Winnette Butler Finishes the HPS List!
Another day, another list finish? Earlier in the week, Dave Comerzan
finished the list on Waterman. The day before, Pat Arredondo had
triumphantly led a group to Kratka Ridge,
her final peak. (If you
want to see proof that she ascended the difficult summit block, be
sure to visit
and see for yourself.) Even after eating all that food in honor of
Pat's finishing the list, many of us somehow managed to meet the next
day at the ranger station in Idyllwild. The destination: Sam Fink
Peak. Although Winnette Butler had bagged 274 HPS peaks, plus
assorted other SPS, DPS, and even Himalayan summits, somehow she'd
never connected with Sam. The day had come.
Although we were expecting Don Tidwell and Mei Kwan at Idyllwild, when
they didn't show, we didn't wait for them. Don's been around the list
a time or two already, so we figured he could find his way to Humber
Park OK even without having Mars' Sequoia to lead the way. After all,
a week or so ago, he and Mei managed to overtake and intercept our
cross-country hike to Scodie. It's hard to throw Don off track. (See
the Serious Paragraph below for further confirmation.)
So ... if that wasn't Don and Mei in the unidentified car that had
joined our caravan to Humber Park, who was it? We didn't recognize
her, but when Susan Ellsworth asked if she could join our group and
hike with us to Sam Fink, Winnette and Mars easily assented. At the
trailhead, then, there were ten of us: Winnette Butler, Mars Bonfire,
Sandy Burnside, Kathy Cheever, Dorothy Danziger, Susan Ellsworth, Mei
Kwan, Karen Leverich, Wolf Leverich, and Don Tidwell.
Luckily, we weren't using the Tahquitz Peak guide, in which it
currently says it is 22 miles from the trailhead to Saddle Junction.
We were brilliantly using the Sam Fink guide instead. (For some
reason, Winnette was quite determined we go to Sam Fink, and not to
any of the other lovely peaks thereabouts. What happened to
democracy?) 2.5 miles up Devils Slide are more than enough for me,
although they're a perfectly lovely 2.5 miles, with fabulous views of
Suicide and Lily Rocks, and Strawberry Valley. And much more pleasant
on a cool November day than my last visit during summer.
Once at Saddle Junction, there are options. Lots of options. Too
many options? Not if you're hiking with Winnette, who (as I mentioned
above) wasn't at all tantalized by the possibility of visiting
Tahquitz Peak. But there were still two options: we could follow the
trail to Laws Junction, or we could go towards Skunk Cabbage Meadow
and then take a cross-country shortcut to reach Laws. That route
passes through this wonderful meadow of ferns. In the past summers,
I've seen this sea of green ferns, dappled by sunlight, stirred gently
by a breeze. It's quite breathtaking. Even after a dry summer,
though, it's still a very special sight. Instead of the magical
leafy green sea of my memory, we passed through acres and acres of
autumn-touched golden ferns.
Speaking of magic, the first time I visited Sam Fink, Carleton Shay
was the leader, and he took us cross-country directly to Laws
Junction. A truly incredible internal compass that man has! The
second time, I was following Mars. He didn't think he could
flawlessly emulate Carleton, so deliberately aimed a bit to the right
of Laws. When we emerged on the trail, we turned left, went a brief
distance, and voila!, we were at Laws.
Serious Paragraph. Mars asked me, if I did a trip report on
Winnette's list finish, to describe the following seriously. OK.
Although I kind of doubt that we'd've ended up at the tram, even if
... But anyhow, on this visit to Sam Fink, Mars was again aiming to
hit the trail to the right of Laws, planning as before to then turn
left. When we reached the trail, though, we hesitated before turning
left: something didn't feel right. Don, map in hand, thought we'd
come out to the left of Laws instead of to the right. If we turned
left and hiked, we'd not come to Laws, we'd instead eventually come to
the Palm Springs tram. Looking a bit perplexed, Mars took off to the
right on the trail, hoping to sort out the dilemma. Ah ha! Laws was
to the right, not left. Don and the map were correct. The serious
message of this serious paragraph: no matter how good you are (and
Mars is one of the best wilderness navigators I know), always be
willing to question assumptions and research the situation.
Seriously, I doubt we could have convinced Winnette that they'd built
a tram station at Sam Fink Peak after the peak guide had been written.
