Alan Coles, Frank Goodykoontz
This was a good trip for those who wanted to do interesting routes of these fine summits. As it turned out, most of the participants on this outing had indeed done them before but not by the routes used on this excursion.
Eight people (Roy Stewart, Jennifer Lambelet, Greg Gerlach, Martin Feather, Cristy Bird, Jack Haddad and the 2 leaders) met at the Cedar Spring Trailhead in the Desert Divide area at 7 am on a warm spring morning. We left a few minutes later and began our ascent up to the PCT with the sun just beginning to come over the crest. There were a rich variety of flowers in bloom including penstemons, woolly blue curls, lupines, phlox, monkey flowers, yuccas and many others too numerous to name. After a short break at the saddle where the wind was unusually still, we headed south a short ways when Ron Zappen finally caught up with us. With this reasonably sized group of fairly strong hikers, we took the standard ridge to the summit of Pyramid reaching it at 9.
After enjoying fine views on top, we descended the same ridge and continued on to Pine reaching it exactly 1 hour later. From Pine, we retraced our steps back to the PCT and continued south again before leaving it at the saddle and scurrying up to the summit of Lion reaching it by 11. There we took our first lunch break.
From Lion, we descended back to the PCT and headed north running into a few backpackers along the way. We continued on and up the relentless hill to Palm View with the mighty sun beating down on us. Just as we entered the first grove of White Fir trees, the air unexpectedly cooled and a few clouds appeared overhead. Suddenly we seemed to be in a different state! We enjoyed the change of climate and flora as we walked through meadows and forest to this most inappropriately named peak (Jennifer proposed the theory that it was named for "palms" as in "hands" because that is all you can see from the top).
After taking the 2nd of our lunch breaks, we left around 1:45 and began treading new ground for most of us. I knew roughly where the new "horse" trail comes up from Cone Pk and headed in that general direction. Frank said he had been on "the" trail before and felt it would be further down in the gully that runs down to Morris Ranch. We left the PCT at the high point just west of the peak and headed down the ridge in an open meadow towards Cone. We found part of the trail then left it where it goes over a saddle to the west side of the ridge. After descending about 100 feet and finding no evidence of the trail I was looking for, I went over to the ridge and noticed we were on the wrong one. Frank and I had a short discussion and came to realize that we were talking about 2 different trails! Frank has been on another trail that leads directly to Morris Ranch and thought that was the one I was looking for (he had not heard about the other one yet). So we quickly retraced our steps and got back onto "the" trail which was in very good shape. This surprised Frank and made everyone else a little less nervous.
There is little doubt that this trail was made for horses. Large oak branches up to 12 inches had been cut and there was extensive tread work. Indeed, it was in better shape than the PCT. Unfortunately, it was also very illegal. The builders (most likely residents of the Morris Ranch subdivision) built it without approval from the Forest Service. The Forest Service is aware of the trail and plans to "remove" it by doing a controlled burn over the area. I do not know what punitive action the Forest Service may take, if any, but anything of this magnitude could result in a stiff jail term.
Hikers can certainly use it with impunity as we did. We followed it down to where the standard route goes up to Cone. This required a considerable effort of 800' but still a significant savings in time and effort from having to come back again and climb it from the bottom. We reached the summit around 3:30 and finally had a refreshing cool breeze.
From Cone, we again retraced our steps back to "the" trail and followed it down to the saddle just above the large rock outcropping due south of the peak. Here the trail (new to me) continued south and I wasn't sure where it would end up, so we left it and took the "old" trail that heads east to the spring. Ticks were all over the place on this portion and we had an extensive tick break when we finally reached the spring. From there, it was a nice gentle walk back along the canyon bottom and finally past the houses to our cars at the trailhead. We were all out before 5. (I suspect the "new" trail reaches the dirt road that runs into the subdivision where we normally make a turn and go up the hill).
Jack and Greg went home while the rest of us caravanned over to Hurkey Creek CG which had many sites available (it is now on a reservation system). The extremely friendly campground attendant at the entrance booth seemed overwhelmed by Frank. "Goodykoontz, what a name! I just love it!" she exclaimed in a giggly voice. She arranged 2 additional sites next to the one where Hazel Goodykoontz had spent the day. The cost is now $11 a night and $2 for each additional car (up to 2 per site) and an extra buck if you bring Fido along.
