The trip originally scheduled for the weekend of April 27-28 had to be canceled due to unusually high snow levels left from the March storms. Conditions were especially bad on Cobblestone where the entire north face was covered with a few feet of snow which was far too dangerous to attempt from any direction. Since David Eisenberg was leading the same trip 2 weeks later, I decided not to reschedule the trip.
Fortunately for David, 2 weeks of unusually warm weather occurred after that weekend allowing him to proceed with his trip. This was the only weekend Janet and I had available and we contemplated going on it but I felt like doing something different this time. So we decided to do a private backpack up Buck Creek, one of my favorite places. Our friend Liz Vanhagen decided to come along with us as well.
At the HPS meeting, David announced a change of plans might occur with his trip due to snow along the Sewart Mtn Road. That prompted Evan Samuels to join us and then on Friday evening I got a call from Dan Richter who asked if he and Mitch Helbrecht could come along. That brought the total to 6 and I really didn't want to take anyone away from David's trip. Besides, I didn't know what routes I might be taking and whether we would do any peaks at all.
Janet, Liz, Evan and I met Friday night in Gorman and drove over to the newly rebuilt Hardluck CG (#3) which is 2 miles up from the location of the previous one (#2). It was completely empty. (Hardluck #1 was located where the road crosses Piru Ck). That night we decided to walk the first 2 miles of the trail which is the old dirt road that follows Piru Creek downstream to the previous camp location. This is a fairly easy night walk but with a pitch black and silent night one had that "feet moving without going anywhere" feeling. We arrived around 11 pm, found a nice oak tree to camp under and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning we awoke early as the warming sun fell on the glistening cottonwood trees along the creek which were contrasted by the dark pitted sandstone cliffs above Piru Gorge. The temperature was close to freezing as we packed and ate breakfast. Dan and Mitch marched in on schedule around 7 and joined us. Behind them was Bob Sumner and Dorothy Pallas who were going to day hike Cobblestone and White.
The 8 of us set off up the newly rebuilt Buck Ck Trail as it follows the wash up into the mouth of the canyon. We passed spectacular displays of Lupine, wall flowers, paintbrush and mule ears on the more open areas and long sloping fields of larkspur and baby blue eyes further up the canyon. The out of state contractors who rebuilt this trail were evidently unfamiliar with local geology as they choose a very unstable slope on which to build a new section. Fortunately it is not a critical link because it will be totally gone in another year or two. We worked our way over several large slide areas and finally made the first crossing of cascading Buck Ck with its clear, cold water flowing swiftly over the rounded white granitic rock. With the crossing to the east side of the canyon the terrain swiftly changes from chaparral covered sedimentary formations to oak and spruce shaded slopes of white granite reminiscent of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains.
The paradoxical naming of White and Black Mtns on opposite sides of Buck Ck can be attributed to the unique geology of this region. The large metamorphic uplift of White Mtn is part of a ridge that bends over to the west and includes Sewart Mtn and McDonald Pk. Numerous faults connecting with the San Andreas/San Gabriel rift zones crisscross all around these peaks producing violent clashes between the predominate sandstone formations of the Southern Coastal Range and this island of Mesozoic granite. As we proceeded further up the canyon where the trail rises high above the creek, views over this highly varied topology gave us moments of inspiration.
The trail is shaded by oaks and Douglas Fir with broad leaf maples in some of the alcoves. Not a true fir nor a spruce tree, the Douglas Fir is a common sight in Southern California especially on shady lower elevation slopes such as these. As the temperature rose we began to peel the layers of warm clothing. Bob and Dorothy, needing to return that day, took off by themselves while the rest of us proceeded at a more moderate pace.
The trail descends back into the canyon bottom where a deep green canopy of alders, sycamores and cottonwoods with blackberries, currants and some poison oak crowded around the deep clear pools along the creek. They would be great for a dip if the water wasn't so cold. We took a break at Buck Ck campsite (not shown on the map) which has one table and stove on a well shaded bench near the stream. It was a nearly ideal location except that it would make it much further to do the peaks, so we continued for another 2 miles of enchanting walking up the gradual canyon to the old Buck Ck campsite at the former junction with the Divide Trail.
There is a small grassy clearing in this thickly wooded area next to a delicious spring. Remnants of an old tin box stove are all that is left and a wooden post with no sign mark where the Divide Trail once joined. Any attempt to follow that trail quickly led the hiker into an unsavory patch of wild rose. We had a snack and repacked our day packs before taking off around 10:30 to do Cobblestone and White.
At this junction, the trail begins its steep ascent to the ridge top. We followed the new switchbacks as clouds began to shade us. Soon the small depression where the trail joins the ridge was reached and from there we switched on to the old White Mtn Trail which hasn't been worked on in decades.
