Monday, January 13, 2014

Cara Blanca (attempted) 01/09/14

There is a big difference between quitting and being a quitter. It's about being able to say to yourself, with 100% honesty, that you gave it your best shot. Attempting something and failing is a part of life, and if you don't occasionally fail to meet your own goals, then you haven't set the bar high enough. I didn't get my summit this time out. That doesn't mean I didn't try my damnedest, nor does it mean that I've conceded defeat. It just means that my route didn't work out. But Cara Blanca and I aren't done with each other just yet.


After blazing through the standard Matilija trail I started up West Falls Canyon and the day really got underway. This was my second time up there in recent days, and though my first trip up this remote canyon had been interesting and entertaining, I had not neglected to closely scrutinize the south face of Cara Blanca while there. This 60 degree pyramid of gleaming white sandstone had always captured my attention and was a peak I felt deserved to be climbed. At home I studied my own photos, topo maps, and wildly out of date satellite imagery with an eye toward ascending her. I concluded that there might be a way to climb the peak from it's southeast flank. 

West Falls Canyon

The ravine on the eastern side of the south face. Ugly.

Bring on the brush. About a half mile up West Falls Canyon I departed the creek and started up a loose, steep, and alarmingly brushy slope. Progress was difficult pretty much from the get-go. Loose rock skittered away beneath me, forcing me to cling to the overhead brush. In the thicker brush I basically hand-over-handed myself upward from one bush to the next. At times I had to tunnel under the brush, or back-track when I hit a wall so tangled and interwoven that passage was essentially impossible. This stuff was as bad as any I had ever encountered. I found some daylight in a rocky patch of the slope and planned my next push, which would bring me into the primary ravine on the eastern side of the peak and from there the slope, while steeper, looked a bit less of a mess. 

It took me the next half hour to traverse into and out of that ravine, a distance of only about 500 feet. It was just brutal. I took a thorn to the ear and a gnarly scratch to my right eyelid. I got tangled up in brush, took a spill and ended up in yucca which penetrated my leather gloves and the US Army BDU pants I was wearing. My shirt was torn, and the exposed skin of my wrists between the shirt sleeves and my gloves was getting pretty shredded. On the west side of the ravine I took a break to dig out the yucca thorns. That done, I took a good long look up the peak from where I was and wasn't all that encouraged by the view. I had a loose scree slide, talus, and yucca in the immediate future but above that I could see only brush.

I found a rib of highly untrustworthy sandstone and ascended that for about 150 feet before I had another band of brush to deal with. Ever since clearing the ravine the grade had been a consistent 50 degrees and the going had gotten increasingly tough. I cleared the brush again and encountered a long stretch of Class IV sandstone which was so decayed as to have the solidity of a dirt clod. This was disappointing. I'd hoped to have better stone higher up but it wasn't meant to be. I exited the slabs to the right and got back into the totally horrendous brush. I managed to ascend another 200 feet by utilizing brush as hand and footholds on the steep slope, not the most reliable climbing medium. To make things even harder, I had to bludgeon my way higher through that brush. Before long I was really getting exhausted. By this time I was maybe a 100 feet below being even with the top of the white face of Cara Blanca. This wasn't working.

The top of the white slabs of the south face of Cara Blanca behind the yucca, and where I quit.

I used my heels to kick out a shelf of dirt that I could sit down on and rest for a bit while I took stock of where I was and what I was going to do. I finally conceded that the brush between me and the summit was too much for me. I recall thinking that if the peak was going to get ascended from this direction it would take a harder man than me. I made peace with the peak (for now) and set out to find a better way down than the one I ascended. This would prove impossible, and my descent route was, in fact, even more of a mess than the way up.

Monte Arrido Peak and Old Man Mountain from the steeps of Cara Blanca.

A look down the Matilija watershed. Divide Peak and Peak 4864 center right. SubPeak 2 in the immediate Left foreground.
Before descending I traversed east across the south side of the peak, passing under rotten slabs and ascending again until I was under what I've labeled "SubPeak 1", which is a point made of the same sandstone that decorates the pyramid of the South Face. The eastern edge of SubPeak 1 terminated in a sheer drop onto the sixty degree gullies of the east face of the peak and offered a view into the north branch of Matilija Creek. I descended this sheer edge until I'd reached the nob of SubPeak 2. From here I dropped into what is possibly the worst brush I've ever encountered, which is saying something. It was bad. On the way down that hellish slope I tried to think of various descriptors, cuss words, and adjectives I could link together to create an image for you. All of them fell short of the magnitude of the seething hell this descent was. Eventually I broke through the brush and crashed into the creek below. Pull all the sticks out of me and insert a fork instead. I'd had enough for one day. It was a good fight. You just gotta love the LPNF.
The steep slab face of SubPeak 1.
The South Face of Cara Blanca from the east.
Two weeks later I got the summit (Trip Report).

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the Cara Blanca (Re-Attempted) post!