Stump Spring to Ebbens Valley to Cactus Spring Trail
(12 miles, +2,500/-5,500 feet).
Wow today was hard.
But also spectacular.
I guess that’s the way it usually goes.
We awoke to get our first real view of our surroundings since it was well after dark last night when we arrived. We discovered we had narrowly avoided walking right into a barbed wire fence last night at the edge of our meadow.
It was a beautiful blue sky morning and we were ready to go at first light.
I thought we had a nice jump on the day since we made it to Stump Spring last night. That knocked a mile and a half off the 16 mile ridge we hoped to walk to Rabbit Peak.
But what I did not anticipate was the snow. Our first two miles were supposed to be an easy road walk, but the snow drifts were as high as three feet in some places, and it was a powdery slog, like trying to climb a sand dune.
Plus, there were plenty of blowdowns to keep us busy since the road has been closed for the winter.
Given our timetable, we decided to skip the 300 foot slog to the microwave tower at the top of Toro Peak.
After topping out at 8100 feet, we started a descent down an old jeep road. MixMaster found a perfect place in the sun and out of the biting wind for breakfast.
The jeep road was lovely as it headed downhill and out of the snow. It soon petered out and dropped us into some gorgeous meadows.
Full of hubris, I thought “this isn’t so bad! I’m sure we can make it to Rabbit Peak today.”
And then we saw this:
The chaparral was thick and unforgiving below 7000 feet. I can’t even begin to describe how hard it is to find a path through this tangle. I thought that if we kept to ridges it would be less thick, but it took us a couple of hours to go less than a mile.
It soon became apparent that we would not make it to Rabbit today. Or even tomorrow. We needed an alternate plan.
We decided to head off the ridge and northeast towards the Cactus Spring Trail. The terrain was complex, but we thought that if we made it to the trail we would have an easy exit to get us back out before our food and water ran out.
The chaparral was still difficult, but as we lost elevation and headed towards drier terrain, it got a little easier to weave in and out of the vegetation.
Of course, the views over the Santa Rosa Wilderness were still stunning.
We dropped into Ebbens Valley then climbed up a ridge and down into Black Rabbit Canyon. The descents were shin-busting bushwhacks, but we slowly and steadily made our way towards the trail.
Our last obstacle for the day was a knife edge ridge that we had to climb out of Black Rabbit Canyon to make it up to the bench traversed by the Cactus Spring Trail. It was slippery and a little dicey as we passed through the crumbly remains of an old cliff band, but after that the slope mellowed and soon we were on a gentle ridge walk towards the trail.
After such a hard day, it was really nice to spend the last glowing hour of daylight winding around the ridge and gently ascending through cacti and agave on the verge of blooming.
The Cactus Spring Trail was not well defined where we crossed it. In fact, I would have missed it if MixMaster had not noticed a cairn for it. But the terrain had become so much easier that we felt confident that we would have plenty of time to follow the cairns back tomorrow to where it is well maintained. So we decided to quit a little early (a half hour before sunset!) and call it a day.
In a flash we set up camp, and MixMaster’s set up looked particularly, well, masterful.