10/12/2021 at 9:41 am #5618
My son is a strange one. For his sixteenth birthday he planned the trip described below. So this past weekend Sat, Sun, Mon, we went for it. With a lot of luck (very important to consider as you read below) we were successful.
Day One: Vivian Creek trailhead to confluence of North Fork and Middle Fork of White Water River via Mill Creek Jump Off and Middle Fork Jump Off.
Day Two: Ascend entire length of North Fork of the White Water to Mineshaft Flats.
Day Three: Ascend San Gorgonio–straight up, off trail from Minshaft Saddle. Travel Across to Jepson. Descend to Dobbs Peak and down the ridge to arrive at Vivian Creek trail near Vivian Camp. Back to car.
Now the details:
We had done various parts of the trip, but Milo wanted to put all the pieces together. In the spring we had gone to the base of the Middle Fork Jump Off. On another trip we crossed Mill Creek Jump Off and traveled to the top of the Middle Fork Jump Off (with a detour to Silverwood Falls). So the MFJO was the missing piece. MCJO is sort of a non issue for us, we have done it four or five times and have the route wired. This was the first time with full packs, but it wasn’t too bad. After spending much time with maps and Google Earth, Milo was convinced the MFJO was descendable. Here’s the reality: DO NOT TRY TO DESCEND THE MIDDLE FORK JUMP OFF! PLEASE HEED THIS WARNING! DON’T! There are so many things that can go wrong. We got lucky. It’s just that simple. DON’T.
As for the North Fork. This is doable (but hard). Earlier in the spring, we went in at the confluence and found a way via the west ridge into the canyon above the impassable falls section right near the beginning of the canyon. On another trip we went down river from below Big Tree trying to get the point we had been to coming up from below. We didn’t make it. We figured we had about a mile of unexplored territory in the NF. We could not tell much from Google Earth, but it looked like there were likely lots of falls in there. Well . . . there were lots of falls in there. It was the longest mile or so we’ve ever done. But everything was doable. Everything goes on the NF (except for the two(ish) falls near the confluence with the MF. But your definition of what brush, bushes, and deadfall you can get through we will be greatly expanded.
As far as doing the entire length in a single day though, this was pretty challenging, and we again got lucky. We navigated perfectly, and with the exception of a 20 minute lunch break, we kept in constant motion. We left camp that morning at about 8:00 a.m. and it was dark by the time we got to Mineshaft Flats. So if you want to do this, we recommend going in summer when there is more daylight and it’s warmer (although not worrying about rattlesnakes was nice). Also, because we knew it was likely to be very cold that night, we made serious effort not to get our feet wet. We failed! Crossing the river back and forth every few minutes or so, dunking feet was bound to happen.
Tired and cold on Monday morning (our easy day), we assaulted SG up the ridge. Other than the steepness and its effect on our weary legs, it was pretty easy to reach the summit by 11:00 a.m. But the wind was unbelievable. With full packs acting like sails, we had a tough time keeping balance. Descending the ridge down from Dobbs Peak was relatively uneventful, but nasty weather was rolling in so we moved very fast. Earlier in our planning, we thought about following Falls Creek all the way out. But we thought better of it (some other time). There is a pretty good path all the way down the ridge, and it dumps out right at Vivian Creek trail. We felt a bit wimpy to be following such a good path, but being so tired and with the weather rolling in, we were grateful for the easy descent. So after the last mile from Vivian Creek down, we hit the car at about 4:00 p.m.
Exhausted, grateful, and above all (heed this) lucky!
Venture far. Return home tired and safe.
10/13/2021 at 7:18 am #5621MikeHParticipant
Sounds like a great adventure!
10/13/2021 at 12:54 pm #5622chris in redlandsParticipant
Amazing! And I’d add that without having done it myself, stronger, more seasoned folks than me who have done it also caution seriously against ascending the middle fork jumpoff, so if you were thinking “oh, it’s bad going down, but down is always harder,” I don’t think that helps here. I’d like to hear more about the specific difficulties on the jumpoff, though i assume it’s mostly the terror of being in very steep, very loose rocky terrain with dire fall consequences.
Congratulations on your success! That sounds just incredible, and I’m glad to finally have confirmation that the north fork goes all the way from whitewater to the top! A walk from the whitewater preserve to angelus oaks is in my future, albeit probably not in my immediate future! 🙂
thanks for sharing!
10/13/2021 at 3:49 pm #5623
Maybe too much detail, but here you go:
You are generally correct that the main difficulties of the MFJO are just the steep loose rock. But it had rained pretty hard that Friday before we got there, and we could see evidence of radical instability–little ravines had opened up all over. Lot’s of drying mudflow. As it was drying, rocks from various places were being loosed into the main chute. Wind was also causing rockfall. It was as though the whole pace was alive. We witnessed a pretty massive release of rock from the north ridge.
I will try to load some pics–the very few I took as time was of the essence, as was focusing on the tasks at hand.
