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Sam Fink Peak

15 May 1999

By: Tom Hill


The Search

Three notable HPS pioneers give their names to our annual awards. Exceptional peaks had been found and explored to honor Bill T. Russell and John Backus. Sam Fink remained.

Sam Fink is indelibly associated with the Desert Divide (HPS Area 28). With a prodigious, multi-decade effort he forged a primitive trail along this Divide, thereby making the area accessible to motivated hikers. This track was formalized and improved into the Desert Divide Trail, which was improved further into our modern, delightful Pacific Crest Trail, a far cry from the Class 3 stretches (Antsell Rock, South Peak, Red Tahquitz) "enjoyed" by early peakbaggers.

So it behooved us to find a suitable peak. Two proposals were put forth. The first peak was in Area 27, elev 9356, on the Hidden Divide southwest of the Tram. David Eisenberg relayed information that this candidate has recently been named Divide Peak.

The second peak was in Area 28, elev 7339', a tantalizing mystery found on a map. It is easy to miss: barely off the San Jacinto topo, onto the left edge of the Palm Springs topo, just within the San Jacinto Wilderness. It looked like it might be a cliffy and brushy area.

The Setting

When the Desert Divide reaches north to Red Tahquitz, it splits into a western extension toward high forest, anchored by Tahquitz Peak, and an eastern extension toward raw desert, anchored by Peak 7339. The split is forced by the broad plateau drained by Tahquitz Creek, creating a natural terminus of the Desert Divide.

Some 1500 ft higher lies the more familiar but much smaller plateau drained by Long Valley Creek, anchored on its east by the Palm Springs Tram.

Peak 7339 lies 1/2 mile SSE of Caramba Camp. This clue led to more details. The guidebook 75 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, 1995, by Ferranti, Hagerman, and Hagerman, Trip 37, "Devil's Slide Trail to Caramba Overlook," provides a description of the trail hike to Caramba Camp and Caramba Overlook. The authors rate the 14-mile round trip trail hike as "spectacular". Our goal was to reach the rocky crag a full 800 feet above the Camp - to overlook the Overlook.

The Hike

Several hikers had expressed interest in exploring the two proposals the Management Committee had received for Sam Fink Peak. Everyone's schedule was tight, so Byron Prinzmetal and I decided to check out the two peaks on the weekend of Spring Fling, with a layover night of evening entertainment and socializing at Foster Lodge.

Saturday, May 15: We picked up dayhike permits. The "within-90-days" rule for issuing permits was in our favor, so we grabbed a second permit (limit 12 hikers) for Aug 8 to lead an HPS exploratory to the peak if we were successful today.

Then it was off to Humber Park, setting out toward Saddle Junction at about 8:50AM. The 5-way Junction gives almost too many choices. We successfully found the least-used trail, which pointed to Laws Camp and Caramba, then wound past Tahquitz Valley and Reeds Meadow, reaching Laws Camp 4.7 miles from the cars. We turned off too soon here, but quickly recovered, when I mistook one of the perpendicular trails (which always seem to lead to campsites) for the main trail. Back on track we crossed a multitude of gullies and small ridge lines, edging gradually and then more steeply down to the east to Caramba Camp, about 7 miles in.

The West Buttress of Sam Fink Peak is called Caramba Rocks in the guidebook. Our first view was breathtaking. These rocks form a series of giant, vertical granite slabs separated by narrow chutes, inspiring thoughts like "impossible!" or "climber heaven!" depending on preference. More to the point, these rocks potentially blocked our access to the peak, which lay directly on the other side of the Buttress. As we hiked eastward on the trail more and more of the north side of the blockage was revealed, until a complete bypass up to and then alongside the base of the cliffs was spotted.

Caramba Camp lies next to the bubbly brook of Tahquitz Creek, which may not provide dependable water after this very dry season. Hiker confidence will not be gained by reading the sign posted at Caramba Overlook (roughly, "Danger - Turn Back - Unclimbable" atop the precipice).

We easily negotiated our steep cliff bypass, being treated to picturesque forest, not brush, amidst scattered rock outcrops. Finally we scaled easy Class 2 and stood atop the summit. Absolutely convinced of Sam Fink's approval, we placed a register.

Now the view!

Sam Fink Peak is offset some two miles east of Red Tahquitz, separated from that peak by nearby (and utterly imposing) cliffy cascades of white rock dropping down into the upper reaches of Andreas Canyon. Other impressive frozen rockworks descend 2000 feet from the high ridge line of Hidden Divide to the north. Southerly, across the mile-deep chasm of Andreas Canyon, the monster called Antsell Rock and all of its rocky attendants lie exposed, making those benign views from the south side into liars. Next time I'll bring binoculars. And we haven't even mentioned the view of downtown Palm Springs at our feet, nor the knobs and gnarls along the Divide on either side of Antsell, stretching all the way to Rabbit Peak far to the south. If this were a peninsula, then Sam Fink is Land's End. Ay, Caramba!

Notes

Our little adventure totaled 16 miles round trip with 4500' gain. The hike is inverted: 2600' gain going, on trail and steep forested cross country; the 1900' return gain is on trail. We took a moderately-paced nine hours for the hike, allowing time for photo ops and scouting.

Pinnacle 6935 lies 1/2 mi SE of Sam Fink Peak. We discovered that the east side of this gendarme is an impressive white triangular wall when viewed from downtown Palm Springs, allowing easy identification of the pinnacle. Triangular Sam Fink is immediately to its right.

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