It was a little bit noisy but otherwise OK considering this campground is more like a parking lot. We had a community salad which always works out well and some went for showers afterwards. It was warm enough that no campfire was needed (we also didn't have any wood). It still surprises me to see, as in the case of the campers next to us, that people actually drive to the restrooms.
The next morning we got up bright and early. I pulled a tick out of my thigh but otherwise most of us had a good night's rest. We left promptly before 7 and drove down to the PCT crossing at Hwy 74 just 1 mile south of the junction with 371. Martin decided to do just Ken (Cristy needed to study), leaving only 5 left to do the 3 peaks. We left Roy's truck there and took Jennifer's Volvo and Ron's Honda CRX to the Butterfly Road. Impossible as it may seem, Ron and Jennifer were able to drive all the way to the junction with the road to Rock Pt. There was obviously some significant road work done recently and the ulta-low clearance CRX survived intact. Jennifer got her station wagon stuck in the sand while parking along the shoulder but we left that to be resolved later.
We walked down the road to the usual location and found a significantly enhanced route up to Rock Pt reaching it fairly quickly shortly after 8. There was a nice cool breeze and low clouds were blowing in from somewhere. Evidently, groups from the nearby Pathfinder Ranch seem to be climbing the peak quite regularly and may explain the condition of the route. While one can admire the ease to reach the summit now, I personally don't care to see blue ribbons hung every 50' along the way.
We returned back to the cars, picked up whatever was needed and headed up the road to the mine. About 1/2 mile further up the road deteriorates very rapidly and only "monster" trucks can get all the way to the end. We left the road at the switchback after the mine and took the old miners trail, still in reasonably good shape, up to the standard ducked route. Frank did not seem to remember this trail although he is sure he must have been on it at some time. It is not mentioned in the peak guide but it is a wonderful alternative to the boring road. It passes through a nice forest and is well shaded. It is also shorter and comes out at the big hole near the ridge top. From there we followed one of several apparent ducked routes over to the gully and up to the summit reaching it by 10:20. The wind was overpowering on top and we had to find shelter off to the side, quite a contrast from the previous day.
After having our Sunday brunch, we left 20 minutes later and retraced our steps back about 100 yards, then continued east on the same ridge for about 200 more yards before dropping down the SE side. There are many open areas between brush and we had little difficulty getting down to the bend in the jeep road that ends at a mine 1 mile SE of the summit. From there we followed it SE 3/4 mile to the fork with the trail to Tunnel Spring. There is an old corral here and some ruins along the gully but no signs. We turned sharp left and followed this shady trail (shown as a jeep road) up the canyon to the spring. There is an apparent fork here but it is obvious that you turn right and go 1/2 mile with 300' gain to the PCT.
After a short break, we headed south on the PCT for a very short distance and came to the junction with the old Desert Divide Trail. We took the left fork and found it to be in very good shape (who uses it?). We followed the trail to where it joins Bull Cyn Rd, then switched onto the ducked route up to Ken Pt. We gingerly worked our way around one very upset rattlesnake then followed the ridge up to the summit. Roy felt we should name the false summit that is crossed on the way as "Barbie" Pt.
This is a nice summit with excellent views. The harsh wind had quieted down to a cool breeze. There are some very interesting rock formations near the top and we speculated as to the origin of them. Three of us "celebrated" our list finishing (Ron still had Skinner to do) while Jennifer completed a "clean sweep" having done all peaks for the first time.
We left around 1:30 and followed the old trail back to the PCT junction. From there it was 6 very long and winding miles south back to Roy's truck. There are some very nice spots along the way but the private property on both sides of the narrow corridor through which it runs dictates a number of hills that must be climbed, the last one seemingly to go on for a lot longer than one might think. We were out by 4:30 with some very sore feet.
All of us managed to squeeze into Roy's truck and it didn't take long to get back to the cars.
Enlightened Roy had a tow rope and easily pulled Jennifer out of the ditch.
Thanks to everyone for your high spirits and sense of adventure. All of us came away having seen a lot of new country we probably would not have done otherwise. What will we do next, Frank?