Saturday, July 23, 2016

Silver Peak, Mount Torquemada, Granite Peak, Oak BM

Hiked: 7/22/2016
Distance: 12.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1804' (Silver), 1336' (Torquemada), 1750' (Granite), 1488' (Oak)
Elevation Gain: 2800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.24
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 148 oz.
Parking/Fees: $72 round trip boat fare, $17 parking
Difficulty: Moderate

Catalina Express - Schedules and Fares

The quest for Sierra Club Lower Peaks took us to Catalina Island for Silver Peak, the highest point north of the isthmus. Sean, Dima, and I boarded the Catalina Express from San Pedro to Two Harbors. It was my first trip to the island. The tricky part of this hike was to pull it off in one day. During the summer, only Fridays and Sundays had schedules that worked. We took the 10 AM boat out with the return trip slated for 8:30 PM.

When we arrived at Two Harbors, we stopped to get our hiking permit then started down the Trans-Catalina Trail, a wide dirt road. It was warm, but a strong ocean breeze kept us cool. The road turned north and sharply climbed over 1400' with no break and no shade. As we moved away from the ocean, the breeze died and the road reflected the heat, soon reaching around 100 degrees F. The breeze only returned intermittently and we had underestimated the heat. We plowed ahead for Silver Peak, up and down the rolling ridge. There were good views down to the ocean on both sides of the island and small boats dotted the ocean all around. We were all dripping with sweat when we reached the summit of Silver Peak. We found the benchmark and signed one of many registers in the ammo box, resting and refueling. More interesting times were ahead on Mt. Torquemada.

Boarding the smaller Catalina Express boat for Two Harbors

Taking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Looking down the west side of the island, about half way to Silver Peak

Approaching Silver Peak

The north end of Catalina from Silver Peak

JPL benchmark on Silver Peak

Looking south from Silver Peak

Sean, Dima, and I on the Silver summit

On the way back, we stopped for a while under one of the few small trees large enough to provide shade. There were only three such trees along the entire route. We planned to hit the two small peaks just off the trail plus Mt. Torquemada. Before we got to Granite Peak, a Ranger in a truck rolled up on us from the south. He had two hikers in tow that were suffering from cramps and borderline heat exhaustion. Sean asked if he had extra water and he kindly gave each of us a cold bottle. It tasted far better than the warm water still left in my hydration pack. The ranger continued on looking for more hikers. The only other party we saw all day was a group we passed that looked somewhat unprepared. They probably thought the same thing about us. Granite Peak was a 5 minute diversion with a weather station. There was no register, but we did find a reference mark. We quickly reached Oak BM where we found a benchmark stamped 1875. This was by far the oldest benchmark I had seen. We discussed it later and started to doubt whether the date was correct. I did some follow up research at the National Geodetic Survey and according to their records, it was originally a metal spike placed in 1875, replaced by a disk in 1934 but stamped 1875.

Granite reference mark, benchmark not found

Granite Peak summit with weather station

Oak benchmark, original was a spike in 1875, disk placed in 1934

The final target of the day was Mt. Torquemada, a three-quarter mile (one way) side trip on a ridge hugging the west side of the island. There was a good use trail that weaved through large stands of cactus. The best views of the day were along the trail overlooking thousand foot drops where the ocean had scalloped the shoreline. The final section was steep and rocky but not problematic. The only thing we found on top was a small unmarked cross. Dima explored some kind of scientific station down the far side. We debated whether to continue back up the use trail or take a cross country shortcut back to the road. Sean was running low on water and argued for the shortcut. He saw a good path back to the road and convinced us to go along. We picked our way down, following deer trails and diverting around brush. We never hit anything bad but did pick up a lot of foxtails. Near the bottom, we stumbled on a half buried boat we named Noah's Ark (marked with a waypoint on my track). We tried to come up with theories on how a boat got 575' off the water. Nearby, Dima found a deer skull and piles of bones. We easily got back to the road having saved the trek back up the ridge and about a mile of trail. We met the ranger one more time on our final mile of descent. He had diverted the other group of hikers down a different road to get them out of the heat. We talked to him about Mt. Torquemada, leaving out the cross country adventure. Checking the permit later, off trail travel was prohibited, but we rationalized that a deer trail was still a trail.

