Friday, June 28, 2013

McDonald Peak (HPS), 06/26/13

A couple days ago I had some business up on Alamo Mountain and once I'd wrapped that up I decided to relocate to the near by McDonald Peak. Not much of a peak, this one. The most challenging part of this half mile, 400 foot climb is locating the trailhead. I think I had a pleasant 20 minute charge up the thing, barely got all the kinks from all that driving worked out by the time I summited. Didn't really matter, I only dropped by for the view.

For some reason this summit is on the Angeles Sierra Club 100 Peaks List (follow the link for directions). Most of the summits named on that list have been there since the 1950's or earlier. Aside from the views south of Sulfer Peak and Topatopa Mtn, or the right-next-door views of the massive Cobblestone, I can't really think of a reason for putting this nob on a must-do list. That being said, I very much enjoyed getting a good side-on view of Cobblestone. Ahh, memories of yucca, heat, and steep stuff. Cobblestone, surely one of the best peaks in our forest. And a lot of history in that summit box too. Nico would probably agree.

White Mountain Ridge and Cobblestone Peak

Getting back to McDonald, the peak this post is nominally about, this peak doesn't see much traffic. Mine was only the 3rd notation is the journal for 2013. Glancing through the journal I put together that like many of the easier HPS peaks, this one gets climbed mostly by Sierra Club group hikers. If you haven't seen one of these group hikes in action it can be rather alarming, especially for those of us who tend to do things quickly and quietly. Seeing 10-20 people on an obscure summit trail that you thought you had all to yourself can certainly upend that peace and quiet you went there for in the first place. The Clubbers usually drive up from LA with a list of several peaks to hit in a day. Oh well, different strokes for different folks I guess. McDonald is a nice piney summit without any of the work involved, good views too. Just make sure you've got something else to do in the area because this peak isn't much of a mountain.
A view due south from the summit. Sulfer Peak and Topatopa Mountain are the foreground summits.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Owl Droppings. Fascinating!

Once in a while I've run across an area that just screams "owl", the evidence being readily visible in their leavings. Often these spots can be found under pockety cliffs or on high ledges. Owls are one of the few birds to regurgitate the less digestible parts of their prey, which gives us a great look at what these perfect predators live on. I recently ran across a great synopsis of the digestive habits of owls, so I totally ripped it from it's page and put it in this post. Enjoy.

~Like other birds, Owls cannot chew their food - small prey items are swallowed whole, while larger prey are torn into smaller pieces before being swallowed. Some Owl species will partially pluck bird and larger mammal prey.

Unlike other birds, Owls have no Crop. A crop is a loose sac in the throat that serves as storage for food for later consumption. Since an Owl lacks this, food is passed directly into their digestive system.

Now, a bird's stomach has two parts:
The first part is the glandular stomach or proventriculus, which produces enzymes, acids, and mucus that begin the process of digestion.

The second part is the muscular stomach, called the Ventriculus, or gizzard. There are no digestive glands in the gizzard, and in birds of prey, it serves as a filter, holding back insoluble items such as bones, fur, teeth and feathers (more about this below).

The soluble, or soft parts of the food are ground by muscular contractions, and allowed to pass through to the rest of the digestive system, which includes the small and large intestine. The liver and pancreas secrete digestive enzymes into the small intestine where the food is absorbed into body. At the end of the digestive tract (after the large intestine) is the cloaca, a holding area for wastes and products from the digestive and urinary systems. The cloaca opens to the outside by means of the vent. It is interesting to note that birds (apart from the Ostrich) do not have a bladder. The excretion from the vent is largely made up of an acid which is the white part of a healthy dropping.

Several hours after eating, the indigestible parts (fur, bones, teeth & feathers that are still in the gizzard) are compressed into a pellet the same shape as the gizzard. This pellet travels up from the gizzard back to the proventriculus. It will remain there for up to 10 hours before being regurgitated. Because the stored pellet partially blocks the Owl's digestive system, new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected. Regurgitation often signifies that an Owl is ready to eat again. When the Owl eats more than one prey item within several hours, the various remains are consolidated into one pellet.

Barn Owl pellet.

