Friday, November 17, 2017

Where the Wild Things Are v1

Hiked: 11/17/2017
Distance: Several miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: N/A
Round trip time: Several hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Let the wild rumpus start!
-- Maurice Sendak

I am often inspired by animal photos from the trail cameras of rangers and other outdoor enthusiasts. As a natural extension of exploration, I deployed a Bushnell 20MP Trophy Cam HD Low Glow back in October. I placed it off trail in an area I expected to get some animal traffic. The camera was configured in hybrid mode to capture both photos and video. Daytime photos are shot in color, while the red light flash at night produces black and white. As a first effort, I wasn't sure if the experiment would produce anything interesting. After a month or so, I collected the SD card and starting looking over the photos and videos. The first thing I learned was that tall grass blowing in the wind triggered the motion activated camera. There were almost 900 photos and videos recorded and most of them were of tall grass blowing in the wind. The camera was also triggered by large flying insects at night. It did capture a single animal:

I plan to move it to different locations periodically and hope to capture more wildlife.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

North Pinyon Mountain (Peak 3640) and Peak 3300

Hiked: 11/13/2017
Distance: 4.5 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3640' (North Pinyon), 3300 (Peak 3300)
Elevation Gain: 1665'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.33
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Plum Canyon Road
Difficulty: Easy

An overcast day was perfect for climbing North Pinyon Mountain (Peak 3640), #58 on the San Diego Peaks list. The trailhead is close to Sentenac, but on the eastern spur of Plum Canyon Road. Any car should be able to travel the road to the end. I arrived late in the morning and was the only one there. I didn't see anyone all day. The path followed a sandy wash about a half mile before it started gaining elevation toward the ridge line. Past the sandy part, the wash held three dry falls, though only one required a class 2 move. The others could be easily bypassed. True to the name, a few pinyon pines grew in or near the wash. I emerged from the wash on peak 3300 with good views and clearing skies. Next came a 100' drop to a saddle to reach the North Pinyon ridge. There was plenty of agave, cholla, barrel cactus, and cats claw to dodge. The first major summit was false, though it was only slightly lower than the North Pinyon high point. From the false summit, it was a short and easy walk up. There were no summit boulders to scale. The register was mostly loose papers in a glass jar inside the normal red cans. An older set of papers was hard to get out so I only looked at the most recent entries that went back to 2012. There were no benchmarks. The views were quite nice of Granite, Grapevine, the Laguna Mountains, and Earthquake Valley. I also had a hazy view of the Salton Sea. After signing in, I returned the same way and enjoyed a second pass through the wash. When I got back to the sandy section, I slow jogged the rest of the way. One step closer to the SDC list finish.


Pinyon pines

One of three dry falls

North Pinyon from the saddle

From the false summit


Granite Mountain

Grapevine Mountain


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bluewater Canyon Reloaded

Hiked: 11/10/2017
Distance: 11.8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1561' (highest point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 2010'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.61
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 84 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Last year, I started exploring the wild part of Bluewater Canyon but turned back shortly after finding a dismembered deer. Bluewater is about as remote as you can get in the San Mateo Wilderness. It wasn't the deer alone that spooked me but a combination of the deer, the terrain, the feel of the canyon, and being solo. Steve agreed to take on the return trip with me. I was confident that if it came to it, two apes were greater than one lion.

The satellite view of the canyon didn't show any technical parts. It would have the normal obstacles of a Santa Ana canyon: boulders, trees, brush, poison oak and run off debris. The morning started out cool, a plus for keeping the snakes away. We started at the Fisherman's Camp trailhead on Tenaja Road and quickly completed the three mile hike through Fisherman's Camp to the mouth of Bluewater Canyon. We didn't see any campers. We both realized we had carried in too much water and decided to cache some at the entrance to reduce weight. We followed the trail into the canyon and left it at the first switchback heading up to Oak Flats. The start of the canyon was dry. Many of the rocks were covered in some kind of strange white organic material. It looked like paper mache. If it was some kind of toxic run off, I might grow a third arm. We returned to the spot of the deer massacre and found most of the bones and body parts from last year except the head. I'm not sure why an animal would drag the head away so I am guessing it was taken by someone as a trophy.

