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Caliente Mountain, McPherson Peak, Peak Mountain

12-13 January 2002

By: George Wysup

More Tick Experiments

As are most other areas of the So Cal mountains in the winter, the Cuyama valley area is teeming with ticks. A group of HPS hikers proved this on a Jan 12 trip to Caliente Mtn and a Jan 13 hike to McPherson Peak and Peak Mtn.

Synopsis: I plucked 20 ticks from my clothing on Caliente and 17 ticks on the McPherson Peak trail hike while positioned at the front of the group. Other participants noted very few ticks. We found very few ticks on the return trip via the same route.

16 hikers went to Caliente Mtn via route 2, through an oil field and around the Selby ranch. This was the second time for me and (HPS Treasurer) Sandy Burnside by this route. Assistant leader Larry Hoak had also gone this way 25 years ago. His memory proved quite sharp and he improved somewhat on the route I had followed in Oct of 2000.

This route goes through a rather bleak landscape of rolling ridges and gullies, through soft sedimentary deposits with occasional soft sandstone layers that tend to form steep cliffs. The trick is to avoid the really difficult outcrops. We found the rocks to contain rather recent (100,000 years ago?) seashells.

Other participants were Pat Brea, Kathy Brown, Dave Cannon, Jeff Clyman, Tom Connery, Bill Faulkner, Laura Joseph, Jim Kalember, John Meehan, Zobeida Molina, Martin Parsons, Gary Schenk, and Sheldon Slack. This strong group took 7 hours 45 minutes to reach the peak and return to the vehicles, including a 45 minute lunch on the summit, and we wasted little time on correcting navigation errors. Compare this with the estimated time given in the peak guide of 6 to 8 hours. I suggest that the 6 hours can mislead a group trying this route for the first time. Slower hikers should add an hour in planning this trip.

We sped through the oil field to the entrance to the, seemingly abandoned, Selby ranch, then followed the fence eastward until we came to a fence junction that appeared to mark the end of the Selby property. Selby ranch became a Nature Conservancy property a few years ago. At this point we opened a gate, passed through, and secured the gate behind us. Then we followed use trails up a gully to the northeast for perhaps 1/2 mile, then climbed to the top of the easy ridge to the right, leaving behind several head of cattle who are responsible for the trail. The tick encounters began here, I presume because the ticks had not had an opportunity to jump onto the cattle.

We followed the slightly rolling ridge to about the 2900' elevation, where we spotted the sandstone outcrop that the peak guide describes as froglike. We speculated inconclusively on the amphibian or reptile that it most resembles. In any case, the rock is unmistakable. This was the signal that it was time to cross the gully to the right to pick up the east-trending ridge. After some thrashing about we found a fine class 1 way down to the gully. This route starts just a few feet before reaching the froglike rock, and continues down to an obvious spot to cross.

Obvious or no, the crossing is a bit tricky. The gully's banks are quite steep on both sides. By proceeding back to the south for a few meters we found a rather easy place to cross. The route to the summit from this point is quite apparent -- and quite steep, though it goes class 1 all the way. We passed through increasing juniper forest (offering opportunity for concealed split breaks) until we noted the decaying summit shack (dating from the 1940's) and made a bee line for it, avoiding the route 1 road.

The day was cool and some stratus clouds blocked the sun partially. The air was clear enough that we could see the snow on the high Sierra summits, though Bakersfield was enshrouded in thick fog. We basked in this atmosphere for a while, then we were joined by a pair of strong-looking mountain bikers who ascended the road. They seemed amazed that such a motley group could make the ascent on foot in the same time as their virile bodies on bicycles. They would undoubtedly have a huge advantage on the descent.

The return was quite easy without the pull of gravity and the minor uncertainties in the route behind us. Returning to the gate we found a small herd of our bovine buddies. They were protected by a long horned bull. The unfriendly glare in his eyes suggested that he believed we might covet some of his wives. The pawing at the dirt, reminiscent of a toro facing a matador, reinforced our uneasy feeling. We very quickly scrambled through the gate and secured it before we began taunting the bull and brandishing our banderillas (hiking poles) in his direction. Zobeida waved her red bandana as menacingly as she could.

We were back at the cars before 4 p.m. Sandy's altimeter indicated that the trip elevation gain was 4000', almost exactly. It was too early for most of us to stop at the Buckhorn restaurant in New Cuyama to celebrate, so we proceeded to the Motel 8 in Maricopa where many of us had reservations. The motel is not bad, the proprietor is accommodating, and the price is lower than the Buckhorn.

McPherson and Peak
I wanted to lead a trip to these two mighty "drive up" peaks that would require actual walking. This was intended to satisfy a growing number of HPS hikers who have concluded that driving a long, bumpy dirt road to an ugly summit is absurd (thin about it -- don't they have a point?). I had previously hiked this route about 4 years ago with Joe Young and Bobcat Thompson leading.

Eleven of us from the previous day's Caliente trip stayed to do this. Departed were Larry, Kathy, Jeff, Jim, and Gary, who all had better things to do. Sandy took over as leader. The hike was billed as O-rated, all on trail and road. We arrived at Aliso campground and started hiking shortly after 8 a.m. We started south on "Hog Pen" trail. I, the great leader, began by emulating mentor Joe Young in marching past the correct turn off and proceeded to waste many minutes before I corrected this bungle. The correct way is as follows: Immediately after exiting the campground onto the obvious jeep road (route 3 start), note a similarly obvious trail that goes sharply to the right. Take this trail to the summit of McPherson.

Well, it isn't quite that easy. The trail is about 4 miles long and follows the top of a ridge all the way to the summit. The first 2 miles are open and easy to follow. The absence of trail maintenance now begins to show. The trail becomes more and more overgrown with brush and takes a zig here and a zag there to avoid some tangles. It almost totally disappears in a few places, but the traces are there and you know it follows the ridge. There was an abundance of ticks. My place of honor at the head of the group went unchallenged, even by the noted challenger Laura Joseph. We finally reached the summit at 11:40, 3 hours after beginning to hike the proper route.

I perceived a possible problem with darkness, which I explained to the unruly mob of participants. It is about 3.5 miles to Peak Mountain. We need to go there and return to McPherson no later than 3 p.m. to begin our return to Aliso in order to reach our vehicles before darkness falls (forgive me, Mars). That is 3 hours and 20 minutes to hike the 7 miles, including eating lunch. I set a turnaround time of 1:20 p.m., Peak or no Peak. OK, call me conservative.

This mob was now transformed into a group on a mission. I had over-motivated them. They were off and running. No more complaints of tired legs or extreme hunger. They wanted that peak! I showed them the firebreak shortcut to the road, pointed out Pea in the distance, and paused briefly for a personal split break. When I turned around they were barely visible, well down the road. I hied after them in a futile attempt to retake the lead. I am sure that Martin Parsons set a new record for hiking from McPherson to Peak: 1 hour flat. The others were right on his heels. We began our lunch at about 12:45. We headed back down that "trail" from McPherson at 2:30, Sandy now having usurped the lead from me. We reached the vehicles before 4:30 and lived happily ever after.

Leader Sandy was the only one to attract a solitary tick on the return. This, as well as the Caliente experience on the previous day, reinforces my conclusion that ticks are very slow to reposition themselves from the ground once they have made an unsuccessful jump for a meal.

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