Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sugarloaf Redux (Orange County)

Hiked: 4/14/2017
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 3227'
Elevation Gain: 1507'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.20
Round trip time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 72 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous (class 5 summit block)

One of the first Lower Peaks I hiked four years ago was Sugarloaf in the Santa Ana Mountains. The Sierra Club guide mentions a class 5 summit block. With fledgling rope skills, I felt an obligation to return and stand on the summit block. I upgraded the rating on this hike to strenuous since it includes carrying the weight of the climbing gear out and back, and climbing the summit block. I parked at the small turnout near Blue Jay campground, taking the same route to Sugarloaf as I did in 2013. Since my last visit, the road had been repaved and was in great shape. I started down the San Juan trail staying left at each side trail leading up to the campgrounds. At the first 4-way junction, I turned left, though going straight would also get you to the next 4-way junction in a more leisurely and shaded way. At the second 4-way junction, I continued straight dropping down to a series of glades near Chiquito Spring. This is probably the most scenic part of the hike. I saw two mule deer in the glade but they bounded away too fast for my camera. Poison oak was heavy along the trail through Chiquito Spring, even intruding in a few places. The trail then started to grow more rutted showing heavy mountain bike use. I passed 8 bikers on the day, 4 out and 4 back. By comparison, I only met 3 hikers. When I reached the use trail to Sugarloaf, I followed it to the summit area and unpacked my climbing gear. I took a few pictures around the summit boulders and scrambled up the class 3 lower boulder to look at the air gap. The lower block is only about 4' lower and is separated from the higher block by a 4' air gap. It is possible to make the leap to the higher block, but there is no margin for error. After I completed this hike, I found a picture of my friend Brad Stemm on the summit and jumping back from it on Patrick O'Neills blog. A slip or bad landing might lead to a 15' "plinko" between the two blocks, banging your head multiple times on the way down. A successful jump requires a risky leap back to the lower block. I wanted no part of it my first trip and looking at it again, decided that using a rope was safer.

Sugarloaf from the start

One of the lush glades near Chiquito Spring

Use trail start

New summit sign, highest boulder in the back middle

West face, shortest ascent line of the class 5 boulder

Air gap from below, between the highest (left) and 2nd highest (right) boulders

View of the gap from the 2nd highest boulder

Standing on the edge of the lower boulder looking at the highest boulder across the air gap

I circled the highest block looking for the best anchor locations and ascent lines. The boulder is strangely shaped, kind of L shaped. The shortest line was up was the west face, about 15' and also the most convenient to climb. There were tiny imperfections in the rock that might serve as holds. I checked out a few boulders on the opposite side for anchors, but one was rotten so I decided to use two healthy trees instead. I threw the 30m dynamic rope over from the ascent side, (it took three tries), then I rigged the anchor with 1" nylon webbing and two carabiners. I returned to the ascent side and geared up. I attached my harness to the rope with a prusik for protection, and rigged a second to use as an aid if needed. I made a couple of attempts to start up using only rock holds, but the rock was not vertical. It was a little more than 90 degrees, and tilted back at me in a slight overhanging angle. I could not stay on the holds for more than a few seconds. I fell back on my 2nd prusik for aid, but as I stepped down, the dynamic rope stretched and negated much of my effort. I should have brought the static rope I used on Squaretop. Eventually, I was able to struggle up enough to get a foot hold on the rock. Then, I used upper body strength to pull myself close enough to swing my left leg over the lower part of the summit and pull myself the rest of the way up. It was probably the ugliest climbing I've ever done. First class ugly, but I got to the top. The summit was big enough for several people. Layers of rock were flaking off the very top. The views were great and I took some video and photospheres to enjoy later. There were no official marks on top and I didn't expect any. After a short celebration, I realized I left my belay/rappel device in my bag below and would have to rely on the prusik to get down. I learned another important lesson today -- always rappel from summits if possible. I had re-positioned the rope to what I thought was ideal for friction, then slid toward the edge. As I started to go over, the prusik hung on the lip and I was stuck. I had to find purchase on the rock with my feet to ease the pressure on the knot so I could slide it down. I worked it free and lowered myself further. What happened next, putting a positive spin on it, was a semi-controlled rapid descent to the ground. I came down quickly through part of a tree into a sitting position on a small boulder at the bottom. I took a quick inventory of body parts and found no major damage. Whew. I did have a pretty bad rope burn on my left hand from the rapid descent. I was surprised the prusik did not bite past the lip. It might have gotten tangled when I tried to free it. Anyway, I should have combined it with an arm rappel and not relied solely on the knot. A teachable moment. After a brief rest to catch my breath and sign the register, I gathered up my gear and started the hike back. Despite two aspirin, my hand screamed at me all the way to the truck. The class 5 summit boulder was more difficult than I expected, but it was worth it to nab the true summit block. I left a good-natured comment on Bob Burd's site prodding him to come back and climb it, but he may not have taken it that way. The comment is gone. I am sure he would do a better job climbing it than I did.


