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Sunset Peak, Mount San Antonio

11 September 1994 (private trip)

By: William Siegal


I had originally intended to include Lookout Mtn #2 making this a trio of peaks totalling 9,500' of gain. However, the weather was uncooperatively warm and I was right on schedule being right off schedule; I pulled into the church parking lot at Bear Canyon Rd at a fashionably late 9:10 am. Taking off with a burst of speed at 9:15 am my focused intent was setting a personal speed record to the summit of the Big Bald One. As previously stated, the weather lower down was warm enough so that attaining a full head of steam involved exactly that, and I was sweating profusely within minutes. Still, I never stopped for a break, sipped water only twice, and galloped up to the summit in a time of 2 hours and 33 minutes, my fastest time ever.

The weather conditions I encountered on the summit were so drastically different than those down below that despite ten prior outings to the top (including a January blizzard) I was still surprised by the blustery temperatures and gale force winds that relentlessly buffeted me as I walked to various points to enjoy the vista. Several other hikers unprepared for the decidedly hostile environment fled down after barely a few seconds on top. I decided to add several layers of clothing and hunker down behind one of the stone windbreaks to escape the icy blasts. The ground beneath the windbreak was carpeted with a deep fine layer of beachsand that absorbed and radiated ovenlike warmth.

Bedding down on the solar heated mattress, I promptly fell into an hour-long sleep. I was awakened by the sound of a thick Scottish brogue, and peered over my battlement wall to see a thickly bearded man accompanied by a half dozen shivering comrades waving around a little point and shoot camera and beseeching someone, anyone, "Woot innyone bih goot enough tuh tek ahr pictures?" A good samaritan obliged and ecstatic that they had conquered and had the occasion committed to film, they decided that they had had enough weather and hastily retreated valleyward, no doubt to a Glasgow pub to start weaving war stories.

I pulled myself together and headed down arriving at my car 2 hours later, pleased with my accomplishment, and inspired as usual by the magnificent vistas and mammoth scale of the mountain. I find I have an almost spiritual connection to Baldy. It's my favorite mountain; a sky-kissing realm with a mercurial nature and a frosty spirit that demands of the visitor acknowledgment and respect for its power. I know I will return here many times over the course of my life.

Arriving at Cow Canyon Saddle at 4 p.m., the late afternoon shadows starting to lengthen in the valleys and the territory previously untrodden by my dusty boots, I knew only one more peak would be practical. I opted for Sunset Peak since it was less gain and less distance than Lookout Mtn., thereby guaranteeing a sunlit return.

As I gathered gear from my car trunk in preparation for departure I encountered a rather pleasant man who had just returned to his car after what I assumed was a hike in the area. He inquired as to my objectives. I replied that I intended to ascend Sunset Peak via the steep firebreak that started on the opposite side of Glendora Ridge Road. He cautioned me that he had attempted said route, but had decided to abandon the outing determining it to be extremely difficult and dangerous in certain places. He suggested that the fireroad might be worth considering as a safer option for ascent. I assured him that I had considerable hazardous route experience and that by exercising an extra measure of care I would emerge victorious atop the summit. He added that one of his colleagues had perished on Mt. Shasta recently and that I should be extremely careful as a mortal fall could occur unexpectedly to anyone, and that it just wasn't worth the risk of dying. I volunteered that perhaps Sunset Peak presented a lesser degree of peril than Mt. Shasta. He restated his insistence on the importance of caution. I guaranteed him that faced with a choice of survival or death, that I was considerably more apt to select the former. Finally confident with my assurances that I wasn't some kind of mountain Kamikaze, we bade each other farewell, and I was off.

As I labored up the steep firebreak, the scorching dragons breath of a low altitude September assaulted my face, incinerating any chances of a pleasant jaunt uphill. I had changed into long pants, opting against shorts based on the HPS peak guides caveat which described "much chaparral choking the route." I immediately regretted this decision, developing an aggravated case of vapor lock in my trousers. As I gasped the boiling air, rivulets of salty sweat mixed with sunblock coursed down my brow and stung my eyes, and thick clouds of gnats swarmed in hot pursuit, I fantasized about the ambient temperatures I could be enjoying in the frozen-food section of Ralphs. Finally, about 5:00 pm I was on top. I took a minute to enjoy the panorama and then quickly descended back to Cow Canyon saddle. Returning to my car at 5:30, I glanced longingly at the ridge leading up Lookout Mtn, but wasn't intrigued with the idea of a nocturnal return on a mountain whose geography I had no familiarity with. I shed my pack, content to settle for a total of 15 miles and 7,300' of gain in an 8 hour day. All in all, not too shabby an accounting of myself.

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