The pellet cycle is regular, regurgitating the remains when the digestive system has finished extracting the nutrition from the food. This is often done at a favourite roost. When an Owl is about to produce a pellet, it will take on a pained expression - the eyes are closed, the facial disc narrow, and the bird will be reluctant to fly. At the moment of expulsion, the neck is stretched up and forward, the beak is opened, and the pellet simply drops out without any retching or spitting movements.
Owl pellets differ from other birds of prey in that they contain a greater proportion of food residue. This is because an Owl's digestive juices are less acidic than in other birds of prey. Also, other raptors tend to pluck their prey to a much larger extent than Owls.~
-Deane Lewis

Many owls will snip off the tail before eating. I believe this is all that's left of a small ground squirrel.


Owl Pellets



A still-articulated femur/tib

There, now you know a little more about owls and what to look for.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Curiosities and Loose Ends: Sierra Madre Ridge

Last weekend was a good one for me. A lot of the time was devoted to the hunt for rock art, but while driving, hiking, and biking here and there I took some time out for some of the sights along the fantastic Sierra Madre Ridge. The most memorable part of the day came in the form of wildlife sightings. It was an "animal rich" day. Here's the tally: doves, quail, red tail hawks, horned owls (2), a roadrunner perched atop a manzanita bush (not sure what that was about), deer (6 (including mama and two fawns), Bobcats (3 (one cat ran across a field in front of me and the other two I saw at sunset on the ride out to McPherson Peak), and of course it is becoming absurdly common for me to see a bear while out and about. This big blonde/brown guy got startled out of what was probably a nice nap in a drainage a few feet to my right. He got some clearance between us before pausing for a quick look back at me, then fled the scene. I just have to say that I've had too many of these encounters lately, and every time I see a bear I am totally astonished by their size, stealth and speed. Amazing animals. Seen enough bears though. Really.

Carrying on, in the following photos you'll see some general scenery shots from the day and also some photos of an old US Navy WWII observation post. This structure was originally located high on Sierra Madre Ridge and after the war the Navy let a rancher relocate the post down a hill and next to a spring. At that point the OP became a ranching line shack with an interesting roofline. This building's twin was constructed on Caliente Mountain across the Cuyama Valley. Sadly, that structure has recently been reclaimed by gravity and the elements, but this little slice of history remains with us, just don't mind the cows.
I saw a bunch of stuff that day that I just didn't have the time to explore, but I'll be back for sure.

Cool rock formations can be found in the big portreros along the ridge.

A view into Lion Canyon (San Rafael). It's on the list.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lunar Perigee (Super Moon) and Solstice Worshipers on Mt Abel, 06/22/13

Thank you nice camera.
This year I was much better prepared for "The Super Moon". A better camera is always a good place to start, as does getting outside of the atmospheric haze of the coast. To that end I proposed to my wife a night on Mt Abel, known nowadays as Cerro Noroeste. I've written of the woodsy Campo Alto and the adjacent "Sunset Point" recently and I figured Ruth might enjoy seeing that sunset and get a big ole bit of moon action to go with it. We did it low key, used the 2-man Hardware this time, didn't scrimp on dinner which was salad and fillet and roasted butter bread, and it all came out very nice.

One thing occurred during our sunset which I could not have predicted, the arrival of a half dozen white people with a ceremonial looking drum and various Chumash-looking accouterments. They set up shop in the setting sun and began with sprinkling tobacco on the drum while wafting sage over themselves. Then the drumming began. They drummed down the sun on that windy peak. 

I have to get something off my chest. I have been to a Lakota pow-wow in Wyoming. I have seen a Hopi kachina dance in Arizona. I have seen a Chumash condor dance in Santa Barbara. I have seen real Native Americans performing real Native American dances and ceremonies. Here's the problem, these people and what they were doing made me really uncomfortable. I found myself observing these folks and came to the conclusion that I don't think very highly of white people practicing rituals and metaphysical nonsense under the pretext of paying homage to traditional Chumash beliefs. In my opinion, people like that should stick to crystals or tarot or Egyptology, and leave the rattles and drums alone. What they were doing seemed to me to be obliviously self serving and rudely insensitive at the same time. Whatever. That's just me. I don't like people who pretend to be something they are not (unless they're JDepp playing Tonto).

