Leaders: Joe Young, Jim Fleming
Three hikers met at Scissors Crossing, east of Julian, at 11:00 am on a rainy, stormy weekend. While it was not raining in this area, skies were threatening and overcast. The preference of Jim Fleming and David Reneric was to bag Granite, so that's what we decided to do. Jim is a qualified leader, so he acted as assistant, substituting for Wynne Benti who was home assessing damage to her house from the prior rainy weekend.
We drove to the roadhead for route 2 and left my vehicle and David's there. Jim's friend Ellen drove us to the roadhead for route 3 in her plush vehicle, license plate "LNS VAN." She was not feeling well and left us at the roadhead and drove back to Julian. I checked my flashlight and discovered my batteries were weak, so Jim gave me fresh batteries. The three of us began our hike at 12:25 pm, following the directions for route 3, the Washburne route.
We hiked up a dry creek bed, heading west, and began to gain elevation. As we did clouds surrounded us and visibility became greatly restricted, sometimes as little as 20 or 30 feet. We reached what appeared to be the ridge top and then climbed one bump on the ridge. Keeping to the ridge top we finally found ourselves heading in the proper direction to reach the summit. By this point all navigation was by dead reckoning. I had a map, compass, flashlight and altimeter (which I had calibrated at the roadhead). Jim had a compass and a map, and David had a compass which glowed in darkness.
Still climbing the ridge we broke above the clouds at perhaps 5,400' elevation. We spotted the summit and climbed toward it, arriving at 3:55 pm. The scene from the summit was spectacular, with clouds swirling below us and glistening peaks in the distance. A total annular eclipse of the sun was in progress and we could see the dragon taking a large bite out of the sun. However we knew that we must not dally on the summit because we were already faced with some night-time hiking as it was. We were able to see the correct ridge to head for and we began our descent via route 2. At about 4:15 pm we left the summit, and shortly descended into clouds. Again we were in total white-out conditions. Occasionally we would see some vague form we thought would be a ridge or bump on a ridge only to find we were looking at a large bush or tree just a short distance away. I hiked with map, compass, altimeter, and soon flashlight at all times. The three of us constantly shared observations and proceeded slowly northeastward down the ridge. At one point I felt we had gone far enough and decided to descend slopes, hoping to drop into drainage leading to the large wash adjacent to the roadhead. We were soon in total darkness, and used the flashlight constantly. If we were not battling treacherous footing, we were avoiding cholla, descending slick waterfalls, or plowing through brush. I became brain weary from routefinding and David led for a while. The terrain slowly but surely transformed itself from undefined slope to narrow, then wider creek bed. We rejoiced at the first stretch of soft sand and relatively pleasant walking. But we did encounter some more steep waterfalls, and the going remained slow.
Gradually the wash became well defined and more level. We could see faint lights in the distance. The wash became wider and very level, and we knew we were off the mountain. At last I sensed it was time to leave the wash and look for structures and we climbed up the left bank and immediately saw a dark form which proved to be a small water storage tank. Nearby was the house I had visited a week earlier when scouting, the one with the "Our Place" sign at the cul-de-sac near our vehicles. At 8:15 pm three weary, wet and greatly relieved hikers arrived at our vehicles and drove out.
Before the hike began Ellen had inquired about when to start worrying about us, and I foolishly said 6 pm! Jim told her 7 pm. After returning to the vehicles we knew we should contact Ellen, and since she was back at the Julian Hotel we stopped at a couple of houses and Jim asked to use a telephone to call her, but the owners refused to let him in. We saw a pay phone along the highway going back to Julian and Jim called Ellen, who was at that very moment talking to a sheriff in the hotel lobby. We were able to stop any search party from forming.
After driving back to Julian we all went over to the Rongbranch and quaffed some libations. We were too late for dinner. Jim, Ellen and David stayed in Julian that night, while I camped nearby. Any thoughts of hiking Whale the next day had been dashed by our day's ordeal and by rainy weather.