May 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm #1289660
Not everything goes to plan, especially when measuring obstacle difficulty from the perspective of a 1:68k topo and a couple online photographs. For those familiar with the San Gabriel Mountains, Gunsight Notch on San Antonio Ridge is a beast for anyone with the slightest fear of heights. Nevertheless I had planned to tackle this 30+ mile mountainous (>9000') loop, of which roughly half would be without trail, for over a year. Each summit to Baldy reminded me I needed to see this remote section in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area.
I originally planned for a 2.5-day trek. I was returning from work in Florida around 9 Fruday evening and planned to make camp at Baldy's summit around 2am but as it turned out I did not arrive at the TH until well after 12:30am. Bear Canyon Trail from Baldy Vistor Centre is a 6.7 mile climb from roughly 4300ft to 10,068ft and took me a little less than three and a half hours.
I arrived at the summit at 4:30 just in time to see the skies turning colour. I'm hoping this next part reaches someone on these forums because at the summit someone in a Tarptent (Squall 2?) decided to ambitiously loot most of the rocks from the other windbreaks in order to build a massive enclosure for their single campsite. I broke out the vapour barrier in order to stay above hypothermic for my planned 2-4hr nap… amounting in little over 20 minutes of sleep.
I packed out in the morning and descended West Baldy along the western ridge. Spartan cairns mark the easiest descent but one will inevitably lose sight multiple times. Just head down and stay on the crest.
Halfway along the ridge I realized I had lost my Native Dash sunglasses and my backup pair of Smartwool socks. Feck! Hotspots were beginning to set in and the sun exposure made both losses hard. The sunglasses were folded onto my neckline and must have slid off when navigating under a fallen log or such; and the socks… well the socks must not have liked me. It was still a beautiful hike.
I reached the formidable Gunsight Notch around noon and having drank the last of the water began the climb down. NOTE: DO NOT CLIMB DOWN THE NORTH SIDE FROM THE EAST. This chimney is slick with sand and slate scree and has an unforgiving bottom[less] ledge, dropping another 1000ft. Apparently there is a rather easy scree descent on the south side.
Navigating across the notch and to the south side of the western notch I discovered the gully – arguably the easiest way back to the ridge. Now this is where pictures can't do justice.
Because this 'gully' is about 40ft of slightly-near-cliff status supported by a 1,800ft drop-off if you were to slip. This is hard Class 3 climbing, possibly Class 4 because of the "un-roped falls could be fatal" description. I made three attempts but couldn't bring myself over the last precipice. My slight fear of heights were justified and the hour of exposure exacerbated dehydration. Knowing I would not make Iron Mountain I descended into the gulch in search of water.
I eventually found water seeping from a rock outcrop – well above Widman Ranch but significantly lower than the first spattering of mine relics. There are public trails north of the ranch but I could not bother to find them. The risk of rattlesnake was too great and my hotspots were now painful blisters, having descended shale scree and struggling along an overgrown gulch for the better part of three miles. The Tom Harrison Angeles High County 1:68k map was useless bushwacking and I ran into plenty of dangerously steep, but beautiful waterfalls.
At this point my camera battery died and I my Benchmade Griptillian somehow slipped off my belt. That made for approximately $200 of lost equipment in less than 18 hours. Livid, but in pain and ready to reach the Cattle Canyon two-track at the base of Coldwater Canyon, I trudged into Widman Ranch around 4:30pm. My Widman was at first verbally aggressive but sympathetic to my experience, going to far as to drive me five miles "past more ornery characters than [himself]" to the Cattle Canyon gate. I shook his hand goodbye understand that if I set foot on his property again I'd be arrested. :)
The next 5 miles was a dirt road deathmarch on blistered feet until reaching Baldy Village at 8pm. Serendipity – caught the end of the Wayweather-Cotto fight at the local pub. Even having lost $200 in equipment, blistered feet from not being able to change socks, I managed about 22 miles in a single day hike and even now, two days later, feel I need to reattempt :D
>>> Additional movies/images available at my tumblr: http://mitchchesney.tumblr.com
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