Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cara Blanca (SVS) via "Cara Mia" [Class IV]

Loose ends. Not a fan. 
A couple weeks ago I took a stab at the south face of Cara Blanca and was rudely denied access frustratingly close to the summit (trip report). During my hellish descent from that climb I traversed east across the peak to a rocky point I'd labeled "Sub-Peak 1". From this vantage I was able to peer down aspects of the eastern side of the peak and immediately discerned that the long shale slides that decorate this side of of the peak might afford me a second chance for the summit.

I studied the topos and imagery and concluded that two of these chutes would provide access to the upper reaches of the peak. The first chute looked as if it was a little more direct, but it's entire length appeared to be 100% loose shale and rock, tilted at around 60 degrees. Furthermore, this route had a couple of short vertical sections which might or might not be worrisome. The second option, just a bit more upstream, was steeper (65 degrees), but the shale gully terminated just 700 feet above the creek and segued into a relatively brush-free 800ft climb to a point about even with Sub-Peak 1. The lower portion of this route looked pretty challenging. Regardless of which route I took, the remaining 500ft of elevation and 0.3miles to the summit would be in the brush. I eventually selected the second chute as the route I'd climb.

Car Mia=Green, Descent=Red

 I had a good, quick run up Matilija. The weather was cool and breezy which suited me fine. Reaching the North Falls I scrambled up the rope to the right of the lower falls and continued up to the upper ones. This is where almost everybody stops because a.) it's a nice place, b.) not many folks know of or have any interest in what lies upstream, and c.) getting above these falls is a bit dangerous and difficult. 100 feet downstream from these falls is a steep shale slide with a sketchy one-move-wonder out of that gully and into some brush on the left. I cruised through this obstacle and continued into the untrammeled wilderness upstream. (**In trying to replicate this ascent, if you or anyone in your party is freaked out by or unable to climb this slide then this day isn't going to work out. This slide is a 50 foot primer for what lies ahead and is actually easier and safer than the majority of this route up Cara Blanca.)

Lower North Falls
Upper North Falls. The bypass gully is immediately right of where this photo was taken.
 I charged upstream and after a short time encountered a pair of easily bypassed waterfalls (neither of these are the famed "Lost Falls"). A short time later the creek went underground and I continued up the creek bed for a bit longer before passing under the first of the two gullies I mentioned earlier. In a few more minutes I was standing next to an old and bifurcated sycamore, gearing up for the day's real work.

The first falls above the primary North Falls. Pass it on the left.

The second falls, scramble low and left to get past it.

This bifurcated sycamore marks the start of Cara Mia.
Without making a big deal about it I just started up. The first 700 feet of the route were loose and steep, completely composed of talus and shale, and climbed at a pretty consistent 65 degree angle. For the first time this morning I was glad I'd worn my stiff mountaineering boots, which allowed me to kick through the shale to the denser substrate. I sent a few good sized rock tumbling down and was grateful that I didn't have a partner down there. I encountered several short, but sketchy sections of Fourth Class climbing up unstable rock funnels but the overall nature of this climb always came back to duking it out with the shale. By the time the shale climb was over I'd had about enough of it.

One of the Class IV obstacles.

The slide I was in eventually tapered into a small and awkward two-move scramble into a resiliant manzanita after which the day really opened up. I'd broken out of the gully and into a steep, grassy slope I started calling "Easy Street". For the next 800 feet I zig-zaged back and forth in tight switchbacks, paused often to suck air and enjoy the view. Higher up I was hugging a left-hand outcropped ridge of rock that stuck out just a few feet overhead. I passed the first big break in this outcrop and continued almost to its top where a second break in the stone allowed me to scramble up on top. From this point I traversed up and left through thick brush and eventually found a chink in the rock which allowed me to get up on the  actual summit crest. 

Looking down the portion of Cara Mia I labeled above as "Easy Street".

This represents the brushy traverse over to the crest from Cara Mia.

 At first the brush was so dense I couldn't actually see where I was on the peak, but using the two sub-peaks and a gps for reference I concluded that I was less than 0.2 miles and a little over a hundred feet of elevation gain away from the summit. Sticking to the crest was at times a challenge because of the brush, but portions of the narrow ridge were less brushy and I quickly busted onto the summit. I love it when a good plan comes together (insert shit-eating grin).

The above landmarks are noted on the route diagram (above)

A view down Matilija Canyon from the summit.
 This is a neat and rocky little summit, and small, occupying maybe 20sq/ft. There was no USGS marker, nor was there a summit register. I started wondering if there possibly a chance I could actually be the first person up here? That balloon popped when I saw worn and faded names scratched on a flat  piece of sandstone. Now, what the hell? E.L. Moody 1935?!? There were other carved names in about the same state of erosive wear but without dates to verify that state. Holy cow! After really looking around I feel pretty safe in guessing that mine was the first ascent of this peak since before the advent of television. And that's not a bad feeling. I scratched my name in there with those other hard old dudes. I also left a summit register and have taken the liberty of dedicating this summit in honor of Mr Kim Coakley for his SVS series of lost, forgotten, and hard as hell to get to places in the Southern Los Padres. I regret not placing SVS registers on Devils Heart Peak and White Ledge Peak, but this time I just had to. 

E.L. Moody, 1935

Cara Blanca, seriously seldom visited.

There is now a summit register under a cairn. Courtesy of Wonder Bread (coffee cans are sooo passe).

Monte Arrido Peak (left).
The tippy-top of the South Face.
Descending back the way I'd come and down to the point where I'd traversed over to the crest, I decided to take a chance and shoot straight down the epic 1,000+ shale slide mentioned as a possible ascent route. This went pretty quickly but I do need to mention that there really are some severe and sketchy drops on this descent. These are possible to downclimb with a judicious use of caution and a very light touch. I would not recommend this route as an ascent line. 

Other advice I'd give would-be second ascent parties is that this isn't a hike. It's really a mountaineering route. Treat it like one and you should be fine. For parties of two or more I would strongly recommend helmets. Getting brained by the guy above you isn't a recipe for success. Trekking poles are mandatory, and I already mentioned the stiff boots being a plus. If anyone eventually repeats Cara Mia I'd sure like to hear about it. -DS 


  1. Another excellent post. Your photographs are so beautiful!! What camera do you use?

  2. Hi Fern,
    Almost all my shots are taken with the Sony NEX-F3, for which I have a variety of lenses. I like the -F3 because it has a built in flash, which means one less piece of equipment to haul around. Two of the photos in this post (of the gully/shale slide) were shot with a Pentax Optio point and shoot. -DS

  3. Back on your blog after a bit of a hiatus (life bs), great to see you're still going big!


  4. You're a freakin' beast Stillman. Well done mi amigo.

    ~Uncle Rico

  5. Thanks for the dedication. That the only way my name is going to get on Cara Blanca. I'm not a climber. I agree the Los Padres offer endless opportunities for exploring. I just got back yesterday from a two day backpack up Buck Creek to Cobblestone Saddle then down Fish Creek to the Piru Creek then up to Frenchmans Flat. KC

  6. KC, I can only imagine how pleasnt Buck Creek must have been. Endless opportunities indeed, especially for those that step outside the box. With respect, -Stillman