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Pilot Knob

31 October 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire

Flashback to August 20th -- a bunch of us are in Byron Prinzmetal's car, on our way to another fun HPS hike. Joanne Griego, Ingeborg Prochazka and I had been invited to hike the previous day with Barbara Guerin and Mars Bonfire to Pilot Knob. All three of us had wussed out, having read the trip archives, not to mention that this was in the middle a record breaking heat wave. But ... had Mars and Barbara survived? Byron took pity on us and phoned Mars. "I have a carload of ladies who are worried about you!" Good news: they'd made it, but the hike had been "extremely daunting."

Yesterday was our turn to at last attempt the extremely daunting Pilot Knob. Meeting at 6AM at the Walker Pass Campground meant setting the alarm for 2:30AM. We were almost daunted the night before. 2:30AM???

Well, somehow we managed it. When we arrived at the campground, we found Brent Crookham and Dave Comerzan camped there. They'd climbed Morris Peak in the rain the day before. Our leaders Byron and Mars arrived shortly afterwards. Consolidating from five cars down into two, we headed off towards the trailhead, only to discover the road we'd intended to use was gated, and there seemed to be "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs posted almost everywhere. Hmmmm, maybe we should do some other peak, Nicolls Peak or whatever? But Pilot Knob was the target, and the signs didn't say that trespassers would be shot, only prosecuted, so we walked in anyhow. Byron knocked on the door of the residence, to ask permission to cross, but no one responded. We walked (a bit gingerly, it didn't look especially sound) across the bridge and we were on our way.

Byron made a speech, his usual speech, attempting to discourage us from doing the hike. Six miles round trip and 3400' gain, just how bad could this really be? He promised us terrain so steep we'd not believe it, and then it would get steeper, rocks, fallen trees, well, the usual gamut of threatening stuff. If you've hiked with Byron, you know what I mean. We'd all hiked with Byron before, and I think have become somewhat desensitized to this stuff, so basically tuned him out.

The route crosses a minor ridge between the river and this huge rocky gully, then ascends the gully to a saddle on a ridge south of the peak, and then ascends steeply to the peak. There's some interesting rock along the way, made more interesting because it had rained the day before and a lot of it was quite slick. People hiking this peak apparently have been injured by unintended slides on the rock. It certainly didn't take me long to notice that places I'd normally place my feet without concern were no longer safe footing. Ever the opportunist, I quickly discovered that Mars is a real wiz on this terrain -- I fell in behind him and to the extent I could (my legs are a lot shorter), stepped where he stepped. This worked so great for me that I got positively crabby if anyone else took "my" spot behind Mars. (I did briefly follow Brent, but his moves were way too difficult for me to emulate, and I kept messing up. Presumably Mars knew I was doing the trainee thing behind him, and so had kept his moves on the elementary side.)

After ascending the gully, we climbed the steep rocky ridge, finding along the way a water bottle Barbara had lost last August. It still had a bit of water in it, but no one was at all tempted -- we'd brought along plenty of our own, and hadn't gone through it very fast due to the coolness of the day. (In fact, from time to time, a low cloud would float through, blocking the sun, and dropping the temperature enough it almost felt cold -- a definite contrast to that August hike.) Then we shinnied up the rock through a tree, down into a rocky saddle, and back up onto the peak. We'd done it!

3400' doesn't sound like that much gain. A big day, yes, but not a huge day. But somehow, even without annoying scree, those 3400' just kept going up, and up, and up some more. It took us six hours to cover those three miles. But what a treat we found at the top! The views were tremendous, the skies amazingly clear, having just been scrubbed by Tuesday's storm. Byron didn't let us stay long, though -- he was anxious to get moving, not wanting to climb down through all those boulders in the dark. "Five minutes!" he sang out when we stopped for lunch. "Carbohydrates, eat carbohydrates!" I'd brought some cookies to share, and he tried to discourage me from handing them out. "You should be eating, not sharing!" I ignored him and shared them around anyhow. Having carried them up that endless hill, I was darned if I was going to carry them back down again!

Usually the trip down a mountain seems somehow shorter than the trip up. But those 3400' down just went on and on, with the river and our cars parked beyond it oh so slowly getting closer, while the sun crept lower and lower. Hmmmm, maybe Byron had been right to hurry us along? Or maybe he was just late for an appointment back in the city, who knows? In any case, it wasn't quite dark when we got back to the cars, happy hikers because we'd successfully ascended and descended the extremely daunting Pilot Knob, without being shot or arrested or injured or eaten by man-eating deer or whatever other horrors we'd been promised at the start of the hike.

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