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Ascent of Red Top on 2016-03-16

Climber: Jim Wick

Others in Party:Larry Edmonds -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Red Top
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:4023 ft / 1226 m

Ascent Trip Report

Parked at the Aqua Caliente County Park day-use area ($3 day use fee). There was a temporary sign at the trailhead about trail use times and recent mountain lion activity. Times likely were set prior to daylight savings. We hit the trail at approx. 7:18am. Headed up the Moonlight Canyon Loop trail. We set a slightly slower than normal pace due to the later/forecasted temperatures, difficult terrain, and long distance. I started with 2.5 liters of water; we had 4 gallons of water cached at mile 3.5. The loop trail is a maintained trail and was still in the shade from the morning sun. At about half a mile note a trail sign with arrows pointing both directions (~N32.94197, W116.30424). There is a ducked trail that heads to upper moonlight canyon and beyond. We didn't notice it on the way in. We continued to the .6 mile mark where there is a sandy wash and a trail closed sign. So we headed up to the left out of the wash and towards the upper canyon; bypassing the closed area. The ducked trail is the best route as it not only avoids the closed area but rock fall hazards (likely the reason for the closure). We rejoined the wash later and noticed the other end of the ducked (detour) trail at N32.93982, W116.30317. We continued up the canyon wash; which had an occasional small dry fall to climb/scramble. At the 2 mile mark we reached a saddle which is the upper end of Moonlight Canyon. It is a great viewpoint of the north inner pasture. We scramble down to the edge of the pasture. Now we are in the land of sharp plant forests. Towering ocotillo, tall/large cholla with tons of cholla grenades litering the ground. Travel is slowed by pain avoidance navigation. We headed SW across the pasture to remnants of an old road (now a faint sandy path). We reached our water cache (@mile 3.5). The cache had been placed the month before by a larger group with the plan to do this route as an overnight hike. But a storm hit on our planned dates. We refilled our bottles and continued up a wash (along the old road). Past a spring depicted on the topos; there was no water found. The sandy wash became smaller and smaller; then bouldery (~5mile). We continued to navigate the wash bottom around boulders of all sizes (couch to house). Larry took a huge spill from a smooth rock; luckily his arm was able to cushion the fall as well as the sandy bottom. Our plan was to ascend Red Top via the north ridge. So we left the wash at N32.89804, W11634042 and headed towards the north ridge. We noticed the west (right) side of the ridge was likely impassible due to house size boulders and too steep terrain. We would veer more to the east (left) side of the ridge on the ascent. The going was very slow. Mostly due to heat and route finding. We reached the first of several bumps of the ridge. Even the east side had impassible sections. In fact at a few points, there was only one route thru the boulder fields. We didn't have ladders and rope; nor the energy or time if we did. At this point I was getting tired and hungry, my pace was slowed by previous days of heavy hill climb training on a bike. Larry slowly pulled further ahead of me. Once I reached the final bump and saddle below the summit, I stopped for lunch as well as changed to a long sleeve shirt. I was getting too much sun exposure. I noticed Larry was about 160 feet below the summit (about 320 vertical feet above me). He was coming down. That was either good news or bad news. Good news if he reached the summit as that meant he found a route and I could reach the same in about 30 minutes. Bad news if he couldn't reach the summit. We had reset our turnaround time a couple times and was pushing the time limit. Not that we didn't have supplies and headlamps, but we were getting tired with lots of hard down-hiking, slow navigation, and long distance back to the trailhead. Besides navigating cholla forests at night isn't a pleasant proposition. I continued up until I met Larry coming down. The news was bad, he couldn't find a route through the boulders plus beyond our revised turnaround time. So we headed down. Going back was just as tough going up; in time and energy. The heat of the day plus exhaustion was getting to me. I stopped several times to "cool down"; pouring water on my head. It was nice to know and have gallons of water cached along the way. We reached the water cache at approx. 4:10pm. Rested, refueled, and refilled the bottles. Left fifteen minutes later. It also helped that the temps were subsiding. Successfully navigated the sharp plant forests and reached the saddle at the upper end of Moonlight Canyon approx. 5:15pm. At this point, the canyon was mostly in the late afternoon shade. We were tired but the thought of recent mountain lion activity was in the back of our minds. It helped push through the fatigue and aches. We found and took the ducked bypass trail to reach the moonlight canyon loop (maintained) trail. We reached the trailhead at approx. 6:15pm. Long day, great adventure, just didn't bag the peak. We second-guessed if we hadn't tried north ridge but continued to the saddle between red top and sawtooth HP; but even that route was slow going around boulders. Likely will bag red top from the McCain Valley/Pepperwood Canyon (south side) approach as we were familiar with the route as we bagged Sawtooth HP the previous year.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3365 ft / 1025 m
    Extra Gain:336 ft / 102 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.4 mi / 20 km
    Route:Moonlight Cyn Trail/N. Inner Pasture
    Trailhead:Aqua Caliente County Park  1330 ft / 405 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 8 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 50 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Jim Wick
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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