Before we began, we made RULE 1: Never go down anything we are not sure we can get back up. We entered from the south side (north facing slope), and descended into the main chute. The main chute snakes right, then left, then right again as you descend. For awhile, it is relatively easy, notwithstanding the rockfall issue. The first pinch point comes after a left turn in the chute. There is a little drop where the chute is only about 10 feet across. This looked doable. Following RULE 1, Milo dropped his pack and climbed down to make sure he climb back up. We had a short rope (to hang a bear bag) that I could use from above to help him if needed. He got up no problem. So we dropped in. Below that, the chute bent again to the right. Here, we came to another pinch point and a big drop–what appeared from above to be impossible to descend without a rope and impossible to obey RULE 1. (I really don’t know how anyone made it up this.). It just seemed a crazy risk to even try because we could see what appeared to be more drops below. We were close to an hour in at this point and less than 50 yards from the end! Totally defeated mentally. We probably should have just climbed back up at this point, but we decided to see if it was possible to get around via the north ridge (south facing slope). It looked like we could get up a sand slope and possibly over a ridge into another chute coming off the north ridge.
This is where the terror began. The slope was probably as close to the angle of repose as it could be. One step up, three back. We could not even stand still without sliding back. Any place that looked like rock was so rotten that any hold we reached for broke away. This was very stressful. Exhausted (I actually got the typewriter leg), we finally made it over a small ridge and into the next chute descending south down into the main chute. We knew the chute from Google Earth and knew there was one blind spot. Above that spot, we came to small drop–six or so feet. Milo went over first and in doing so covered all the rock with loose sand and rock. When I went, it was like standing on marbles. I began to slide uncontrollably and had to jump to the bottom into the sand. I was fine, but it was obvious at this point that we had just irrevocably violated RULE 1. We would never be able to go back up. And around the corner, of course, we came to a no-go drop–20 or so feet. There was a little ridge to the right–about 8 feet high. I took off my pack and looked to see if I could get over it. No holds, totally rotten rock. But no choice. I just did it. I’ve done a lot of scrambling in my days and have been in some sketchy situations. This little move, topped them all. On top, I found purchase enough to lay over the edge so Milo could hand the packs over. This was not easy as he had trouble getting enough purchase to hoist the packs over his head up to me (standing on marbles right on top of the drop). Milo was then able to get over. This little move was basically our life line–make it or hit the SOS button on my Zoleo device. Oh, and did I say, dark clouds were rolling in and the wind was whipping up.
But it worked! We were able to get back to the chute below the drop and connect back with the main chute.
I’m kicking myself now that once back in the main chute we didn’t go back up to check out what we had worked so hard to get around. But we were just so relieved to be down and still had quite a way to go to get to camp. We just got the hell out of there.
10/16/2021 at 8:41 am #5640chris in redlandsParticipant
ohhhhh man…. Reading that account of going down the MFJO, i just shook my head and laughed and laughed, but my hands were sweating the whole time. That’s a great write-up, and anyone who’s been in terrain like that knows there’s not an ounce of hyperbole in that description.
Sadly, that switch that throws in your head that says “oh man, you should not be here” often trips in the middle of that terrain, not before it, huh? 🙂 One of those things you’re glad you did, excited to have come through unscathed, and a little embarrassed to talk about because you know you shouldn’t have done it.
Glad you had the presence of mind to take a few photos. My “better take a picture” sensor would have totally turned off on that descent! Thanks, again, for the details!
10/13/2021 at 3:51 pm #5624
10/13/2021 at 3:53 pm #5625
The show stopper in the main chute.
10/13/2021 at 3:55 pm #5626
Looking back up at the tiny section we worked so hard to get around.
10/13/2021 at 3:58 pm #5628
10/13/2021 at 3:59 pm #5629
10/13/2021 at 7:01 pm #5630stbrnnrParticipant
So Epic! Adding my thanks and congrats, this TR rules. How badly burned did you find the (formerly lush in places) sections between the two Jumpoffs?
10/14/2021 at 6:49 am #5631
Having been through there before the fire, at least as far as the ridge up Pi, I’m not sure “lush” is the word I’d use. It was pretty rough going. We first went across on a day hike this past June and I described it to someone then as feeling like a character in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” –father and son wander in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Didn’t take any pics this time, but I’ll post some from June. It’s starting to come back. Lot’s of critters back in there.
10/14/2021 at 7:14 am #5632
One week before the fire. Looking back from shoulder of Pi.
10/14/2021 at 7:16 am #5633
This past Father’s Day. Same area.
10/14/2021 at 8:29 am #5634
East of East Fork White Water. Father’s Day.
10/14/2021 at 8:30 am #5635
10/14/2021 at 8:32 am #5636
A little friend to great us at lip of MFJO.
10/14/2021 at 8:36 pm #5638stbrnnrParticipant
On further thought–you’re right, “lush” was probably a bit… generous. Thank you for posting these additional images. I recall it from some decades back being like your first image–those horrible, expansive manzanita fields and some really nice old timber stands around the South Fork/East Fork drainages (well below Pi Pk, above Snow Pk). Your other pics have confirmed my suspicions: that it’s now pretty much a scorched-earth wasteland. Keep on adventuring Brian & Milo!
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