Sunday, June 17, 2018

Modjeska Peak via HPS Route 4

Hiked: 6/17/2018
Distance: 7.2 miles round trip on dirt road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 5496'
Elevation Gain: 2704'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.16
Round trip time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 56 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Maple Springs Road
Difficulty: Moderate

This was a training hike for Leisa and I. We planned to follow the Sierra Club HPS route 4 to Modjeska starting at the end of the paved part of Maple Springs Road. It's usually too warm this time of year for this hike, but we had some June gloom and a forecast high of 65F. Nice hiking weather. We were the only ones parked at the bottom of Maple Springs Road. Before we got to the use trail, some dirt bikes passed us. We ended up seeing a dozen bikes and an equal number of 4x4s along the road. The first use trail looks like a drainage ditch and has not been maintained in a while. There was some poison oak and other light brush intruding into the trail. I made an effort to clear some of it as I passed. Modjeska as still shrouded in low clouds. We crossed the road to the second section, short and steep. The third section was fairly overgrown before we reached the major road intersection, though the trail was still visible. The brush was light and easy to push through for now, but this part of the trail could use some maintenance. Several trucks, jeeps, and motorcycles were gathered at the intersection talking their off road game. We descended the use trail from the ridge and walked on by to Main Divide Road. We took a short break before starting up the next part of the use trail cut into Modjeska proper.

Use trail start

1st road crossing

Modjeska hidden in clouds

2nd road crossing

Modjeska emerging from clouds

Looking back down the ridge

The upper use trail was clear and showed signs of recent clearing. The clouds has mostly burned off and Modjeska stood against a blue background. When we reached the road, we turned left then finished the climb up the ridge use trail. The OC benchmark and geocache that used to be on top were both gone. A wooden summit sign placed a couple of years ago was also cut and taken. Because this peak can be driven, it is more vulnerable to vandals, although the OC benchmark had been up there for years. Leisa was not interested in following me over the main summit to the USGS topo mark on the map, about 150' further. I didn't find any marks at the location, but there was another cluster of short, jagged boulders. I even continued down the other side of the boulders to look around, but there wasn't anything there. We decided to take the road down to meet the main use trail, then returned the way we came. This was my fourth summit of Modjeska and my fourth different route.

Upper use trail leaving Main Divide Road

Leisa near the top of the ridge use trail

Looking north, Lake Mathews on the right

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Wild Things v6 [Avians]

Hiked: 6/8/2018
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip on trail
Difficulty: Easy

Camera trapping turns out to be really hard. After losing two weeks because the batteries died, and another week because a single battery popped slightly out of place, I finally got a few videos from the easy to reach camera. But, the shots were not great because it was angled about 6 inches too high. I need to start running field tests with a smart phone accessory to verify the angle because eyeballing it doesn't work very well. I still captured some nice moments with a red tailed hawk and a couple of turkey vultures.

Screaming for vengeance

Partial bobcat, sadly, the camera angle misses the whole cat

Monday, June 4, 2018

Mt. Williamson and Peak 8248

Hiked: 5/25/2018
Distance: 5.4 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 8214' (Williamson), 8248' (8248)
Elevation Gain: 1903'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.52
Round trip time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

This was a training hike to get some cardio at higher elevation. We drove the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) to Islip Saddle, one of my favorite areas of the Angeles National Forest. On a warm sunny day, most of the parking areas along ACH were packed, including Islip Saddle. Because of the restrooms and benches, an Adventure Pass was required for parking. We met several PCT through hikers milling around and on the trail. One we had a conversation with sported an unknown European accent. He had very much enjoyed the first 390 miles of his trip.

We hiked up the PCT from the west side of the parking lot on a steady, moderate grade. The smell of big pines filled the air. The trail cut long switchbacks across the south face of Williamson. At 7950', the summit trail broke away from the PCT and continued up the ridge. The final few steps to the USGS summit required a turn to the east. Views were excellent into the back range and down thousands of feet to the high desert. Since it was a clear day, the towers on Mt. Wilson were visible. After a few quick photos, we continued on the use trail to Peak 8244' where the Sierra Club keeps their register. As we passed below a rock cluster on the ridge, we heard a noise above. To me, it sounded like a rock sliding, possibly dislodged by an animal. Leisa had me take the lead at that point and I continued along the trail, glancing back occasionally. She told me later she thought it was a growl instead of a rock slide, but we never saw anything.

Leaving the parking lot

Fallen giant

Williamson ahead

Leisa on the final ridge

Mt. Hawkins and Baden-Powell behind


At 8244', we signed the register and took a short break. We soaked in views of Twin Peaks, Waterman, and Triplet Ridge, then continued over Peak 8248 to a view point along Pleasant View Ridge. We could see plane wreckage from a C-119 below a connecting ridge less than a mile away. We thought about continuing, but Leisa had work to do because of the Aliso Fire the day before. School was cancelled for the next morning at Top of the World Elementary and she needed to get home to get the announcements out. We descended the trail quickly, completing the round trip in well under 3 hours. While we were hiking, there was some kind of horrific auto accident near Dawson Saddle that closed the ACH. We had to take the long southern route to get out of the mountains. The silver lining was that I got to see parts of the ACH I had never traveled -- the section between Cloudburst Summit and Red Box.