There's a watercourse at Laws that I've never ever seen any water in.
This day was no exception. But against the day of the great flood,
someone had installed a large and beautiful wooden bridge across it.
So after stashing water, we headed across the bridge and prepared to
go down to our next destination: Caramba Camp.
The team was getting rowdy. All hike and no play doesn't sound so bad
in abstract, but there were these invitingly lovely pine cones strewn
on the trail. Those of us at the front of the column were soon
distressed (amused?) to hear giggling and shouting behind us, and the
occasional pine cone zinging off our backsides. Soccer? Football?
Something about this trail seems to suggest athletics -- when I did
the hike earlier this summer, Janet Howell attempted to explain the
rules of baseball to Ingeborg Prochazka on this same stretch of trail.
If you didn't learn the game when you were knee-high to a grasshopper,
baseball is a VERY strange game. Trust me!
Soon, we rounded a bend, and at last! Sam Fink! Photo op! Here's one
of the last photos of Winnette "before", when she was a lowly non-list
Hmmmm, how were we going to get over those cliffs?
Well, of course, these things usually work out, even if they're
sometimes a bit of work. To get to Sam Fink, you proceed on the trail
to Caramba. Then cross another dry watercourse (no spiffy new bridge
this time). Then up a steep slope until a ducked use trail is
encountered. Then around the ridge to a saddle, and a final scramble
up a steep rocky slope to the peak.
That's the plan, anyhow. The problem was that someone (we decided it
had to have been Byron, always the scapegoat of choice?) had been
there before us and installed some siren ducks, which lured us to the
left at a lower elevation than the use trail we sought. Hardly a
disaster, but definitely annoying when we eventually got suspicious
and had to work our way steeply up up up to finally acquire the use
trail. From there, though, it was short work to the saddle, and then
to the peak.
Here's the "after" picture of Winnette, now a list finisher:
And in case you're wondering, "What's next?" or, "Is there life after
finishing the list?", think about the implications of the sign
Winnette brought along to include in the group picture:
It says, "LIST FINISH #1." Mmmmhmmmm.
For Joe: standing, left to right, are Susan Ellsworth, Mars Bonfire,
Winnette Butler, Karen Leverich, Sandy Burnside, Don Tidwell, and Mei Kwan.
In front are Kathy Cheever and Dorothy Danziger. Photographer is Brian
I knew from Pat Arredondo's list finish the day before that there would
be food and more food. Not wanting to get stuck carrying my offering back
up the trail from Caramba to Laws, I quickly got my cookies out and had
them handed out and the bag empty before anyone else could do the same.
So of course we ate and hugged and admired the views (one can see half the
list from Sam Fink, I'd swear -- not only the Desert Divide, but Martinez,
Rabbit, the newly relisted Toro...). Sam Fink, especially on a cool day
(I have been known to compare it to a solar oven on an earlier visit) is
a perfect peak.
Well, it may be perfect, but it is a long way back to the cars, with a
lot of uphill along the way. And it was already mid-afternoon.
Winnette had promised to buy us dinner (another fine tradition --
future list finishers please take note!), so we were soon fantasizing
about enchiladas and tamales and chile rellenos.
What we weren't doing very soon was actually eating any of these
goodies. Sometime after Laws and before Saddle Junction, it got dark.
Most of us stopped to don our headlamps. Don opted to hike ahead
alone so our lights wouldn't spoil his night vision. We about jumped
out of our collective skins when, further down the trail in pitch
darkness, he leapt out from behind a tree making spooky noises.
C'mon, Don, Halloween was last month!
Going down Devils Slide, we broke into a "fast" group and a "slow"
group. I use quotation marks because I don't think any of us were
being especially speedy by then. As a member of the slow group, I did
note that the fast headlamps were seldom more than a switchback or so
ahead of us.
Back at the cars, we indulged ourselves in champagne (some of which
was pretty cranky about being opened) and generally milled around
until wiser heads (Sandy and Brian, maybe?) pointed out that if we
wanted to fulfill our cholesterol-laden fantasies, we'd better get to
the restaurant before it closed, an event that was probably going to
happen Very Soon Now.
That got our attention, for sure! We descended on the Mexican place
across the street from the ranger station, ate, drank, and were merry.
Way to go, Winnette!
Now, who's next, and more importantly, where do we eat?