Now, let us talk about that amazing moon. The "Super Moon" occurs around every thirteen months and  is scientifically known as Lunar Perigee, which occurs when a full moon coincides with the closest the moon gets to earth in that 13 month cycle. In brief, the moon moves very little in relation to the earth. The earth spins every 24 hours and tilts on her axis back and forth twice a year on her annual trek around the sun. But the moon just follows the gravity of the earth, riding our orbit so to speak. At times we pass by the gravity wells of some of the larger planets which exerts a minor but measurable tug on the moon, pulling her a bit away from us. Eventually earth's gravity pulls the moon back in ever so slightly. At the moon's apogee she is the farthest out on the yo-yo that she gets, and then she is reeled back in to her perigee, which means that if it happens on or near a full moon we get a Super Moon. So Ruth and I got a magically bright evening in the pines of Campo Alto. What a treat.
FYI: The next Super Moon will occur in August 2014.

Campo Alto

Note: turkey feather fan, eagle feather something or other (a felony unless you can prove yourself innocent), sage and tobacco, other stuff.

Note: tobacco in abalone shell, what appear to be ordinary rocks placed at the cardinal points. 

They of the drumming.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

San Rafael Mountain, McKinley Mountain, Cachuma Mountain. 06/14/13

Cachuma Mtn at sunrise. Ranger Peak, Figueroa Mtn and Zaca Peak are also visible in this shot.

Real Life gets in the way of things and mine has been unusually full of the "real" stuff lately so I was pretty happy to finally wrangle a day to get out. I'm pretty unfamiliar with the Santa Barbara backcountry and have lately been making tentative forays into that part of the SLP. In the interest of furthering my understanding of the complex Manzana drainage I figured it might be a good idea to start by tagging some peaks that offer good views into that portion of backcountry. I also wanted some miles. A walk up Cachuma Mountain Road offered both.

Cachuma Mtn Rd. Route for the day.
I left the trailhead at 04:00 and progressed quickly up a nicely angled and unusually smooth fire road, headlamp leading the way. It was full dark and the stars pricked the black sky with stabs of crystal light. I saw several meteors which appeared to fall out of the Milky Way. The morning was blustery and cool, good walking weather. I killed the headlamp as I passed through Hells Half Acre and just kept at it until I got to McKinley Springs Campsite at 06:50.

McKinley Springs Campsite.
McKinley Springs is a nice little campsite tucked in a fold of the peak for which it is named. The site lies just off the road and is hard to miss. It was easy to envision a nice night up here. This site has one amenity that sets it apart from almost any other SLP site this far from anything, a very nicely built semi-private privy. It even has a forrest view. As of this writing the water in the overflowing spring tank is cold and clear, but it needs filtering.

Today was a good day for wildflowers.
Flannel Bush
 After a generous break at the camp I continued east on the road for a half mile before reaching McKinley Saddle. This is the end of the Cachuma Fire Rd and the junction of three trails. The short route up Mckinley Mtn starts here as does the Mission Pine Springs Trail which leads to San Rafael Mtn. A long abandoned and unmantained track called Mckinley Fire Rd descends SSE to Santa Cruz Peak. 

In the back of my mind I had started out the day with the idea of doing whats called the "Santa Barbara Big 3". This is a link up of Santa Cruz, San Raf and Mckinley that comes in at 33 miles and over 8,000 feet of gain for the day. Looking over Santa Cruz Peak from the Mckinley Saddle I came to the conclusion that there really wasn't anything special about that peak and that I didn't feel like putting myself through all that for a summit I'd actually have to lose altitude to get to. I could readily see how doing all that in a day was possible, but I just didn't see what was in it for me. I got nuthin to prove. I had the time and energy, just wasn't interested. My perspective was shaped in part by Bob Burd's description of the route and his thoughts on Santa Cruz. I agreed with him, Santa Cruz "isn't much of a mountain". In fact, all of the summits tied to this ridge in this post are kind of ho-hum underwhelming. They lack character. 

