Sawmill Trail to Stump Spring
(7 miles, +4,000/-300 feet).
MixMaster and I set out on an ambitious traverse of the Santa Rosa Mountains today. The goal is to walk the ridge from Santa Rosa Peak all the way down to the Calcite Mine in two and a half days. But the hike today was already tougher than I imagined, so we may need a plan B.
We got a later than usual start after work today, but we still managed to be at the trailhead and ready to go by about 3:30pm. Our original plan was to hike the Sawmill Trail up to Santa Rosa Springs where we would load up with 8 liters of water for the next two days.
The first few miles of the trail are actually a jeep road, and there was one timid 4×4 that crept past us before turning around after the first mile. But that was the last person we saw the rest of the day and the views from the road got better and better as we climbed.
I knew there would be snow, but it started at a lower elevation than I anticipated — about 6000 feet. That did not bode well for doing 40 miles in two and a half days!
By 6pm we reached the old kiln, the last remnants of the sawmill that used to be here.
We had originally planned to follow the trail up to Santa Rosa Springs, but we worried about access to water there and the stream near the kiln was flowing strong. There was a jeep road that turned uphill nearby, so we decided to head straight up until the stream ran out, collect water, and then finish up at Stump Springs instead.
Unfortunately, the jeep road ended soon and the intermittent snow turned to solid snow as we ascended.
As evening fell, it cast a beautiful light on the forest around us.
Alas, the climb took longer than expected, and it got dark before we were done. We stopped to load up 8 liters of water before the last 500 foot climb.
I have no pictures of what came next.
The slope increased to about 45 degrees and was covered by 4-6 inches of snow on top of 1-2 inches of ice. It was dark, but the moon was out and its reflection on the snow allowed us to proceed without headlamps. But it was extremely difficult to climb the slippery slope. Half the time we were pulling ourselves up along downed logs in between high angle meadows where a slide would be heartbreaking at best.
Indeed, MixMaster slipped once about 20 feet and banged hard into a tree trunk — without injury, but he wailed in frustration at the lost elevation gain. Increasingly we used our hands to grab rocks and trees along the way, and our fingers turned to ice. We only had easy access to one pair of gloves between us so we took turns wearing them as we climbed.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally made it up to the ridge at 7600 feet where we hoped to camp.
To our good fortune, we found a wide flat area that was snow free to pitch our tents. Somehow in the dark we had managed to walk right up to one of the posted campsites on the road to Toro Peak!
It took a while to calm down from the adrenaline rush of the last hour, so set up was slow. But we eventually settled down, ate a quick dinner, and buried ourselves in our sleeping bags to escape the below-freezing chill.