Martinez Mountain


By: John McCully


Ever since hearing that John Vitz led a party up Martinez from the Coachella Valley in the early 70's I have wanted to do this climb but there seems to be a shortage of fools. I finally gave up and took advantage to go it alone. At least my friends have some sense. I always have trouble with the tough discipline enforced on club hikes so I began the morning by sleeping until 7:15. I drove around a bit looking for the best jump off spot (the VW Rabbit making it fine on a four wheel drive road beginning a few hundred feet south of 58th Ave on Jefferson Street). A year or two later too much desert driving sheared all of the VW's engine mounts off at their roots. The engine bounced around the compartment breaking all kinds of other stuff and I sold it to a welder for $200. The now ubiquitous 4WD trucks didn't start to become popular in the DPS for another few years. In the 70's through about 85 VW bugs (not Rabbits) were the vehicle of choice for a serious desert rat. Finally managed to get started at eight o'clock from an altitude of about 500' (see map). The north east ridge is quite straightforward so 11:45 found me only 1000 feet short of the summit. I celebrated by eating a large lunch and taking a nap. Harriet Hangback could do no better.

In 1981 The HPS Lookout was regularly publishing quite funny anonymous articles by "Harriet Hangback ". Harriet and her friends (who had names like "Harvey Mudfoot" were always getting into the soup doing things like leaving the rope in the car (in order to save weight) or discovering on the top of Rabbit Peak that the water bottle contained 151 proof rum. For quite a long time Harriet's real identity the subject of much speculation. Barbara Reber being a prime suspect. Betty Desert (nee Wallin) eventually fessed up. Betty was DPS Chairman in 1974. I reckon I picked up a bit of my writing style from Harriet’s articles.

At 12:30 I started up what I assumed would be another rounded desert summit, a notion any BMTC graduate could disprove by glancing at the map. BMTC was replaced by the milder WTC in the late 80's because of insurance problems.

Two bumps and a detour to the northwest were called for, in addition to considerable brush. The brush was avoidable, but not by walking in a straight line. Thus I made the summit (6548') at the late hour of two thirty. This arrival time in conjunction with a sudden urge to spend the night in a bed forced a hasty retreat and thus the abandonment of a plan to pursue the register for the names of other northeast ridge types.

6:15 and total darkness found me still 3000 feet above the car. A new personal altitude record for this particular version of misfortune. 16 years later being only 3000 feet above the car as darkfalls doesn't seem like much of a deal. A few years later I staggered out to Horseshoe Meadow at dawn. Unplanned bivouacs, that's more like it. The moon appeared as a tiny sliver which was outshone by nearby stars, and then disappeared behind a ridge. Fortunately, I had two flashlights and 2 extra sets of batteries, (a neurotic response to a cloud covered moon less evening without a flashlight several years ago). One of the flashlights was dead and proved to have fused into a solid lump from a spilled bottle of jungle juice. The other functioned dimly, finally justifying itself.

One problem I also have descending ridges (it doesn't seem to happen on the way up) is that they keep dividing and disappearing into forks of creeks. I have a theory that creeks are the thing for descending as they keep merging into each other but every time I try beefing up my route finding by descending a creek I keep discovering spectacular waterfalls. Some of life's most exciting moments can involve waterfalls and getting around same, but the thought of spending the night in a creek kept me pinned to the ridge. Fortunately somebody decided to build the city of Coachella at just the right point making the ridge fairly easy to follow.

At 1700 feet I discovered a rusted pop can, a marker than is almost good as a duck in indicating that one is on a ridge that goes. My favorite marker of this genre is a discarded heel high shoe, although a grinning tourist in street shoes asking how far up you got is also a spirit raiser. In this case I decided to let the next person find his own way and put the pop can in my pack.

I finally got to the desert floor at 9:45, and spent the next 45 minutes looking for the car. One of the two compass readings I had taken that morning was in error while the other was on a peak so distant as to be useless. Thus the total "trail" time was 14 and 1/2 hours. If only I were young and swift again. Young and swift is to be only 41.

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