Leader: Mars Bonfire
Barbara Guerin continues to close in on her list finish, though I kind of wish she'd left this peak (Black Mountain #4) for later, and done her other four remaining peaks first. As it is, she'll be finishing up on either Big Rabbit or one of the Big Three. I suppose this could be a strategy on her part, to reduce the number of people who come and make it more exclusive? Well, no matter, done is done: she's been up Black Mountain #4 and there's no undoing it now!
It was, in any case, a wonderful hike, even if it wasn't her list finish. Besides Barbara and Mars, there were Edith Liu and Edith's cousin Ursula from Germany, Dorothy Danziger, Brian and myself. None of us were in a hurry, looking forward instead to a leisurely saunter. Even though I was kind of hoping we could fit in a second peak -- Byron the day before had suggested to Mars that we might be able to fit in Chaparrosa.
All of us being a bit confused by the Spring Forward Fall Back clock thing, we'd agreed to simply not bother, left our watches well enough alone, and met in Yucca Valley at 8AM, some time zone or another. We headed out in three cars, first up Pioneertown Road, and then, hmmmm, into a rat's nest of dirt roads of varying degrees of drivability, Mars pausing once in awhile to ponder the lay of the land, eventually converging on a clearing where on an earlier hike he and Byron had parked.
He and Dorothy plotted over the maps, working out a good route, given the landmarks and topography. Dorothy and Edith had been here a few weeks ago, or at least nearby, had taken an alternate approach involving Antelope Creek, but had run out of time and had to turn back before reaching the peak. I'm hoping to pick up a little bit of learning in the navigation area, so spent a lot of time hovering behind them, listening in, as they matched the maps to the ridges and drainages before us, worked out the steepness of slopes, depths of saddles, and other similar considerations, before heading off to the east towards a minor summit between us and the peak. Mars pointed out neighboring bumps and what distinguished them, to make it easier to retrace our route to the car. I fell in love with the whole area immediately, and decided that when I eventually do my "I" provisional, this should be the peak.
When Mars had done a similar route with Byron, there had been patches of snow along the way which had encouraged them to take the south facing slopes. Mars was curious if a better route might be found, either along the ridge or on the north facing slope. One of the early bumps looked a bit tall, so we sidehilled around it (on the south side, however), but decided after having done so that we would have been better off just going over it, and resolved to do so on our return.
It was a relatively easy hike through spectacular terrain, open and rocky and rough and rugged, with astonishing desert views. Not to keep whining about this, but really, Barbara should have saved this peak. Geez...
The area has been mined, a lot, and we often ran across the remnants of old roads and cairns of rock marking the corners of mining claims. Some of the roads had relatively recent tire tracks on them, though it wasn't clear they were made by cars or offroad vehicles. Still, if shorter hikes are better hikes (not at all clear to me!), it might be worth a little exploring to see if one could drive even closer to the mountain before commencing to hike.
Eventually only a wash separated us from the mountain -- we could hike down and cross the wash and climb back up again, or we could attempt to walk some distance to the north and follow a rough looking ridge. One way meant more elevation loss and gain, the other more miles and probably tougher going. We didn't dither long, but instead headed down. I mean, if we're to be bothered by the occasional need to climb uphill, we've chosen a really wrong hobby, huh?
Before you feel too sorry for Edith's poor cousin Ursula, here on a visit from Germany and roped into climbing tough HPS peaks (her count on HPS peaks is now at 10), er, save your sympathy? Ursula puts all of us to shame -- she's been up 1,600+ mountains, many over 18,000 feet. But she enjoyed our peaks, even so -- they're so varied and interesting. On the other hand, you should have heard the yell she let loose when she almost stepped on a tarantula! Apparently she hasn't encountered that many huge hairy spiders on her other climbs. And this was one big tarantula. We all spent several minutes watching it, but it blended in so well with the background that we weren't able to satisfactorily photograph it.
A more pleasant wildlife sighting was a deer on the side of Black, just before we crossed the gully. We watched it, it watched us, then it headed up the slope along the route we were intending. We speculated that it was climbing the peak, too, and would sign the register ahead of us.
The peak itself was wonderful. We found a couple of benchmarks with arrows, presumably pointing to the benchmark. But where they pointed was the huge cairn that contained the can, and none of us felt interested enough to disassemble the cairn to find the benchmark, being willing instead to assume it was there. The views were incredible, and we spent quite awhile on the summit before reorganizing and heading back. Again, Dorothy and Mars spent a lot of time on navigation and landmarks, and I stuck closely to them, getting a feel for how they think about these things and also (this possibly being my "I" provisional someday) learning specifically about this route, and this mountain.
Topping the final bump, we spotted the cars just where we'd left them. We weren't lost! We weren't going to die! Always reassuring!
Edith, Dorothy, and Ursula decided they wanted to head back since it was already mid-afternoon. Mars, Brian and I briefly pondered whether we really wanted to do another peak. Well, of course we did, how could we resist? Even after we realized Chaparrosa was a slightly longer hike than we'd thought, and we'd probably end up coming out in the dark. Or maybe that was a feature instead of a bug? I do know we didn't let the approach of dusk hurry our steps -- we took a leisurely route along the ridgeline, admiring the play of light on nearby Sawtooth (tall enough to rate the list, far enough from Chaparrosa, but I'm not sure I'd want to climb that rockpile!), speculating about the origins of the rock (it sure looked volcanic), comparing the soil and vegetation to that we'd just seen on Black.
Well, you get the drift -- the company was good, the setting was spectacular, the mood was mellow. We did eventually make it to the summit, where we enjoyed the sunset (not quite as dramatic as the one we'd seen last weekend from Oakzanita, but still very special -- at one point we looked south to San Jacinto and the entire mountain was a subtle dusty shade of pink-lavender...), and then headed back.
The moon was already reasonably high, and close to full, so with Mars (and his good night vision) to lead the way, we went back slowly via trail and road, entirely by moonlight, not using our headlamps at all. I thought last weekend that there could be little more enjoyable than hiking in the dark with a headlamp. I was wrong. Hiking in the moonlight, without a headlamp, is even better, though it probably wouldn't work well except in relatively open terrain.
Near the parking area, we did turn on our lights -- we were about to go briefly cross-country, and who wants to walk into a cholla? And we had one scary moment and about jumped out of our skins -- as we passed the ranger's residence, someone hit us with a bright light and demanded that we come down there immediately. The voice of authority! Not to worry, though -- we weren't shot nor even arrested. It took mere moments for him to sort out we weren't poachers, but instead hikers ("hard core" was how he described us, having realized what we'd just done and having checked out our gear). He showed us a trail that would take us the last few yards to our cars, shook our hands, and bade us a friendly good night, suggesting gently that the next time we did something like that, we might want to make arrangements in advance...