Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hildreth Peak from Hwy 33 via Potrero Seco [29.6mi]

I'll concede up front that this wasn't necessarily the smartest thing I've ever done. Taking "the long way" to Hildreth Peak has been on my mind for over a year. I guess I thought it would be a pretty gnarly challenge. I was right about that. 

Detail of the day's route.
What's so special about Hildreth Peak? Nothing, except that it's way the hell out in the middle of the Dick Smith Wilderness. It's also a Sierra Club Peak, and when done as they suggest, starts from the Agua Caliente trailhead behind Santa Barbara, going as a 16 mile round trip hike with 4,700ft of elevation gain. Frankly, that sounded pretty reasonable. In other words, I wasn't interested.

By contrast, this thing I'd been planning to do came in at 29.6 miles with 8,100ft of elevation gain on the day.

Elevation profile for the round trip.

I started the day a bit concerned about the heat index. I thought, "Please just let them be wrong." I took off from Hwy 33 weighed down by 7.5 liters of water and very little else. The first four miles were generally downhill into Potrero Seco. There's a hidden ranch back here, a small, family owned operation. They aren't running any cattle this year, probably on account of the drought. I think there are only two wells on the entire place. One neat fun fact about this ranch is that, on wet years the water flowing down from these meadows becomes Sespe Creek. This is where it all starts.

I did some mental gambling and left 1.5 liters near the ranch and kept on truckin'.
Madulce Peak from somewhere west of the 3 Sisters
The road down to the ranch continues south for the next 4 miles, generally climbing toward a jagged ridge called the 3 Sisters. There are some elevation losses in this stretch, part of the cumulative ups and down that were going to become the theme of the day. The road crests at a pile of weathered sandstone boulders where the junction for the jeep trail to Hildreth Peak departs Potrero Seco Rd. Here I took a couple minutes to cool down. The day was getting hot and it hadn't even gotten hard yet. I'd done 8 miles and had 6+ to go to reach the summit. I put 500ccs of water in me, left a liter in the shade of the rocks, and got back in it. Headin' west.  

Hildreth Peak is way out in the distance and a little left.
A little closer in this shot.
And again...

The jeep track heads pretty much due west, riding the crest of an arid ridge for 6.+ miles to the summit. This ridge...well, it sucks. It goes up and down an awful lot. For more than an hour I got to watch the peak get incrementally closer. I'd crest another rise on the ridge and there it would be, seemingly no closer. This up/down stuff just went on and on. Eventually I rounded the summit of another high point and before me lay an unobstructed view to the peak. Oddly, I wasn't just looking across a huge gap at it, but was actually looking down on it to a degree. Getting there looked awful, but first I'd have to lose a 1,000ft just to get under it. Why the hell had I done this to myself? Best to leave that one alone as I wasn't even halfway through the day yet. I shrugged and started downhill.

On the way down I made a mental note that parts of this descent were the steepest angle I'd been on all day, and that I'd have to somehow get back up all this. Also, the day was starting to feel wickedly hot by this time. Having bottomed out below the summit I proceeded to climb the peak. The road twisted steeply, very steeply in places. I was pouring sweat, tachycardic, and only about half way up this last push to the summit when I felt myself getting overheated. Raw heat radiated off my face and body. I crawled under a manzanita and let my heart rate come down. This was no good. One thing I did while in the shade was strip off my underwear, giving myself better venting through my shorts. Going commando has helped me dump heat before. Grim news, my gauge showed the temp in the low 90's. I needed to slow things down. Knowing that the hardest and hottest part of the day would be the return trip, I checked on my water situation. It could have been better. 

Here's where the mental aspects of this game took on a new color. I'd have to find a way to keep on the move but not push so hard that I ran too hot, which would increase my water needs. While parked in the shade I made some disciplined choices about water rationing, a big part of which was to deny myself what I and and my body most craved.  I made a decision to be the cruelest quartermaster, also denying myself food for the next several hours (digestion requires water, water I didn't have to spare). I made a deal with myself, 5 sips through the tube every 15 minutes, 8 sips on a strictly as needed basis. I'd have to work this out, but first, the summit.