Approaching Mt. Torquemada

Looking down a cliff

Final ridge

Mt. Torquemada summit

The two harbors of Two Harbors

Cross country shortcut

Noah's Ark

Skull and teeth near the ark

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mt. Hawkins and Middle Hawkins

Hiked: 7/17/2016
Distance: 9.3 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 8850' (Hawkins), 8505' (Middle Hawkins)
Elevation Gain: 1753'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.40
Round trip time: 4 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate (Combined)

The high country along Angeles Crest Highway is widely considered to be the "nice" part of the San Gabriel range. Large conifers dominate the forest and thorny chaparral common at lower elevations thins out leaving a more inviting landscape. Leisa and I headed out from Dawson saddle for a couple of HPS peaks.

We followed the trail to the PCT and headed toward Little Jimmy Campground, planning to hit Mt. Hawkins. The air was cool but not cold. There was one other party on the trail, but they were headed for Baden-Powell so they went the opposite direction at the PCT junction. We followed the trail up and around Throop Peak, then down as it followed the ridge. When we found a use trail branching toward Mt. Hawkins, we left the PCT. It was a relatively short climb from this side of Mt. Hawkins. At the summit, we poked around but didn't find a benchmark or register. There were great views of Mt. San Antonio from the back side and looking the other way, the high desert. We descended the steeper and longer use trail going down the other side to get back to the PCT.

Dawson saddle unsigned trail start

Early going

PCT junction, headed toward Little Jimmy to get to Mt. Hawkins

Approaching Hawkins

North side of Mt. San Antonio from Mt. Hawkins

Hawkins family ridge (Middle, Sadie, South)

Back on the PCT, we went around a large unnamed bump to the junction with the use trail for the other Hawkins family peaks. We took the use trail and were soon looking up at the rocky north slope of Middle Hawkins. I walked right past the summit use trail on the north side, even though it was right where it should have been. I led us along the use trail on the east side. When we got near the south ridge, I decided it was as good a place as any to go up. It wasn't a pretty ascent line but it got us to the top. As on Mt. Hawkins, Middle offered no benchmark or register. From the top of Middle Hawkins, we found a faint use trail and took it down the south ridge. Beyond that, the trail faded in and out, but navigation was not tricky. You simply stay on the ridge. Not far past Middle Hawkins, we came across a large rock outcropping. We stopped for a break and I climbed up the outcrop. Unfortunately, Leisa started developing some mild AMS and was not feeling well. We decided to head back instead of continuing down the Hawkins family tree. On the way back, we both collected socks full of annoying foxtails, but her AMS started to subside. The rest of the Hawkins family will be there for another day.

Approaching Middle Hawkins

Leisa on the Middle Hawkins summit

Looking down from an outcrop between Middle Hawkins and Sadie Hawkins

On the outcrop

Looking at Sadie Hawkins and South Hawkins from the outcrop

Curious squirrel

The Santa Ana mountains on the horizon

Friday, July 8, 2016

Half Dome

Hiked: 7/7/2016
Distance: 17.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 8840'
Prominence: 1360'
Elevation Gain: 5100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 4.08
Round trip time: 10 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 150 oz.
Parking/Fees: $30 National parks fee (7 day pass for one car), $4.50 for lottery application plus $8 per permit
Difficulty: Strenuous

Encyclopedias haven been written about Half Dome. There are books and web sites dedicated to it. It is ranked #236 on the Sierra Peaks List. I'll stick to our experience, adding color to anything that was unexpected. Half Dome is so popular, the National Park Service started a lottery system in 2012 to limit the number of hikers. When I won a lottery spot for the cables route, I talked Leisa into doing this with me. We did a few training hikes in the months leading up to it and felt ready. We spent the night before at the Tenaya Lodge just outside the southern entrance to Yosemite, about an hour from Yosemite Valley. We got up early to grab a parking spot at the Happy Isles trailhead, hitting the trail around 4:15 AM. This paid off later after we saw the trail and cables fill up with teeming hordes of people.