Santa Cruz Peak from McKinley Saddle

 From the saddle I took the well-marked Mission Pine trail up to San Rafael Mtn. This is a nice trail with some pretty sections and good views down into Manzana Creek and up toward the Hurricane Deck. This route gains 1100ft over a gentle 2.5miles from the Saddle. A short time later I crested San Raf. The summit lies about 15 feet off the trail so your sense of summit related accomplishment is somewhat muted. About the only thing interesting about this hilltop were the mobs of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Santa cruz Peak from San Rafael Mtn
San Rafael Mountain summit
McKinley Mtn from San Rafael Mtn

I descended back to the Saddle and turned my sights on Mckinley. From the saddle the summit is a half mile climb with 400ft of elevation gain. The trail up is well defined and not too difficult. As was the case on San Raf, this hilltop was alive with several species of butterflies. Bees buzzed over numerous flowers and hummingbirds and swallows flitted here and there. This summit offered great southern views into Happy Canyon, across to Ranger Peak, and down to Lake Cachuma.
Mckinley Mtn summit
Lake Cachuma
McKinley Mtn summit, view north toward Sierra Madre
 After descending McKinley I walked back west to the McK Springs site where I took a good half hour in the shade before continuing back toward Cachuma Mtn and the trailhead. I got to see Hells Half Acre in the daylight and concluded that the crazy rock blobs reminiscent of the Divide Peak Boulders actually occupied about 2.5 acres of space. There is one east facing cave that's interesting but unfortunately this rock pile is completely overgrown and exploring the rocks may not be worth the scratches.
Approaching Hells Half Acre from the east.
High and dry road miles

Lake Cachuma and Santa Ynez
Cachuma Mtn, looking toward Figueroa
 A couple miles later I found myself trudging up what was the sportiest climb of the day. The line up Cachuma Mtn ascend a ragged and rocky scar on the east side of the peak. It's pretty obvious. I was surprised to find a USGS benchmark here, though it didn't name the peak. Another thing I thought was weird was that there wasn't a summit journal and after looking around I realized that almost nobody comes up here. Strange. No tracks on the climb up and a bit overgrown with grasses, and no summit register on a named and benchmarked peak, weird.

Here's how the day went:
 Mileage: 23
Elevation gain: >7,000ft
Start Cachuma Saddle 04:00
McKinley Springs Camp, 7.5 miles, 06:50 (2:50)
San Rafael Mtn 08:20 (4:20)
McKinley Mtn 09:40 (5:40)
Cachuma Mtn 12:40 (8:40)
Out 14:10 (10:10)

Cachuma Mtn Benchmark

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cream Puff Peak (SVS), with Hines Peak and Topatopa Bluff, 06/02/13

I've felt myself getting a little soft lately. Haven't felt like I've put down anything all that hard in a while. So why not make it 3 summit day? And while I'm at it, why don't I make it a time trial? I've kind of gotten away from timing myself but this route is always a great test of one's general level of toughness and stamina. The Suffer Machine and then some.
I'll get to the stats at the end. 

This is a route I know so well that it's easy for me to quickly settle in and bang out the miles, adjusting  my rhythm with each familiar grade. Not having to do much other than march up this thing. I left the trailhead at Sisar at 06:00, moved quickly up canyon and through the woods under White Ledge Camp where I stopped for a couple minutes. I sat in the morning half light under that little camp's green canopy of alder and sycamore. A couple minutes after my heart rate had normalized it was time to pace out the next two mile climb to the ridge. I knew I was firing on all cylinders when I glanced at my watch and did a bit of comparison arithmetic. The numbers were right where I wanted them to be. I blew by the tank trap at the end of Nordoff Ridge Road and followed the line eastward until I stood under Hines Peak.
Hines Peak (L) and Cream Puff Peak (R)

There are two different ways to approach linking these peaks, one of which was new territory for me. The way it was recommended to me was to top out on Topa Bluffs and descend over to Cream Puff, do that peak and finish with Hines before heading out. I prefer to knock off the biggest, baddest bruiser of the day at the outset so I used what I know works for me. Hines would come first and Topa would be the last. I shattered my record for Sisar to Hines by 20-something minutes. Next, a date with a pastry parlor.