I trucked up the rest of the peak at a slower speed than usual, controlling my heart rate and respiratory pattern. I rejoiced in any transient breath of a breeze. At last I was only a couple hundred feet away from the summit, with a short brush climb from the road to go. On top I opened my shirt to the breeze and took what help I could. In the summit log I saw the usual suspects, names I should have expected based on experience. It's not a lovely place, this summit. It reminded me somewhat of the top of Chief Peak above Ojai, except that from here Madulce loomed large in the north. Big Pine, Little Pine, and Alexander Peak rose in the west, and to the south I could see Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands over the crest of the Santa Ynez range. I did my thing and got out of there, not without a little apprehension for what my future held.  

View north
View west
Looking down Potrero Seco Road, Mt Reyes in the distance.

I reached the bottom of the peak and began the brutish 2.5 mile climb back up to the ridge. This climb, challenging in it's own right, was complicated by the heat. I did not have fun. I spent the entire climb walking a fine tightrope between running hot and overheating. I dreamt of anything shady but had to accept that there'd be none until I was back at the rocks at 3 Sisters. The sun bore down like an anvil, and the heat just reflected off the track beneath me. My feet felt ablaze. I held my emotions in a crushing grip. I couldn't afford self pity, nor could I cave into the insatiable urge to drink what I needed. I developed a new mantra, one which looped in my heat addled brain, "I will not stop. I will not fail. I will not stop. I will not fail". At times I felt my pace slip away from me, my soul reduced to one heavy step at a time. This ridge was trying to kill me. And it went on without end. 

Finally I hit a downhill that dropped me into the rocks at 3 Sisters. There I grabbed my liter of life and collapsed in the cool shade of a huge boulder. I lay with my back on the cool stone, completely wrecked. I put down half my water and lay back, sipping the rest of it down while my temperature normalized. At last I opened my pack to judge how well I'd managed my water on the trip out and back. I was literally down to 2 ounces of warm water. And the disciplinarian seized hold of the day again. There'd be no joy until I made it back to the ranch. I was freshly recharged, but in no way was I fluid resuscitated. I was still dehydrated, and had 4 miles to travel before reaching my next water. I forced myself to my feet and made myself do it.

Miles to go...
That water had been enough to keep me in the game. The next hour was unpleasant but I pulled it out. I made my way back to cache #1 and bolted down a liter, saving the other 500cc for the final four miles. I don't remember those miles very well, just a seemingly endless trudgery of pain, heat, and the same all consuming thirst that had been the hallmark of this hike. I was alive and moving in the right direction. I staggered up to the truck, yanked open the door and pulled an ice cold gallon of life from the cooler. Somehow I got my shoes off and turned the ignition. I'd left here 11:05 hours ago. I was only half dead by the time I got home. Want some advice? Don't do this to yourself.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Las Cuevas de Sueños Perdidos

"Never again!"

This being said with extreme prejudice and four uplifted middle fingers upon our exit from this botanical nightmare. Mike had coaxed me into a drainage that has no name. If it were up to me I'd call it "Don't Go Here Creek". The fact that there was at one time both a hunting cabin and pictographs up there was the sole reason for this unpleasant journey. Sure, you're going to look at the photos here and think that it doesn't look so bad, but then you're also not being plagued by nettles, gnats, horse flies, humidity, poison oak, deadfall trees, and miles of rocky creek bed... all of it compressed into a singular parcel from Hell. Somewhere in there I kept looping the ironic part of the Gilligan's Island theme song, "...a three hour tour. A three hour tour.". I started thinking of Colonel Percy Fawcett, the great Amazon explorer who ultimately disappeared in Brazil, and of the difficulties he described. In short, this one sucked and we are never going back.

The plan was pretty simple, go upstream, climb past a large waterfall, locate the remains of a WWI era hunting cabin, and then find three caves with rock art in them. A quarter of a mile into this mess the complexion of the day changed. No longer was this a broad and open creek bed. Fun time was over. By the time we reached the waterfall I had become convinced that if there were a cabin (or its remains) upstream, then it wasn't the remains of somebody's hunting shack but was in fact the reclusive hermitage of Ted Kazinsky's great-grandfather. I couldn't imagine a time when this narrow gully of brush and trees had been conducive to hunting. I still can't.

