Leaders: Rick Anglin, Bob Henderson
Mission "Big Four". Nine stalwart souls accepted the challenge of 48 miles and 8000 feet of gain. They enjoyed what turned out to be a truly remarkable trip.
The trip began Thursday evening, March 24th, at the locked gate in Santa Barbara Canyon. Bob Henderson, Rick Anglin, Karen Nikisher and Roy Stewart arrived at about 6:30PM to find Bobby Dubeau already there. Bobby had climbed nearby Fox Mountain #1 that day just to stretch his legs before beginning this trip. Jon Fredland soon arrived to join the hike up to the campsite at the intersection of Big Pine and Sierra Madre Roads, about 4.5 miles and 1760 feet of gain away. Fortunately, the moon was bright and the road could be walked comfortably without using a flashlight.
Bobby and Jon shouldered their packs and disappeared into the night. Bob Henderson had brought his golf cart to carry his pack up the hill; Karen and Roy had a four wheeled trash cart. Unfortunately, what appeared to be good ideas from the comfort of the living room couch did not quite work out as planned. One wheel on Bob's cart kept collapsing because of the load. About half way to the campsite, Bob shouldered his pack and pulled his now unladened cart behind him. Needless to say, the wheel did not collapse once Bob was carrying his pack - and they say that machines have no soul!
Meanwhile, somewhere in the darkness, the axle bushing on Karen and Roy's trash cart shattered. Fighting the "wobble, wobble, wobble" for only a short time, the cart was soon stashed over the berm under the brush to be retreived in as few days. Now that the HPS "natural order" had been restored (heavy packs and a long way to go), the group marched on into the night.
About 9:30PM, Karen, Roy, Bob and Rick found Jon and Bobby at the campsite bundled against the cold. The temperature that night fell to around freezing. As we all threw out our sleeping bags, Don Holmes, David Busdeicker, and Bob Beach walked into camp to complete the group.
Early the next morning we set out for Chokecherry Springs. For those who have not visited this spa in the mountains, it consists of a holding tank (a jet engine shipping case) and a watering trough. Water runs, and I use the term loosely, from a pipe to the trough. On Friday it took about three minutes to get a gallon of water from the pipe. No one, perhaps not even the animals, would take water from the trough.
Everyone loaded up on water, some carrying as much as ten liters. We then staggered the 1.75 miles and 700 feet up to the saddle near Madulce Peak, our Friday evening campsite. After eating lunch in the noonday sun, we set off with daypacks for Madulce.
The trail to Madulce Peak drops down into the trees (800 feet) before climbing up to the summit (1150 feet of gain). The group made the 6.0 mile round trip and the 1950 total gain in good time. We were back to our campsite by 4:00PM. As the sun dropped below the horizon, we were all soon in down parkas and gloves. One of the most amazing parts of this trip were the daily temperature swings of 40 to 50°. Up to the 80's during the day and down to the 30's at night.
Soon after sunrise, Saturday morning, the group set out on the 16 mile round trip to Big Pine and West Big Pine Mountains. From the saddle we descended 650 feet to Alamar Guard Station before heading west toward the summits. Walking under the trees in the cool of the morning was delightful. We found patches of snow, some still rather large, across the road at several points.
On the summit of Big Pine Mountain we faced a choice of going back to the main road, the way we had come (an easy walk), or of dropping down the west slope directly to the road, thereby saving about a mile of walking. We had all heard stories about the brush on the west slope. However, daring won out and down the slope we went. The forest bed was soft and moist. This made the walking quite pleasureable. About 200 yards from the road we were in densely packed poplars. Bob Henderson and his large loppers were in the lead so the rest of the group had a fairly clear path to follow. A compass bearing of due west leads to where we went. We soon reached the road, changed into shorts, and marched on to West Big Pine Mountain.
The view from the top of West Big Pine is truly spectacular. The sun was warm; the sky clear. We could see the Santa Ynez Valley, the offshore islands, the snow capped peaks of the southern Sierras. Visibility was over a hundred miles in all directions.
Still dazed by the view, the group walked back to Alamar Guard Station to have lunch before facing the climb back to Madulce Saddle in the hot sun. It turned out not to be as bad as everyone expected. Soon we were all at the saddle and hefting our big packs to head back to Chokecherry Springs. Everyone was back to the springs by 1:30PM. In the midst of refilling water bottles, the decision was made: we would go for Samon Peak this afternoon so that the group could hike out to the gate in the cool of the morning. By this time, the spring was delivering a gallon of water in about five minutes.
We started up the steep scree and boulder slope about 2:30PM. Although only about 500 feet high, it seemed to take forever since everyone had to take time to be sure of his or her footing. At the top of the chute, we all donned brush clothing and headed up to the ridge. This route had not been clipped in three years and it showed. Bob Henderson's loppers got quite a workout, along with several pairs of clippers. In some places the brush was over eight feet high, with new growth intruding into the trail for over two feet. The group cleared a tremendous amount of brush, but those of you who follow us should be prepared to clip more.
The sun was quite low by the time everyone reached the summit of Samon Peak. For Don Holmes, Samon had special significance - bagging Samon left him with only one peak to go to finish the HPS list. Don bagged four of his last five peaks on this trip (and finished the List on Arctic Point on April 9th).
The leaders would especially like to thank Don for his help in route finding on Samon, and for his vigorous attack on the brush monsters.
Daylight was long gone by the time the group got back to the head of the scree and boulder chute. Fortunately, the moon was bright enough that the chute could be negotiated safely without flashlights. We climbed down in two smaller groups to minimise the rockfall danger. Everyone was back to camp by 7:00PM, safe but tired. Saturday had been quite a day: 19 miles and 3,750 of gain, 1600 feet of which had been through brush. We had hiked over 11 hours, not counting breaks, summit time and lunch. The camp was soon quiet as everyone bedded down for the night, snug in the knowledge that the "Big Four" had been bagged and all we had to do was walk out.
Early Sunday morning we did just that. Although the breeze was quite cool, the sun was warm. The group hiked the remaining 11 miles out in 3.5 hours. We were all eating the watermelon which had been stashed in Jon's truck by 10:30AM.
On the way down, Bob retreived his golf cart. As you might expect, it carried his pack downhill just fine. Karen and Roy retreived their trash cart and lashed it to Bob's golf cart for the trip out.
The leaders would also like to thank all of the trip participants for joining in their insanity. The group was extremely strong and bagged in good style with great companions.
Such a great trip needs nothing further. But Jon, Bobby, Karen, Roy, Bob, and Rick drove up to Cuyama Peak Lookout before dining at the crossroads taco stand in Maricopa - good value for the money but no Michelin star.