Mouth of the canyon

Strange paper mache-like run off

Open section

Tree obstacle

Deer parts

Immediately upstream, the canyon was fairly open and the obstacles easy. Then we came to a shady section with a high canopy of trees. I was surprised to find water. Small pools formed and rivulets ran across some of the rocks. The pools were home to frogs and small turtles. Grass, brush, and poison oak were thicker here, and a moderate bushwhack was required for about half a mile. Poison oak was a constant threat through most of the canyon. Fresh vines grew across the ground in places and would sometimes get tangled around our ankles. I'm glad we pushed through it because the canyon opened up again into a beautiful stretch of rock hopping with black, striped, and with reddish hues. We still hit a tricky obstacle now and then. One landmark was a pair of maple trees growing next to each other but curved in opposite directions. Steve called it the golden arches. The canyon had been wide up to this point, providing bypass options outside the stream. A short distance above the arches, it started to narrow. Eventually, it narrowed to about 20' across and was thoroughly clogged. I bushwhacked through nasty chaparral along the wall a few hundred feet to look for an opening, but all I saw was more of the same. That was our turnaround point with about a mile and a half of the upper canyon unexplored.

First water

Large ferns

Opening up again

Single piece of tubing

The arches

Moderate bushwhacking

Getting tougher

Turnaround point


See Also:
Fisherman's Camp, Bluewater Canyon, San Mateo Canyon

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Monument Hill and Poppy Hill

Hiked: 11/2/2017
Distance: 5.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2046' (Monument), 1981' (Poppy)
Elevation Gain: 774'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.62
Round trip time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: $4 Riverside County Parks (per adult)
Difficulty: Easy

Monument Hill was added to the Lower Peaks List in October, 2017. It resides in the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Murrieta. It is a popular area and there are several trailheads from which to choose. I parked at the Hidden Valley trailhead on Tenaja Road. The trailhead has a portable restroom and a couple of benches. Payment of the day hike fee is on the honor system. I looked for an envelope to enclose my fee, but ended up stuffing a $5 dollar bill instead into the slot. I didn't take one of the available maps thinking the network of trails would be well signed, and it mostly was. I took off on the Coyote Trail turning around after passing the junction with the Trans-Preserve Trail. Really, all the trails appeared to be "coyote" trails based on the amount of scat. At the next junction, I followed Monument Hill Road the rest of the way to the summit. I saw Poppy Hill on the way and came back for it later. The gentle rolling grasslands and oak trees reminded me of the nearby Oak Flats area in the San Mateo Wilderness. It was quite relaxing. Monument Hill had a beaten up benchmark and two reference marks all stamped "VAIL". I think the area was originally part of Vail Ranch after Walter Vail, but I'm not sure about the history. I didn't find a register. After a few quick photos, I started back toward Poppy Hill.

At the base of Poppy Hill, I found a use trail and followed it directly up. The use trail disappeared about half way leaving me to wade through knee high grass. It only took a few minutes to reach the top. I spent maybe a minute taking more photos before dropping down a better use trail on the longer ridge. A sign at the bottom of the long ridge indicated the area was closed. A short trail spur took me back to the Trans-Preserve Trail. I jogged about half of the trails out and back completing the entire trip in less than 90 minutes. Before leaving, I picked up one of the maps in case I decide to come back for the seasonal vernal pools or adobes. It was an easy trip and because of the addition, my second Lower Peaks list finish of the year. The addition of this peak removed (at least) nine other people from list completion.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Devil Gulch (attempt) and Horseshoe Annex Mine

Hiked: 10/27/2017
Distance: 15.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3394' (high point above Devil Gulch)
Elevation Gain: 2700'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.16
Round trip time: 9 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 172 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Dima and I made an attempt on Devil Gulch in the ANF. The gulch feeds the San Gabriel River and has three waterfalls in the lower half documented by canyoneers. The upper half was a complete mystery. It's a wild canyon in a rough neighborhood. Our ultimate goal was to follow the gulch to its source at the northwest ridge of Rattlesnake Peak, climb Rattlesnake and descend to Shoemaker Road. The effort fell far short, but we got some redemption by finding the Horseshoe Annex Mine on the way back.

