September 11, 2016
Triplet Rocks is a relatively isolated peak located in the central San Gabriel Mountains on the southeast ridge of Twin Peaks, only a few linear miles south of the popular Waterman Mountain. Its summit is crowned with three distinctive gigantic blocks, giving the peak its name. The thing that fascinated me about this peak was that it remained the last peak in the San Gabriel Mountains that had yet to see a true first ascent. Ever since the first effort was made on Triplet Rocks, small groups of climbers had ventured onto the northernmost of the three blocks, but none had ever climbed the highest middle block which is two feet higher than the northern one. The reason for this was because the 50 ft boulder would require at least 5.10 climbing skills or aid as opposed to the northern boulder which could be surmounted with a simple class 3 friction move.
|Peak||Elevation||Topographic Prominence||Summit Coordinates (lat/lon)|
|Twin Peaks East||7,761 ft||1,221 ft||34.3158, -117.9267|
|Triplet Rocks||6,151 ft||291 ft||34.3017, -117.9035|
Getting to the trailhead
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 34.3458, -117.9204
I discussed the possibility of a first ascent with Gus during an earlier July outing in the San Gabriels, and he was definitely interested. Two of Gus' friends, Ale and Nemo, also hopped on board. In the end, four of us set off from Buckhorn Trailhead shortly after 4am armed with three harnesses, an ascender, some prusik chord, and a 60m rope (which we all took turns carrying). The plan was to throw the rope over the highest block and have one person standing on one side acting as a meat anchor while the other used the ascender and prusik to ascend the other side before rappelling back down.
From Buckhorn Trailhead, it was a straightforward ~4.4 miles of trails to the summit of Twin Peaks East. The trail started off by meandering up to Waterman Mountain's east ridge, dropping over a thousand feet to the saddle between Waterman and Twin Peaks East, then ascending steeply up the north side of Twin Peaks East. Even though the last bit up to Twin Peaks was an unmaintained use-trail, it was used often enough to be clearly visible in the dark. We reached the summit of Twin Peaks just before sunrise, taking a short food break before starting the cross country down its southeast ridge.
From here, the route idea was simple: descend the southeast ridge until we hit Triplet Rocks. Even though the linear distance between Twin Peaks East and Triplet Rocks is 1.6 miles, the climbing distance would be closer to 3 miles due to meandering. A few minutes after leaving Twin Peaks, we caught our first glimpse of Triplet Rocks, which looked not too far away. The first few hundred feet of descent was through typical forested dirt slopes, which went pretty fast. After we hit the first notch, it gradually became more tedious as the ridge narrowed and became choked with stubborn brush in places. When this became the case, we would mostly remain just below the east side of the ridge which was clearer of brush.
initial easy terrain
ridge gets increasingly tedious
Point 6834 was the most prominent bump between Twin Peaks East and Triplet Rocks, marking roughly the halfway point between the two peaks. Not long before Point 6834, we descended our first fun class 3 tidbit, followed by a short section of nasty compacted dirt sidehilling.
class 3 tidbit
The views along this entire ridge were pretty exceptional for the San Gabriels, almost seeming like something out of the southwestern Sierra.
Point 6834 creeping closer
After an initial steep descent from 6834, the ridge leveled out and undulated for a bit. Here we stayed more or less on top of the ridge, dropping slightly to the north side at times. The brush was mostly manzanita and scrub oak.
From the top of the last drop before the lowest point (5,850 ft) between Twin and Triplet, we headed over to the south side of the ridge and dropped down a prominent class 3 gully of loose dirt and rock which put us a few hundred feet west of and at level elevation with the lowpoint. Getting over to the lowpoint involved some tedious up and down sidehilling while crashing through scrub oak.
descending the gully
From the lowpoint, the northwest ridge of Triplet Rocks turned out to be a pretty fun climb. We slogged up an initial bump, then came to a face with roughly 50 ft of fun and solid class 3 rock which culminated in a large gully. After that, it was a simple stroll over to the large summit boulders.
(class 3 face located behind tree in center of photo)
We reached the northern block, surmounted it with the expected friction move, and got to contemplating the middle block. It was still 9:45am, and we would have plenty of time to figure this out.
views from northern block
looking at the middle block
From the northern block, there was at least a 7-8 ft gap to the middle one, and the top of the middle block was roughly an 18x20 ft surface. After we brought the rope up to the northern block, I began flaking it out while Ale descended to the other side of the middle block.
My first toss of the rope made it less than halfway across the top of the middle block, as well as my second and third tosses. Nemo tried a few times, also without success. Eventually we tied a rock to the end of the rope. This definitely helped, but we were still only able to get the rope halfway across. After over an hour of this, we sat there feeling dejected, thinking that our chances of summiting were looking bleak.
We eventually figured that the rope was too heavy, and needed something lighter to attach to the rock. After some digging, it was either Ale or Nemo who produced a 20 ft bundle of accessory chord. I tied one end of this to the rope using a standard figure 8 follow through, then tied the other end to the rock. I tossed once, almost making it across. Nemo then tried, also almost making it across. On his second throw, we watched as the rock went out of view on the other side, but did not feel any tug on the rope to indicate that it had gone over the edge. At this point we suddenly heard an excited shout from Ale on the other side of the block: "I SEE IT!" The rock had finally made it over, but it was too high for Ale to reach in order to pull it down. I violently whipped the rope up and down in an effort to force over some slack, and was glad to hear Ale yell a second time: "ITS GETTING LOWER!" A few minutes later, we all cheered as we eventually heard a third yell: "I GOT IT!"
After adjusting the rope so that it was at a safe angle, we were ready to climb, with Gus requesting to go first. Each of us climbed with a prusik and ascender, pulling on the handle of the ascender while pushing up the prusik, then sliding the ascender upwards. Everyone cheered loudly as Gus reached the top, sealing the last unclimbed peak of the San Gabriels. The distance from one side of the rock to the other was so great that someone had to stand in the middle in order to facilitate communication between the belayer and climber. Almost the entire length of the 60m rope was used.
views from middle block
Ale climbing and rappelling
After each of us had successfully climbed the block, we pulled the rope down and congratulated eachother on the good work. We headed back to the north block to have a nice lunch break, then shouldered our packs to begin the hike back. We had remained at the summit area for roughly 4 hours.
looking back at Twin Peaks East
The climb back up involved the expected undulating ridge and bushwhacking, with the chute feeling even more loose going up than down. Little by little, the tree covered summit of Twin Peaks East crept gradually closer as Triplet Rocks dropped further away. About a third of the way back, Gus produced 2.5 liters of water from a cache he had left there a year earlier. We took another food break atop Twin Peaks, grabbed a water cache we had left in the morning, and hiked the nice trail back up and over Waterman. We reached the trailhead right at dark, just before headlamp time.
7,700 ft gain/loss