Big Ventura: Cobblestone, White, Snowy, Black and Friends
Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire
Maybe everyone was spooked off after Sandy Sperling's recent injury.
Maybe everyone who needed these peaks had turned out and done them
with George, Tom and Virgil last month. Who knows? All I know is
that, after Brian and Phil separately and independently talked
themselves out of the hike, the only participants for the
Prinzmetal/Bonfire version of "Big Ventura" (as Tom Hill calls the
peaks back behind Hungry Valley: Alamo Mountain, McDonald Peak, Sewart
Mountain, Snowy Peak, Black Mountain #2, White Mountain #2, and
Cobblestone Mountain) were Ingeborg Prochazka and myself.
I felt a bit skittish about doing the long drive in by myself, so
arranged to meet up with Mars and Ingeborg in Gorman, to caravan in
with them. None of us felt much like cooking, so we treated ourselves
to a final good meal at Sizzler.
As the condor flies, the trailhead for these peaks is a mere twenty
miles from my house. But the drive is right up there with San
Jacinto, the Mill Creek Ranger Station, and many other more distant
places I've rendezvoused to hike with HPS. That dirt road just goes
on and on, winding up and about Alamo before following a ridge towards
McDonald and ending at last in the parking area.
Mars and Ingeborg quickly staked out their sleeping spots, Mars hoping
Byron would arrive before dark so as not to drive over him. I had an
easier project, having stuffed mattress, sheets, comforter and pillows
into the back of my car: all I needed was a semi-level parking spot.
No muss, no fuss, no set up, totally posh.
While waiting for Byron (he'd told us to be there before dark, advice
that apparently didn't apply to him), we had our own happy hour, Mars
enjoying a dark beer and Ingeborg and I working on some cheap cabernet
I'd brought along. We admired Cobblestone to the south, with the
lights of Santa Clarita behind it, then called it an early night,
knowing the hike the next day would be long and hard -- the climbing
guide says 16 miles r.t. and 6500' gain.
Tuesday's dawn was beautiful, sun on the mountain, crisp cool air,
autumn colors in the trees. A lovely day for what is often a long hot
hike. And we did end up hiking all day, starting at dawn, returning
by headlamp from the far side of Sewart. Or is it "Stewart", as
appears on an old sign we encountered along the way, dating back to
some nearly forgotten era when there was a maintained network of
trails here? Maintenance nowadays seems to be the province of HPS --
without the efforts of (alphabetically) Byron, George, Mars, etc.,
these trails would all have returned to the wilderness. Judging from
Dave Comerzan's experience on these peaks a mere year ago, these
trails already had returned to the wilderness, though at least for
now, we have them back. If you want a pretty much brush-free trek to
Big Ventura, go now. By next spring, Byron warns that the flannelbush
will have reclaimed its domain.
Mars and I pondered these issues as he sawed brush and I did my
cheerleader thing. "What are we to do," I wondered, "after you do the
list twenty more times and move to Estes Park?" My concern here is
that maintenance of our trails is currently the self-imposed
responsibility of a small number of hikers. These guys are
wonderful, but ... wouldn't it be better if the work were shared by
more of us?
I don't know that this would ever work, but I bored Mars with my
"adopt-a-peak" idea. I don't really understand USFS policy, BLM
policy, etc., towards clipping on trails, be they maintained,
unmaintained, or use. But wouldn't it be nice if there were a
volunteer associated with each of our peaks, someone who visited it
(weather allowing) every few months, to make sure the register is OK,
and (if clipping is copacetic) to tidy up the trail? And perhaps to
give advice to folk looking to tackle the peak on unscheduled hikes.
Though with 270+ peaks, there may not be enough of us to make this
work. It was an idea, anyway?
Oh, right, but I'm writing a trip report on our hike, not doing my
Vision Thing. Never mind!
We speculated on our way up Cobblestone about where the rock had hit
Sandy's hand. She'd told me quite precisely, but I neglected to print
her note, and my memory now that I'm this side of 40 tends to be
non-stick. Byron thought he knew, so we were especially careful
working our way up that rocky stretch.
Being worried we'd hike out in the dark, we didn't linger long on
Cobblestone, but worked our way back down to the White/Cobblestone
saddle. Then, in my opinion, the loveliest part of the hike: the pine
forested ridge leading gently out to White. Exquisite, and the view
down to I-5 interesting if not exactly inspirational. Civilization
intruded again on our way out, when we were startled by two noisy and
low flying cargo planes. Evading radar? Unable to fly very high? We
I phoned Brian upon our return to camp (I got really good reception if
I stood in one place just off the right front fender of my car,
otherwise bat guano -- this made me a problem the next night, when
Byron wanted to move his car and I refused to budge before finishing
my phone call) to let him know we were back and to find out if he'd be
maybe joining us the next morning for Snowy and Black. He was still
buried with work, so it was the same four of us who headed back up
Sewart (formally bagging it this time) on our way to Snowy and Black,
clippers at ready.
I was paying careful attention (as we should always, but I seldom, do)
to the route -- where we turned, how the ridges and washes related,
etc., so Brian and I could safely return by ourselves. When he
realized what I was up to, Byron had me lead, staying right by my side
so I'd not get us into too deep of trouble -- it can be a tad tricky
spotting the use trail in the midst of all that brush. I did OK, but
absolutely refused the role on the uphill segments, insisting Byron or
Mars do the honors. How come? Well, they had this unalpha male thing
going, driving Ingeborg especially nuts -- which of them could set the
sluggiest pace going up a hill? Mars doesn't do badly at this at all,
and I'm always happy to follow in his wake, but I do think Byron's
"Grand Sluggo" title is still safely his. If you're looking to hike
fast, my recommendation is that you avoid these two. If you're
looking for a good hike, though, I've had a great time every time.
They're never going to be rid of me.
I suppose on the balance Snowy and Black are not our most inspiring
peaks, though they do admit great views of Quail Lake and I-5. And
Black was especially a thrill for me, as it completed my Black
Mountain cleanout (#1 on August 26th, #2 on November 7th, #3 on
September 21st, #4 on October 28th, #5 on June 23rd, and #6 on
September 16th). Surely we need an emblem for this!
Byron apparently had had enough, but Mars, Ingeborg and I signed out
and privately completed our "Big Ventura" experience with McDonald and
Alamo. When Brian and I did these last spring, the registers were
missing, but they've since been replaced (I think on last month's
hike). We were startled to see Carleton had been there that same day,
once to McDonald and twice to Alamo.
Alamo we ended up doing totally in the dark -- if HPS ever introduces
a Nighthawk emblem (speaking of emblems), I have a nice head start --
but it was a bit windy on the summit so we didn't pause and enjoy the
stars before heading down to wend our way back towards Gorman on those
still seemingly endless dirt roads.
Two wonderful days of hiking. Now, if I could just figure out, when
driving past on I-5, which peak is which! They look so different from
a distance than they do close up. (No duh, huh?)