4 Days on Triplet Ridge – A Trip Report
The hiker who was on Triplet Ridge for 4 days graciously contacted me and and wrote up a nice account of what happened.
when did you start? camp out on Twin peaks?
Your 4:30 am start had impeccable logic on its side, but my night-owl hours didn’t give me much time for sleep on that schedule; so I started later than I wanted to, getting to the trailhead at around 7 on Friday morning. East Twin makes a good warm-up, and then you get a great view of that masochists dream: a twisted mass of rock and trees and manzanitas that is the ridge to Triplet Rocks. But no, I didn’t start on Twin, since I wanted to do the full hike as a dayhike.
how hard was it to travel down the ridge? see some parts of a faint “use trail”? Where did you make it down to? I’m curious if you made it to the 20′ downclimb, or 6834′ or past that even.
I did find an occasional “path,” but I couldn’t tell if it was human or animal, being very faint. It was always a welcome sight for me though; a little touch of civilization (perhaps) in this lonely area. Definitely a workout, this one, with the route-finding very devious at times! At one point I was on a steep slope embedded with stones, carefully working my way across, when a big 50-pound stone came loose and crashed…crashed…crashed…down the slopes. It seemed to keep falling forever, pulling down scores of stones and boulders with it. I suddenly felt very alone out there. These abundant steep slopes and loose rock are what make this route potentially dangerous. All in all, though, I seemed to be grinding things out at a good pace…until I hit that gully!
Brief aside: For navigation I had a compass, a map of the Triplet Rock area (from Bruman’s 106 Tops), the Tom Harrison San Gabriel map, and Erik Siering’s trip report. I had meant to copy your report but forgot to do that in rushing out on Thursday night; the gully pic would have been very helpful. Unfortunately, at some point — most likely crawling through the manzanita — I lost the Bruman map and Siering report. (Reports listed my having become lost after losing my map, but I had the two maps.)
It’s at the gully that your pics would have particularly come in handy, and I ended up wasting time checking for the best way down. I settled on a large gully and had to crawl through an ugly batch of manzanita to get to it, then down the seemingly endless gully itself.
It never was easy, and after getting to areas that looked easier to navigate from above, it turned out they were still laced with plenty of dead ends and backtracking; but I finally got to a rock wall, with some class 3 moves, onto a little plateau, and…could it be? Was that Triplet Rocks right there? Or would some other obstacle be thrown down? But no, I made it! Sweet! It was 1:30 pm. (The Triplet Rocks “summit” area is a very cool place, indeed.)
Since your register entry, seven more people have done it — kidding! Of course, there’s only three entries in the register now. I wonder what happened to the first register, and how many names would be in that one? I used a third page to sign in — a one page-per-summit group trend, which doesn’t seem an inefficient use of space for this particular summit’s register! Ze, you must have a strong grip, because I had a little trouble opening that damn register can.
Was there snow on the ridge, or down on the north east side? Stopped because too icy, or ran out of water, or couldn’t see, or all?
The weather was great on Friday. So no snow issues or such…on that day.
In heading back to Twin, I realized that I should have made better mental notes of where I had come from — my main navigational mistake on this hike. The ridge down to Triplet looked so obvious that I forgot the hiker’s cardinal rule of looking back occasionally. Perhaps Triplet Rocks hypnotized me into keeping my greedy gaze on her? At any rate, I’m sure I would have made it back to the trailhead that day, as my energy was going strong. I should have used this trip as an excuse to pick up a GPS, since marking waypoints would have made the return much easier, especially with what happened on the second day.
But no: I ended up wasting a lot of time scrambling up what turned out to be the wrong gully — which had a scary 20-foot steep wall of class 3 dirt with embedded rocks near the top: a tedious and nerve-wracking affair of testing holds, then standing up, then testing, then standing. (Is loose class 3 actually class 4?) But I could see that I was near the top…and pulled over and found myself amid a mass of fifth-class steep granite. This ain’t right! I wasted time making a long traverse along the walls to the top of the ridge and “trail.” I continued on, but my late start and time-wasting had brought the hour late; so it looked like I was going to need to spend the night on the mountain, roughly half-way back. So much for day-hiking it, but it was still a great adventure.
it seems that Scott got on the north side of the ridge, where there is a lot of crazy looking rock
You stay in the same location for 3 nights? You decided since little water, to stay put?
