Sunday, September 24, 2023

Indian Mountain

Hiked: 9/22/2023
Distance: 6.3 miles round trip on dirt road
Summit Elevation: 5790'
Elevation Gain: 1470'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.1
Round trip time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Indian Vista overlook
Difficulty: Easy

Indian Mountain (HPS #204) is in the San Bernardino National Forest south of highway 243. I looked for something easy since I was still nursing a minor heel injury that won't go away. I arrived at the Indian Vista overlook around 8 AM and was the only car in the lot. Past the overlook is a use trail that connects to Indian Mountain road about 100' below. The road goes very near the top of Indian Mountain. At first, the road drops about 500' to a saddle. As soon as I started down, I was in the middle of a gnat swarm and had to put on the bug net. I swiped at them now and then, and ended up squashing at least a dozen before the day was over. The road had very deep ruts and would have taken a skilled driver. Near the top, I found a use trail through the brush to the summit. The class 3 summit boulders were about 15'. The top boulder had a nice flake that proved useful as a foot hold to reach the top. The register was under the boulder pile in a black plastic jar. I found a US Army reference mark named Ann about 25' away from the summit under a bush. I never found the benchmark. On the way back, I followed the road to the lower summit and found a fire pit. The gnats continued to be a problem on the way back.

Indian Mountain from the overlook

Summit block

Ann reference mark, didn't find the benchmark

Firepit and turnaround on the lower summit

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sam Fink Peak

HPS Star Emblem Peak
Hiked: 9/8/2023
Distance: 15.1 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 7339'
Elevation Gain: 4382'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.5
Round trip time: 9 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 132 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass at Humber Park trailhead
Difficulty: Strenuous (route finding)

Sam Fink Peak (HPS #104) sits on the desert side of the Desert Divide. It is remote and the only trail that goes near it, the Caramba Trail, is not maintained. Abandoned is a better description since much of it was covered in dead fall, pine cones, and needles. I made it more challenging my overtraining for the second time in two months. Too many laps at the track just before Whitney resulted in a compressed nerve in my right foot. Only painful in a certain position that I avoided with mindful steps. Two days before Sam Fink, I did too many heavy reps with the trap bar at the gym. My back was sore, but short of strained. I was able to ice it the next day and get by. The body just isn't what it used to be.

I started at dawn from Humber Park. It took an hour to get to Saddle Junction where I followed the Willow Trail. The trail goes through a field of ferns before an unsigned junction with a trail going directly south. I passed that and went another half mile where the was another unsigned trail split. A high road and a low road. I took the high road, which was not the best way. I could have stayed on the lower trail longer on a direct path toward Sam Fink. Instead, I left the Willow trail not far past the junction. Initially, it was mostly open country, but soon, I got bogged down in whitethorn and waist high soft plants. I crossed Willow Creek and continued side hilling and dipping in an out of gullies. I found remnants of the Caramba Trail and vaguely followed it with the help of scattered cairns. I ended up doing three creek crossings. The last one was Tahquitz Creek and it was flowing strongly. I'm not sure the others would be flowing in a drought year. There were many route finding problems. I climbed up a very steep slope north of an unnamed bump before I finally got a clear view of Sam Fink, a quarter mile away. It was visible a couple miles back, but I wasn't able to identify it.

Willow Trail continues up to the left, but the lower trail is a better way to Sam Fink

Willow Creek

Following a cairn through some whitethorn

Sam Fink distant left, though I didn't recognize it at the time

Following remnants of the Caramba Trail

Tahquitz Creek crossing

I followed a use trail the rest of the way to the summit. A short boulder was the high point and the register cans were just below. There were no marks or other signs of civilization. I was surpised at the great view back to the Desert Divide and the desert communities below. I was prepared to be disappointed with Sam Fink, thinking it might have been added to the emblem list as a navigation test. But it was a fine perch to take in not only the Divide, but the higher peaks around San Jacinto. Having sky blue weather helped. The register was active, with the prior entry from July. I spent about 20 minutes on the summit reading the register and being lazy. When I started back, it seemed like I hit more gain than on the way out. This wasn't true, but I didn't realize at the time how much gain I had given up after Saddle Junction. The split was about 2500' on the way out, 1800' on the way back. I filtered some water at Tahquitz Creek on the return, but ended up not needing it. Coming down the Devils Slide, I met a baby rattlesnake crossing the trail. Not only was it the first rattler I'd ever seen in the San Jacinto wilderness, I think it was the first snake of any kind. Much better that I met it on the trail than earlier when tromping through the brush. I got back to the truck just before 4 PM, renewing my unofficial Sierra Club "I" rating. Fourty-six down and four HPS emblem peaks remaining.

Sam Fink


Red Tahquitz


San Jacinto

Rabbit, Toro, Martinez

Bushwhack back

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Mount Whitney and Wotans Throne Overnight

State High Point
Sierra Peaks Section Emblem Peak

Hiked: 8/27/2023 to 8/28/2023
Distance: 24.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 14505' (Whitney), 12730' (Wotans)
Prominence: 10078' (Whitney), 328' (Wotans)
Elevation Gain: 6930' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 5.5
Round trip time: 18 hours
Recommended water: 332 oz.
Parking/Fees: $70 Whitney camping permit 2 days
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

Leisa and I did a two-day hike to Mount Whitney and Wotans Throne. This was my first official overnight hike where I wasn't at a developed camp site. Leisa didn't want to rush it as a day hike. Our improbable trip came after a record winter washed out Whitney Portal Road and dumped record snow on the Sierras. A week before our permit date, Tropical Storm Hilary brought record rainfall to SoCal, swelling the streams and closing Whitney campgrounds. The Portal re-opened the day before our start, but we had to take a detour from Lubken Canyon Road to reach it.

