Black Mtn would be Hugh Blanchard's List finish. I called the Greenhorn Ranger District to determine if the gate on FS 24S15, the road from Greenhorn Summit into the Black Mtn area, was open. The folks at the front desk, of course, had never heard of this inscrutable combination of letters and numbers before in their lives but told me the Black Mtn Saddle road was open. That sounded promising - the hike was on!
It's about 1.1 miles from the gate to the turn off to the right for the saddle, all on good road. At 2.7 miles we reached the saddle on fairly good road. Here we turned left on road progressively requiring more clearance and at 4.7 miles reached a large parking area on the left side. The main road then descended ahead and a rough jeep trail took off to the right. This, presumably, is under the route 2 symbol on our map; however, our guide refers to this as route 1.
Our plan was to do Split first. We started hiking up the jeep trail at 10:30 AM making occasional trekking pole marks so that if we came off Black by a route that didn't retrace our steps we would know which way to turn when we hit the road. A couple of gullies had eroded almost right through the jeep trail and yet we saw wide tire tracks. Puzzling. What kind of vehicle could get through here? Maybe a hunter on a quad ATV?
Before reaching the ridge line heading east to Split we noticed a bulldozer cut taking off to the right. We looked at this carefully wondering how far towards Black it might go and made a well defined circle with our poles. It could be useful on the return.
The route along the ridge line to Split is often vague and overgrown. Yet it's worth carefully discerning since any time we wandered off things only got worse. Eventually we descended into the saddle just before the final pronounced uphill section to the summit. We saw rock markers a few hundred feet up the slope but no obvious use trail out of the saddle so we pushed through brush to reach the cairns. From there on the route is well marked with occasional markers to either side indicating alternate paths. We had a quick lunch and Hugh checked out the intimidating void between Split and its sibling to the east. On the way down we mostly ignored the markers and simply followed the path of least resistance to the saddle. With fewer mistakes, now that the route was somewhat familiar, we worked our way back to our starting point on the ridge line and retrieved a water stash.
Knowing where we were and where Black was we examined our map and picked the most direct combination of ridge lines to get us there, thus avoiding going as far west as the route shown on the HPS map. As we neared the top we passed three or four false summit rocky outcrops on our right. And then the summit! Currently quite striking as someone has planted an upside down shovel in the register cairn and created an abstract sculpture out of pipe, wire, and mysterious mechanical gizmos.
Congratulations Hugh! You did it! And with the same List finish mania that often strikes people when they get close to the end. An end which is really just a beginning because now that you have an overview of the whole thing you can enjoy it again and again and again - by pathfinder routes, on moonlight hikes, at the worst possible time of year to do a particular peak, at the optimum time... Whatever suits your fancy. What was that you said? ... you won't be going around again because we have what on the List? ... some horrible brush heaps? Such language! Okay, it's true. No point in hiding it from the world any longer. There are a few wretched clothes shredding, blood letting, stooping and ducking, hands and knees crawling peaks on our List. Perhaps there is a reason, after all, why the Sierra Nevada Mountains are called the Range of Light, and Cuyapaipe, Rattlesnake, Samon, and Santa Cruz, etc are not - range of buckthorn maybe but not range of light. Yet isn't it strange (or maybe just perverse) how we can come to love even these, the less fortunate of our summits? Perhaps it's a type of compassion on our part similar to what we might feel towards a less fortunate fellow human. If we don't make the effort to visit and spend some time with these outcasts who else on earth will?
Time for the return. From Black we took a map bearing on where we thought we left the vehicle and followed it down until we intersected a bulldozer cut. Hmm. Could this be a continuation of the one we noticed on the way to Split? Probably. We turned right and followed it as it contoured down to the northeast. Soon it ended at a jeep trail with a circular mark on the ground. Hey didn't we make this on the way in? Okay, let's turn left and we're out of here. And we arrived at the vehicle by 7:08 PM.
We were both of the opinion that although our route description refers to Black as easy, it doesn't feel easy after doing Split. We were tired! Yet we had barely driven down to Wofford Heights before Hugh was making plans for us to do Kitching and Snow. Not content to merely finish the List, he wanted to do it as it was when he first started hiking - the way it is on his HPS T-shirt. And next weekend he did! Now there's a man serious about closure.