Tahquitz Peak, Red Tahquitz, Southwell Peak
24-25 June 1967
By: John Linden
A leisurely backpack up Devil's Slide Trail to Little Tahquitz Meadow where we made camp and had lunch preceded an equally leisurely stroll to Tahquitz Peak Lookout for more eating and loafing. From the lookout we surveyed the real object of our trip: The ridge leading from Red Tahquitz to Southwell Peak -- and beyond to Antsell Rock. There were several inquiries about Lily Rock, but I was afraid that the additional exertion would wipe out a few people from the main event the next day. We wandered back to camp passing hordes of Boy Scouts. The rest of the afternoon was spent loafing and visiting new arrivals to camp.
We met Sam Fink, the #2 HPS Emblem Holder, on our first arrival at camp, and he went with us to the Lookout. Sam is the first known climber of Southwell. He had been there twice when John Ripley and John McKinley scouted it last year, making them number two and number three on the peak. Arkel and Ruth Erb and Andy Smatke signed in next, and then Bob Van Allen, Ken Ferrell, and I on our scouting trip June 10. Sam mentioned that he had been to the peak a third time, packing in everything including tools and water. He had spent three days clearing and marking the trail in the past week. The full impact of what he said didn't register until the next day.
The next day began for us in darkness when I stumbled about waking all the Sierra Club hikers and one who wasn't. He said some mean things about me, and I invited him to join us on our little walk. Lucky for him he decided to go back to sleep. At 6:07 a. m. we left camp for Red Tahquitz Peak up the partially wooded slope along a very faint trail. Thirty-four hikers registered while we pointed out the sights including Southwell and Antsell. At 6:40 a. m., 28 hikers led by chief scout and technical advisor Sam Fink dropped down the chute on the south side for the big one. Everyone had been warned to bring at least two quarts of water, and we also took turns carrying almost four gallons of water and Wyler's, which we stashed in some rocks for the return trip. I just wanted to be sure that everyone made it to the peak and back out again -- comfortably if possible.
All 28 who started for Southwell Peak were on the summit in three hours, and no one looked tired. Sam had chopped a freeway through the brush which saved us about three hours on the round trip. Southwell is not on the HPS list, although it probably will be voted in at the next meeting now that it has been climbed on a scheduled hike. Whether or not it ever gets on anyone's list, it is a worthwhile peak. Its summit is partially wooded, topped by some rocks. The view in all directions is magnificent. To the north is the reddish brown face of Red Tahquitz and the ridge westward leading to Tahquitz Lookout. The San Jacinto Valley with the wide, sandy bed of the south fork of the San Jacinto River can be followed in the west all the way to Lake Hemet in the south. Immediately south of Southwell Peak is the ridge leading to Antsell Rock. A very impressive prominence with rather sheer vertical walls near the summit. It can be done from Southwell, and it has -- by Sam, of course. To the east the Coachella Valley with a portion of Palm Springs can be seen over the intervening mountains. We lingered on the summit for a while, then Ripley led the first group out. The first group got back to camp at 12:30 p.m. Sam and I led the second group out, stopping for a long lunch while Sam reminisced about earlier hikes he had been on.
Some of the hikers were getting very tired by the time we got back to the water cache. The only one who really needed water was the hiker who had decided not to carry water or anything else in spite of specific instructions. He admitted to being much more tired than he had expected to be, but after over a quart of Wyler's and a salt tablet which I gave him, he made it back to camp. He would not have made it back before the brush had been cut, and could have become a real problem to the group. The eleven BMTC candidates, including four women, took their lessons seriously and came prepared. There was never any doubt that they would make it. There were also 15 HPS Emblem Holders on Southwell, and three of them with 200 bars.
The route to Southwell cannot be described verbally. After two round trips I'm still not sure whether to go over, to the right, or to the left of any particular obstacle. Sam Fink's trail is about 80% the same as the route we scouted earlier, and apparently very close to the route taken last year by Ripley. Sam, too, admits to some uncertainty in some spots, but his marker ribbons, ducks, and cut brush can usually be found. The ridge is very steep on both sides all the way. The steepness varies from about 45° to 90°. The round trip distance from Red Tahquitz is probably no more than three miles, but there is much Class 2 and some Class 3. (Even higher, if you're particularly inept!) The only route is frequently through dense brush over head, often on a steep slope. Fink's cutting will definitely assist future hikers. It will regrow somewhat by next year, but the route should still be visible and easier than before. It was generally conceded that the only appropriate action to properly repay the thoughtfulness and three days of trail preparation was to initiate action to call this route the "Sam Fink Trail". It goes roughly as follows: After descending the south side of Red Tahquitz, climb over some rocks, then closely skirt the right side of the first large pinnacle. Next, drop below the ridge on the east side and contour. Cross over a small saddle with a point jutting eastward from the main ridge, and follow the cut brush downward. The trail drops below some large rock outcroppings and goes over some. Near Southwell, the trail crosses a notch to the west side of the ridge, passing a vertical drop of over a hundred feet in one spot. The Sam Fink Trail drops about fifty feet just as main final rise is reached. This avoids some rock. After dropping, the trail zig-zags its way up a wooded slope to the summit.
Southwell Peak is a worthy nominee for our Hundred Peaks List, and will be a popular run for the gung-ho crowd. It is also a very nice trip for people who want to get away from firebreaks, smog, and tourists. It's a good trip, and I'm looking forward to leading it again.
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