Saturday, August 20, 2016

Oakzanita Peak and Sugg Peak

Hiked: 8/19/2016
Distance: 9.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5054' (Oakzanita), 5243' (Sugg)
Elevation Gain: 1750'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.4
Round trip time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 92 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Highway 79 at East Mesa Fire Road
Difficulty: Moderate

It had been a few months since I hiked in San Diego County. I was back to get a couple on the SDC list, Oakzanita (#27) and Sugg (#25). Oakzanita sits in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, while nearby Sugg is across the boundary in the Cleveland National Forest. I parked at a paved turnout on Highway 79 and East Mesa Fire Road.

I hiked down the road just before sunrise. It was already light enough to see without illumination. Quickly, I passed the junction with Lower Descanso Creek Trail and soon after hit the Upper Descanso Creek Trail that leads to Oakzanita. The trail was easy to follow and wound around the lower part of Oakzanita to a saddle with a wide grassy plain. The Oakzanita summit trail branches right and makes long, gentle switchbacks all the way to the summit. Evidence of horses was visible all the way to the top, where a hitching post waited. It was an easy, family friendly summit with a class 1 boulder pile. I signed the register, popular based on the number of books and recent signatures. There was an old style spike benchmark in one of the boulders circa 1935. The views were quite nice of Cuyamaca and its satellites, with Sugg and Sugg West the other direction. I didn't hang around long, returning to the Oakzanita junction and continuing southeast toward Sugg.

East Mesa Road, Oakzanita behind in the pale before sunrise

Junction with Upper Descanso Creek Trail

Summit looking toward Cuyamaca and friends

Spike benchmark

On the way to Sugg (left)

The trail cut through a couple of meadows before meeting the East Mesa Road again. From satellite recon, I thought I saw a reasonable way to get near the saddle between Sugg and Sugg West by continuing up East Mesa to an obvious open area. However, things on the ground don't always match up. I ended up spotting what looked like a use trail heading to Sugg and took it. It bypassed the barbed wire fence and I followed it until it disappeared in a drainage below the Sugg false summit. What I should have done was take the overgrown road by hugging the fence, but the road was hidden behind a large fallen tree. Instead, I took the drainage into a snarl of vegetation. I smashed through it for a while looking for a better way to the saddle. At some point, I stopped trying to get to the saddle and just went up through whatever was in my way. I forged a unique track over dead trees, rocks, and thick brush. I sort of enjoyed it, but can't recommend it. Once I got to the top of the false summit, the only obstacle was knee high manzanita and I reached the summit in minutes. There I found a register in red cans, a San Diego County benchmark, and two summit boulders that looked like horns. I guess they could also be ears but horns fit the personality of Sugg. The right horn was easy class 2, the left horn a surprising class 3. No holds at all in back, but one good hold on top of the boulder that could be reached from the inner face. There were only a few signatures in the register. I was the third party to sign in all of 2016. Sugg is about the opposite of Oakzanita as far as friendliness, or maybe it's just pickier about who it makes friends with. On the way down, I headed for the saddle with Sugg West. A giant boulder served as a beacon. On top of the boulder, I could see a relatively clear path to the saddle where I picked up the overgrown road back to East Mesa Road. It was a much better route, though still plenty of contact with brush. As I was returning along the road, I surprised a pair of foxes. One vanished immediately, but I fumbled for my camera and got my first ever photos of a wild fox. That was nice way to end the adventure.

Bungle in Sugg jungle, well that's alright by me

Top of the false summit approaching Sugg summit

Only two parties made it to Sugg this year before me

Summit of Sugg

San Diego County benchmark

On the left horn

On a giant boulder, mapping out the rest of my descent


Fox on the run!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Pine Mountain (San Diego)

Hiked: 8/19/2016
Distance: 0.5 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 5640'
Elevation Gain: 100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.08
Round trip time: 15 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

Pine Mountain, #15 on the Sierra Club San Diego County list, was a bonus on the way back from Oakzanita and Sugg. I didn't have a lot of time, so I followed Greg Gerlach's GPS track up Indian Potrero Road to the east side of Pine Mountain for an easy walk up. The drive turned out to be more difficult than the hike. To follow Indian Potrero Road, take the road where the Pine Mountain trail starts from Sunrise Highway (S1) if the gate is open, then right at the first junction and right at the second junction. The road is rough in spots and I drove in 4WD, bottoming out a couple of times in my 4Runner. There were plenty of tall, healthy pines and waist high grass. The summit was indistinct and I wandered around looking for any sign of human activity without luck. No mark, no register, and even the faint trails around the summit looked as much animal as human. Well, it was a pleasant area even though the trees blocked all views.

