Saturday, August 31, 2013

San Cayetano Mountain, mas caliente 08/29/13

Sometimes things just turn out a bit differently than planned. That does not necessarily mean that the act was not worth the doing. In this case the prevailing conditions won, leaving me to revisit today's effort at some later date, yet the day was still worth it. 

San Cayetano
I began my day at sunrise on Grand Ave west of Fillmore and the Sespe. I made my way through a couple climbing miles of avocado and citrus orchards, a smell that drew forth memories of childhood lemon fights in the orchards above the Santa Paula cemetery one block from my childhood home.  Eventually I ran out of orchard and the steep stuff took off for real. Next stop, the ridge.

A look toward Santa Paula from the ridge.
There is an old jeep track that zig-zags up the super steep south facing slope of the ridge that hosts San Cayetano Mountain and it's sister, Santa Paula Peak. This is a long and somewhat circuitous track that would have taken me well outside the more direct approach of just climbing straight up the damn thing. With the application of a considerable amount of brute force I managed to ascend to the ridge by connecting a series of loose and rocky game trails. This 1,900' climb which edged up a sixty degree slope was without a doubt the toughest climb I've done in the last couple months. All sun, no shade, bear trails, brush, steep as f@#*!...situation normal. This is a difficult way to achieve the ridge.
Fillmore, and a view back down the slope I climbed to the ridge.
Aside from trying to identify what route might work best for me to approach this peak I hadn't given any other aspect of this climb much consideration. For instance, I did not anticipate the amazing view into the Lower Sespe that greeted me as I topped out on the narrow ridge top. The view north had been worth the walk regardless of how the rest of the day went. 

Click it bigger. Like it, you will.
The lonely and rusting Topatopa Fire Lookout from just about due south.
The smaller numbers were concerning. Wearing the watch artificially skews the thermometer so I strap it to my pack for more accuracy. It's generally been proven pretty spot on.
I turned left (W) and started climbing a brushy animal track up a series of small summits leading persistently upward toward the summit which was now plainly in view. Through the heat shimmers I saw a pair of condors circling high above the peak. Forward progression became increasingly brushier until I was either physically bashing through or crawling on hands and knees beneath the stuff (see 1:00 min vid below). By the time I was within a 1/3rd of a mile of the top I had hit two distinct walls, one of brush and the other of heat. I'd been hard at work in 100+degree temps for well over an hour and had gone through nearly half my total water for the day in that brief time. I needed to quit. The brush was an absurdly prohibitive wall and in just shorts and polo shirt I was by this point thoroughly shredded (Next day at work Irma the cafeteria checkout lady said "What Happen!?! Kitties been scratching you?"). Time to make the smart call. I'd best save the rest of this for some other day.
CA Condors circling high above the peak.
A view east toward Hopper and Oat Mtns.

Time to call it.
Where I quit. Yes, that is or was the best route up the spine of the ridge.
The summit from where I quit.

I turned tail and fled back down the spine of the ridge. I was running really hot now, no breeze, no reprieve. Before I had even jumped off the ridge to descend that monstrous slope I was feeling that sickeningly hot tingle under my scalp, the tachycardia and the sense of auric waves of heat radiating off me. I was running on the edge of a big hot shutdown. I needed to get off this mountain now.

There was still 300 yards of rocky slope and open terrain between me and the uppermost tiers of the avocado orchard when I felt myself "slip".  My sight narrowed to a blazing tunnel and I literally blipped out for a couple seconds. When I came to I was about to eat total shit down the steep slope. Reflexes and a trekking pole saved me but I was getting a bit worried now. This was not any good at all. I was overheated and not going to get better without shade. I made the trees and collapsed on dirt and leaves, panting and rolling. I tore off my shirt and felt waves of heat roll off my body. It was only 95F in the shade of these wonderful broad leafed trees. I put another liter of water in my body and about 20 minutes later my heart rate had slowed to under 100 and even better, I was still making saliva and had resumed making sweat. I saddled up and made my way down to a water tank I'd noted during the morning. Here I completed the cool down in a blessed shower. After that I strolled out through a canyon of old oaks and avocado groves. Some distance from the truck a fox casually trotted across my path, a floppy squirrel dangling from it's jaws.

And thank god, right?
Meanwhile, back at the truck...
I'm ready for Round 2. Just need cooperative weather.

1 comment:

  1. A great posting. As a landscape photographer, I've only viewed the mountain range from the distance, from the wake Patagonia this point. Your account of this rigorous hike makes the mountains come alive, in my minds eye. Many thanks.