Friday, May 5, 2017

Peak 6306: Rigidly Inaccessible and Thornily Savage

Peak 6,306 from the Winston Ridge
Cucamonga Man is one of those handful of guys who really knows the San Gabriels. He's been to every peak in the range that you and I have been to, and he's trod every established and un-established trail. He knows the location of obscure and long-abandoned mines and where to find water in the otherwise dry landscape. In short, he's a walking, breathing topographic map of the Angeles National Forest.

So he's always on the hunt for new places in the range to explore. When you've been everywhere, that task gets more challenging with each passing day, but the San Gabriels is a big place that holds a lot of secrets. So I don't know whether it is even possible to really ever see it all. Even if you're Cucamonga Man. But he's trying. And he'll probably succeed.

Last September, I made my way out along the Winston Ridge to Pt. 6,850. When I returned, Cucamonga Man asked if I got any good pictures of Peak 6,306 because he was scouting it for a future trip. Before I could answer him, I had to look at my pictures and review a topographic map because I didn't even know Peak 6,306 was a thing. Sure, I may have actually seen it from the Winston Ridge, but I had no idea that it was anything other than a bump along an ancillary ridge blocking my sightline to the high desert. And I certainly hadn't contemplated actually visiting the damn thing.

But fast-forward six months and there I was, trudging along the Winston Ridge in the early morning cool with the Cucumonga Man and Dima "the Billy Goat" Kogan on our way to visit this obscure destination that feels and looks more high desert than it does forest.

We met at Cloudburst Summit at 7 a.m. to get a jump on the day and the impending heat. After chatting briefly with two PCT-through hikers who emerged from the forest just as we were departing, we began down the fire road, our packs sloshing heavily with 5-6 liters of water each. After wrapping around Winton's Peak's eastern slopes, we left the established trail, traversing the western side of Pt. 6,903 to gain easy access to the Winston Ridge.

The undulations of Winston Ridge are an easy walk and a pleasant place to spend time. But it wasn't always the case. In the winter of 1893, Pasadena banker L.C. Winston got lost in a blizzard here and perished, giving his name to the the ridge and nearby peak. With the benefit of topographic maps and an established use trail for access, it's difficult today to imagine losing your bearings here. But this was wild and unknown territory in those days without either trails or the nearby safety net that is the ACH. I suppose in white-out conditions with hypothermia setting in and the light fading, getting disoriented in the back-country was much easier back then than it is now. But maybe that's just a dangerous false sense of security that I really need to come to grips with.

Squaw Canyon with Pacifico in Rearground

North Side of Winston Peak

Hiking the Use Trail Along Winston Ridge

View Toward Pacifico from the Winston Ridge

Looking West from Pt. 6,850

Our Objective - Peak 6,306
Beyond the high point, Winston Ridge begins a slow and bumpy northwest descent terminating ultimately at the South Fork of Rock Creek some 2,500' below. At the bump at elevation 6,850', we lightened our packs by caching water in the shade of the hardy shrubbery that call this place home. We then dropped another 200' feet to a shadeless and forlorn hump along the ridge where the dreaded Poodle Dog was still trying to make a go of things. From this vantage point, Peak 6,306 loomed tantalizingly nearby to the north. 

But distances have an odd way of getting compressed in the thin mountains air. Horizons always appear to be much closer than in reality they are. Obstacles are easily ignored, challenges minimized. And so it was with Peak 6,306.

The way forward from where we stood was obvious: a 600' drop to a shallow saddle at roughly 5,900', a short climb to Pt. 6,147, and then an easy stroll to our objective. The first leg of this journey was simple enough. The steep ridge was clear, the footing was sure, and we quickly made it to what we dubbed Dead Tree Saddle because there is in fact a dead tree located at the saddle. Here, we cached more water, ate some snacks, and contemplated the fact that every reasonable route out from this location involved a strenuous climb of one sort or another.

But because we had not come this far to fail, we gamely pushed forward. Pushing forward in this context meant clawing our way to Pt. 6,147 up a very steep and loose slope punctuated with an assortment of sharp, prickly, and/or spiney flora. Beyond the crest of the hill, we entered untrammeled territory. Here, forward progress was impeded by clumps of impenetrable brush that we were forced to penetrate anyway by bashing and crunching our way though it. By the time we finally arrived at our destination atop Peak 6,306, our legs were a scratched and bloody mess. When John Muir said of the San Gabriel Mountains that they were both "rigidly inaccessible" and "ruggedly, thornily savage," he could have easily been speaking of the ridgeline leading to Peak 6,306.

Atop Peak 6,306 we found a summit cairn protecting a pristine register. The register indicated that it was placed by R.S. Fink on May 6, 1984. Since that date, the register reflected only a handful of other visitors to the peak. The first entry after the register was placed was dated February 10, 1991, almost 7 years after R.S. Fink originally visited. The next entry after that wasn't logged until February 21, 2015, a good 24 years later! Three months afterwards, on May 19, 2015, the peak was visited for the final time by George Christiansen, Pat Arrendondo, and Bruce Craig. After that, the register was blank. We dutifully added our names to the short list of visitors and then prepared ourselves for the slog out.

Starting the Descent to Dead Tree Saddle (Photo credit: Sean "Cucamonga Man" Green")

Looking at the Descent from Dead Tree Saddle

The Climb to Pt. 6,147 from Dead Tree Saddle

The Dead Tree at Dead Tree Saddle
Dima Breaking Brush (photo courtesy of Sean "Cucamonga Man" Green)
Summit Register Atop Peak 6,306 (p. 1)

Summit Register Atop Peak 6,306 (p. 2)

Pacifico and Bare Mountain from Peak 6,306

High Desert from Peak 6,306
The return trip involved back-tracking the same way we came in. We fought our way through the brush back to Pt. 6,147, slid down the loose hillside to Dead Tree Saddle, and then slowly ground our way back up to the Poodle Dog infested hump at approximately 6,640.' Fortunately for me, Cucamonga Man had done trail work the day before in Dark Canyon, and Dima was operating on only 2 hours sleep, so I was able to keep them in view as I suffered up the steep incline.

Back on Winston Ridge, we reclaimed our cached water and then reclined in the cool shade and long shadows of the afternoon. Weary but rested, we then exited the ridge, skirted the north side of Pt. 6,903, rejoined the PCT, and returned to Cloudburst Summit satisfied to have experienced one of the lesser-visited locations in the otherwise heavily-visited San Gabriel Range.

Little Rock Creek Drainage from Dead Tree Saddle

Serrated Ridge Coming Off the North Side of Winston Ridge

Recharging the Batteries on the Winston Ridge

Skirting the North Side of Pt. 6,903 (Photo credit: Sean "Cucamonga Man" Green")

View East from the PCT
KML Track of Our Route