Saturday, May 30, 2015

Eagle Crag

Hiked: 5/29/2015
Distance: 18.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5077'
Elevation Gain: 3900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.12
Round trip time: 7 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 188 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Deep in the Agua Tibia Wilderness, Eagle Crag is on both the Sierra Club HPS list and San Diego Peaks list. It's long, isolated, and requires a bit of off trail thrashing. Right up my alley. I wanted to climb it as part of a marathon day with Agua Tibia, but it was raining that day and I didn't feel like spending the extra hours getting soaked. Instead, I went back on the Cutca Trail since it offered new scenery. The Cutca Trail does have a logistical problem since it starts on High Point Road (8S05). The road is seasonally closed for winter and the gate was only opened last week. I had been monitoring it and jumped on it when the opportunity came up. The road is in pretty good shape up to the seasonal gate at about 3 miles. After that, it gets worse and I recommend a high clearance vehicle.

I started down the trail, dropping immediately into Cottonwood Canyon and the first of several stream crossings. In the canyon, I ran into one of two stretches of trail with poison oak intruding. About a mile of the trail here has a poison oak problem. Once you climb up to Cutca Valley, it tapers off and only hovers off trail. The first part of the valley is serene with large oaks. However, as you get close to an unnamed canyon before starting the climb out, the forest becomes dense with the worst stretch of poison oak, lasting another mile or more. The second stretch of poison oak intrudes into the trail from both sides, completely covering it in places. Long pants are a must. I also wore a long sleeved shirt, but you might get away with short sleeves if you are careful. The other annoyance you may face is swarming bugs. I had a halo of bugs and flies around my head in the canyons until I neared the summit. Periodically, I stopped to cover my head with a deet-based insect spray and rub it on my face. Each stop bought me about 10 minutes of freedom before my bug halo returned. I was glad to start the switchbacks up out of the valley and soon I was on the pine forested ridge. A little further, I spotted two obvious cairns marking the off trail gully to the top.

Cutca Trailhead

Signs in Cottonwood Canyon

Poison oak starting to crowd the trail

Serene section of Cutca Valley

Flower and bee

First signed junction, turn right

Mountain lion prints

Second signed junction

Looking back while climbing out of the valley and canyon

Cairns marking ascent gully. From other trip reports, there may be another gully with cairns 0.2 miles further down the trail. Faint use trail on right side of this gully.

The gully was steep class 1 with a faint use trail winding up the right side, marked by frequent ribbons. About half way up, a smaller gully comes in from the right and the faint use trail moves up the left side of this gully until it dumps you out a short distance from the summit. From there, you need to pick your way through poodle dog and manzanita. I put on gloves for the gully ascent but took them off about half way because I didn't really need them. The summit register is in a rocky outcrop, the crag, with a big drop and big views. A nearby bump, slightly higher, held no secrets or benchmarks. I perused the register and noted that Mars Bonfire had completed his 25 summits and was therefore done with it. What a monster! I found a lot of names I recognized before signing. Thankfully, the bugs did not follow me into the bright sun on the summit. I pulled out my sandwich and started for a large slab just below the summit for some grub. I stopped as I took my first step since the slab was already occupied by a basking rattlesnake, a Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake according to a local expert. I took a few photos of the snake, then found another rock that was unoccupied. I finished my food, and checked on the snake again, still happily soaking up rays and oblivious to my presence. I took some care getting off the summit around sun exposed rocks or dirt, then started back.

I was moving at a good pace down the trail until I got back into the valley. I was blasting down the trail when I noticed a large snake only a few feet away from me. My reaction was to bolt about 10 more feet up the trail before turning around to get a better look. Damn, another rattlesnake. This one appeared to be a large adult, another Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake despite the color variation, again according to the local animal rescue expert. It didn't rattle at me until I came back for some photo ops. The second snake raised my freak factor another notch. From that point on, I slowed way down and was laser focused on the trail. Getting bitten this far out meant either dying or a basket of other bad outcomes. No third rattlesnake made an appearance, leaving me to deal with the just the poison oak and bug halo. I found one tick on me all day and he didn't get attached. As the day warmed up to hot, the final 500' climb back to the trailhead put an exclamation point on a tough, satisfying hike. I cranked the AC and drank extra water on the drive home. It had been a great day in the mountains.

