Big Pine Mountain, Madulce Peak, Samon Peak, West Big Pine

29-30 May 2005

By: George Wysup


I need these monsters (Samon, Madulce, Big Pine, and West Big Pine) for list #7 and managed to find several other people, who either had no clue or who had forgotten the previous experience, to join me on this. Many of them decided to go a day earlier. It is wise to spread this 50 miler with almost 10,000' gain over as many days as possible. I am not wise.

After sleeping at the trailhead Saturday night, John Connelly, Roxana Lewis, Sonia Arancibia, and I headed up the road by good moonlight at 4:40 am. Yes, that’s right, 4:40. We arrived at Chokecherry Spring at about 9 am to meet some hikers who had climbed the Big Pines on the previous day. They were: Wayne Vollaire, Edd Ruskowitz, Melissa Kane, Diana and Jorge Estrada, and Don Cwik.

The spring was running free; plenty of water pouring into the trough and also down the dirt slope. Liter bottles fill in 3 seconds. There should be ample water even in October this year. I did not filter mine (I'm lazy, and I trust my bad judgment) and, 5 days later, I have no evidence of illness.

Some were nursing blisters from the day before. They had added some extra miles after turning right at the 4.5-mile road junction, an error that they eventually corrected. Then, Zobeida Molina and Tom Connery, who had left the trailhead at 6 am with day packs, caught us just as we were all preparing to bag Samon.

The weather was cool enough, but the air was still. Twelve of us headed up that gully to Samon at about 9:30. The gully is beginning to get a bit dangerous because of all the loose rock, and traversing out of the gully to the ridge requires vegetable belays or really good lug soles to avoid plummeting back down. The route is notably more brushy than it was last year, as you might assume after all the rain, but is basically the same as ever, and better than it was about 4 years ago. Without performing surgery on the brush, Samon will soon be back to nature and impenetrable to all but the hardest bush whackers.

The first casualty was Jorge Estrada, who was feeling very poorly, likely the effects of the previous day's effort, so he waited at the meadow. Then there were 11. An easy pace with few routefinding errors got us to the summit before 12:30, with the first timers wondering why anyone would ever do this more than once. Edd measured the route on his GPS, coming up with 2.1 miles for the one-way distance. Edd began to feel quite queasy, so everyone fed him Gatorade, GU, Ener-C, and whatever other miracle foods to the point that he felt really queasy. This slowed our return, so we reached the spring something after 3:30. Zobeida and Tom headed back down the hill, having gotten the one peak that they wanted or needed.

At this point 8 of the hikers were up for Madulce - Diana, a recovered Jorge, Don and Wayne in addition to my foursome. We promptly headed up the road leaving Edd and Melissa to stay in their camp at the spring. At about 7 pm they were awakened, yes that's right, awakened at 7 pm, by two bikers who turned out to be Kathy Cheever and Mars Bonfire returning from another conquest of Big Pine and its westerly cousin.

The 3-day group had told of being awakened the previous night by a large rockslide nearby. We could see it on our way up the road. An unwary camper could have turned into vulture food. Lesson: watch where you pitch your camp at Chokecherry Spring. We four hauled our backpacks and a backbreaking load of extra water up to Madulce Saddle so we could camp there. The advantage of this is that we would not have to hike this extra 3.4 miles with 700’ of gain twice.

We 8 departed for Madulce a bit after 5 pm, anticipating a post-dark return. This is a good way to turn a pretty and enjoyable hike into a hurry up trudge. The trail up to the junction is as good as ever, but there are many more fallen trees across the upper trail now, making the trek a bit slower. We reached the summit in under two hours and spent less time up there than the peak deserves.

On the return we stayed in a group to the trail junction, at which point I figured my group responsibility ended since everyone had lamps. I removed about half a pound of pink plastic tape from the route (why can't people who need to leave this litter remove it on their return?) I reached our camp at the saddle at about 8:45 without needing my headlamp. Others, quite a distance back, turned theirs on. We bade them all a fond adieu as they headed back to rockslide heaven for the night. Sonia, the only one of us with a tent, struggled some to erect it in the dark. A cold "dinner," and we hit the hay after a day of some 22 miles with perhaps 7000' elevation gain, much of it with loaded backpacks.

Roxana, true to her usual style, wanted us all to get up at 4 am to start hiking early, presumably so we could get back early to the crime and pollution from which we had just escaped. I got up at 5:30 (for the usual reason), and figured further sleep would help little. My legs were quite out of fuel, but nothing was going to fix that problem quickly. Suck it up and hike, Wysup!

We headed off for Big Pine at 6:22 am, Roxana said. My eyes were too bleary to read my watch face, so I trusted her. Initial (a week earlier) intelligence from Markey and Robert Neighbors was that the road from Alamar was littered with downed trees. We were pleased to hear from Wayne and Co. that the road had been fixed and the trees were gone. So the hike to Big Pine was pretty much the same as always. I had intended to take the shortcut from the summit of Big Pine, heading southwest through the brush down to the road (which I had done a few times with good results), but I changed my mind after seeing that most of the trees had their tops blown off, and I didn't want to spend the rest of the day crawling under logs. The other group had taken that shortcut, or something resembling it, the day before and they pronounced it "extremely brushy." So we descended the way we ascended, more or less along the old road. No big savings from that shortcut anyway.

On the way to West BP we encountered a friendly fellow with mountain bike loaded with panniers fore and aft. He had come up via Oso campground past Little Pine Mountain. He was a Santa Barbara local who, to his credit, had negligible interest in HPS. Signing in on West BP, John noticed that Mars and Kathy (yet another mountain bike adventure) had signed in on the day before. They probably cruised by while we were battling Samon and Madulce; anyway we didn't see them. There are a few newly downed trees on the trail to West Big Pine, but they did little to impede our progress.

We got back to Madulce Saddle at about 12:30. I had been feeling really tired and sore and was even slower than usual. John Con suggested I pop a few vitamin I pills (ibuprofen, in case you haven't heard). This worked amazingly well, making the rest of the hike out almost comfortable. We reached the cars (and my cold beer) at about 6 pm.

We hit the Memorial Day homeward bound traffic on I-5 at about the town of Cardiac (sp?) and drove the next 15 miles or so at speeds between 0 and 20. I've got to move out of this rotten, congested, polluted area! But I won't. Question of the week: Why is it that so many otherwise intelligent native English speakers insist on calling Madulce "Mal Dusay?"


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