confirmed that the last visitors had landed in early November of last year. The registers in the can go back all the way to 1974 and the spiral pads are almost exclusively jammed with the summit scribbles of the large and small parties of Sierra Club group hikers. This is another of those cases where very few people who actually live in Ventura County ever summit this peak. We're being outdone by LA sierra Clubbers. Jeez.

I spent a really nice hour on the rocky summit before turning back the way I'd come. San Raf is a good one. Giverago.

Here's a breakdown of peaks, looking west. Click any image to enlarge.

For a more realistic video about bears click: 


  1. Looks like a nice challenge in a seldom visited corner of the forest. Will have to file this one away for future exploits.

    How was the weather out there right now? Looks like a little dribble still in Mutau or Piru Creek there in one of those last photos?

    Last year was my year of the bear- 5 encounters within 4 months time. This year so far seems to be the year of the rattlesnake; 4 run-ins since mid-March. I'll happily take either type of encounter over the year of the shark again, when I ran into 2 on open ocean paddles in one summer. Yikes!

  2. Hate the hex myself, but only one bear since October 2010, and only 1 buzzworm this season. Or maybe that just means I'm not getting out enough? Great TR, Stillman.

  3. Thanks Nico. Thanks Red. Darn bears...