Leaders: David Eisenberg, Carleton Shay
62 miles! 14,500' gain! 4 days! Why do we do this to ourselves?
The 4 days for this trip was made possible by the extraordinary help of Jennifer Lambelet and Roy Stewart. Roy and Jennifer had arranged to meet me Monday to do Antimony and Eagle Rest. We then went to Maricopa for a stay in the Best Western. We had planned to do Caliente on Tuesday, then set up the car shuttle. However, between some laundry I left behind and the horrible drive to set up the shuttle, we had no time to hike. Our only reward was discovering the fresh strawberries near Santa Paula. Jennifer and Roy left their cars at the trailend for the Big 3 while I drove back to the motel for the evening. Barbara Pedersen was checked into the motel and joined us for some Chinese food.
Wednesday am, we drove to the trailhead where we met Carleton Shay, Barbara Reber, and David Jensen. Barbara had driven all that way only to discover that Montezuma had his revenge that morning for a trip 2 weeks before. So we lost one without even hiking.
We began hiking at 0733. Carleton and I had decided that the easiest hiking would be up the road to Chokecherry rather than the Madulce Trail. Ten minutes later, Barbara Pedersen realized that her broken ribs had not healed enough to handle a backpack and was forced to turn back. Obviously, no one named Barbara was going to be able to make this trip this year!
The weather was cool and there was a nice breeze, so we were able to make good time. We reached the road junction at 0925 and arrived at Chokecherry at 1155, just in time for lunch. There had been a landslide at the spring and the tank was filled up. Those of us who had camped there before hoped that this would have scared off the resident frog (except for Roy of course). The water was flowing extremely fast. It was possible to fill up a 3 gallon container in less than 1 minute! This was a big difference from last year when it took 5 minutes for a quart.
We departed for Samon at 1232 and reached the peak at 1534. Exhaustion and repairs to the trail accounted for much of the extra time. We left Samon at 1555 and returned to Chokecherry at 1749. We had entertained the possibility of hiking another 2 miles to the Madulce Saddle, but we would have had to carry water and we were ready to dig into our dinner supplies.
The wind came up and the temperature dropped into the 40's. Just at sunset, the frog started in. Suddenly, we noticed that there were 2 of them! 2 years previously, I searched for them with a flashlight. All that noise was made by frogs less than 1 inch long! However, there is nothing like a strenuous hike to help one ignore the most obnoxious noise.
We started hiking Thursday am at 0733. It was quite cold, contributing to a conflicting desire to stay in our bags all day and to begin hiking at a brisk pace. We arrived at the Madulce Saddle at 0816 where we took a break and enjoyed a sheltered spot out of the wind. We started for Madulce at 0830 and arrived at 1000. The wind was quite cold on the summit and none of us showed much desire for exploring the summit. We left the peak at 1017 and returned to our packs at 1140. The trail was in good condition. 2 of the larger trees which we had encountered the year before were still on the trail. However, the rest of the rockfall and treefall had been removed. We left Madulce saddle at 1154 and arrived at Alamar Campground at 1222, just in time for lunch. I was anxious to return to this spot as I had dropped a penknife and compass while taking a split break the year before. I had thought they would be easy to find as there was a splintered tree at the spot. However, fallen pine needles made the hunt impossible. Perhaps if they weren't both black...
We left Alamar campground at 1300 and arrived at the takeoff point for Big Pine at 1400. We dropped our packs and headed up the road at 1410. We stayed on the summit between 1434 and 1448, and arrived back at the packs at 1459. By this time we were getting good at repacking our day packs and were ready to leave at 1502. We hiked for all of 13 minutes to the takeoff point for Big Pine Campground. We had reports of a good water source, but were unable to find it, even after dropping 300'. We took some of the water from the stream running through the campground after the tank, but we gave it extra treatment. We continued along the road toward West Big Pine at 1606, reaching the summit and our campground at 1657. At the turnoff for West Big Pine, we saw a crazy sign indicating only 9 miles to McKinley Spring! This new sign was an obvious error. I hope that the extra 7 miles of hiking do not get anyone in trouble.
West Big Pine is what the trip was all about. This is the most spectacular of all HPS peaks. The cliff drops over 1000'. There are panoramic views to the South and of The Big 3. The swifts love to zip past the cliff face. The sunset was spectacular. So was the sunrise. Normally, you only get to spend 20 or 30 minutes at this magnificent spot when doing the Big 4. We got to spend the whole night! 14 hours and 5 minutes! Good thing no one sleepwalked on our trip or it would be a long first step!
Friday, we maintained our 0733 starting time. None of us on this trip had ever hiked the trail between West Big Pine and San Rafael, so we had no idea how long it would take or where we would camp. We were hoping to get to Cold Spring by McKinley Mountain, so that we would be done hiking on Saturday, but we were prepared to end up at Mission Springs. The previous cold wind disappeared and left us with sweltering heat as we went up and down the roller coaster trail. The vegetation changed back into chaparral.
We reached Mission Springs at 1400 and decided to continue. We met a couple who had been backpacking for the previous 6 days. They told us they were going to camp atop San Rafael because of the beautiful view and pine trees. Those of us who had done the Big 3 gave them questioning looks but decided to hold our peace. We reached the top of San Rafael at 1520 and departed at 1535, arriving at McKinley saddle at 1618. This gave us enough time to climb McKinley before heading for camp. We reached the top at 1648, left at 1701 and regained the saddle at 1732.
We arrived at Cold Spring at 1732. Wayne Norman came along on his bicycle and joined us for the night and for the hike to Santa Cruz the following day. We enjoyed a campfire and relaxed in the knowledge that we would indeed be out by this time the next day.
Saturday, we departed from tradition and left camp at 0600 in order to beat the heat on Santa Cruz. (It didn't work!) We reached the top of Santa Cruz at 0855. There was, as usual just enough room for our group and we wondered how well the next group would be able to fit. We left for camp at 0908.
We arrived at camp at 1210, just in time to meet Alan Coles and his group who had arrived shortly before and were preparing to climb San Rafael and McKinley. We exchanged greetings briefly. Then they left us to our task of packing up.
We were ready to go at 1313. Wayne took group pictures with each of our cameras before heading downhill on his bicycle. We knew that the Strawberry stands closed at 6 pm and that lent speed to our hiking. We made it to our cars at 1623.
The car shuttle back took almost 4 hours, including a stop for strawberries and fast food in Santa Paula. (Left at 1648, arrived 2020.) David Jensen decided to spend the night and drive up Cuyama in the morning. The rest of us headed home.
Thanks to Carleton Shay for his able assist. Thanks to David Jensen for keeping the time statistics for our hike. Thanks to Jennifer Lambelet and Roy Stewart for helping with the car shuttle. And thanks to all for the great hike.