There were recent footprints in the fine sand and I guessed about 6 people, probably David's group, were in front of us.
After see-sawing along the ridge we came to the turnoff point for Cobblestone. If the HPS ever had an emblem peak, this would be it. This massive mound of conglomerate formations stands impressively alone and is cut off from the granite ridge of White Mtn by an 800' deep "saddle". Near the bottom of the saddle, near vertical sedimentary formations form an immense wall like that of a fortress separating the 2 distinct rock formations. We worked our way down the old Cobblestone Tr which is badly in need of repair, crossed over and began the long, tiring ascent to its 6730' summit.
After crossing into the conglomerate zone which gives the peak its name we passed bright green manzanita bushes full of delicate clumps of pink blossoms. There we met David and his party of 6 who had just descended. After the usual greetings and chitchat, we slowly climbed the sugar pine covered slope dotted with small mounds of snow as clouds above us began to thicken.
We reached the summit around 1 and immediately began to put on every piece of warm clothing we had. These were not rain clouds, just an unusually thick marine layer. The clouds had partly shrouded the peak but we could still see the deep canyon where Agua Blanca Creek flows in a great semi-circle around it. This is one of the finest and most wild summits on the list. Embedded deep into wilderness, the area is almost in total isolation from the rest of Southern California which is why it is so special to me.
We reluctantly left around 1:30 and followed our steps back down to the saddle. From there we continued to follow David's route straight up to the ridge and then back along the trail to the top of White Mtn. By this time the clouds had nearly cleared and the warming sun began to shine on us again. We enjoyed the fine views in all directions before our descent.
Instead of following the trail back down, we took the west ridge over bump 5668' and continued NW down back to camp from there. The route went well except for some brush along the ridge near the top. On the way down I strayed a little too far to the south and had to traverse back to the much safer NW ridge. It took a little longer than expected but we were back in camp by 6.
We had a modest but delightful community salad and each cooked their own dinner. Bear and rodent footprints are everywhere so we hung our food even though these animals are very shy around humans and are rarely seen. Instead of a campfire, I lit my lantern and we sat (or slept) in our bags until 9 when we all went to sleep.
This spot is an ideal camping location for several reasons. It has the unique advantage of having both early morning and late evening sun. After breakfast, we packed up and put on our day packs again for the attempt up Black and Snowy. I still did not have a firm route in mind even after scouting carefully the previous day as we descended from White. There were many desirable ridges but the approach on most of them were very brushy. We started off downstream from camp for about 1/4 mile to where a tributary meets the canyon at elevation 4100' (near the "k" on creek). There seemed a clear path by following the stream bed to the base of the peak and up a ridge to the summit.
We left the trail and hiked up the canyon where a small spring was flowing. It was an enchanting walk as we stayed in the cool shady ravine. We passed over a few 2-3 step slanted falls (fun), took the right fork at elevation 4500' and continued up until it got too steep. We then ascended the ridge where two forks join at 4750' which worked out very well. The slope was grassy and we quickly gained elevation by staying on deer and bear trails. There were no clouds this day and the full brunt of the May sun was upon us making us pause more often for water. As we approached the ridge, brush began to get heavier so we worked our way over to the more open areas to the north. We had to push our way through a few bushes but no serious impediments impaired our progress and we finally reached the ridge around 10 am. From there we followed the trail of amputated brush limbs 1/4 mile to the summit of Black and signed in.
We left about 20 minutes later after enjoying the views out towards the Antelope Valley where fields of bright orange poppies were in bloom. We followed the well trodden path down into the saddle, then up to Snowy. Along the way we ran into David & Co. once again and exchanged greetings. The peak was reached about 1, time for another short lunch break.
From Snowy, we descended back down the same ridge to elevation 5750' and then took the south ridge from there down into the canyon at elevation 4600'. This ridge worked out very well with almost no brush and an easy, consistent slope. We followed the stream bed down for about 1/4 mile then turned south and once again hit the main Buck Creek tributary. The old trail from this point is long gone but it is not difficult going down from there as we stayed slightly up on the south slope where good animal trails were found. We had to push our way through 2 bushes to connect back to the main trail and our camp a few feet away.
We took a well deserved rest before packing up and leaving. The trail was completely deserted as on the way in and we enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere of this delightful wilderness. Aching feet, though, made the appearance of the campground and our cars a most welcome sight. We were all back by 6 pm.
This route is not for everyone. It is harder than the normal way and involves quite a lot of route finding. But for those who can truly appreciate a remarkable wilderness so close to home, it will be a great alternative. I have one request: leave the land as wild as you found it. Please, don't build ducks or clip bushes (unless along a designated trail). If you haven't done so, please write Sen. John Seymour and urge your support for full protection of the Los Padres Wilderness Bill.
(Special thanks to Bob Michael for a quick geology lesson.)