An early start and a grueling day lead to a quick and deep sleep no matter where you are — even the Triplet ridge being no exception — so I slept soundly among some thickets on a ridge for a few hours. But around midnight I noticed that the stars were smothered by fog — uh oh — and an hour or so later it started raining and snowing. I was cold — though not excessively so — but I was mainly worried about having to climb on slick rock in the morning or throughout the day.
The night was long, but finally the sun rose up, and — glory be! — there was beautiful clear blue sky above. Excellent! There were masses of that distinctive San Gabriel fog floating and rising up in the atmosphere: this was looking to be a good day. But the fog never lifted that high, and I found myself in white out conditions for the entire day! Navigating with my compass was out — again, a GPS would have been great here — so that was that. I stayed there that whole second day in a white out. (By the way, I found a rusted file on this ridge?!)
I had brought about 2.5 liters of water, but was down to about 2 inches worth now. I gathered some snow, but it was actually sparse. My biggest mistake of the trip was not filling my empty bottles with rain water while it was raining. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I just wasn’t thinking about that as I was trying to protect myself from the rain and get some sleep. But a lack of water would be the crux of the trip for me; it was the constant of my decision-making equations.
So I settled in for a second night on the mountain. The weather cleared in the morning and it was a beautiful day. This was my third day on the mountain, mind you, and so I knew a search would be on the way — I was two days overdue. Should I just start hiking out? I felt fine, but the territory didn’t quite look familiar and I was a little disoriented as to the route at this point: the rocks were too steep from what I remember doing.
If a rescue is on it’s way anyway’s, then I may as well wait, and play it safe, right? That’s the smart thing to do. Plus I’m on a prominent ridge, easy to see. So I waited…and waited…and waited. Hmm. This doesn’t seem right. What’s going on? Are they out at the wrong area? Does an S&R occur after a lag of an extra day? Did my mother forget? (Subconscious revenge for that broken vase in childhood.)
No; here’s what happened: I always go hiking on either a Friday or Saturday, but this time I left on a Thursday night. (Maybe for the first time ever?) My mother accidentally turned this into my leaving for the trail on Friday evening (which see all news reports). In her mind then, I was hiking on Saturday, and should be home no later than Sunday. The search was called in on “late” Sunday (early morning Monday). But the detective checked my phone records and found I had made a call to my mother on Thursday at 11:30 pm (or whatever the exact time had been), and no calls on any of the following days, so “things weren’t adding up” that I left on Friday. But my mother insisted it was Friday. “Are you sure?” She was positive. The detective eventually asked for permission to check my mother’s phone for my call — which would have shown that the detective was correct — but just then I was reported as found, so it was now a moot point. It’s probably all for the best, because a mother learning that her child is actually four days missing in treacherous territory would have really upped the emotional anguish. By the way, Ze, my family used your trip report to learn about the area I was in: probably not the most reassuring thing in the world, but very informative for them; they got a strong, objective feel for the route.
I wasn’t aware of any of this, of course, so I was a little worried now, not knowing if I should stay put — with only a little water now — or go for it — which might get me into some sort of trouble. As the day got later, I decided to explore down the rock, and ended up doing steep moves (again!) and a descent down a rough gully to what looked like a good flat section, but — that damn Triplet ridge — turned out to be terrible loose rock, way steeper than it looked. This ain’t right! I found a flat open area in the gully, and decided to wait there. The ridge was better for the copters to see me, so maybe I should have stayed there! But between having come down, then starting to go back up, I was losing water through sweating and needing to drink. Not good. Conserve that water!
It became too late to try to start hiking as it was too late in the day on completely unfamiliar — and obviously not what I had hiked up on — territory. Things were tightening up for me: low on water (I could only wet the tip of my tongue now); in unfamiliar territory; not knowing if a rescue was on the way. Should I stay or should I go? Thinking, thinking. If I waited another day, and no rescue came then as well, then I would be screwed with practically no water for three days straight — and a hard hike out on a fifth day on the mountain. Okay, then: I’m going to go for it tomorrow. I kept myself occupied by setting up camp and studying the map for my exact whereabouts. I decided on a firm plan and actually went to sleep with confidence, and the satisfaction of a put-off decision finally made. In the middle of the night I woke up with a particularly dry mouth, and that put a little worry in me, but a little sliver of a strawberry Powerbar whose tanginess stimulated some saliva, settled me into a decent enough sleep for the fourth (and thankfully final) day on the mountain.