Driving toward Pine Mountain

Starting point

The dead and the living

Wandering around the large summit area

More pines around the summit

Friday, August 5, 2016

Hagador Peak, Mine 2 BM, Hagador Canyon

Hiked: 8/5/2016
Distance: 12 miles round trip on firebreak, dirt road, and trail
Summit Elevation: 3880' (Hagador), 3403' (Mine 2 BM)
Elevation Gain: 3290'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.63
Round trip time: 6 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Foothill Parkway
Difficulty: Moderate

Hagador Peak is an obscure peak just off North Main Divide Road in the Santa Ana Mountains. It is near Pleasants Peak. If you don't drive to it, the easiest way to reach it is from the east side of the Santa Anas. I started from the popular Skyline Drive trailhead on Foothill Parkway in Corona.

Instead of taking Skyline Drive, I opted for the ridge and firebreak at the mouth of Hagador Canyon. At the first bend in Skyline, I continued straight toward the Hagador Canyon Watershed. A rutted firebreak on the ridge is obvious across the field. I got started around 8:45 AM but the August sun was already bringing the heat. At the top of the first bump, I dropped a water cache for later exploration of the canyon. I continued up the ridge that separates Tin Mine Canyon to the NW and Hagador Canyon to the SE. The ridge is a series of short, sharp, dirt bumps, perfect for interval training. It was a good workout, but less than half way up, I was drenched in sweat. If I tilted my head down, a steady stream of sweat dripped from the visor of my hat. I woke up feeling a little lethargic and the heat made it worse. Eventually, I hit Main Divide Road and turned left for Hagador. This ridge saved many miles of winding around Skyline Drive. I estimate the ridge round trip to Hagador alone would be about 9.2 miles vs. 16 miles for Skyline. At the summit, there were many towers and a work crew doing some kind of maintenance. I didn't find a register or benchmark, but took some pictures and forced myself to eat what wasn't melted in my pack. I could not get to the last two towers because they were behind a barbed wire fence with security camera warnings. The presence of the work crew was also a deterrent.

Skyline Drive Trail in Corona

Ridge route with firebreak

Looking up Hagador Canyon from the ridge

Ridge line turns left to meet Main Divide Road just below Mine 2 BM

Targets in view from the ridge, except Pleasants that I did from the other side in 2013

Hagador summit and work crew trucks

Looking west

Looking southeast to Pleasants Peak

Protected towers, the fence ran deep into thick brush

I left Hagador Peak and returned the way I came. Just before the ridge turnoff, I took a detour to explore Mine 2 BM. I didn't know the name of it until I found an OC survey mark stamped "Mine II". The USGS and USFS topos show a benchmark here, but it wasn't named on their maps. Orange County probably named it based on proximity to Tin Mine Canyon. Most of the top was burned, I am guessing a controlled burn because it was contained to the summit. I made it down the ridge without mishap and collected my cache. At the bottom of the ridge I headed back into the canyon. There is a very nice trail with plenty of shade that goes up the canyon more than a mile before fading out in the creek bed. The creek was completely dry. With multiple crossings, the canyon would have been more fun if the water was flowing. The beauty of the canyon is marred by occasional graffiti on the rocks. At the end of trail, there were several easy ways to proceed, but I was down to my last bottle of water and not feeling it. I took a photosphere then headed out.

Mine 2 BM, placed 1981


Peace rock?