Sierra Club summit at 8244'

(Left to right) Triplet Ridge, Twin Peaks, and Waterman

Plane wreck debris in the gully

Snow plant!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Palms BM, Elder BM, and Wash BM

Hiked: 5/25/2018
Distance: 6.2 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 3433' (Elder), 3121' (Palms), 1402' (Wash)
Elevation Gain: 2438'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.95
Round trip time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Collins Valley Jeep Trail
Difficulty: Strenuous

The gate to Anza-Borrego's Coyote Canyon closes seasonally every year from June 1 to October 1. This prodded me to make an attempt on Elder BM and Palms BM before the gate closed. Matt Hanan and Steve Andrews joined me for this adventure. I plotted a starting point on a jeep trail near Wash BM, several miles north of the third crossing. We met at Christmas Circle in Borrego Scprings and took Di Giorgio Road north until it turned into Coyote Canyon Road. The second crossing was dry, removing any concerns we had about making it to the trailhead. The third crossing had about six inches of water. There was a half mile of rough road after the third crossing, 4x4 recommended but high clearance may be good enough.

Wash BM was under a dead tree near our parking spot. We walked over to snap it before gearing up. It was a participation trophy. The plan was to ascend the gully between Palms and Elder to a plateau, climb both peaks, then return down the gully. About 3/4 of a mile of open desert sat between the truck and the ascent gully. Coyotes howled in the distance and the ground was fertilized with sheep scat, though we never saw one. We started up the left side of the gully, eventually wandering back and forth based on the path of least resistance. We tried to keep the 1200' ascent at class 2 and mostly did. After reaching the plateau, we stopped for fuel and water.

Wash BM

Matt and Steve starting up the gully


Steve on a semi-truck sized boulder near the top

Matt and Steve wanted to tackle the toughest peak first and that was Elder. We headed for another gully right of Elder and continued our class 2 boulder hopping. At the top of the gully, we made a left turn on the shoulder of Elder. The terrain got easier as we neared the top. Elder had a class 1 boulder and beneath it was both the register and benchmark. From Elder, we could see the tiny black smudge of the truck in Collins Valley. Every named bump and formation in the area was visible. Collins Benchmark and Square Top were dominant while the jagged spire of Elder North drew reverence. The team was not up for Elder North on this trip, but I would like to make a separate excursion with rope to stand on the class 5 summit. As far as I know, no one has reached the true summit of Elder North.

Elder from the plateau

Lots of juniper trees along the way

Elder BM, the shadow cast from a large permanent slab

Elder register

Elder North looking sharp and serrated

Powerful Collins Benchmark

Palms from Elder

Collins Valley

Formidable Square Top

We returned to the plateau and agreed on a similar strategy for Palms. We started toward the saddle, avoiding the freakish boulders on the north ridge. Steve had some leg cramping and opted to wait for us back at the gully. Matt and I found a good place to start our climb and we left the plateau but still angled toward the saddle. When the way was clear, we turned toward the summit which was long and flat. The summit was on the south side with a large class 3 boulder as the clear high point. We each climbed the high point, then spent time looking around for the register and benchmark. The register was under some rocks on top of the large oval boulder that also had guide wires. There were remnants of a register in a small glass jar inside the red cans. We left a new register book on Palms in a snack sized ziplock baggie, not quite large enough to contain it. It could use a full sized ziplock baggie. Matt spotted the reference mark on a low rock near the oval boulder. It pointed back to the oval rock but we found no signs of the triangulation benchmark on or around the oval boulder. The views on Palms were exemplary with different angles on the landscape compared to Elder. We were pleased with our route up Palms and backtracked the same route down. When we got back to the gully, Steve was nowhere to be found. We guessed he started down. I yelled down the gully for him but got no reply. If some mishap occurred, we might never find him in the patchwork of boulders. Matt and I started down taking gravity assisted class 3 segments that we avoided on the way up. About half way down, we spotted Steve picking his way down the center of the gully. We caught up with him near the bottom. While waiting for us at the gully, Steve said his legs were getting stiff and he wanted to get moving again before they got cold. It all worked out. I was undecided about rating this hike moderate or strenuous but the difficult terrain tipped it to the lower end of strenuous. As a group, we collected three mylar balloons. It was a picturesque hike, full of wonderment. With summer approaching, it may be too hot to do anything more on the San Diego list until October.

Palms from the plateau

Matt on the summit boulder

Palms reference mark, could not find the benchmark

Boulder with the register

On the Palms summit boulder

From the summit of Elder