We started up the Old Whitney Trail at 9 AM to bypass the first stream crossing. It is shorter than the main trail and only slightly steeper, by my lights, worth it even in normal conditions. In 0.4 miles, we intersected the main trail. The scenery was great from the jump. The other streams we crossed were full, but not overflowing as I had feared. Bits of snow lined some parts of the lower trail and we met a care free doe in the one of the meadows. We passed Lone Pine Lake, Outpost Camp, and Mirror Lake on cruise control. At Trailside Meadows, a large snow field was melting and calving. We had originally planned to camp at Consultation Lake, but decided to get as close as we could to the switchbacks. We set up our tent at Trail Camp (12,000'). Neither of us had slept at this elevation before. Our first order of business was to filter water for the night and load our day packs for the next day. We finished prep at 3 PM with a lot of daylight left. I thought I had time to climb Wotans Throne, rising directly above the lake at Trail Camp. Leisa was not interested so I set off solo.

Start of Old Whitney Trail, it goes around the left side and behind the big boulder

Lone Pine Lake below

Consultation Lake

Trail Camp

I did no prep for Wotans but thought I could handle what looked like class 3 on the west ridge. I didn't expect to see anyone else and I didn't. I scrambled above the lake and worked around a snow filled basin and a swampy area. I discovered cairns that helped me navigate around minor obstacles. I lost the cairns at the ridge and started up. It was class 2 at first on solid rock. I tried to follow a couple of ramps, but stay generally along the ridge. About half way up, I got great views of two azure blue lakes. They were half frozen and unnamed according to the maps I checked. The upper ridge moved into class 3 terrain, but there were several good options. I had to down climb 10' into chute, then out the other side, leaving only a short hop to the summit. A small pile of rocks was my reward, and fantastic views of the Whitney ridge. I continued to the end of the summit ridge to make sure the other end wasn't higher. I tried to find the marked route on the way down, but I don't think it was much different than way I ascended. The total trip from camp was about two miles and took two hours. We settled in for dinner, then relaxed until nightfall.

Wotans Throne

Starting up, the cairned route was a little further west

Unnamed blue lakes

On the summit, I visited the far point but it was lower

I think Whitney is on the far right

I barely slept a wink at night, tossing every 10-15 minutes, unable to get comfortable. Leisa slept better, but not well. For me, it was a combination of the altitude and the inflatable pillow that didn't offer enough neck support. I was lying awake for hours trying to psychically will the sun up to end my misery. The night seemed endless. It didn't get cold until just before sunrise, and even then probably not below 40F. I need to research better pillows. Finally, the first rays of sun broke and the camp began to stir. In the dawn, I could already see a line of headlamps on the 99 switchbacks, and day hikers that had started at midnight slowly ambled through. We got up and ate breakfast, then set out for the summit around 7 AM. We had been warned to be careful on the switchbacks by a friendly ranger. We had to scramble up a 12' section of rock where snow had covered a turn. We also scrambled up loose scree in three places where the trail was washed out. There were also two snow crossings, a short one we just walked over, and a longer one where microspikes gave us traction and confidence. We took a longer break at Trail Crest.

Night moves

Morning has broken

Wotans Throne left, from the lower switchbacks

We used spikes for this crossing, upper switchbacks

Despite the restless night, I was not feeling any AMS. Leisa felt a little spacey, but worked through it. The final 1.9 miles went slowly along the cliff lined and rocky trail. Between the needles, Leisa said she wasn't feeling well. We had just stopped to eat another snack and decided a 10 minute break was in order. Leisa rallied after this final break and we paused at the snow field covering the last switchback below the summit. No one was using the trail through the snow. Instead, everyone was scrambling up next to the snow field. It was the same situation we had faced on Gorgonio. We proceeded to scramble up, with only a couple class 2 moves to make it back to the trail. There were about 15 people on the summit engaged in photos and celebrations. We signed the register at the hut and took our own photos and video. Unlike my first summit, I didn't have a headache or any other AMS symptoms. I found the benchmark I had missed before. There were at least four different marks, but three of them had been vandalized and were unreadable. Iceberg Lake was a frozen blue-white ice cube. We were on the summit about 15 minutes. It took us 3 hours to get back to Trail Camp, another hour to pack up and refill water, then three more hours to the car. We finished the night at the Pizza Factory with a large special and a pitcher of Blue Moon.

Whitney side boob


Bypassing the snow field

Iceberg Lake

Lone Pine Peak left, Langley in the distance

Stats for Day 1: Portal to Trail Camp and Wotans Throne: 8.7 miles, 4430' gain, 800' loss, 7 hours
Stats for Day 2: Whitney summit, exit at Portal: 16 miles, 2500' gain, 6200' loss, 11 hours

Would you like to know more...?

See Also:
Mount Whitney Day Hike