My turn around point in the canyon. More to explore.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Silver Peak, Mount Torquemada, Granite Peak, Oak BM

Hiked: 7/22/2016
Distance: 12.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1804' (Silver), 1336' (Torquemada), 1750' (Granite), 1488' (Oak)
Elevation Gain: 2800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.24
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 148 oz.
Parking/Fees: $72 round trip boat fare, $17 parking
Difficulty: Moderate

Catalina Express - Schedules and Fares

The quest for Sierra Club Lower Peaks took us to Catalina Island for Silver Peak, the highest point north of the isthmus. Sean, Dima, and I boarded the Catalina Express from San Pedro to Two Harbors. It was my first trip to the island. The tricky part of this hike was to pull it off in one day. During the summer, only Fridays and Sundays had schedules that worked. We took the 10 AM boat out with the return trip slated for 8:30 PM.

When we arrived at Two Harbors, we stopped to get our hiking permit then started down the Trans-Catalina Trail, a wide dirt road. It was warm, but a strong ocean breeze kept us cool. The road turned north and sharply climbed over 1400' with no break and no shade. As we moved away from the ocean, the breeze died and the road reflected the heat, soon reaching around 100 degrees F. The breeze only returned intermittently and we had underestimated the heat. We plowed ahead for Silver Peak, up and down the rolling ridge. There were good views down to the ocean on both sides of the island and small boats dotted the ocean all around. We were all dripping with sweat when we reached the summit of Silver Peak. We found the benchmark and signed one of many registers in the ammo box, resting and refueling. More interesting times were ahead on Mt. Torquemada.

Boarding the smaller Catalina Express boat for Two Harbors

Taking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Looking down the west side of the island, about half way to Silver Peak

Approaching Silver Peak

The north end of Catalina from Silver Peak

JPL benchmark on Silver Peak

Looking south from Silver Peak

Sean, Dima, and I on the Silver summit

On the way back, we stopped for a while under one of the few small trees large enough to provide shade. There were only three such trees along the entire route. We planned to hit the two small peaks just off the trail plus Mt. Torquemada. Before we got to Granite Peak, a Ranger in a truck rolled up on us from the south. He had two hikers in tow that were suffering from cramps and borderline heat exhaustion. Sean asked if he had extra water and he kindly gave each of us a cold bottle. It tasted far better than the warm water still left in my hydration pack. The ranger continued on looking for more hikers. The only other party we saw all day was a group we passed that looked somewhat unprepared. They probably thought the same thing about us. Granite Peak was a 5 minute diversion with a weather station. There was no register, but we did find a reference mark. We quickly reached Oak BM where we found a benchmark stamped 1875. This was by far the oldest benchmark I had seen. We discussed it later and started to doubt whether the date was correct. I did some follow up research at the National Geodetic Survey and according to their records, it was originally a metal spike placed in 1875, replaced by a disk in 1934 but stamped 1875.

Granite reference mark, benchmark not found

Granite Peak summit with weather station

Oak benchmark, original was a spike in 1875, disk placed in 1934

The final target of the day was Mt. Torquemada, a three-quarter mile (one way) side trip on a ridge hugging the west side of the island. There was a good use trail that weaved through large stands of cactus. The best views of the day were along the trail overlooking thousand foot drops where the ocean had scalloped the shoreline. The final section was steep and rocky but not problematic. The only thing we found on top was a small unmarked cross. Dima explored some kind of scientific station down the far side. We debated whether to continue back up the use trail or take a cross country shortcut back to the road. Sean was running low on water and argued for the shortcut. He saw a good path back to the road and convinced us to go along. We picked our way down, following deer trails and diverting around brush. We never hit anything bad but did pick up a lot of foxtails. Near the bottom, we stumbled on a half buried boat we named Noah's Ark (marked with a waypoint on my track). We tried to come up with theories on how a boat got 575' off the water. Nearby, Dima found a deer skull and piles of bones. We easily got back to the road having saved the trek back up the ridge and about a mile of trail. We met the ranger one more time on our final mile of descent. He had diverted the other group of hikers down a different road to get them out of the heat. We talked to him about Mt. Torquemada, leaving out the cross country adventure. Checking the permit later, off trail travel was prohibited, but we rationalized that a deer trail was still a trail.

Approaching Mt. Torquemada

Looking down a cliff

Final ridge

Mt. Torquemada summit

The two harbors of Two Harbors

Cross country shortcut

Noah's Ark

Skull and teeth near the ark

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