Ascent of Hines Peak on 2014-08-18

Climber: Dan Baxter

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, August 18, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Hines Peak
    Elevation:6716 ft / 2047 m

Ascent Trip Report


This was a special day for me, as i completed the California Fifty Finest list - the 50 most prominent peaks in California.

This report is also a warning to all who are expecting a safe class 2 climb as described in previous reports.

I originally expected to summit this peak in November 2010 on a HPS-Sierra Club hike led by Dave Comerzan, on the day after Thanksgiving. It rained 5 days before, so I (and Dave) called the ranger station on Wednesday to make sure the gate and Nordhoff Ridge Road would be open. "No problem", we were told. Surprise, surprise. I drove the 5 hours from Fresno down there two days later. The group waited for the Ojai ranger station to open, as no employee showed up until a half hour after the scheduled opening, and then a grumpy employee who openly stated he was upset that he had to work the day after Thanksgiving told us he would not allow access, as "no one has had a chance to check out the road since last week's rain". Total bullshit. Then many delays due to my own schedule conflicts, filled gate pass quotas, wildfires, etc. Even this year the seasonal opening of Nordhoff Road was delayed past the planned May 1 opening (drought year, no snow or rain issues) until only a couple of weeks ago. Finally I had my chance.

I camped the night before at Rose Valley campground, which was nearly filled with deer hunters, as the hunting season had recently opened. Foul mouthed drunken revelers partied late into the night, and mariachi music filled the air.

The drive up to Nordhoff Ridge and the trailhead was uneventful and both the HPS and Dennis Poulin's driving instructions were right on. I made the minor mistake of following the HPS instructions and I parked at the small clearing 1/10 mile before the final gate. This meant I had the small but uphill distance to walk before the gate, where there is actually a good turn around and parking for a few vehicles.

The first half of the road hike was absolutely miserable, entirely because of these horrible small flies that hovered en masse around my head. The kind you see around horse eyes. Note to self - always use odor free sunscreen, NOT the type with "baby scent". I could not mouth breathe as I would inhale them into my trachea. They occasionally got into my nose. They landed on my eyeglasses and rarely into my eyes. I Used my iPod's earbuds to keep them out of my ears but I could still hear their annoying high pitched mosquito like noise.

The road persistently climbed at a gentle grade past the two passes and the ridge line as reported in other's report.

Now the kicker. The final XC route to the summit IS NOT a simple class 2 endeavor. It is in fact a dangerous class 3 or even class 4 maneuver at the "knife edge ridge". This caught me entirely off guard as others described it otherwise. Even my friend Dennis Poulin described it only as "The slope is steep and requires some attention to the details. There are loose rocks and gravel that can be problems." How could Dennis have understated it so badly? Well, what has happened is that erosion has worn the knife edge to the point where for about 30 feet it is a sharp edged ridge of loose small rock. One minor slip to the left and you will absolutely not stop bouncing and sliding down sharp small rocks for a hundred feet. To the right (south) is even worse. Your carcass will be found about 200 feet down, where the rock is more solid. To make matters worse, the knife edge itself is saddle shaped, and at the far end it upslopes probably 30 degrees, which made the return even more dangerous.

I suspect all this is new as the use trail below the knife edge (loose, airy and risky in itself) disappears at the knife edge, undoubtably due to recent erosion.

Above the knife edge is no picnic, either, even higher where you can grab more stable bedrock and bush trunks. The final push to the summit is gentle. Great views of the Channel Islands. But I was too shaken and in dread of the descent to enjoy it. As soon as I stopped shaking and after two Hail Marys and 1 Our Father I began the descent. I in fact would have totally scrubbed on the peak were it not for my stupidity - blinded by my wants and desires to complete the Fifty Finest list. The climb was a stupid thing to do. Too late now, I had no choice but to descend. The knife edge was a terror. I sat down, and found it safer to straddle one leg down each side. I extended my pole fully, using it below and the other hand grabbing the loose crap on the uphill side. I slowly (half hour?) backed down, backwards, centimeter by centimeter.

I highly recommend that should a group do it in the future that the intrepid leader carry a rope and rappel ring, and set up an anchor on the tree/bush just above the knife edge. Or consider dropping south down the Last Chance Trail and then ascending Hines' west ridge, which appears safer. Otherwise I fear some loss of life, if the knife edge does not weather to a safer rounded edge.

The road descent was remarkable only in that my friends the flies returned to hound me as I approached the side road/trail. That, the increasing August heat, and my Hines experience all led me to cancel my planned secondary climb of Topa Topa Ridge, and even minor peaks on the drive back down. In fact, I even cancelled a planned climb of Magic Mountain Wilderness Area HP the next day. I just wanted to count my blessings, get home, pray my thankfulness in church, and prepare for this Saturday's Trans-Sierra Day Hike.

Dan Baxter
Fresno CA
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1237 ft / 377 m
    Route:Trail 21W08 from Nordhoff Ridge Road
    Trailhead:Point 5479 clearing  5479 ft / 1669 m
    Grade/Class:Class 4!
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear

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