Looking up the rope from the ascent side

Rope coming off the back side to the anchor

Climbing the rope more than the rock

Over the edge

Looking back over the ascent side

Old Sugarloaf from the Sugarloaf true summit

Looking at the air gap back to the lower boulder

Looking south to the summit area, register can is underneath the large boulder

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ortega Falls

Hiked: 4/14/2017
Distance: 0.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2227' (above the falls)
Elevation Gain: 450'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.36
Round trip time: 40 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

For several years, I confused Ortega Falls and San Juan Falls. It wasn't until I started doing more research that I figured out Ortega was a separate area a couple of miles up highway 74 past the Candy Store. There is a large turnout on both sides of the road at mile marker 4.4 and today it was almost filled. Families and rowdy teen groups were out in equal force enjoying the still strong multi-tiered falls. The area is criss-crossed with use trail leading to different sections of the falls. I followed what looked a major artery down to the lowest tier. People were swimming, picnicking, and there was a general party atmosphere. I took some photos and video, then moved up to the next tier. Some of the tiers could be scrambled in reasonable safety, while some I followed use trails up and around. I repeated this until I came to the last tier and the use trails and safe scrambling options ran out. I followed random use trails back to wrap up a 40 minute visit. The upper tiers of the falls are quite impressive and flowing with authority. Despite some graffiti and trash, it's a nice area and worth a stop.

Main use trail to lower falls area

Scrambling to tier 2

Tier 2

Looking down from tier 2

Tier 3

Looking down from tier 3

Tier 4

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sierra Club Lower Peaks List

Hiked: 10/12/2012 to 4/2/2017
Distance: 509.4 miles
Average Distance: 6.1 miles
Summit Elevation: 1266' (Lowest) to 4926' (Highest)
Total Gain: 134,129'
Total Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 107.3
Average Gain: 1,616'
Total Hike Time: 235.1 hours
Total Miles Driven: 10,150
Parking/Fees/Fares: $321
Islands: 2
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous

Little Pine Mountain Benchmark was suspended due to the Rey fire closure area. Santa Paula Peak was suspended due to closure of a private access road. If/when these areas reopen, I will need to hike them.

The Sierra Club Lower Peaks List contained 85 peaks at the time of my list finish (2 suspended). The list changed three times while I was working on it. It may have changed again by the time you read this. I found an old version of the list online that only had 63 peaks, and a version from 2004 that had 75 peaks. It is a fluid thing. This meta post provides concrete data on what chasing the list required. It surprised me how much driving was necessary to get to all the mountains. Your experience will vary depending on where you live and how you many peaks you combine into single trips.

Bagging all the peaks is something most people can physically do, but few have the perseverance and desire to do. It required a significant commitment of time, energy, and treasure. It took me four and a half years to finish, the same time it took me to get my college degree. It's a toss up which experience taught me more (but get your degree first, kids, it pays the bills). A natural way to approach the list is by doing the closest ones first, and that's what I did. The problem with that strategy is that each additional peak got more painful in terms of drive time and inconvenience. Completing the list is an accomplishment about which I have some small amount of pride. At the same time, I am humbled having stood on the shoulders of giants who provided beta, routes, reports, and inspiration. Thanks to the Sierra Club for selecting a fine group of peaks under 5000' to explore. Thanks to Bob Burd for the original inspiration to chase crazy lists. And special thanks to Adam Walker for being my climbing partner on Bishop.

Distance and Time in the table is for the round trip hike. Drive was the round trip drive in miles.

The table below can be sorted by clicking on any column heading or filtered by typing in the search box.
Note: a zero (0) for distance, gain, time, and drive means that peak was part of a multi-peak day hike and the stats were combined for one peak in the trip.

