The Trip and Goals
After our incredible trip of bagging Independence Peak earlier this month, Deb and I were eager to do some more peakbagging on a local scale. She found some information on a area that neither of us had visited: The South-East region of the San Jacinto Wilderness, containing Spitler Peak, Apache Peak, and Antsell Rock. Our plan was to depart trail head at 7am, and hike up the Fobes Saddle Trail up to the PCT junction, continue up and bag Spitler, Apache, and Ansell, with the intention with time permitting to go bag South Peak and maybe
Red Tahquitz. Some fun class 2-3 stuff was to be had on the summit blocks, along with great views on a snowy trail.
December 23, 2006- The Day Arrives...
I arrived at Deb's at 530am that morning and we started driving out to the trail head of Fobes Ranch. The dirt road up to the trail head was bumpier than expected, and we arrived a little late and got started at 715am, fifteen min later than we wished, but oh well. The trail leading up to Fobes Saddle is real cool, with large rock slabs that would be fun to mess around on, and a beautifully carved trail wrapping around the mountain side. I think that it was 2 miles up to the Saddle, and It went fairly quickly. We arrived at Fobes Saddle to find some junk left behind at the PCT junction. "What a bunch of Jerk's!" Deb exclaimed, and I concur. We decided to pick it up and haul it our on the way down.
The ridge gained from there is gorgeous, view's of Palm Desert and the valleys below were stunning and the sun beamed on us for the first time today. As we ascended from the Saddle, the wind's that we heard in the weather forecast were on point. We experienced these winds on the passes and peaks all day, except for after 4pm. 15-22mph winds were not that bad but cold at times. We were each well dressed and layered so the weather was never a issue all day. And after about a 40 min hike from Fobes Saddle, we stopped on trail and started our way off-trail up to the first peak, Spitler. We trudged up the snowy banks of the East slopes and found our way to a less-climatic summit. We asked each other "This is it?!?", disenchanted with the spot. Oh well, we stopped to have a bite and drink and enjoy the clear blue sky's and views of Baldy, way out there. Deb reminded me of the SP gathering up there the same day and had a laugh on how beautiful it was where we were, wondering if it was close to the Baldy trip conditions. I started taking a couple of pictures and noticed that deb had run off to check out the other side of the peak. I quickly downed some grub and after a five min rest, Deb comes running over. "The summit's over here" she shouted. Apparently she was yelling for a min or two over from the true summit, but the winds drowned her out. So we laughed and jumped about 250 yards south east and found the true summit and register. Signed, and pictured we were out. We descended the peak back down to the PCT, and the stretch of the trail between Spitler and Apache is awesome, one of my fav stretches in socal. We found some really old signs, and we stumbled upon a weird skeleton of a dead animal on the trail as well. Neither of us could figure out what the hell that was. "Duckdog" was the term we joked and called it for the remainder of the day.
After some more hiking we gained Apache Col, as I called it in fun. It is a broad saddle stretching between the true and false summit. The southernmost peak is the true summit, with some fun class 2-3 rocks on it, along with a tin can summit register. The pen was old and we scratched out a couple of lines. Names, date, and 'Fucking pen!' were written I believe. We had a drink and set out off Apache for Antsell Rock. All day the sun, the views and the company were all truly incredible. Deb and I laughed and joked up and down the mountains all day and were looking forward to getting some more 'work' done today, so we sped out off-trail down Apache Col and gained the trail back around the side of the ridge.
The Start of the Unexpected
Deb and I have both realized now that we are going slower than we anticipated. With 'duckdog' pics, lots a joking around, and not worrying about time all morning, we found it to be after 1230pm as we were hiking down PCT to Anstell and South Peak. "We may not get South Peak today" I asked Deb, and she said we will most likely tag Anstell and go home, as It is getting dark early this time of year and all.
We continued along the trail as snow was becoming deeper and post holing became more frequent, but we just kept going. We stopped at a spot on the North East side of Ansell on PCT and thought about it. " It's 1:40" Deb said, as we started to think about our 2:01 turn around time. "Its class 3 up there?" I asked, and Deb nodded. We decided that a walk home in the dark wasn't a horrible thing, as we encountered the same thing on Independence Peak. I said that I would lead us up. We pushed up a snowy steep slope, jumping from rock to tree well, or downed lumber as much as possible, as snow was deep, post holing.
