The BIG Four: A Scheduled Weekday Trip
Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, David Beymer, Mars Bonfire, George Wysup
WEDNESDAY, MAY 9th:
At about 3 pm in the afternoon, eight of us (to be known as the slow sluggo group) started from the BIG Four trailhead and walked about 2/3rd of the way (6 miles) towards Chokecherry Spring on what turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon. We found a good spot along the road to camp that night.
THURSDAY, MAY 10th:
We awoke the next day at 5 am and began hiking at a leisurely pace by 6 am. When we arrived at Chokecherry we set up our camp, pumped water, etc.
One of the objectives of the trip was to find another route to Samon Peak that bypasses the steep, rock fall prone Chokecherry Gully. I personally consider the gully dangerous and I have felt that one day someone will be seriously hurt in it, so I have always thought about trying to find another way. On a previous occasion I had scouted the ridgeline that is at the top of the Chokecherry Gully that leads north back down to the road and found a good part of the ridge hikeable. We had also previously noted a gully that parallels the Chokecherry Gully, which starts about 1/4 mile north of it. Mars surmised correctly that this gully would end up at the ridgeline near the area I had previously scouted. So we said, "Why not try this, it can't be any worse than the normal way."
With Mars scouting the way, all eight in the sluggo group started up the new route. The route, which we ducked, turned out to be far superior to the old Chokecherry Gully route. It is less steep, there is much less danger of rock fall, and the hiking is easier. We quickly reached the ridgeline and proceeded along the usual route to Samon. What we discovered was that the usual route had, in many places, become overgrown and was, in some places, difficult to follow. This, of course, is due to lack of use and rapid vegetation growth. In four or five places we actually had to crawl on our bellies to bypass the buckthorn that has grown over our route. The last scheduled HPS hike to the BIG Four that bagged all four peaks happened several years prior, led by Joe Young and David Eisenberg. Since then Samon Peak has been visited very infrequently (maybe 15 or so people over a three year period). Use trails on peaks like this disappear unless used regularly.
We bagged the peak and started back when we spotted, about a mile away, "The Faster than a Speeding Bullet Group" of four untamed tigers. The "fast" group had started at about 9:15 am from the parking area that day (Thursday) and proceeded to walk the 9.5 miles in record time (and heat) to Chokecherry Spring. They quickly lightened their packs and walked up the new route, which we had ducked. When we passed them at about 4 pm they were about half way along the main ridge to the peak. We advised them to turn back because of the lateness, but they needed this peak and besides the whole trip as only 5 miles round trip ... no big deal for this tiger group.
Meanwhile the slow sluggo group returned to camp, had a delightful dinner and was fast asleep by the time it was dark. At about 10 pm I was awakened from a deep sleep by a pleasant female voice which I clearly heard saying, "Samon sucks." It turns out they did not follow our new route down (though they tried), instead pushing over and through nature's iron jungle of buckthorn and manzanita.
FRIDAY, MAY 11th:
The next day all twelve of us awoke and had a most wonderful day bagging Big Pine and West Big Pine. There were large snow patches remaining along the road. Many of us added snow to our water bottles for a nice cold drink. The view from West Big Pine was glorious. The hike was simply wonderful! We arrived back at camp feeling good, made dinner, and most of us were tucked away in our sleeping bags by the time one could see the Big Dipper and millions of other stars on what started out as a cloudless clear night.
SATURDAY, MAY 12th:
At about 2:30 am I felt some rain drops. It stopped after a few minutes. But we had no idea what was in store for us. The sky was dark and the wind was howling. I quickly discussed the situation with all of the co-leaders and it was decided to let everyone sleep for another whole hour (nice of us!!!). At 4 am we were all awake and by 5 am we were packed and marching up the road to Madulce Saddle. By the time we reached the saddle, dawn's early light was strong enough for us to turn off our headlamps and pack them away. Led expertly by David Beymer, we proceeded to bag Madulce leaving our backpacks at the Santa Barbara Canyon trailhead. We celebrated David's list finish and proceeded back to our packs. We then walked down to the Madulce guard station and out to our cars. The trip out was a most beautiful but very rugged affair. We crossed, at last count, at least 43 stream crossings. We woke two rattlesnakes. We dusted off many ticks. We walked gingerly around (and sometimes through) the shiny leaves of poison oak. We helped clear the overgrown trail that was recently advertised as a great thing to do in Sunset Magazine. We arrived at the roadhead eleven hours after we started hiking, tried, dirty, and very, very hungry.
