Friday, May 30, 2014

Mt. Gower

Hiked: 5/30/2014
Distance: 6.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3103'
Prominence: 433'
Elevation Gain: 2150'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.72
Round trip time: 4 hours
Recommended water: 92 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Sarda Ct.
Difficulty: Moderate

Rod and I turned our sights south to Mt. Gower on the San Diego Peak list. Mt. Gower is a few miles outside Ramona, CA. We arrived at the cul-de-sac on Sarda Ct. around 9:30 AM and proceeded up the access road toward the water tower. The trail continues along the ridge behind the tower with some roller coaster action, eventually turning right up to Gower's west summit. We approached an interesting group of rocks we decided to call Gower's Teeth. We paused to climb some teeth, then turned left up a use trail at that spot.

Heading up the access road toward the water tower

West summit of Mt. Gower in the early going

Rod with the drone on his chest, I would prefer a chest mounted laser canon

Gower's Teeth

Rod on a tooth

Up the tooth

West summit

Looking back from near the west summit

One of the many benefits of hiking in the Internet age is all the useful beta you can get on a peak. Mt. Gower is sometimes visited twice because people mistake the west summit for the true summit. Having researched this, we knew we were not done. There is also a middle summit about 0.4 miles from the west summit with a glass jar register, and finally the true summit another 0.2 miles further south. The trail ends at the west summit, so further progress requires some light to moderate cross country bushwhacking. We headed for the middle summit and found a scratchy path that approached from the far side. There were only a few entries in the register. We signed it and had a snack break. Rod launched the drone for some flybys, then we packed up and bushwhacked to the true summit. There was no register or benchmark at the summit, but there were some interesting smaller boulders. The views were best from the west summit. On the way back, we tried to find the path of least resistance, and side hilled around the other summits, reconnecting with the trail below the west summit. We made good time on the way down, though the thermometer read 100F and our feet were getting hot. It was only after I got back to the car that I realized I should have moved the register to the true summit. At home, I found a single tick had hitched a ride on me, but had not had time to attach himself. I warned Rod to make sure he didn't have any uninvited hitchhikers.

Equipment update: I took all photos with a Canon Powershot 16MP camera and kept the phone in my pack. I think the photos are improved and the camera was easy to operate.

Heading toward the middle summit, true summit in back

Middle summit register

Rod (and drone) on the middle summit

Mt. Gower summit

Looking back at the middle and west summits

Cuyamaca Peak rising in the distance

Sidehilling around the west summit

A large electric train set up in the backyard of a house below the water tower

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cobblestone Mountain, Sewart Mountain, White Mountain

Hiked: 5/23/2014
Distance: 15.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 6733' (Cobblestone), 6841' (Sewart), 6253' (White Mountain #2)
Prominence: 1373' (Cobblestone), 401' (Sewart), 850' (White Mountain #2)
Elevation Gain: 6360'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 5.08
Round trip time: 10 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 248 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

One of the toughest day hikes in Los Padres National Forest, Cobblestone (plus Sewart and White) was a hike inspired by a post on the San Gabriel Mountain forum by David Stillman. Cobblestone is probably the most remote HPS peak in Ventura County. It is an off trail, yucca filled, waterless, destination with more than a vertical mile of gain. The hike is an all day commitment, and even savvy, experienced hikers run out of water by underestimating it. I had elaborately planned the trip for late April, but discovered Alamo Mountain Road was closed seasonally and would not open until mid-May. In May, I kept calling the Mt. Pinos Ranger station until I confirmed the roads were open. Unfortunately, the new hike date lost some of the original group and it ended up being just Sean and I. We met at the Verdugo Park and Ride, then Sean drove north and navigated the 24 miles of dirt road mazes to the trailhead. You can't even start this hike without a serious effort. As an added challenge, I was suffering from a serious sinus infection, the kind that makes your face and teeth hurt. I had visited the doctor the night before and he put me on Azithromycin, a big dog antibiotic. I was one day into my five day treatment when I faced Cobblestone. Other than having to blow my nose every 30 minutes, the sinus infection didn't cause me undo distress.

