Ascent of Hildreth Peak on 2019-05-18

Climber: Coby King

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, May 18, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Hildreth Peak
    Elevation:5065 ft / 1543 m

Ascent Trip Report

Hildreth is straight-forward.

Drive to Pine Mountain Summit on Highway 33 (north of Ojai) and park in the huge area on the west side of the road. Proceed west on gated Potrero Seco Road for 8.1 miles to an area with large gendarmes marked as Three Sisters on the topo. Turn right (north) and proceed for another 6.5 miles west to the highpoint of the road. Leave the road, and make your way through the brush to the highpoint. Return the way you came. No water on route. 29 miles round trip, about 6300 feet of gain.

Now, here’s my story.

This was my second try at Hildreth. My first attempt, a few weeks prior, was quickly aborted due to a bicycle brake malfunction. With new cables on my bike I was ready to go. I started my bike ride from Pine Mountain Summit, which is where Potrero Seco Road meets Highway 33, at 7:27 a.m. It was 38 degrees and sunny.

It was a pretty easy ride, mostly downhill, 3.2 miles to the Potrero Seco settlement/camp, which I was surprised to discover. But it also explained why the road was in such good condition. Entering forest service lands, the road immediately deteriorated, and my bike walking now included both steep ascents beyond my ability with a full pack and some areas that were very sandy.

After about two hours and 8.1 miles I reached Three Sisters, which was the old trailhead for this route. I locked up the bike, helmet and pump to the gate that led to Hildreth, and after a 45-minute rest and food break, headed up the hill

I had noticed fresh bike tracks while I was biking and I was impressed to see that they continued on the portion I was walking. I was glad I had left my bike behind because the road is much steeper and rougher then up to Three Sisters. After about 45 minutes, I ran into the only people I saw on the entire trip. two guys, one on a mountain bike and the other on an electric mountain bike (who knew such a thing existed?). They had camped a little ways up the trail, and were hunters, scouting out deer for the August hunting season, or so they said. We had a very pleasant 10 minute conversation and then off I went.

As others who have hiked this road know, there is absolutely nothing technical about it whatsoever. But it is a LONG haul and involves many more steep ascents and descents then on other road hikes that I've done, such as nearby Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido, the road to which features some ups and downs but consists primarily of long stretches of gradual road.

The road beyond Three Sisters, on the other hand often feels more like a firebreak than it does an actual road although clearly it once was. One of the most dispiriting aspects of this hike is that you reach the absolute lowest point of the entire hike just a mile and a half before the summit and then you have to steeply climb to the top.

More correctly, you must climb to where you leave the road and then find your way through the brush up to the summit area. There was a duck signifying where others had traveled, but the way up from there was vague, and I had to do some very minor bushwhacking to reach the summit at about 2 pm.

The register can was easy to find, and the register was fun to leaf through. On the way down (after a 45 minute break) I found some ducks continuing to the west. I tried that and found that it was much easier to get back down to the road but it did leave me to the west and with a bit of elevation to get back up to where I originally left the road. Either way works.

By now, the temperature had risen into the low 50s but it was completely overcast. And sure enough, I started feeling sprinkles. Within about 15 to 20 minutes, I realized that it was not going to let up and so on went my pack cover and my rain jacket.

One issue that was annoying but that I didn't think was too serious was the fact that the roads here are made of clay and when they get wet mud starts clumping on your boots, which is both uncomfortable and extra tiring.

This became a more serious issue when I got back on my bike at Three Sisters at just past 6 pm. Very soon I realized that the mud collecting on my tires was going to make biking difficult or impossible.

While I managed to struggle down the road for about 7/10 of a mile, eventually the tires just refused to turn. I faced a difficult decision. Try to carry out my bike and possibly not get back to my car until well after midnight, or abandon the bike and walk the 7½ mile track back to Highway 33. I really didn't have the strength or the will to carry my bike and the increasing rain made my decision to leave my bike the right one. I locked it behind a bush, took a waypoint and some photos and reluctantly turned to the east.

Walking in a steady rain, I made it back to Highway 33 at about 10:15, after almost 29 miles of hiking, biking and walking my bike for almost 15 hours. It was 42 degrees.

When the forest service office opened on Monday I called to see how I might be able to get my bike retrieved without walking in 7½ miles and biking out. I may still have to do that but I am hoping that I might be able to either get a ride to my bike or be able to drive in a little bit. I will update this post once I get my bike back

Post script: A week or so later, I was able to retrieve my bike. I ended up having an interesting discussion with the Potrero Seco caretaker. My phone was a little worse for wear, but all for the cause.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:26 ft / 7 m
    Round-Trip Distance:29.2 mi / 46.9 km
    Trailhead:5091 ft / 1551 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Bicycle, Ski Poles
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Calm, Overcast
started sunny, got overcast, then sprinkles, then rain
Descent (To Destination) Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 30 Minutes
Ascent (From Destination) Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 15 Minutes

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