A Mars Bonfire Custom Adventure
When I obsess, I obsess? Two days after the hike to Tahquitz Peak and
Red Tahquitz, I was once again at the Idyllwild Ranger Station. Brian
and I were meeting Barbara Guerin, Chris Davis, and Mars Bonfire for
some brief hikes in the San Jacinto area. Barbara is getting close
to a list finish, and needed Castle Rocks. The rest of us (not counting
Mars, of course) are a long ways away from a list finish, and need almost
any peak you can name. So nearby Black Mountain #1 and Indian Mountain
were also on the agenda.
Castle Rocks is by far the loveliest of these peaks. After driving
seemingly endlessly on dirt roads, we eventually reached the Fuller
Ridge Trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail. I had to unfold my
map of the San Bernardino National Forest to convince myself that we
hadn't simply driven around the mountains to the top of the tram.
We hadn't, we were still ten or so miles west. The trail itself
ran eastwards (it promised us San Jacinto Peak in 8 miles, an offer
we didn't follow up on, at least, not this time), along the north
side of the ridge, with tremendous views down to I-10 and across
to San Gorgonio.
We eventually started passing ducks on our right, some very elaborate.
But it was too soon, the use trail to Castle Rocks didn't depart until
after some switchbacks. Mars was concerned, because he knew of cases
where hikers had turned off for Castle Rocks too early, and gotten
into some rugged terrain. Perhaps by following these very misleading
The use trail itself wasn't hard to spot, once we found the right duck,
nor too hard to follow (at least, when I was following someone else
who was following it), but was a bit steeper than the one up Red
Tahquitz. Castle Rocks itself proved to be a beautiful peak. Here
are Chris, Karen, and Barbara at the top:
Mars had already been up and retrieved the register:
Barbara and I skimmed through the register, looking at the older entries.
The first one in the book was Mars -- this had been his 147th peak,
back in 1997, before he ever finished the list. Elsewhere, we found
a day when Mars had been to the peak, then later Edith and Dorothy,
who had inadvertently done a pathfinder and missed Mars. (The
misleading ducks had misled!)
Mars wanted to follow slowly, to do some trimming, so I led the way
down. That use trail was suddenly a lot harder to spot, when I didn't
have anyone to follow. But Barbara pointed out a few key ducks to me,
and we worked our way down. On the way back along the PCT, she and
Mars took turns obliterating the misleading ducks we'd seen on our way
in. Revenge is sweet.
Back at the cars, we retraced our bumpy way several miles, and turned
off towards Black Mountain. Mars proposed we head up cross-country,
so I would consider the peak worthy of my efforts (I'd been making
some dopey remarks about not liking hiking on roads or some such),
but Chris' knee was still a little wonky, so common sense prevailed,
and we headed up the road. Turned out Barbara had already done the
peak twice cross-country, so the road was actually a pathfinder for
We were disappointed but not surprised to find the lookout locked up
and empty -- we'd been hoping there might be a volunteer there on a
Sunday. But we could still admire the views.
Mars attempted to identify Castle Rocks using map and compass:
But all the metal in the lookout interfered -- the compass indicated
Castle Rocks to be located in a saddle. Yeah, sure, right. Oh well.
Barbara didn't need Black Mountain #1, but she does need Black Mountain #4
and Black Mountain #6, so I suggested she just hike back up and down the
road ten times, combining four trips into #4 and the next six trips into #6.
Little did I know that the dirt roads we'd been on would seem like super
highways, compared to the one in store for us. Next stop: Indian Mountain.
Out to the highway, then down, the forest giving way to brushier more
desert-like terrain. And then a narrow, bumpy, dusty road that just
went on and on and on, brush brushing the sides of the car, through a
saddle and then up to a small parking area, across the road from a duck.
I was a little concerned about the brush, so even though the peak was
supposed to be close, grabbed my pack, figuring I could swap into my
long pants if things got too scratchy. Barbara led. When we were, oh,
twenty feet from the peak, she asked me if I thought we'd make it OK, if
we had enough water. "I even have my headlamp!" I chirped.
Three new peaks for most of us, definitely a successful day:
Part of the reason I'd made it in OK in my shorts, not having to swap
to the long pants, is that the trail was very well trimmed. How does
that happen? Surely not due to the efforts of the Mad Arborist:
(Mars, thanks! How could we do this without you?)