The above photos belie the difficulty of the terrain. This photo is more illustrative of what the day was like.
The waterfall. One might imagine this would be a sight when running. Of course that would mean that just getting there would be even that much more difficult.
Looking back downstream, from above the waterfall. With the exception of the first 3rd of a mile, this was the most navigable part of the day.
We finally overcame what came, reaching the cabin site. Scattered about were pieces of rusted roofing, parts of a bed frame, a shovel head, a huge saw, tin boxes and pots and pans. Next to this rusty pile was a flat spot where the cabin had stood, and at the back of this was a low rock wall. Coming in from somewhere up the creek was a rusty water pipe that terminated in a spigot. I could not fathom how all this stuff had been brought here. The site made no sense, and it remains a somewhat baffling mystery to me. There isn't any way a horse, mule, or burro could have gotten up this creek even as far as the waterfall. A five acre flat below the waterfall would have been the only place one could hunt. The creek near the cabin was shallow and broken up by small waterfalls, not the kind of place that one would associate with good fishing (not that we even saw any fish). The site just didn't make a damn bit of sense. The more I ponder the cabin and its location, the more I wish to know the motives of the man who built it.

Roofing materials and other implements.
An old saw.
A pot and fry pan.
A canteen with bullet holes in it.
Next we tried finding these caves that supposedly had rock art. While trying to locate them we came across the remains of yet another Narco pot grow site. This one was northwest of the cabin in thick undergrowth and under a canopy of leaves. We discovered 9-10 cheap sleeping bags, a pellet gun, tools, lots of plastic sheeting, buckets, and of course there were the ubiquitous irrigation hoses. This operation looks to have been abandoned 2-3 years ago. I've arrived at the conclusion that if there's water in the forest, and there isn't a well used trail next to it, there's bound to be evidence of a grow site. I don't know how many of these I've run across but I'm currently trying to think back and mark them on my Google Earth page, just to have a frame of reference for how many are out there.

And now we get to the real motivation for being here, rock art. This site was studied in 1973, and later by an archaeologist named Hyder (1984, 1987). He described three large wind caves in the vicinity of the cabin site. Two of these caves had three or four elements each. The third cave was described as holding as many as forty rock art elements (a lot). These pictograph sites were somewhat unusual in the sense that only about a quarter of them were actually painted, the rest of the art having been drawn in charcoal. So what we were looking for was a vibrant and busy cave with many charcoal drawings and some painted elements. Well, things have changed.

There were a dozen caves in the neighborhood which matched the overall description of what we were searching for. I singled out the three most likely of these and gave each a good looking over. This is a case where the mind doesn't see what it actually sees, only notes the absence of what it expected to see. I looked at each of these caves and called out to Mike, who was searching elsewhere, that these were empty. I did say that one of the caves I'd scoped might possibly have had a charcoal scratch but there sure weren't multiple elements of art there. 

We continued our search. The day got hot. We'd seen one dry hole after another. We'd busted through overgrown brush, thinking these caves might be hidden behind a screen of the stuff. We even left the search area and travelled further upstream a bit on the chance that the pictographs weren't as close to the cabin as implied. We did this for 2-3 hours before I sat down in the shade to rezero my thinking on the day. Mike and I were pretty used up by this point so we just sat there for a bit. Finally I said "What if it's just gone?". Mike just looked at me for a moment. "Seriously," I continued, "this stuff hasn't been seen since the '80s. What if it's just all gone? Most of it was charcoal anyway. I mean, if the charcoal wasn't bound with seed oil it wouldn't last. And the caves around here are eroded wind caves. What if it's all just blown away?"

