Surprise Canyon

The weekend before last (Feb 2-4) I was able to go on a run up Surprise Canyon organized by the Bakersfield Trailblazers, who have it as one of their adopt-a-trails. This was the final run they were able to organize before it is closed to vehicle traffic on February 15, by court order. There were five vehicles in the group, driven by Richard Gauthier, president of Bakersfield Trailblazers, Dale Walton, whom some of you know as a trail leader at Moab Easter Jeep Safari, Rick P+�w+�, editor of Petersen’s 4-Wheel \& Off-Road, Marlin Crawler in his crawling Toy, and myself. We were accompanied up the falls by a couple of rock buggies and another Trailblazer, Cliff Stock, but they turned round and went back down after the final waterfall. Our group went on up to Panamint City and stayed there overnight. Jeri Ferguson, CA4WDC Natural Resources Consultant, David Frieburger, a Petersen’s photographer, and David Luter, another Trailblazer, also came along as passengers. All of them had been up Surprise several times before but this was my first trip.

Camp was at the Surprise turnoff on Indian Ranch Road, and we were on the trail by 08:15 Saturday morning. We wanted to be the first going up so we could grab the cabins to sleep in, but we needn’t have worried; no one else was going up there to stay overnight that day.

The fun started right at the first waterfall. Although we had perfect weather, there had been quite a storm a week or so earlier, and Marlin, who had been up just the previous weekend, said there were six inches to a foot of snow at the top. This was now melting and a lot of water was coming down the falls.

The rock buggies tried to make it up without winching, but failed miserably. I didn’t even think of trying without using my winch, and everyone had to winch over every waterfall. The water was almost a foot deep in places.

We were passed by two hikers around waterfall no. 4 and they got all the way up to Panamint City before we did. They were Sierra Clubbers who, needless to say, didn’t think too much of vehicles going up.

The weather was absolutely spectacular, clear skies and warm. There were six inches to a foot of snow at the top. We were the only group up there and had the place to ourselves after the hikers went back down. We had a communal dinner, provided and cooked by one of the Trailblazers, and sat around a warm fire until about 9:30. The next morning we were on the trail again by 08:15, reached the top of the falls by 09:00 and were back in camp by 11:00.