Where did they pick you up? SAR hike down to you, then got a chopper in? Dropped you off where, near Wrightwood? Many reporters there, or just that one chick?
At the crack of dawn of the fourth day, I packed everything up and started on my designated route. Immediately, things got ugly, as a gully that looked straightforward turned out to be very steep and loose. More tedious testing of embedded stones in dirt. Without getting into all the details, this area was shot through with steep gullies that were all hassles of steepness and looseness. At one point I was doing more 3rd class climbing up a gully and could see ominous steep castle-like rocks around me that were most probably impassable without gear. But straight up looked like a possible path? Another Triplet dead-end? I wasn’t in a position to backtrack too much now. I felt good amazingly enough — but I had been essentially resting for two days before — but I needed to keep a slower pace to keep from breathing too hard. The mental side was the tougher really, because one could see bands of way-steep rock, and I had to keep my fingers crossed that all the energy I had used would be rewarded with a do-able path. Finally, I made it too a relatively flat section amid pines — sweet! — and seemed to be on the verge of rounding the mountain. I was deep in the pines, when I started hearing the copters, so I knew a rescue was on, but my waving and such as they came close was to no avail, understandably. My signal mirror was useless in the shade and tree cover. My only thoughts were to enjoy that spring that you pass on the hike to Twin Peaks; I’m going to get there if it’s the last thing I do!
A gully we went down our first attempt. Probably not the same gully Scott is talking about, but maybe gives an idea of the terrain
I rounded the mountain and seemed to be contouring at a point that would take me right to the flat spot at the base of Twin Peaks — excellent! — but even at this distance Triplet Rocks exerted it’s influence and blocked my path with a gully too steep to cross this time. Will this never end? After all this effort. Looking down, things looked too steep…but maybe not. Looking up…couldn’t tell. Down or up? I reasoned: if I hike down and it’s too steep, I’ll have to recover that extra distance; but if I hike up, and it gets steep, I can slide down. Up it was, toward the blue sky; plus the helicopters could see me on the ridge. Steep but not bad. But then big granite blocks started appearing. Uh oh. Hopefully I wouldn’t hit a wall. But finally the mountain relented, and I found myself at the first saddle you reach after descending from East Twin. Just then I dimly heard voices, and so I called out. A quick squawk of radio, a man’s voice asked my name. I told him, another squawk of the radio, and he let out a whoop.
They asked me how I was, and I told them that I felt totally fine, but wouldn’t mind some water! Three people came down, and they even remarked on how steep that section was, which of course is but a morsel of the ridge’s true colors. They said a helicopter was coming, and I told him I didn’t need one, I felt fine, but he mentioned that it was coming to get them anyways. ( Weird hiker mentality: I actually wanted to finish the hike.) A very cool group of people, doing outstanding work.
This is my stupid ego, but I feel somewhat robbed by the news accounts regarding the fact that the “missing hiker was airlifted out,” which gives an impression that I was plucked from the jaws of death, lying helpless on the ridge. I had just done miles of horrible gully-scrambling; steep climbing, slippery slopes, pretty much back to Twin East and easier trail; but being airlifted out, suddenly makes it seem like I was doomed without the rescue. And I didn’t get a chance to sip from that beautiful spring! Alas, that will be worth a trip in itself, as a fitting toast to the challenge of Triplet Rocks!
Coda: So I emerge out of the helicopter, there’s an emergency vehicle with flashing lights, a group of police, a news camera and reporter waiting to interview me. (Just the one.) I do the interview, answer questions about the basic events, and then get a lift to my truck. No more than twenty minutes after being surrounded by all the glitz and glamour, I’m standing alone at my truck, packing gear in the truck like nothing happened. Surreal. (My family wasn’t there because they were told that I was being airlifted to a hospital, so they were gathered there.) It was a gorgeous day — and I joked with the sheriff that I felt good enough to do another hike right now. (Of course, two of those days were mainly standing around, so I had some good recovery in there.) I headed down the mountain, where I saw a guy waving his hands at Islip Saddle: his battery was dead. Little did he know the celebrity who helped him jump his battery!
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