Monday, December 10, 2012

Whiteacre Peak [SVS](Condors and a whole lot more) 12/09/12

When Jack Elliott and I set out to tackle Whiteacre Peak this week neither of us could have predicted just how awesome the day would turn out. We experienced one of those weird Los Padres days, the ones where she really rewards your efforts.  I guess I have some explaining to do so I'll get right to it. Viva Los Padres. As with all my posts you can click on any image to enlarge it.

Our up to the ridge probably shortcuts an older established route. 
A couple weeks ago I took advantage of the vantage from atop Sulfer Peak to get a better perspective of it's northern neighbor, Whiteacre Peak. Whiteacre is actually a huge ridge of white sandstone bluffs looming above the trailhead at Dough Flat. The summit of the peak is a distinct prow of white stone jutting high above the plateau atop the bluff. What I learned while scoping out the peak developed into a route up the thing. Not having access to older maps which would show what used to be a trail to the summit I relied on what seemed to be the most direct approach to the peak. In the end, Jack and I stuck to the route I had identified and it worked out just fine, though our climb from the Alder Creek trail to the western part of the Whiteacre Ridge probably shortcutted the older, more established trail. Standing on Sulfer while gazing at Whiteacre I became convinced that I was perched on one SVS (Seldom Visited Site/Summit) peak and, though I wasn't sure at the time, I figured I had to be looking at another. That presumption was proven correct on this day, for whatever its worth. 

We started the day lucky and it just got better. There is this gate on Goodenough Rd that has been kept locked shut by the USFS for at least the last two years. Locking that gate meant having to walk an extra three miles of rutted and rocky road just to get to the existing trailhead at Dough Flat. I believe I once used this forum to rail against said gate closure. Anyway, the gate was open! Unbelievable but there it was. We drove right past that gate and on up to the TH. We got walking somewhere close to 06:30. 

We were pretty stoked to already be ahead of the game. We quickly reached the spot I had identified as our cue to hang a right and leave the trail behind. Without ceremony we started climbing a steep line up a shoulder of the bright cliffs which are just off to the right while hiking west from Squaw Flat. Having gotten atop that small cliff we continued pretty much due north across a shallow dip in the land before taking a short breather under the final slope to the western part of the ridge. It was here that we saw the first of many mountain lion prints that day. The forty-five degree hillside looming above us turned out to be a remarkably easy climb. The grassy slope, though steep, was criss-crossed with hundreds of deer trails which made it easy to switchback up. At times the animal paths overlapped so closely that they almost seemed like stairs. After about 400 feet of elevation gain we achieved a very brushy ridge.
Jack on the "grassy slope", ascending to the western ridge.
Click the pic to see the bounding deer on the grassy plateau, or potrero, or lea or whatever you call it.
Jack and I spent a few minutes bashing our way through a combination of charred manzanita, living manzanita, scrub oak and sage until the scrub segued into a hilly grassland, golden and beautiful in the rising sun. As we drifted into the waist high grass a young buck bounded across the scene. We strolled across the high meadow on animal paths, enjoying what was turning out to be a very nice morning. Eventually we neared the western face of the bluffs under Whiteacre's summit plateau. 

While planning this route, the only part that I wasn't really sure about was the proper way to get up onto the plateau from which the summit "monolith" rises. The only logical spot to gain that plateau seemed to ascend what I'm calling "the notch", an eighty foot slot that seemed doable. I wasn't positive on that last part until I saw a short length of blue rope hanging off a block at the bottom of the notch.

Looking back WSW across the potrero.

Lets talk about this "notch" for a minute. I now knew that I had guessed right in regard to getting up on top of this thing. That being said, it still needed doing. This slot is, from a climbers point of view Class 3, a steep scramble, just don't mess up. Add to that a profusion of treacherous and bloodthirsty vegetation which pushes back at you and the "notch" gets interesting. I scrambled up the easy move which the blue rope I mentioned protects. From a somewhat precarious and awkward position I had to do a bunch of eye-level brush-busting just to be able to get past that part. Two moves later the route took a dirty turn. I shimmied up a man-sized brush tunnel, eating brush for 20 feet before eventually emerging from the worst of the "slot". I should say that the brush tunnel is man-sized now that I created it.

Up the "slot" we go.
Jack, exiting the "slot".
A view of the bluffs under Whiteacre Peak.
Having scrambled through the "notch" we found ourselves atop a rocky mesa interspersed with bands of brush. We started east, busting through some pretty gnarly brush on our way to the peak. As we progressed toward the summit we found a fairly consistent track and made good use of the increasingly rocky summit. As we neared the summit we began seeing numerous and conflicting trail ducks. We eventually passed through a deep and alcoved cut in the rock, a 100 yard long "alley" which lead to a last cut back toward the summit. 
Looking due east at the summit.

It's at least possible that this may have been a Chumash grinding dish. Found on Whiteacre Peak.

Jack, having traversed the stone "alley" to the left, approaching the summit.

One final obstacle remains to achieve the summit, a leap across a deep gap that you wouldn't want to mess up. This minor jump is decorated by an old condor tracking beacon that has been wired to a rock, not sure what its about but we left it as it was. After the jump its a short slope up to a summit unlike any other I've climbed in the SLP. This is a real rock peak jutting out from above a dramatic line of bluffs. It took us a little over three hours to reach the summit from where we'd started, maybe six miles of actual travel. The top is adorned with an anonymous benchmark, elevation 5,100'. Next to the marker is a small cairn with the expected coffee can register and an SVS spiral pad. The last visitor signed the book on 04/28/2007. 

The views from up here encompass the whole of the Sespe backcountry. Visible peaks in the immediate neighborhood are Cobblestone, San Rafeal, Topatopa, Sulfer, Hopper, Oat, Haddock and that's just naming a handful. The peak offers unique perspectives of Piru, Agua Blanca, and Alder drainages. It's a cool place to hang out for a few minutes.

