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Castle Rocks, Black Mountain #1, Indian Mountain

26 August 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

A Mars Bonfire Custom Adventure

When I obsess, I obsess? Two days after the hike to Tahquitz Peak and Red Tahquitz, I was once again at the Idyllwild Ranger Station. Brian and I were meeting Barbara Guerin, Chris Davis, and Mars Bonfire for some brief hikes in the San Jacinto area. Barbara is getting close to a list finish, and needed Castle Rocks. The rest of us (not counting Mars, of course) are a long ways away from a list finish, and need almost any peak you can name. So nearby Black Mountain #1 and Indian Mountain were also on the agenda.

Castle Rocks is by far the loveliest of these peaks. After driving seemingly endlessly on dirt roads, we eventually reached the Fuller Ridge Trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had to unfold my map of the San Bernardino National Forest to convince myself that we hadn't simply driven around the mountains to the top of the tram. We hadn't, we were still ten or so miles west. The trail itself ran eastwards (it promised us San Jacinto Peak in 8 miles, an offer we didn't follow up on, at least, not this time), along the north side of the ridge, with tremendous views down to I-10 and across to San Gorgonio.

We eventually started passing ducks on our right, some very elaborate. But it was too soon, the use trail to Castle Rocks didn't depart until after some switchbacks. Mars was concerned, because he knew of cases where hikers had turned off for Castle Rocks too early, and gotten into some rugged terrain. Perhaps by following these very misleading ducks?

The use trail itself wasn't hard to spot, once we found the right duck, nor too hard to follow (at least, when I was following someone else who was following it), but was a bit steeper than the one up Red Tahquitz. Castle Rocks itself proved to be a beautiful peak. Here are Chris, Karen, and Barbara at the top:

Mars had already been up and retrieved the register:

Barbara and I skimmed through the register, looking at the older entries. The first one in the book was Mars -- this had been his 147th peak, back in 1997, before he ever finished the list. Elsewhere, we found a day when Mars had been to the peak, then later Edith and Dorothy, who had inadvertently done a pathfinder and missed Mars. (The misleading ducks had misled!)

Mars wanted to follow slowly, to do some trimming, so I led the way down. That use trail was suddenly a lot harder to spot, when I didn't have anyone to follow. But Barbara pointed out a few key ducks to me, and we worked our way down. On the way back along the PCT, she and Mars took turns obliterating the misleading ducks we'd seen on our way in. Revenge is sweet.

Back at the cars, we retraced our bumpy way several miles, and turned off towards Black Mountain. Mars proposed we head up cross-country, so I would consider the peak worthy of my efforts (I'd been making some dopey remarks about not liking hiking on roads or some such), but Chris' knee was still a little wonky, so common sense prevailed, and we headed up the road. Turned out Barbara had already done the peak twice cross-country, so the road was actually a pathfinder for her.

We were disappointed but not surprised to find the lookout locked up and empty -- we'd been hoping there might be a volunteer there on a Sunday. But we could still admire the views.

Mars attempted to identify Castle Rocks using map and compass:

But all the metal in the lookout interfered -- the compass indicated Castle Rocks to be located in a saddle. Yeah, sure, right. Oh well.

Barbara didn't need Black Mountain #1, but she does need Black Mountain #4 and Black Mountain #6, so I suggested she just hike back up and down the road ten times, combining four trips into #4 and the next six trips into #6.

Little did I know that the dirt roads we'd been on would seem like super highways, compared to the one in store for us. Next stop: Indian Mountain. Out to the highway, then down, the forest giving way to brushier more desert-like terrain. And then a narrow, bumpy, dusty road that just went on and on and on, brush brushing the sides of the car, through a saddle and then up to a small parking area, across the road from a duck.

I was a little concerned about the brush, so even though the peak was supposed to be close, grabbed my pack, figuring I could swap into my long pants if things got too scratchy. Barbara led. When we were, oh, twenty feet from the peak, she asked me if I thought we'd make it OK, if we had enough water. "I even have my headlamp!" I chirped.

Three new peaks for most of us, definitely a successful day:

Part of the reason I'd made it in OK in my shorts, not having to swap to the long pants, is that the trail was very well trimmed. How does that happen? Surely not due to the efforts of the Mad Arborist:

(Mars, thanks! How could we do this without you?)

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