Peak Summit Distance (mi) Gain Time (hrs) Drive (mi) Report
Sitton Peak 3273' 9.5 2150' 4 58 report
Bonita Peak 3983' 6 1900' 3 138 report
Bedford Peak 3803' 7.2 1953' 2.5 58 report
Woodson Mountain 2897' 7.2 2059' 2.8 138 report
Los Pinos Peak 4510' 5.4 1400' 2 70 report
Sugarloaf Peak 3227' 11.2 2450' 4.2 68 report
Old Sugarloaf Peak 3326' 0 0' 0 0 report
Sandstone Peak 3111' 8 1927' 4.3 194 report
Boney Peak 2825' 0 0' 0 0 report
Inspiration Point 2800' 0 0' 0 0 report
Tri Peaks 3000' 0 0' 0 0 report
Trabuco Peak 4606' 10.9 2230' 4.7 70 report
Margarita Peak 3189' 6 1000' 2.2 118 report
San Mateo Peak 3591' 4.4 800' 2 70 report
Pleasants Peak 4007' 16.5 3775' 7 58 report
Yale, Mt. 4763' 9.2 2575' 4.3 166 report
Hastings Peak 4003' 0 0' 0 0 report
Bald Peak 3947' 9.4 2911' 4.3 64 report
Sierra Peak 3045' 12.7 2600' 5.2 60 report
San Juan Hill 1781' 9 2031' 2.8 62 report
Gilman Peak 1685' 0 0' 0 0 report
Iron Mountain 2696' 5.5 1101' 1.8 148 report
Cahuenga Peak 1820' 8.6 1783' 2.8 118 report
Hollywood, Mt. 1625' 0 0' 0 0 report
Azusa Peak 2081' 2.5 1260' 1.2 104 report
Wild Horse Peak 3279' 10.6 2121' 5 136 report
Stoddard Peak 4627' 14.2 2794' 6.3 130 report
Frankish Peak 4201' 0 0' 0 0 report
Potato Mountain 3400' 4.5 1214' 1.7 114 report
Zion, Mt. 3575' 9.2 2375' 4.7 128 report
McKinley Mountain 3795' 3 1645' 2 162 report
Jones Peak 3375' 6.1 2395' 3.5 124 report
Glendora Mountain 3322' 0.8 275' 0.5 112 report
Bliss, Mt. 3720' 8.5 2963' 3.5 112 report
Mugu Peak 1266' 2.1 1250' 1 196 report
Exchange Peak 2950' 8.3 2613' 3.7 26 report
Big Dome 2900' 0 0' 0 0 report
Russell, Mt. 2704' 3.7 1133' 1.8 134 report
Harrison Mountain 4743' 3.2 1725' 2.7 136 report
Verdugo Mountain 3123' 5.3 1981' 2.2 130 report
Muir, Mt. 4688' 6.5 1750' 2.2 162 report
Clamshell Peak 4360' 8.3 3435' 5.2 122 report
Silver Mountain 3388' 12.6 4100' 7 118 report
Pine Mountain 4542' 0 0' 0 0 report
Wilson Benchmark 4573' 11.8 1920' 4.5 210 report
Simi Peak 2403' 5 1530' 1.5 184 report
Temescal Peak 2126' 7.2 1000' 2.5 12 report
Eagle Peak 3226' 4.4 1050' 1.8 228 report
McAuley Peak 2049' 5.7 1540' 2.2 156 report
Saddle Peak East 2825' 2.3 630' 0.8 16 report
Calabasas Peak 2163' 4 1000' 1.7 12 report
Newcomb Peak 4166' 9.3 2025' 3.7 182 report
Agua Tibia 4779' 16.7 3300' 7.7 154 report
Arrowhead Peak 4237' 4.8 2470' 4 156 report
Morton Peak 4624' 8.1 2000' 3.7 150 report
Cram Peak 4162' 0 0' 0 0 report
Brown Mountain 4466' 14.4 2775' 8.5 148 report
Mastodon Peak 3440' 2.5 500' 0.8 112 report
Malapai Hill 4280' 1.7 570' 1 116 report
Monument Mountain 4834' 6.3 1620' 3 116 report
Mel, Mt. 3814' 8.7 2000' 4 66 report
Keys Peak 4484' 0 0' 0 0 report
McKinley, Mt. 4926' 19.8 4330' 9 178 report
Redrock Mountain Benchmark 3991' 12.3 2500' 7.5 202 report
Rocky Peak 2714' 5.2 1400' 2.2 176 report
Mission Point 2771' 4.7 1266' 2.2 50 report
Mendenhall Peak 4636' 7.7 2280' 3.2 184 report
Jupiter Mountain 4498' 4 1485' 2.2 216 report
May Peak 3948' 1.8 870' 1 172 report
Saddleback Butte 3651' 1.7 720' 1 300 report
Slide Mountain Lookout 4631' 9 2800' 3.5 214 report
Nordhoff Peak 4485' 11 2700' 4 152 report
Echo Mountain 3207' 5 1400' 2.5 138 report
Montecito Peak 3214' 2.6 950' 1.2 320 report
Cathedral Peak 3333' 3 1800' 3 5 report
Ghost Mountain 3400' 4.2 900' 2.5 240 report
Silver Peak 1804' 12.7 2800' 6.5 92 report
Gaviota Peak 2458' 6.2 2200' 2.4 362 report
Cachuma Mountain 4696' 7.7 1650' 2.8 376 report
El Montanon 1808' 9.3 2074' 4.25 250 report
Bishop Peak 1546' 3.9 1210' 3.5 512 report
Cerro Alto 2624' 4.3 1890' 2.5 22 report
Valencia Peak 1347' 4.3 1300' 2 20 report