We met at Shoemaker and shuttled to Heaton Flat, getting on the Bridge to Nowhere trail around 5:30 AM. The river had a strong flow. We completed the five-odd crossings and reached the use trail to the river just after daylight. The use trail down to the San Gabriel River was in great shape. We turned down river and headed for the start of the long abandoned PL&P trail. Dima had scouted parts of the trail a month earlier and we wanted to take it as far as possible up the gulch to bypass the known waterfalls. We diverted slightly at the start so I could check out the old PL&P sign he found on the first trip, then we followed it up and over the ridge into the gulch. Once inside the gulch, the trail got increasingly faint but we could still barely make out the cuts from a distance. It was sketchy and loose several hundred feet above the canyon. Quickly, we ran into a ravine that stopped our progress. Faint cuts were visible in the next cliff but getting there was a problem. Dima scouted above for any continuation or some kind of access not visible from below, but didn't see anything. We debated dropping a few hundred feet down a scree slope and trying to get back up to it across the ravine, but decided to just take the scree slope into the gulch and start up from there. I dropped down the scree and Dima left a big gap between us to avoid knocking rocks down on me. We entered at a small waterfall and it was at once both beautiful and terrible. Thick, healthy trees grew in the gulch, but the ground was filled with decayed trees, boulders, leaves, and water. There was more water than I expected flowing gently toward the river. The decayed trees were so rotten that even 2' diameter logs would not support my weight. We fought slowly upstream until we hit the second major waterfall as described in the canyoneering report. It was a 20' fall with a long, deep pool below it. We followed a side wash on the left, then did some light class 3 on loose dirt/rock to bypass the waterfall. I had hoped we could average slightly less than 1 mph in the canyon, but it was closer to 1/2 mph. Looking upstream, I did the calculus of our rate plus the odds of running into a waterfall we could not bypass and suggested we turn around. Dima would have continued, but agreed to head back. We decided to follow the gulch out instead of try to scramble up the scree slope to the PL&P.

Devil Gulch from the Bridge to Nowhere trail

Use trail to San Gabriel River

One of ten river crossings

PL and P trail sign

Sketchy trail

Bridge to nowhere from PL and P

Devil Gulch from the PL and P

Descending the scree

Dima on the way down

Welcome to the jungle

Pool below the 2nd waterfall

Above the 2nd fall, turnaround point

The descent was as slow as the ascent and it took us over an hour to reach two-tiered Devil Gulch Falls, 15' for the upper tier and 60' for the lower. Dima recalled a fixed rope bypass nearby, but we couldn't find it. We backtracked to the first steep gully that looked climbable and started up. It was a mix of class 2/3 dirt and crumbling rock with some cactus and dead shrubs to keep it interesting. Half way up, Dima scouted right for the bypass with no luck. I continued left to reach the spine of the gully, following it over the top to get around Devil Gulch Falls. We descended more or less straight down on animal trails. We passed cabin ruins near point 2612', then followed the river up a bit, searching the north wall for the Horseshoe Annex Mine. Eventually, we stumbled on a thick cable and a cairn that marked a use trail to the mine. The adit was behind a large tree. We dropped our packs, unpacked our lights and headed inside. At the entrance, we found sheep bones and continued slowly, announcing our presence with "Hello, Mr. Mountain Lion". Hearing no reply, we proceeded deeper into the main tunnel. We passed other tunnels branching left and right, stopping more than 100' deep into the main tunnel where we had to crawl to continue. Overall, the main tunnel of the mine was in good shape. Finding the mine was a balm on the cuts and bruises from dancing with Devil Gulch. Based on this trip, I would guess a full ascent over Rattlesnake would take at least 15 hours. The upper half of the gulch remains a mystery.

Heading down the gulch

Dead end at the top of Devil Gulch Falls

Escape gully

Devil Gulch Falls from above

Back in the river

Entrance to Horseshoe Annex Mine


Inside the mine

Raw mine video, Blair Witch style

Other Reports:
Devil Gulch (Ropewiki)