Approaching Eagle Crag

Looking down from Eagle Crag

View north

Register and MRE pastry

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake on a boulder just below the summit


Large adult Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake on the trail in the valley

Big snake getting bored with me

Snake crawling through poison oak

Metal art along highway 79 on the way back

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Desolation Pinnacle, Mt. Disappointment

Hiked: 5/20/2015
Distance: 3.3 miles on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5769' (Desolation), 5960' (Disappointment)
Elevation Gain: 1290'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.03
Round trip time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

In March, I made an attempt to reach an unofficial summit named "Desolation Pinnacle" jutting up from the south ridge of Mt. Disappointment. That attempt ended on a loose section of the ridge. Since then, my friends Sean Green and Willie Price found a better way to reach it via the SE gully. Thanks!

Sidebar on the name. I could not find any beta on this point on the Internet, which surprised me because it looks like such an obvious destination in a high traffic part of the mountains. While hiking Bear Canyon, Sean and I were talking about it as a possible future hike and kicking around names that started with "D" to fit in with the two closest peaks, Disappointment and Deception. We came up with names like Depravity, Depression, etc., and I eventually favored Desolation Pinnacle. However, Sean was the first known person to climb it in recent memory so had the naming rights. He went with Desolation Pinnacle. Officially, it is a unnamed bump on the south ridge of Mt. Disappointment.

I wanted to wrap up my unfinished business on Desolation Pinnacle before moving on to other high value targets. I started about an hour before sunrise at Eaton Saddle and traversed along the San Gabriel Trail to the shoulder of Mt. Disappointment. After scaling the shoulder, I searched for the best descent point, then continued the few hundred feet over to tag the Disappointment summit (my third time). By then, the sun started to illuminate the mountains through some gray clouds so I could put my headlamp away.

Slumbering city

Looking east toward Mt. Wilson

Desolation Pinnacle from the top of the gully

Descending the gully

I found the clearest path down the gully and alternately stepped and slid my way to the bottom. Obstacles included light brush, poodle dog, and a few yuccas, but it was much easier to navigate than the ridge. From the bottom of the gully, it was a pretty easy walk up to the saddle, then some steep and loose class 2 to the top of Desolation. I was expecting more airy exposure on the way up the pinnacle. Many rocks and boulders along the way looked fire scorched. I found the cairn left by Sean and Willie and took a few pictures and some video. The top of the pinnacle offers a commanding view of Bear Canyon and the surrounding peaks, a unique vantage point. It's a worthwhile diversion if you are in the area. Desolation Pinnacle is also part of a nutritious breakfast.

Sidebar on the difficulty rating. The stats would normally put this hike in the easy category, but roughly a third of it is steep cross country travel with some loose class 2 sections. That was too much for me to feel comfortable giving it an easy rating. The lower end of moderate seemed more accurate.

Looking up from the base of the pinnacle

Mt. Disappointment and the descent gully

On top of Desolation Pinnacle

Mt. Deception and Mt. Lukens in the distance

Bear Canyon and Brown Mountain

Cairn left by Sean and Willie

Descending from the pinnacle

Final look back

Time to start the day

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mission Point

Hiked: 5/15/2015
Distance: 4.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2771'
Elevation Gain: 1266'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.01
Round trip time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Neon Way cul-de-sac
Difficulty: Easy

