Martinez Mountain

30 April 1999

By: Penelope May


A hot peak in a snow storm.!

When I could barely get out of bed, I knew it had been a Class 3 hike ... after all, Class 1 means you can get up with hands-in-pocket, Class 2 means you need hands for balance, Class 3 means scrambling is involved.... In fact, when I first woke up and moved a bit I just groaned, deciding instantly that a rope would be handy..ahhh.... could it have been a Class 4 hike? Yes, it was Martinez .... that lowly, lovely little hump out in the desert... just a stone's throw from civilization ... but about 17 miles and 5,000 feet by boot. Sierra Clubbers Kathleen Edwards, Marcia Holzman and I set off early... as in, awake at 4.30. am, 4-wheeling into the trailhead at 6.05 am, and walking on the trail by 6.39 am. We ambled along several miles of the so-called flat Cactus Spring trail (barely noticing the 800 feet of descent in between the uphill pulls) and did make it to the point of trail departure quite successfully. We found the "horizontal trunk" tree in the wash and gaily abandoned the trail to follow the wash (per instructions). Only 500 feet of gain up and around an unexpectedly lengthy, cactusy hillside, we emerged to see the target gully up Martinez; unfortunately our marvelous view was quite high above the most expeditious route to the peak. Still, lunch was nice... and we could survey the world from there. I tried to hide this tiny little mishap from our less experienced non-map-reading friend, who later surprised me in alluding to this move as the "place where you screwed up"... gosh, no mercy! Well, the peak was calling as we descended back to the "correct" wash and followed it almost over the saddle and into another valley completely. Our patience with this wash was wearing thin: so, we just headed directly for the gully... over whatever was in the way (and there was quite a bit). Finally, scratched but righteous, we were scrambling up the gully, one gasp at a time. The weather was a bit unpleasant: instead of boiling us to a soup as the time of year promised, it was freezing us into ice cubes. Nonetheless, in a mere 2 hours or so from the bottom, we sensed ourselves near the summit. With the snow coming down fiercely, the wind blowing and the cold conditions freezing our fingers, we squinted to find the correct "pinnacle" described in the write-up. Failing the success of that maneuver we used the compass and UTM coordinates... and hey presto, there was a promising rock pile. Finally discovering that it was mountable from the SE, we pulled ourselves up, held sway against the winds, and finally laid hands on that wondrous reward... the red can! Unable to contain our excitement at being blasted off the peak, we headed down. However, we took no chances with that naughty wash again... just made a bee line for the trail that we viewed during the occasional lifting of the clouds... up and over a hillock or two... spiked by an agave or two... down into yet another wash (the place is littered with them) and from there stumbled upon the trail. We more or less followed it, except for the part where we were talking too much and wandered into a wash (4 letter word by now) and realized it just in time to race cross-country to find the trail again before the sun began to set. The (completely forgotten till then) uphill finale of 800 feet through Horsethief Canyon would have been more swear-worthy if the sun setting in the desert had not been so beautiful: the rocks were gorgeously hued, the birds were twittering and the peace was ineffable... it made the suffering quite relaxing. As we finally put that last leg in front of the other to reach our vehicle, some 17 miles and 5,000 feet later, a huge full moon suddenly rose behind the clouds over Martinez, lighting up its silhouette mind-stopping.

Thank you, Martinez: you're worth it!


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