Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Peak 2600

Hiked: 1/31/2017
Distance: 7.8 miles round trip on dirt road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 2600'
Elevation Gain: 2297'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.83
Round trip time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 52 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Blackstar Canyon Road
Difficulty: Moderate (ISC-F3C2T4)

Peak 2600 sits between the main and east forks of Baker Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains. Brad had been to this peak before and agreed to guide me. You can access this area as part of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmark every couple of months.

The first part of the hike is along a dirt road that parallels Blackstar Canyon Road for a half mile as the road slowly climbs toward the first electrical tower. Views get better with the elevation, first into Limestone Canyon, then Hall and Baker Canyons. We got a good look at the giant cross near Star Benchmark. There is a four way junction at the first tower and we continued straight. The largest single chunk of gain was the climb to 2342', about 600' in a half mile. The rest comes in gentle, rolling angles. Irvine Lake looked full, a complete reversal from late last year when it looked ready to vanish. A little past 2342', we got to the second electrical tower. From there, a use trail leaves the road behind the right side of the tower along the east cliffs. It is not obvious at first, but can be seen by taking a couple of steps into the brush away from the cliff.


Loma Ridge

Cross and Star Benchmark

Some kind of collapsed structure

Greenery, Peak 2342 behind

Climbing to 2342'

First cliff

The use trail hugs the cliffs, generally staying 2' to 20' from the edge. There are captivating views down the cliff faces as you climb to a local apex at 2473'. On the other side of 2473' was a fixed double rope, maybe 10mm, wrapped around two average sized trees, one living and one dead. Knots were tied expertly every two feet down the length of the rope providing good hand holds. The rope seemed solid, protecting a 10' class 4 section of decaying sandstone. Neither Brad nor I know who placed this rope. Once we were down, the slope dropped to a saddle as the use trail got more congested. Brad was doing some trimming as we went, but the bushwhacking was light in most places. We crested a small bump before reaching the summit of peak 2600, completely covered with brush blocking all views. No marks or register were found on the summit. I pushed out the other side for a great shot of peak 2829 backed by Mt. Baldy and the snowy Angeles National Forest. While the summit was nothing special, the trip out and back was a lot of fun. We used the rope on the return trip and jogged some of the downhills.

Peak 2473

Cliffs on the Baker Canyon side of Peak 2473

Fixed rope, the anchor fine for rappel, not fine for a fall

Brad descending

Looking back at the cliffs, second electrical tower on the left

On the way to Peak 2600

Overgrown summit of Peak 2600

Looking toward Peak 2829 and the snow covered Angeles National Forest


Turkey vulture soaring overhead

Some video highlights

The GPS track shows us going over the cliff

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sentenac Mountain

Hiked: 1/16/2017
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3068'
Elevation Gain: 900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.72
Round trip time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Plum Canyon Road
Difficulty: Easy

Being able to drive to the Pinyon Mountain/Whale Mountain saddle allowed Brad and I time to add Sentenac (SDC #74) as a bonus. Sentenac is not far from Scissors Crossing, and I had done some preliminary research on it, planning to combine it with Grapevine Mountain. I remembered the trailhead being down a dirt road, but couldn't remember the name of it. I downloaded a track from peakbagger on my phone and used that to locate Plum Canyon Road, heading south from highway 78. The road was smooth, no need for 4WD or high clearance. It splits after a mile. We took the right fork to the end of the road to reach the trailhead.

A sandy trail begins up Plum Canyon, skirting the wall at one point, then dropping back down. In about a half mile, we followed a side canyon on the right (west). Interesting rock formations and a few dry waterfalls created a blissful small canyon. We continued up the side canyon until we were near Sentenac, then started up the steep slope toward the summit. The highest rock formation visible from the canyon turned out to be a false summit, but from those rocks we could see the true summit. I was surprised how good the views were in all directions. Grapevine Mountain swelled up across highway 78. Granite and Whale were both still prominent. The register showed some familiar names and there were hikers up the day before. We didn't find any marks, but we didn't make a serious search effort either. We took a slightly more direct line back to the canyon where the sun had warmed it into a really pleasant place.