We gained the large start of summit rocks, and saw that there were two large rock faces on each side, and we couldn't remember which was the true summit. The North summit was closer to us, and looked higher to us, so we started climbing up class 4 rocks with Ice starting to appear everywhere now. A couple of precarious moves with decent exposure got our blood pumping, but we were smiling and just going up. We reached the bottom of the large summit rock pinnacle, and found only one way up, a rock chute, aside from free-climbing the vertical North face in hiking boots, we had no other option. I led up the chute, that we named something I cannot share.(I will say fuck or shit on SP, but not this)
And on two occasions I ripped off handhold's that tumbled down dearly hitting Deb. Holy Shit! Ok, the fun was officially over now. We both just wanted to get up and summit and get out of there. Deb jokingly, but also ironically said "Climber's do not obsess over the summit" as we continued up for the top of the chute that we thought led to the summit. Four letter words came-a-flying when I gained the chute's top. The summit was 20 vertical feet above, with the only way up a sketchy loose rock 5.9 looking route. Shit! Now we both agreed 'Fuck the summit, we gotta get back down safely!' Easer said than done... We climbed the #@!$ &*%# chute saying that we didn't want to come down this way, and now our options were down to bad or worse. The other side of the top of the chute, the only other way down was filled with manzanita and brush.
"Ok, let's just do this" we agreed. We down climbed the brushy chute and found drop offs and Ice every where. Scrambling back around the God-forsaken rock we wanted so badly to ascend, we kept finding dead-ends, and it was getting really close to dark. After about the third attempt to get down the upper reaches, Deb sadly stated our time. 445pm. We had less than thirty minutes of not so bright light on the North side, and It took us more than two and a half hours to ascend our shitty high-point, when we knew that we had less that a half hour to ascend. Things started to change, adrenaline was flowing, bad thoughts were dancing around in my head, and Deb and I had reached what we thought was our way out. We found the base of one of the bluffs, that for the first time we could see the forest, and our trail was not far out from there. But there was just one problem with our one way down. It was a 35 foot large rock crack with ice and snow, in dark conditions, with horrible exposure on a 5.6 downclimb. Due to the demands of this downclimb, and in a hasty and horrible decision, I decided to throw some of my gear down the chute for better control of weight on this really ugly crack to downclimb. Deb threw her crampons to start attempting the unknown. As she went down, I noticed that she was having a hard time, and with her being so much more experienced and better at rock climbing skills than me, my mind said 'I can't do this'. My mind raced, my concentration slipped, as did I; dislodging a shoe sized rock down at Deb. She dodged right as I screamed "ROCK!" as a quivering shock engulfed me. That's it. I decided to do something instead of helplessly watching Deb try some stupid idea of mine. I told Deb to come back up to our sketchy ledge we were on top of on this death chute, and I shot up the mountainside again. I knew I had to find another way out. As I stormed up the slope, I heard my body telling me what's happening. It said that I am tired, but this is your emergency nitro tank, and It is there for me to get us out of here. It was wierd as I climbed up; my body just went faster than I can remember ever going up anything ever. Before I knew it, I reached another downslope that was snowcovered. I screamed at the top of my lungs at Deb. She shouted back and said she is coming. We came down some class 4 rocks and some snow slopes. It was now dark, and the headlights came on. We shuffled through the foot high light snow, and stumbled on the trail.
I volunteered to fetch the gear alone, as there was no reason for the two of us to tire ourselves out, and after watching her downclimb the death chute just moments ago, I felt guilty. I started my way up.
The way up was crazy. I felt like I was on the Discovery channel or something. As I plunged one foot in front of the other up the steep snow slope, I crawled up on my hand and knees with my face inches from the snow. I could see my breath through the beams of the light against the white icy background. It was a moment that I will always remember in my mountaineering life. I looked up and I could see 15 meteres up, there was the gear. I got up and stashed the gear, and downed half my water supply. With a half bottle of water, I filled the rest in snow, and put the bottle in my "hot" spot of my pack, near my body so the snow melts into water. I shouted down " I got it!I'm coming down ". I knew the craziness was over. As I climbed down to the trail, I could care less about the 6+ miles back in snow and ice. I was happy just to have a trail to follow!
I wont tell you the walk back was easy. My feet were soaked from the gear retrival with no gaiters, and I was exausted. The beautiful views of Palm Springs at night and the amazing amount of stars out that night made it easy not to think about the shitty stuff.
We hustled as much as posssible back to the car, I think it was 945pm when we were back at the car. The way down was long. But the suffering was over.
We were back on the road, safe, not broken, and alive. We could barely move when we shuffled into a Carl's Jr in Hemet. We looked like a couple of crazy people, as we looked ragged and tired, and I had no shoes on. Pretty funny to the cashier. We talked about the day, and did what we did all day before the Ansell situation; we laughed about it. The drive home I didnt listen to any music on the way home. That's weird for me, but I had so much to think about from that day. I went through the gauntlet of emotions. I was happy, eager, scared, anxious, shocked, jovial, serious, frightened and fearless. One wild day. I was home around 12:30pm, after a spirited bout of avoiding drunks on the freeway. It was over. I am home.