Mike chewed on that for a bit. I think he said that we should still have been able to see some of the painted elements. I didn't disagree. We sat there some more, swatting flies and chewing. Finally I said, "You know, I hate to say this, but I think maybe I should go back and look at that cave that might possibly have had a charcoal scratch in it. I just can't help thinking that something's not right." Of course this meant another uphill slog in direct sunlight. We headed back uphill and I reached the first of the caves before Mike. After my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light I crawled right up to the walls of this cave. Suddenly I saw the sketchyest sketch of what was probably a star, and nearby was a stick figure man. Eventually we discovered some other elements, but for all intents and purposes this site has effectively blown away with the wind. It was the same story with the other two caves, fragments of fragments. With two sets of eyes we could not find a single flake of the painted pictographs which were supposed to be present. I apologized to Mike for all the troubles my missing these drawings had caused. He was gracious about it, acknowledging that what we'd found wasn't what we thought we were looking for. 

Well, having flipped the bird and said "Never again!" I can rewind the day and say without reservation that this is no place I want to see again. I'm just glad we were able to resolve the rock art question if only for the reason that it won't plague me in the future. I can go to sleep with that particular skeleton safely kicked to the closet. 

Concentric water rings on a creek stone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Native American Rock Art: Terese Habitation Site, El Paso Mountains

An interesting and unusual site, this one. Parked next to what at one time must have been a reliable spring one finds classical Coso style petroglyphs, stone rings where dwellings once stood, obsidian flakes and shards, bedrock mortars, metates and manos and grindings slicks (a metate is a smoothed stone worn by the grinding of food, usually portable and flat or concave from use, the mano being a stone used to pound or grind these ingredients). The site dates back to 600-1300 A.D. which correlates to other Coso dwelling sites in the deserts around Ridgecrest, a time frame known in this context as the Haiwee period. So stark is the surrounding desert that it is difficult to imagine an ecology which would support a population of natives such as this site indicates. But the signs are clear, this site was a village. 

A common theme in Coso style art is the pecked representation of the bighorn sheep. As most rock art is widely acknowledged to be shamanistic in its symbolism, and ritual in nature, the recurrence of the bighorn sheep in Coso rock art indicates the significance of this animal in both the religious sphere and as a food source. At the Terese site there are numerous examples of the bighorn, as well as anthropomorphics, cosmological symbols, and other animistic representations. 

There are no large slabs or vertical rock formations here, just a scattering of small boulders, few of which stand above waist level. Many of these rocks are marked on multiple sides, some being absolutely overrun with scrawling symbology. Some of these rocks have distinctly worn aspects, indications that the surface was used for grinding. An adjacent flat seems to have at one time been cleared of larger stones. The ground has been tamped to such a degree that few plants have taken root, and stone rings measuring 6-12ft in diameter indicate where dwellings were placed. A careful eye can identify several metates and manos. Interestingly, several of these stones are fractured, most likely due to the inherent fragility of laval rock and the recurrent pounding these took. Shards of black obsidian and stone flakes of other strains of glass-like rock are scattered throughout the site, signs of tool and point knapping. In all, this site is a rich window into the daily existence of a vanished hunter-gatherer society.

Stone ring with central bedrock mortar.
Grinding slick.

I don't know what the worn holes might have been used for. I'm theorizing that they may have been used to hone wooden or bone points.

A fractured metate and on top, a worn mano.
These rock rings indicate dwelling placements.

These dishes are larger than cupules, yet smaller than mortars.

A metate and mano, and just a handful of the thousands of shards and flakes which litter this site.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Antimony Peak, Eagle Rest Peak

Antimony Peak
It's been a bit since I've been in a position to throw a couple "local" peaks at you. Here's the antidote, Antimony Peak and Eagle Rest. With names like these they'd both made my to-do list, and they'd sat there for a bit too long. I've been a bit busy with life stuff, like a 3-room house expansion which is now well under way. As a consequence of all the ruckus I've felt myself getting soft, weak, a shining example of American sloth. I needed to arrest the slide. I teemed with Jack Elliott for this one.

These two summits can be found in the San Emigdio Range just north of Mt Pinos. They are connected by a forested ridge which descends a fairly respectable unsanctioned trail. This day is deceptively tough for a number of reasons. The trailhead to Antimony starts high, and on exiting the truck at the trailhead I was immediately struck by the understanding that everything in this neighborhood is big, big and steep. As I've noted before, sometimes it's not the number of miles but what's in them that matters.