We decided to take the Mist Trail both ways. The weather forecast was perfect sunshine for several days leading up to and including our hike date. Counting the lottery win, that's two lucky dice rolls. The 317' Vernal Fall misted us in the dark. I took a lot of photos with the flash off but they all turned out to be garbage. I got a good shot of Vernal Fall on the way down. That photo is out of chronological order. The sun was just coming up when we reached the monstrous 594' Nevada Fall. The amount of water and the force flowing over that fall was humbling. At the junction with John Muir Trail above Nevada Fall, we found an unexpected restroom facility. I marked every restroom along the trail on my GPS track, my one contribution to Half Dome knowledge.

Half Dome and the two falls from Glacier Point, taken the day before

Tunnel to Yosemite Valley

Trail sign with distances

Mist Trail sign

Vernal Fall, source of the mist on the Mist Trail (shot on the way back)

Silver apron on the Merced River

Liberty Cap

Nevada Fall

The next major section of the trail was gentle forest leading through Little Yosemite Valley. The trail went past Half Dome and offered good views of the south face. If you looked carefully, you could see the cables route above Sub Dome. We stopped at a restroom at the camp site in Little Yosemite Valley. Leisa headed down to the Merced River and refilled her water with a filter. In the cool air, I was using less water than expected and didn't need to refill the entire trip. We spotted several deer going up and coming down, but were only able to get a good photo of one buck. Climbing out of the valley, the trail gained elevation faster leading to the base of Sub Dome. To our surprise there was no ranger there checking permits. We began the slog up the variant stairs of Sub Dome. It was relatively steep and a fall there would probably lead to a bad outcome. Near the top of Sub Dome, the stairs faded away and we continued up class 1 slabs past a line of small cairns. We topped out on Sub Dome, then descended a short distance to the saddle where the cables start. Again, we were surprised to find no ranger checking permits. Other climbers were also confused about the lack of enforcement.

South face of Half Dome, Sub Dome on the right

Towering forest

Buck in Little Yosemite Valley

Approaching Sub Dome

Looking off the side of Sub Dome

Climbing the slabby upper section of Sub Dome

Looking up the cables, we beat the crowd here

I stopped to fit my camera with a shoulder strap so I could more easily take photos on the cables. We put on our rubber coated gloves to give us the best grip on the steel cables and they worked great. Leisa started up and I stayed a few feet behind her. We planned an early start to avoid crowds on the cables and our plan paid dividends. There was only one other couple on the cables when we started. We mainly used the right cable going up, hand over hand. The cables were about what I expected, although there were a few slick spots, some from wear and some from rust near the massive bolts holding the cables in place. There was not much traction with hiking boots, so it required more of an upper body effort, which was not an issue. But, rock shoes would have made the ascent more comfortable. It isn't completely smooth up the cables. The layered slabs sometimes required steps. Just past half way, Leisa started getting jittery about how steep the granite was at that point. I and the couple in front of us assured her that the slope eased up after another handful of slats. She hardened and crushed the rest of the cables. We relaxed on top, taking photos and admiring the world class views of the valley and surrounding multi-thousand foot towers of rock. After 30 minutes, we started the descent. We essentially rappelled down the left cable, much quicker than the ascent. We were somewhat relieved to get back to the Sub Dome. Someone had left their pack on Sub Dome and a squirrel was partly inside the pack, only his tail sticking out, happily munching whatever treats were inside. Not a good call. At the bottom of Sub Dome, a ranger had appeared and was checking permits. He was checking not only people on the way up, but people on the way down, including us. I presented him my papers and he sent us on our way. I think the fine for hiking without a permit is up to $5000. As we descended back to Little Yosemite Valley, the hiker traffic on the trail, especially below Vernal Fall, increased dramatically. When we looked up, we could see the crowded cables and were glad we were on the way back. Mile for mile, the Mist Trail to Half Dome may have the best scenery of any trail I've hiked. It was a big, fun day for us.

Looking down the cables

Leisa climbing to the next slat

Sideview from the cables looking east

Leisa and I on the visor

Looking up Yosemite Valley, Clouds Rest the high point on the right

View down the north face of Half Dome

Leisa celebrating victory

The long, wide summit of Half Dome


Starting the cable descent

Squirrel in a pack left on Sub Dome, eating someone's lunch

Photosphere from Half Dome summit

Additional Info:
Half Dome permits (
Half Dome Guide (
Half Dome Day Hike (

Not sure what the glitch is at mile 16, ignored in calculating gain

The last water is a small stream by a fallen tree

Animated GPS track

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