We started down the trail at around 8:00 AM, about an hour later than planned. There was a horrific crash on the I-5 that delayed me, and the dirt roads took longer to navigate than expected. I could not have made it in my low clearance vehicle, some of the ruts were too deep. We started at Buck Creek trailhead toward the first milestone, Sewart Mountain. The weather was pleasant, having cooled down from triple digits the previous week. Cobblestone is immediately visible from the trailhead, and looks much closer than it is. Heading up Sewart was a constant battle with large deadfall blocking the trail. Some you could get around, more you had to climb over. Both sides of the mountain were filled with deadfall obstacles. We spotted three deer right away, and a fourth later bounding across the slopes. They were all too fast for us to get photos. Coming down the east side of Sewart, we made the first of two big navigational mistakes. We bushwhacked directly toward the ridge, but the path required getting to a saddle between Sewart and the ridge first. We figured it out about half way down and traversed over to the saddle. On the way, I tripped on some brush and hit my hand on a rock. It didn't seem like much at the time, but I learned later I had a bone bruise in the metacarpal of the small finger on my right hand. It got worse as the day proceeded, but in the heat of battle, I just continued. There were a lot of discarded bottles and cans on Sewart and between us, we packed out about 8.

Cobblestone from the Buck Creek trailhead, farther than it looks

Sewart from the Buck Creek trailhead

Sean signing the Sewart register

Deadfall on Sewart Mountain

At the saddle, we took David Stillman's advice and cached some water at the bottom of Sewart, cache #1. This turned out to be great advice because at the end of a long day, the thousand foot climb up Sewart is tough and would be beyond miserable without water. I took 248 oz. (>7 liters) of water and used every drop. We immediately continued the climb to White Ridge. The trail was in better shape along the ridge. In about two miles, we found an old wooden sign that said "Stewart Mountain 3 1/2, Alamo Mountain 8". Apparently Sewart used to be named Stewart or the sign was a misprint. [Update: According to the USGS, it has been named Sewart since 1/19/1981] Sean spotted an overgrown use trail behind the sign that appeared to descend toward the saddle between the ridge and Cobblestone. We decided to give it a shot. The trail was overgrown in spots and washed out in spots, but very usable. It made the descent to the Cobblestone saddle a non-event. At the saddle, we cached more water, cache #2, and Sean decided to drop his pack, taking only one liter and energy bars for the ascent. I continued carrying my pack up Cobblestone.

Heading up the saddle, we found some ducks and tape to lead the way. Still, there were unmarked sections where we drifted and the 1400' climb in less than a mile was at 30 or 40 degree angles. There were cool "cobble" like rock formations along the way. The ridge along Cobblestone is open and sandy, and we were glad to reach the summit for an extended break. The aluminum register from 1960 still looks brand new. Entries go back to 1981. I flipped through to find people I knew, Bob Burd, and both entries from David Stillman. I took a good look down "Redrum Ridge" and it looked very unfriendly. I don't want to go there, Mrs. Torrance. We signed the register, and after taking in the remarkable views, went down at an exuberant pace. This is where we made our second navigational mistake. We drifted left of the major cliff area and came out a good distance from the saddle. We decided to cross country just below the cliffs to get back to the saddle. The dirt was so loose that we frequently would slide 5 feet down the slope and have to scramble back up, only to slide again a few steps later. The brush was thick in places and forced us lower and farther away from the cliffs than we wanted to go. Eventually we fought back up to the saddle and retrieved cache #2.

