Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trial and Error on Cobblestone Mountain, AKA "The Valentine's Day Massacre"

Back down in the shade, choking on a bad gamble.

So close!
What theee Hell! I keep having to do my summits twice to get it right. 
24 miles and +8,000ft and for what?
So I can do it all over again. That's what.

*This writing is purely cathartic and not meant to be a guide to this approach to the peak. I will provide a more specific route description when I am able to complete the route.
02/24/14 For successful trip report, visit: Redrum Ridge

Cobblestone, just across the way from the endless ridge out of Agua Blanca.

The idea here was to do Cobblestone Mountain from Tar Creek Rd via Ant Camp on Agua Blanca Creek. The route could be classified as Cobblestone's Southwest Spur and the idea for doing this actually came in the form of an invitation from Jeff C of Santa Clarita. He'd done a lot of legwork both indoors and on the mountain to identify this route as a possible way of reaching the summit. He'd invited me to join him and when our schedules didn't work out he gave me a green light to take a stab at doing it solo. I went. I lost.

A view down Agua Blanca from high on the summit ridge.

The day started with the eight mile slog into Ant Camp (at this time of year the road to Dough Flat trailhead is closed which adds an additional 3 road miles to each way). Ever since being approached by Jeff I had been obsessed with this plan. Cobblestone is one of the biggest, baddest peaks in the SLP and there is no easy way to get the summit. It's just all around hard. To be able to tick it in a day from the south would be a neat feather to put in one's cap. To that end I studied the route, made adjustments to gear, even trained two long sessions on the StairMonster early in the week, ate right, and really dialed in my nutrition for the days preceding the event. Somehow I blew through the first eight miles in 2:15. Everything was clicking.

I did some recovery work on Agua Blanca Creek, gassing up on quality calories and water. I stashed more recovery goods creekside and started on the "real" part of the day. The route ascends a ridiculously steep S-shaped ridge that climbs across the south face of Cobblestone and loops back west to the summit. Many portions of the ridge are steep and brutal. I fought through some brush on the way up the lower sections and achieved a part of the ridge that looked straight across and up toward the summit. Here it became glaringly obvious where the crux of this climb would unfold. East of the summit is a sixty degree climb of comprised of three individual steps which deposit one a mile east of and about 500 feet of elevation below the summit. After enduring that fight, which I can only describe as "evil", I was within an hour's work of the summit. By this time the temps were in the 80's and the day was still getting warmer. Whatever minute breeze I'd had abandoned me. I'd started up from Agua Blanca Creek with 4.5 liters of water and had gone through over 3. I sat down in the shade and did some hard calculations on my water situation and the prognosis wasn't in my favor. I had a choice to make.

Whiteacre Peak from the Southwest Spur.

I was faced with a gamble. I was at what I considered to be my "reserve" based on all the factors involved: temperature, distance to the objective, distance back to a water source on the creek, and how I was feeling. To make this choice responsibly requires a great deal of self honesty and experience in the heat. I thought about it and determined that I would gamble on there being water at Cobblestone Spring, which lies ENE of and roughly 500ft below the summit. I figured that though I was feeling pretty blasted by this point, if I could get some additional water I'd have no problem achieving my aims. I gambled and lost. I fought my way across the ENE slope, battling through ugly brush thickets until reaching what used to be called Cobblestone Spring. Nothing. Dry as a bone. That sealed the deal for me. The summit wasn't in the cards. I could not reconcile my goal within a margin of water safety that I could (quite literally) live with. With under a liter of water left I turned my back on the summit and started down.

The route follows the right hand ridge up and right before turning back left to the summit. Taken from the nasty little climb out of Ant Camp. 

Back on Agua Blanca I resuscitated myself with Water, water, calories, and water. One of these days, maybe after I knock this route out, I will explain what I use to restore life to my challenged system. It's a system that is well thought out and based on science and an understanding of sports physiology as it applies to endurance efforts. After that the day was just a long haul out to the truck. 

Hostilities will recommence shortly. 

Miles to go...


  1. "To be able to tick it in a day from the south would be a neat feather to put in one's cap." A bit of understatement, to be sure. I will make the observation that achieving a one day out and back to legendary Cobblestone Spring is success. The summit of Cobblestone Mountain would be a nice elaboration on that success, and I expect you will do it, but I read this tale as the substitution of one outstanding goal (summit) for another (spring). Well done on reaching the new goal and returning intact.

  2. Tough summit attempt!
    In your photo of Whiteacre peak you can see another route to summit Whiteacre peak from the northeast.
    In that same photo that little potrero is a cool spot - have seen wild cattle there.

  3. Thanks guys. EMW, I'd always wondered what was so legendary about this spring. The answer is... it f'in sucks to get to, ergo "legendary" effort. And in at least this case, the water was only a myth. -DS

  4. Anonymous: by the 1944 map (link), the old trail crossed the north side cliffs of Whiteacre and approached the peak from the northeast.

  5. Good link Valerie thanks.
    I just followed the terrain as best as possible and found a crevice to get past the cliffs that seem to surround the peak. Pretty steep climb. Always wondered what those cows were doing up there.
    Mike B.