05 November 2016

Sewart, White, and Cobblestone Mountains

Los Padres National Forest

It is 6 AM sharp and we are assembled at Buck Creek Trailhead and ready to start the big hike of the weekend. The sun will not be seen for another hour, so lights are on. We are starting off in another area that was hit hard by the Day Fire in 2006 and there are lots of trees down on the trail. This one has been being used by hunters over the last few weeks, so there is plenty of trail snaking around the downed logs. A clear old bulldozer track marks a much more direct route that is probably the trail through this section. The trees are so bad, our track only flirts with the trail a bit.

Some blurry beginnings of light in the east, but mostly light reflecting from bright do-not-shoot-us clothing.

The first peak is Sewart Mountain and we will actually be climbing it four times this weekend. It is only a mile along, so we get to it quite quickly. The sun has still not come up, but there is enough dawn light to tuck away our headlamps as we cluster onto the rocky spot a little higher than all around it.

Sewart Mountain
On Sewart Mountain in the dawn light. They are pointing at the final goal (besides getting back): Cobblestone Mountain.

Cobblestone Mountain
The bulk of Cobblestone Mountain rises dark against the dawn light.

The track continues down the other side of the mountain, still flirting with a bulldozer path trail under the fallen trees. As we get lower and the mountain side a little steeper, we fall into the wide trail again and skirt around the trees across it instead of ranging wildly. The width is overgrown, but there is an open track along it and the cut is very easy to see. The trail splits early on. There is no sign, but the map (USGS Alamo Mountain 1958 7.5') would indicate Buck Creek or Big Cedar Creek Trail to the left, Cobblestone Trail to the right. We lose a lot of elevation, all of which will have to be climbed again after we have finished climbing all the peaks of the day. It makes this hike a little daunting.

Buck Creek
The view in the early sun down Buck Creek to Liebre Mountain in the distance and I-5 in between.

At the bottom, the bulldozer track takes on the character of a fuel break instead of a trail. The route ahead is rolling and as we pass on it, bulldozer tracks continue along a generally reasonable trail route as well as along the ridge edge for an old fuel break. We keep having choices as to where we go, but they keep coming back to the same place.

trail like road
The trail is like an old bulldozer cut road.

Suddenly the bulldozer track vanishes. The hill ahead is covered in oaks and did not hold the wide track. Now a narrow one climbs up past a loose wooden post stuck in the hollow of a stump. Tape marks it further along. At the next saddle, there are the weathered remains of a sign. There was clearly lettering on the pieces once, but it is uninterpretable now. Two posts broken off just above the ground show where it was set. This is another option for the Buck Creek turnoff, but there is no sign of the trail here. We continue on Cobblestone Trail to a second junction with a sign in better shape.

hillside under the oaks
There is plenty of space under the oaks where the trail was presumably plowed.

Condor Sanctuary
Looking towards Hines Peak with the Condor Sanctuary on the left and Old Man Mountain far in the distance on the right.

trail sign on the ground
The trail sign at the junction of Cobblestone Trail and White Mountain Trail. Sewart is called Stewart on it and it indicates the closer junction is Buck Creek Trail.

We stop for some snacks marveling at the idea that we are actually still on trail. From here, the group would usually head up Cobblestone Mountain first, but today we have a guy who has two peaks left to finish his list and he wants to finish on Cobblestone. Today, we go for White Mountain first. Trail goes over hills and around hills, sometimes both, as we go. We find a bit of bulldozer track again, but it soon drops down toward Buck Creek. The map shows nothing for this trail but to go toward the peak and end, but it might either go all the way to Buck Creek or it might curve around to meet another trail that comes up the other side of the mountain and just ends. Any thoughts of where it goes are speculation because we are climbing to the top.

Devils Heart Peak
A rocky heart on a distant hill marks Devils Heart Peak. A lookout tower on the edge of visibility on the higher peak behind it marks Topatopa Mountain.

along the ridge
Following along the ridge toward White Mountain.

There is a bit of brush at the top, but for the most part we can find a spot to look out any direction.

the rest of the ridge
Looking down the rest of the ridge as it drops toward Dome Mountain and Slide Mountain.

Liebre Mountain
The view across I-5 to Liebre Mountain.

Catalina Island
The valleys to the south.

Snowy Peak and Black Mountain
Snowy Peak and Black Mountain, the peaks for tomorrow. Black seems to have quite a few bumps before the high point.

ridge back the way we came
Looking back the way we came from most recently.

We head back down to the sign remains, then turn to follow the Cobblestone Trail again. It quickly turns into a thin track on the edge of a steep hill. The old trail came along here and dropped to a saddle between the two mountains. We follow it roughly. A loose sign post sits in the middle of the saddle where a trail once dropped to Agua Blanca Creek. Again, there is no trail visible. Cobblestone climbed the north side of the mountain a little over halfway and we continue roughly along its route. At some point it used to turn to wrap around the mountain to Cobblestone Camp by the spring. It is very comfortable to be climbing the north side a week after a good rain. The dirt below our feet is still wet and keeps us cool while keeping the dirt in place. The climb gets steeper and even turns into a rock scramble shortly as we continue past wherever the trail used to flatten out to the top.

going up
Going up.

White Mountain
White Mountain is a much more gentle mountain.

rock scramble
Hitting the rock scramble part of the trip.

Cobblestone Mountain is not very brushy at the top. We can easily look out in most directions. The peak itself has a benchmark, the remains of a sign, and a solid register. Our list finisher is happy, but there is no party for him yet. He chose the wrong peak to finish on for that.

Cobblestone benchmark
Benchmark and sign at the top of Cobblestone Mountain.

Whiteacre Peak
Whiteacre Peak and some potholes to the south.

ridge line
The southeast ridge that leads to the azimuth mark, Cobblestone Camp, and eventually the Castaic area.

Although we have visited all the peaks we are aiming at today, we essentially have one more peak to climb before finishing. Sewart Mountain stands between us and camp. Dark will be settling in by the time we get back, so we get started down again.

highway in the distance
On the way back down the north slope.

Agua Blanca
At the saddle looking down into Agua Blanca Creek.

The trail on the far side of the saddle has me worried a little. It is not that it is thin and on a steep slope, since most of the footing is not bad. It is that it was the hottest part of the hike so far and there were quite a few yucca ready to stab that look like they will be harder to avoid on the way up. It is cooler now and the spikes of the yucca show that most of my fear is without basis. Once back to the sign pieces, we head off on the rolling stroll then the final climb.

north side
The north side of Cobblestone Mountain that we climbed.

Sewart Mountain
One last peak: Sewart Mountain again.

Getting up the last mountain is not so bad, at least for most of us. The total miles and total climb are really starting to add up. The changing vegetation as we climb again makes me notice the fall color that I should have noticed before. As we near the top, there is suddenly yellow oak leaves around.

Whiteacre Peak
Whiteacre Peak under the changing light of evening.

oak fall color
Fall color of an oak regrowing from the roots after burning by the Day Fire.

Sewart Mountain
Back at the top of Sewart Mountain.

Once at the top again, we wind again over and around all the fallen trees and into the sunset, finishing the hike with dark. We used all the light. Total win.

sunset over McDonald Peak
Walking into the sunset.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 November 2016

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