Ascent of Thirst Benchmark on 2016-07-14

Climber: James Barlow

Others in Party:Trevor Williams
Robert Monk
11 other marines
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Thursday, July 14, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Thirst Benchmark
    Elevation:1965 ft / 598 m

Ascent Trip Report

Method of transportation to trailhead: MV-22 Osprey

This peak has been on my radar for quite a while as it is a near-P2k. If it were 40 ft taller, it would probably prohibit anybody other than Richard Carey from finishing this prominent list. He got this peak back in the 90s. Anyway…

I was out to sea aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD-8) for a 2 week training event with my unit. As part of that training, we had to execute casualty evacuation from San Clemente Island. As the medical plans officer, I volunteered to oversee the training scenario for this mission. I would get to spend one night on the island, flying there in the afternoon and leaving the following evening.

The flight from the ship was delayed twice as the first two aircraft that we were supposed to fly on both had mechanical problems. As the third aircraft was brought out, spotted, and slashed, I began to lose confidence in our ability to safely make it to the island… However, I only had a peak on my mind, so I suppressed those thoughts, knowing that this peak would be the highlight of my entire pre-deployment training cycle. My day to day job includes hours-long meetings and making powerpoint slides, so any chance to breathe fresh air and walk on dirt would be welcome!

We finally lifted off the finest LHD in the fleet 2 hours late and were on our way to the mythical land of a rarely climbed near-P2k peak! We arrived at the island and the aircraft took off before we knew our location. The marines quickly established comms with the ship while I whipped out the GPS to figure out where we were. Glad I brought my personal device – none of the marines brought one! I figured out that we were at VC-3, an abandoned airfield south of the main airfield at the north end of the island. I figured we were here as I didn’t see a real (paved) runway and couldn’t see the ocean… At this point, we were about 6.5 miles from the peak. However, as the only officer there, I had to be responsible first and ensure that we set the conditions to accomplish our real mission sets. After accountability checks, we met up with one of the marines that was already on the island to help us get set up. We drove with him down to the military police station at Wilson Cove to check out keys for the shore bombardment area, where we would need to be set up the following day. I began my GPS track there, as it would be our low point.

Of importance: most of the track was done driving a vehicle. I just figured that it would be cool to have a GPS track on a peak that only ~2 others have bagged!

Once we left Wilson Cove, we stopped by Range Control to get a bunch of radios and batteries. After that, we went back to our LZ at VC-3 and picked up all of the marines that were interested in going up Thirst BM. Shockingly, most of them were interested! The drive up was uneventful and I meticulously tracked our progress on my GPS so that we would not miss the high point.

Once we reached the top, we piled out of the truck and walked the last bit to a large fenced-in area. Luckily, the fence gate was wide open, but we first headed to the north side of the peak, as it had the most inspiring views. After a few minutes there taking pictures and enjoying the views of Catalina Island, the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Ana Mountains, Palomar Mountain, and the other San Diego area ranges, we headed around the fence line in search of the highest natural ground. The top of the peak has been flattened to build the radar junk that is up there. The actual high ground is on the south side of the fenced-in area, so if one were to arrive when the fence gates were locked, you could still bag the high point. We cut through the corner of the fenced-in area anyway as it was a shorter walk back to the rest of the marines hanging out on the north side.

I then proposed walking to the next point to the south even though Thirst BM is clearly higher by visual estimation. It was a chance to stretch the legs and breathe some fresh air! Only my corpsman and 1 more marine joined us – everybody else’s loss… We made our way over there and enjoyed another stunning view of the northeastern cliffs of the island. As we arrived, we realized that we had to get into position at West Cove and the airfield so that the sniper and recon teams could observe us pretending to be bad guys. We called the other guys on the radio and they came and picked us up. The drive down was pretty great as we saw another fox up close and we went from the bright sun into the marine layer and into the clouds.

Most of the marines stayed at the airfield with me to be bad guys the next morning when the Mechanized Company would attack and defeat us. A few others went down to West Cove to be captured by the marines that would land there to provide intel to send them to the airfield. I set up my marines in a defensive position and had them patrol the area every 2 hours all night long to establish a pattern of life for our hidden observers. Once everybody was in position, I took a nice stroll up to the nearby ?? BM just to enjoy the cloudy night. I actually heard barking seals all the way up there at one point when the wind must have carried the sound just right. I was in bed by 10pm, enjoying a beautiful night under the night sky off the ship.

The next morning I was up with everybody at 6am, ready to defend our airfield and “die in place.” We moved over to the positions where we would need to be. I briefed the marines to not hide behind bushes as the AAVs may not see them and run them over. We used chunks of concrete, shipping containers, and abandoned aircraft as cover. Once the raid kicked off, I was the RPG guy. I made vain attempts to shoot down a AH-1Z Cobra with my wooden RPG. I believe that I failed and died… Once the grunts arrived, we were all alive again to allow them some action. We once again died in place as they chased some of us through the junkyard. I was searched for weapons and information and placed in the “dead pile.”

Following the raid, most of the role player marines were sent back to the ship on an LCAC while I went with my corpsman, 2 Staff Sergeants, and another marine that will be a casualty for my exercise. We headed for one of the observation posts. Once ANGLICO arrived, we got my role player suited up with 2 amputated legs and called away the CasEvac. After getting blown into a pile of cacti next to the LZ due to the downwash from the MV-22 rotors, we loaded into the CasEvac aircraft. I was picking cactus needles out of my body for a few hours after I returned to the ship… Back to the Makin Island victorious!!

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:25 ft / 7 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:25 ft / 7 m
    Route:VC-3 to Wilson Cove to summit
    Start Trailhead:1940 ft / 591 m
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by James Barlow
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. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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