Rare shaded area along the White Ridge

Old sign for "Stewart" Mountain and Alamo, use trail to Cobblestone saddle starts behind it

Coming down the use trail to Cobblestone saddle

Descending to the saddle between White Ridge and Cobblestone

Cobblestone boulder on Cobblestone Mountain

Baby pine in the burnt forest

Cobblestone benchmark

Dedication of register box to Jack Cross

Fancy aluminum register box on Cobblestone summit, secured to the rock

View southeast from Cobblestone summit

White Mountain and ridge from Cobblestone summit

Sean on Cobblestone summit

Checking the summit register

The next decision was how to get back up to the White Ridge. We considered a direct ascent, but that held little appeal. Instead we chose to side hill toward White Mountain following deer trails. We eventually reached the spot we were aiming for, but it turned out to be a good 200' below the ridge. We started angling higher, more directly toward the ridge and I led us up a short, but completely unnecessary section of class 3 rock for fun. We quickly headed down the lupine filled ridge toward White. As we got closer, it once again became a deadfall obstacle course. Poodle dog bush crowded some sections. We passed over two false summits on the way to White and I stopped on one to eat some snacks for much needed energy. The summit register was a glass jar inside the standard red cans. The views are great in some directions, and partially blocked by brush in others. We only rested a few minutes before starting back along the ridge line. It was mostly pleasant coming back along the ridge, but the gain was far from over. Two major sections offered 500' and 200' climbs before descending back to the saddle below Sewart, where we collected cache #1.

At this point in the day, Sewart looked like a monster. We decided to stick to the trail along the overgrown road for the final 1000' slog. Again, as you reach the midway point on Sewart and for the rest of the way, you are fighting the deadfall. I finished my last drop of water as we reached the car. This was a mild day with temps never reaching much over 70F. On a hot day, I would have needed at least 300 oz. (about 9 liters). Cobblestone left me with plenty of bruises, scrapes, and bumps, and a swollen hand for about a month, but also images of a beautiful, isolated pine forest, burned but recovering, and big peaks to challenge your resolve. Special thanks to David Stillman for valuable beta while preparing for this hike.

Unnecessary, but fun, class 3 section ascending to White Ridge

Same short class 3 section

Heading to White Mountain through a lupine meadow along the ridge

White Mountain register

Cobblestone from White Mountain summit

Dead giants

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Verdugo Mountain, Point 1815

Hiked: 5/17/2014
Distance: 5.3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 3123'
Prominence: 1344'
Elevation Gain: 1981'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.58
Round trip time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Wildwood Canyon Park
Difficulty: Moderate

After dropping my daughter and her friends off at Universal Studios, I made the 20 minute drive north to Burbank and the Verdugo Mountains. The quickest route I could find from the south was from Wildwood Canyon Park. I started at the second trailhead that had a nice portal and restroom. I was surprised there was plenty of parking on a nice Saturday morning.

The climbing starts promptly at a moderate incline. It gets a little steeper once you reach the Vital Link trail, which switchbacks up the ridgeline. Most of the work is done on Vital Link. It was hot in the late morning and I passed several hikers on the way up that looked like they had taken on a little too much in the heat. There were more people coming down than going up, having started earlier in the morning. Once I reached the Verdugo Motorway, it was an easy road hike to Verdugo Mountain. Communication arrays lined the whole ridge, and there is a large one on Verdugo itself, along with a building surrounded by barbed wire. I could not find a register or benchmark, but didn't look very hard based on previous reports. Because of smog, the views were poor. I could barely make out downtown LA. On the way down, I jogged a few of the downhill sections of Verdugo Motorway and stopped by Point 1815 just off the trail. The only extra view I got from Point 1815 was the golf course, but there is a bench there if you want to watch a tournament or something. The smog hid the nice views, which must be great after dark, but at least I got a pretty good workout.

Portal at trailhead

Verdugo Mountain high above

Tail of a patch nosed snake with faster reflexes than mine

Looking back to Point 1815

Short, sharp, switchbacks on Vital Link

Verdugo Mountain from Verdugo Motorway

There's a smog upon LA

Mt. Wilson behind honeysuckle from Verdugo Mountain summit