Still life with rusty wire and lost Condor tracking beacon. 
Whhiteacre Peak summit.

Whiteacre benchmark and summit cairn.

Jack, clearing the last obstacle to the summit, a sketchy little jump over a nasty drop. There's actually a climbing bolt at the drop, so I guess if you needed to you could rig a line.

The bolt mentioned in the caption above.

Benchmark: Whiteacre Peak

Seldom Visited Site/Summit.
The north side of the summit is pretty damn neat. Large rock formations laid down on the slope, of white and calico rock similar to the formations found at Piedra Blanca. The slope was sprinkled with oddly shaped towers and hoodoos, and it was on one of these that I discovered the fossil remains of some large prehistoric animal (Fossil Find: Whiteacre Peak). This was pretty exciting stuff. I hollered at Jack, who was shooting pictures of some nearby tanks that had held water since the last rain. Together we uncovered more fossilized bone spread out over a ten square foot area. Well, that's just badass!

Fossil bone. See link above.

Eventually we departed the summit. Only short distance from the summit I turned back to get a picture and that was when I saw the condors. A pair of the big birds were circling in low from the northwest. I pointed them out to Jack, found a comfortable place to sit and dropped my pack for the show. Both condors circled the summit and one swung wide and continued west over our heads while the other banked about fifty feet above Jack and glided back to the summit of Whiteacre where it landed. We watched the bird move about on the summit and eventually it settled, beak to the wind. There she (I want to say it was a "she") parked for at least 20 minutes. Eventually we saw it's mate, which had somehow circled back and now approached from the north. A few moments later the bird on the summit took off and so did we.

California Condor.
California Condor

California Condor atop Whiteacre Peak summit.

California Condor atop Whiteacre Peak summit.

A view back east, of the summit and the rim of the bluffs.

We hustled our way back across the bluffs, reversed our inelegant path down the "notch", and descended into the great golden meadow once more. Our walk out was quick and easy. 

If it was just the peak that was awesome I would have been happy just to share that, but understand that this day had some special juju on it. The route up the peak was burly and rough, it traversed through various and interesting terrain, had some adventurous scrambling and I can't say how much I enjoyed the who;e Whiteacre package. The fact that we found the fossils and saw the birds after we summited was just icing and sprinkles on our cake. What an amazing seven hours.

Jack, dropping out the "notch".

Jack, hiking out of the grassland.

Whiteacre summit on left, looking SSE.

Kitty prints.

Whiteacre Peak from the west.


  1. Let me see if I can get you some access to some older maps. The peak and old trail can be found on the Cobblestone Mountain 7.5" quad from 1958. It's a bit close to the edge, so someone still in the planning stages would want to get other maps from nearby. USGS is trying to make everything available as a free download and you can get at it using the map locator and downloader from the USGS store. It's a little cumbersome and got some oddities in the usage, but once figured out, it is a great resource. Easiest way to use it is to type in something like "ojai, ca" in the search above the map and press "go", then pull it to where you want and click on the area you want maps for. It'll blink a moment and put a marker up where you clicked. Click on that marker and it will offer links to download or purchase the maps for that spot.

  2. Well thanks for that! Valerie. I'll check out those resources. Right now I'm using google earth and a NatGeo trails app, both of which are generally excellent at what they do but don't convey a lot of historic routes or places.
    I was given some older SLP maps and your comment reminded me that they were out in the garage, unexamined. Perhaps it's time to take a look at those.
    I will say that I didn't mind having the freedom to just pick a sensible line up the thing. It worked out well. Thanks for the info.

    1. Hey David...ive spent the last hour reading about your adventures...I ran into the sespe two years ago and have done the doughflat tar creek partial loop twice.
      Your descripts of finding peaks intrigues me...when youve got some time please fill me in on gear and type of expertise needed to give it a go.
      I typically hike on the sierras, now sespe, and san Rafael wilderness. ..the bush wacking sounds fun just not sure on my picking a course, and keeping myself on track.
      My name is mike herdman please feel free to FB message me with your suggestions
      Thanks...keep up the cool blogs

  3. Looks like another great adventure by the Elliott/Stillman duo.

    Definitely will keep this one in mind for a future trip.

  4. Great write up. You have now found 3 of the SVS registers. There are a few more enjoy.

    On our first climb to Whiteacre Peak we followed the old trail. After that first trip we did a similar route as you to the notch which is much easier. Kim

  5. Thanks for that Kim. Yeah, that route seemed pretty direct, a natural option. I figured I wasn't the first to take that line.
    Alright man, don't tell me about the other SVS stuff out there. It's been a treat stumbling upon them.

  6. Mike, that's a helluva lot to get into and I'm not offering guide services. Why don't you mail me your three most immediate concerns and I'll see what I can do to help you out. -DS

  7. thanks for sharing.

  8. I went up that route probably 10 years ago or so now, my only hike ever with the Ventura Sierra Club. At age 40 I was probably the young guy in the group of 8 or 9 people! A great hike like you say. I remember wondering if one could work the sandstone ridges east/northeast to get down into Agua Blanca.
    (BTW, you would probably enjoy "Hole in the Wall". Make sure it's rained a bit first.)

  9. Great summit. Did this one a few times. There is a better approach from the lower end of the meadow/potrero. But you still go up via the same slot. The first time, I used the same approach as you.

  10. This is horribly irresponsible. There's a reason that this area was established as a condor sanctuary many, many years ago. These birds are extremely endangered and extremely sensitive to humans, like you, trampling their homes. I advise you and anyone else who may come across this blog post this many years later to avoid these peaks unless you consider yourself a condor killer. Unbelievable.