A detail of the day's work. The elevation profile is below.

Departing the Antimony trailhead we rapidly descended a densely forested ridge. In a couple places the forest parted and the bleached white face of the peak gleamed brightly in the rising sun. At the bottom of the base of Antimony we settled in for a pretty darn steep 900ft climb to the summit. The trail didn't waste any time going up, zig-zagging toward the sky. We soon topped out on a small flat, kind of a saddle, and a thin use trail headed up hill a short hop to the summit. Much of the view from the top is obscured by pine trees, but to the south a view of the Mt Pinos ridge is on full display. Back at the saddle we had a great view of Eagle Rest Peak.

The summit on Antimony, and the view south toward Mt Pinos, which can be seen in the distance.
Looking northeast from Antimony.
The Antimony Peak register.
Eagle Rest, from the saddle under Antimony.
Taking off from Antimony we descended a very steep trail through the forest. When I say "steep" I mean that this part of the morning descended more than 1,300ft in less than a mile. By the time we reached the bottom of this stretch we'd passed through the pines and into the scrub oak and juniper zone. Both of us stood there at the bottom for a minute, both of us commenting on quivering quads and expressing gratitude that we had no intention of going back the way we'd come. We switched gears and climbed 500ft up a brushy knob before descending another thousand feet to a saddle directly beneath Eagle Rest. I have to say, getting to Eagle Rest and returning by the same route seems like a recipe for suffering. 

Looking west into San Emigdio Canyon from beneath Eagle Rest.
Looking east toward the Plieto Hills and the Wind Wolves Preserve.
And finally, looking straight up Eagle Rest.
From the saddle we faced another murderous little climb, this one ascending a bit over 1,000ft in just a half mile. That doesn't leave a lot of room for switchbacks. Essentially, this thing just goes straight up to the summit. It's a sporty little thing, a little steep, a little loose, some high stepping through the rock bands up high. This climb got my heart taching right along. We knocked it out quickly and were soon standing amongst a collection of weathered boulders which crown the summit. I was awash in sweat and after dropping pack I turned my back to the cooling breeze. Moments later I clambered to the top of the tallest summit rock and was greeted by a remarkable view. Much of the horizon was dominated by the vast expanse of the Central Valley. Looking northwest I could make out Maricopa and Taft, and could even see the glimmer of Soda Lake on the Carrizo. Somewhere northeast, snuffed by agricultural haze, lay Bakersfield. Just a few shadows above the haze represented the Tehachapi Mountains. Looking south I was reminded once again that no matter what our exit route might hold in store, at least we weren't going back up to Antimony. 

Looking east toward the Plieto Hills and the Tehachapis.
Jack, on the summit of Eagle Rest.
A view down lower San Emidio Canyon toward Maricopa, Taft, and the Carrizo. 

Done with the summit we descended a couple hundred feet off the peak and departed the trail, heading down a northwest ridge coming off the peak. The idea was to descend this all the way into San Emigdio Canyon, a drop of over 2,500ft. We found indications of a use trail, seldom traveled and somewhat overgrown, that traversed the edge of this steep and slender ridge. We committed to the trail and it took us all the way down, though the going wasn't always easy.

Looking back up toward Eagle Rest from the descent ridge.
Lower San Emigdio Canyon, aka the Devils Kitchen.
Our route out and up to Pine Mountain Club, San Emigdio Canyon.
Eagle rest from a few feet above the canyon.
Once more my quads were sparking with complaint at the steep descent, but here we were at the bottom of it all with just 4.5 miles of hot, brushy canyon to go. We set off immediately and without preamble. After fighting through about a mile of chest high chamissa we heard water in the creek to our right. We broke right and took a good cool down on a shaded gravel bench next to a happy little creek. After another couple miles of arduous and brushy creek bed navigating we hit an old trail which climbed us the rest of the way out. Good day, tough but enjoyable. Recommended. 

Gratuitous old guy selfie.