Alamo Mountain, McDonald Peak, Sewart Mountain, Snowy Peak, Black Mountain #2, White Mountain #2, Cobblestone Mountain
6-7 November 2001
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
Big Ventura: Cobblestone, White, Snowy, Black and Friends
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 didn't know.
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?)
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