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Valencia Peak

Hiked: 4/2/2017
Distance: 4.3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1347'
Elevation Gain: 1300'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.04
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 36 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Pecho Valley Road
Difficulty: Easy

The last summit of the trip was Valencia Peak, a coastal mountain south of Morro Bay. There was ample parking at the trailhead on Pecho Valley Road. The marine layer had only partially burned off and Valencia was hidden somewhere in the clouds. Adam and I started up the trail and got a better look at the small bay below. There were several parties on the trail, most of them on their way down. We continued up into the clouds, losing sight of everything but the next section of trail. Fortunately, there were plenty of wildflowers to add some color to the otherwise off-white blanket of fog. An hour later, we were standing on top of Valencia. A loose cement fragment held the remains of reference mark #3 pointing in a random direction. We also went zero for three on registers for the day. Even though we couldn't see anything, we could hear the roar of the ocean below. It is probably a vision on a clear day. None of that mattered since Valencia was my Lower Peaks List finish (with a caveat). Little Pine Mountain Benchmark was still on my to do list, but was currently suspended due to the Rey Fire closure. Santa Paula Peak was also suspended and looks like it may not be added back. Until something changes, the LPC list was done. I would have time to wax philosophically about the chase later. At the moment, Adam and I were both hungry so we headed back to look for food. We drove to a Chipotle in downtown SLO and I found a parking spot, ignoring the parking meter next to it since it was Sunday. After finishing a burrito, I returned to find a $33 parking ticket on my windshield. Like the clouds, it did't dent my satisfaction of completing three peaks on the day and the list.



Stratified trail

Valencia is somewhere up in the clouds

Rocks just below the summit

Reference mark 3, could not find the triangulation mark


Looking east from the summit


Indian paintbrush

Cerro Alto

Hiked: 4/2/2017
Distance: 4.3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2624'
Elevation Gain: 1890'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.51
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 52 oz.
Parking/Fees: $10 day use fee at Cerro Alto Campground
Difficulty: Easy

Cerro Alto is north of San Luis Obispo, and the northernmost peak on the Sierra Club Lower Peak List. Unlike most SoCal national forest areas, the Adventure Pass is no good here. As of May 1, 2016, the day use fee for parking at the Cerro Alto Trailhead is $10 per vehicle. I coughed up the cash in a self service envelope and dropped it off. There is a short route (Bridge Trail) and long route (Cerro Alto trail). Since we had another peak to squeeze in, Adam and I aimed for the shorter route that crosses a wooden bridge over a stream at the start. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation and soon you have great views looking down into the valley below. It was a minor grind to the unsigned junction with the longer Cerro Alto trail. We turned right to continue up and soon hit another unsigned junction, making an error by turning right again. We gained a few hundred feet before realizing we were not heading toward Cerro Alto. We briefly considered trying a cross country shortcut but the chaparral was thick. Later, I found out we could have continued and circled back on another trail. Instead, we saw another party coming down the Cerro Alto trail so we reversed course and went the other way. The diversion distorted the stats a little. A short section of trail later, we found a sign indicating Cerro Alto was 1.2 miles away. More grinding got us to the final junction, this one also with a helpful sign pointing us the right direction for the final quarter mile. Cerro Alto offered great 360 views of the green landscape. There used to be a fire lookout on the summit, but no trace remained of it. We had hoped to see Morro Rock from the summit, but the marine layer had not burned off completely and was still covering the coastline. We talked to some friendly locals at the top and rested a little before heading back. Finally, we drove south toward Valencia Peak, the final mountain of the day.

Start of the bridge trail

The first sign of a sign, after we made a wrong turn

Cerro Alto in striking distance


Ridge to Tassajera Peak

Green acres is the place to be

Farm living is the life for me