Friday, December 17, 2010 of yet

Took a friend for a drive the other day. Happened to drive by the familiar trailhead to a modest urban area summit. We didn't stop (my friend is over ninety and uses a wheelchair) but I was reminded that I'd tried to ascend the peak some time ago with a couple of willing cohorts. We had heard that the trail was vague, with a number of offshoots leading away from the best route. Game trails, some of them. Otherwise the word had it that almost any approach meant a traverse over at least one of several loose boulder fields. Not classic hunks of talus, but mobile, long tongues of decomposing granite spilling down the steep shoulders of the peak.

So on the day of that hike, we weren't surprised when we arrived at a sizable field of this sort. Having traveled through brushy lower trails, it had been hard to keep the summit location in view. The gadget lover amongst us, I had a GPS unit on hand, but the surrounding rocky foothills played hell with its view to satellites. The GPS track zigged wildly over the map, to features we knew we hadn't come anywhere near. So we made a guess to the direction of the summit and began a route. The boulder field we encountered seemed to match an earlier hiker's description.

Soon, after many careful steps up loose suitcase-sized rocks, steeply arranged and none too secure, we began to see a narrowing chute above us. We needed to stay to the sides of the upper reaches of the rock field, avoiding a conveyor like center path. Entering the chute meant fewer loose rocks, but the terrain began to arrange itself in taller stairsteps, with the walls of the chute blocking any effective view of our destination.

Though we hadn't planned to, soon we were bouldering and beginning to reach a more exposed aspect of what we'd been led to believe would be a loose walkup, though strenuous. When we began to take stock of our position, we realized that we had all begun to think about the downclimb. We had reached a stairstep more like a wall; provoking us to entertain having the tallest among us give the other two a hand up to a wide ledge. Here is where we finally had to decide just what it was we were trying to accomplish. We were none too sure that our route wasn't destined to cliff out at a false summit. The day was advancing. And once we talked about it, we had to accept that our route no longer resembled the one described, nor was it a route we had fully prepared for. When you start wishing you had a rope, and have none, it's time to turn around. So, we descended, the better to fight another day.

In the many months since that adventure, things have intervened to delay and prevent another go. But it is still in the back of my mind to tackle it once more. Driving around the area, varying angles and perspectives can be seen; mostly one notices the large spilling tongues of loose stuff. The thing to do next time may be to contour further south, crossing right over the lower part of our ill fated boulder field that had led to the chute. We could make for a different rock field, then ascend after a longer approach that will still entail some loose stuff. A saddle to the south looks promising.

It's interesting having a challenge waiting to be cracked. This is no fabled peak. But it has the potential to frustrate if you're looking for the obvious. Prior hikers seem to agree that no obvious track exists. For now it is a study in topography to ponder. A vantage point to imagine surmounting.