There is some debate on sluggo group hikes. The debate goes like this, "Do we eat to hike or hike to eat?" I am not sure what the answer is. But Edith found out about a place in Maricopa called Tina's Diner. All twelve of us feasted there. I have never seen so much food feed so many hungry HPSers for so little money (about $9/person plus drinks). There was a delicious homemade chicken soup (bowls and bowls per person), each table of four shared a very large salad bowl of very fresh lettuce and tomatoes along with a pasta salad. The entrees were mostly chicken and steak with potatoes, vegetables, garlic bread and some of the biggest, freshest strawberries I have ever eaten. I think that most people thought that the steaks were ok, but the chicken delicious. Do you think we were finished eating? Not by a long shot. What is a little dinner without dessert? Out came ice cream and candies.
The day began with much uncertainty. It ended after 11 hours of hard hiking, our bellies stretched to their limit, all in the name of bagging the BIG Four.
We are now taking reservations for next year's adventure to this wonderful, beautiful wilderness called the BIG Four. Any takers? Please note: Pat Arredondo wrote, "Byron: I enjoyed your trip report on the Big Four (Ping forwarded it to me). I want to put my reservation in for next year!"
The trip involved about 8000 feet of gain over 45 to 50 miles of road, use-trail and bushwhacking. The slow group took 3 1/2 days while the mighty fast group did it in only three days. I personally want to thank the expert leadership provided by George Wysup, Dave Beymer, and Mars Bonfire and all of the participants who put up with us. You all made this trip a truly memorable one.
The Slow Sluggo Group:
Dorothy Danziger: "It was a tough, tough hike! I loved it! It helps to have great leaders. Thanks, guys!!"
Barbara Guerin: "MANY THANKS for helping me bag (survive) the 'Big Four'!!!!! I'm certainly happy that this major obstacle to a possible list finish has been overcome. The area was very pretty and the view from West Big Pine was outstanding!"
Ping Pfeffer: "The Big Four is a big challenge. Samon Peak is a bush monster. I AM SO HAPPY because I got the Big Four. This is truly a remarkable trip. It was a special milestone in my quest to finish the HPS list. I am so happy because I spent the weekend with good leaders who did good planning, and with eleven other determined hikers."
Rich Gnagy: "I was very happy to climb them all and hate brush worse than ever."
Dave Comerzan: "Instead of 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' it should be 'Hell hath no fury like the Big Four.' Instead of 'Heaven or Hell,' how about 'Heaven or Big Four.' Had a great time."
Edith Liu: "Mars and Byron, I want to thank you both for making my very first backpacking trip such a successful and exciting one. Your help - as always - was very much appreciated. I cannot imagine that there is a better way of bagging these four peaks, and it was a privilege for me to be able to visit the Dick Smith Wilderness area. I suppose very few ever see this entire canyon. Your planning was superb! Don't listen to the whiners! My quote for the Lookout: Nature presented a few obstacles, but the trail along the Santa Barbara Canyon beats the road by far!"
Mars Bonfire: "In order to serve you better, we have decided to throw in a half-day full-body acupuncture session." This was uttered by Mars upon gaining the Samon ridge and seeing the lovely fields of BUCKTHORN.
The Faster than a Speeding Bullet Group:
George Wysup: "Whose dumb idea was this?"
Sandy Burnside: "Samon sucks."
Ron Zappen: "Only the relief of surviving the trip keeps me from wanting to 'do in' the leader (Byron), but if I died I would have to 'Kill Him'!"
David Beymer: He murmured something about, "I'll do this once, never again."
PS. Please send congratulations to David Beymer for completing the list on Madulce. There have been only about 225 people who accomplished this in our 55-year plus history!!