It was a short drive from Rocky Peak to the trailhead for Mission Point on Neon Way. There was room for about a half dozen cars in the cul-de-sac. Again, we were the first to arrive. The trail starts through a signed fence on a smooth path. There is an immediate short cut on the left, but we stayed on the main trail. Although it was less than 10 miles from Rocky Peak, the terrain was completely different. There were no boulders or rocks anywhere. It was round rolling hills covered in grass with a few trees near the bottom. We rounded a corner and saw a hungry looking coyote who bolted before I could get my camera aimed. At the next switchback, we spotted his head checking us out from a safe perch. Maybe he was looking for any small pets we might have brought along. He watched us move up the road, and later we could still see him watching the trail. A gas pipeline cuts directly up the hill and crosses the trail multiple times. Following the pipeline would be the most direct way to the top, but we meandered along the road.


One of the many sunflowers

Curious, wet coyote

On his perch

Rolling hills

Rod looking toward the summit

The trail was graded and smooth with a gentle, steady gain. On the summit, a couple were resting on the bench. They must have come up a different way since we saw no sign of them beforehand. A memorial plaque to Dr. Mario DeCampos was set in stone and there were several marks. We hung around the summit for a while, but forgot to look for the register. We were busy cursing the clouds, having denied us another set of summit views. The return was uneventful and our raggedy coyote was gone from his perch. We got every possible break in the traffic on the way back, even traffic lights off the freeway. I dropped Rod off just after noon and headed home with two peaks bagged and only half the day gone.

The Californians: We took the 118 to the 405 south, then hopped on the 101 to the Ventura freeway which turns into the 210 east. Then, we took the 57 south to the 22 west and exited on Haster to the Garden Grove City Hall parking lot. From there, I took Euclid to the 405 and the 73 toll road home.

Approaching the summit

Memorial plaque

Benchmark, reset 1987

Lousy views again

Rocky Peak

Hiked: 5/15/2015
Distance: 5.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2714'
Prominence: 352'
Elevation Gain: 1400'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.12
Round trip time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Rocky Peak Road
Difficulty: Easy

The forecast called for a steady rain all day. Rod and I prepared for a muddy slopfest on the first of two Lower Peaks planned for the day. Rocky Peak is in the Santa Susanna Mountains north of Chatsworth. The trailhead is a parking area just off highway 118 at Rocky Peak Road. It is one of the easiest trailheads to find. We were the first to arrive around sunrise and layered up expecting to get wet, even though it was not raining at the start. The trail is rocky, literally mostly rock with some sand between the cracks. Boulders were piled up in all directions as we climbed. Low clouds obscured everything. The rain never fell on the hike up. Although the ground was wet from rain the night before, the rock had dried enough to give it some traction. This hike would have been more difficult if the rocks had been slippery.

Rocky Peak trailhead

Rocky Peak Trail and Hummingbird Trail junction, stay on Rocky Peak

View along the trail

Rod takes advantage of a small break to see below the clouds

Cairn near one of the bumps below the summit

First cloudy glimpse of Rocky Peak

As we neared the end of the trail, we found a cairn that marked a shortcut trail to the summit. We decided to follow the main trail up and take the shortcut back down. The trail winds around several smaller peaklets and cuts back to Rocky Peak. We never saw the summit until we were almost directly beneath it. A little scrambling got us on top of the summit boulders to a benchmark that showed the line between Los Angeles and Ventura counties. On another boulder was a small circular metal tab fixed to the stone, remains of a missing benchmark. It seemed like the views would have been dramatic, but the clouds would not cooperate. We felt cheated. What scenery we did make out along the way was great. The register was in a locked metal box on a pole and someone had broken off the attached key in the lock. A-holes seem to enjoy this kind of vandalism. On the way down, we took the shortcut. A light rain picked up even as some of the clouds started to drift away. We were wet and a little muddy as we packed up to head for Mission Point, our second goal of the day.

Benchmark on the summit dividing Ventura and Los Angeles counties

Interesting water-filled holes on a summit boulder, look like over-sized morteros

On the summit

Rod checking out the locked register box

Big boulder just below the summit and an unknown drop into the mist.

Partial view on the way down