Entrance to Plum Canyon Road


Into the side canyon

Ocotillo starting to bloom

Beautiful dry waterfall

Rocky outcrop

Approaching the summit

Summit and register, Granite Mountain on the right

Grapevine Mountain across the highway

Looking back at Whale

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pinyon Mountain and Whale Peak

Hiked: 1/16/2017
Distance: 7.1 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 4492' (Pinyon), 5349' (Whale)
Prominence: 512' (Pinyon), 2700' (Whale)
Elevation Gain: 2333'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.86
Round trip time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Pinyon Mountain Road
Difficulty: Moderate (combined)

Brad and I set out for a couple of SDC peaks that are often climbed together, Pinyon Mountain (#41) and Whale Peak (#22). Whale is also HPS #72 and has a blubbery 2700' of prominence. To start at the optimal location, I drove up Pinyon Mountain Road to the saddle between Pinyon and Whale. I was concerned about the road conditions due to recent rains, and also about one particular rocky spot that stopped other hikers from reaching the saddle. While the sand in the road was wet, the road was not muddy or overly soft. I sailed past the rocky spot and narrow sections of road to our starting point. I recommend 4WD and high clearance, but most cars can probably make it to the rocky spot if driven slowly. Further down the road are the notorious "squeeze" and "heart attack hill", best left to drivers with modified vehicles.

We started toward Pinyon, passing a family that had camped out near the east ridge. They were cooking breakfast and the smell of fresh bacon tempted me as we started up the east ridge. On top of the ridge, we found a faint use trail. The open desert on Pinyon made it easy to continue, with or without it. We guessed which bump was the high point, incorrectly, then found the high point a little further along. The register was packed with names, many from this year. Views were good, but I had to walk to the edge of the plateau for the best photo ops. The round trip from the car was less than 2 miles. We stopped at the car briefly, before heading the other way toward Whale.

Starting up Pinyon Mountain Road

Nearing the top

Pinyon Mountain summit

Looking back at Whale

Granite Mountain dominates the east, Ghost Mountain lower left

We followed the spur road toward Whale, finding a use trail at the very end of the road heading up the gully. The gully was the most fun part of the hike for me with easy class 2 boulders in multiple jumbles. At the top of the gully, the trail continued across a plateau, up a short ridge, across another plateau, up another short ridge, another plateau, then a final ascent to the summit area. The entire route was well marked with cairns. There was a little more class 2 on the final ascent, but nothing tricky. We passed what looked like a couple of camp sites on the long, flat summit. The red register cans were below the summit boulder inside a wind shelter and the Whale Peak sign was just outside. The summit boulder was only the third highest. It had an unnamed triangulation benchmark. The boulder next to it was higher with reference mark #1 stamped Whale. Reference mark #2 was on a lower rock by the sign. The highest boulder, oddly, had no marks. We signed the Whale register, at least as popular as Pinyon, then took a short break. The views were good, but we had to wander to the edges of the summit for the best views. Half way back, I commented that some people had managed to lose their way on Whale, but had probably ascended the more difficult south side. Naturally, a few minutes later, we found ourselves too far down a wash between ridges, backtracking and looking for where we lost our trail. The diversion was minimal, costing us probably 10 minutes until we were back on track. The rest of the descent was uneventful, other than a notable lack of wild life. We got back to the car ahead of schedule. This made us consider looking for another hike we could squeeze into the day before starting the long drive back to the OC. After a little mobile recon, we decided to head for Sentenac Mountain.

Gully of fun


A short ridge

The next short ridge from an intermediate plateau

Final scramble to the Whale summit area

Brad and I at the sign

Highest boulder on Whale

Reference mark #1 and benchmark

Looking toward the Santa Rosas and San Jacinto

Blair Valley, Sawtooth and Laguna Mountains in the distance