Cream Puff Peak SVS is that steep sloped thumb off the starboard wing as you cruise east toward Hines. I've walked by it at least a dozen times and only a couple times did I consider heading up it, and then I found out that it was a claimed and named summit. Furthermore, that name was Cream Puff! Now I had to do it! Those of you who've climbed in more than a couple places understand our fixation with crafty and ridiculous names ("Hobbit in a Blender" or "Poodles are People Too" come to mind). There's often a story behind the good ones. In the summit register on Cream Puff is a plastic package lid from a big tub of yes, cream (not creme) puffs! While on the summit I meditated deeply on this mystery, cream puff wrapper clenched tightly in hand, eyes raised in prayer to the Great God Cream Puff of Arcadia California, prayed for an insight into nascent origins of this most lavishly christened crag. I had a vision.
Here's what I got: Two guys sitting on the summit. They have this tub of Costco cream puffs for some reason. They're also pretty stoned. I know this because nobody but stoners buy Costco cream puffs. One of them has a mouth full of cream puff. The half empty tub lies between them. The other guy exhales a cloud of blue smoke, coughs a bit, swats away a fly and asks the first guy "Hey man, what do you think we should name this peak? Like, nobody's been here, right? So it's, like...ours to name! Right?" The other guy's just crammed another cream puff in his face so he's trying hard not to suffocate on the powdered sugar coating while giving his friend a thumbs up. "Riiight! (nodding violently) That's what I'm sayin! Ours to name bro! So...umm, what do you want to name it?" Cream Puff face can't answer because he's just mastered the proper rate of nasal breathing required to stay alive while attempting to swallow another cannonball of dough. "So what do we name it? Hey, you okay?" Cotton mouth and cream puffs are a bitch. It doesn't go well, and the Heimlich maneuver is used to separate the man from the cream puff before order is restored to the name selection process. After all that they'd be obligated to call it Cream Puff. I wouldn't have named it Cream Puff. 
Zoltan's Throne maybe.

Hines Peak
Cream Puff Peak from Hines Peak
So getting back to Hines. A Class II slip and slide with some rocky nonsense at the top. Been here many a time. I didn't stay for more than a few minutes before turning back on my route and descending back to the Red Reef. Next up, Cream Puff.

Cream Puff Peak from under Hines
Bigelow's onkeyflower
Grinnell's pestemon
The climb up Cream Puff is even steeper and looser than the path up Hines. I would venture to say that trying to get up here without trekking poles would be frustrating. This is a 50 degree shale slide and there isn't really a route up it, more like a shadow of possible assistance left by those few who had come before. Basically you climb straight up the f**kin thing. Despite it's being only a 400 foot climb from the trail, this little peak makes you earn it, and by the time you top out you won't be thinking about is as a "afterthought" or "gimmick". This peak offers really neat perspective, a nice addition to my catalog of mental summit shots. I particularly liked the views of Hines and the north edge of the Topatopa Ridge. This peak is well worth adding to any linkup along this ridge. I liked it. 
This gives you an idea what passes for "trail" on this slope.
Cream Puff Peak (SVS) 6,486'

A view due north with the Red Reef in the foreground and Thorn Point in the distance.

After a few minutes with the register I skated down to the Red Reef and resumed westward travel. Back under the north side of Topa Bluffs I climbed the gawdawful steep track up to the summit of Topa. I didn't hang out.

Looking back from Topa at Cream Puff. Just the tippy top of Hines is visible behind cream Puff from this perspective. The massive Topatopa Ridge is jutting out in the distance. I didn't like that place.
Topatopa Bluff
I popped a caffeine tab and jogged off of Topa, kept jogging when I hit the road, and jogged all the way down to White Ledge where I dunked my head for a few minutes and let myself cool down a bit. So I was sitting on a log next to the main fire ring in the camp and I could swear I kept hearing little bird chirps! Not up in the trees with the other birds but right next to me! I was baffled, made a joke to myself about the seldom seen western pygmy voice-thrower finch. Couldn't figure it out until I finally stood up and looked straight down into the fire pit. There I saw a pair of scarcely fledged sparrows. They were in bad shape, had been hit by some kind of parasitic insect that incubates larvae in other organisms. The tops of these little bird's heads were just drilled with huge holes. These little guys were hosed and after trying and failing to get decent film or video I backed off and left them to their fate. There were what I assume was a father/son duo camped there. I spent a few minutes speaking with him before I was able to get moving again.

Barely a trickle from the spring at White Ledge Camp. Water is available in the adjacent creek but probably not for long.

I stropped a couple times for pictures but otherwise I jogged the whole way out to the truck.
Here's how the day went:
06:00 Left from Sisar TH
10:09 Summit Hines Peak (4:09)
11:19 Summit Cream Puff Peak (5:19)
12:37 Topatopa Bluff (6:37)
15:04 Sisar TH (9:05)
22-23 miles
>7,000 feet gained

Yellow Mariposa lily