Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sugarloaf and Old Sugarloaf, Santa Ana Mountains

Hiked: 2/22/2013
Distance: 11.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 3326' (Old Sugarloaf), 3227' (Sugarloaf)
Prominence: 546' (Old Sugarloaf), 247' (Sugarloaf)
Elevation Gain: 2450' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.96
Round trip time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

By missing the Old Sugarloaf use trail cairn, I made this harder than it had to be. I started at the Old San Juan Trail just before Blue Jay Campground. To get there, follow the same directions as Los Pinos Peak, but stop just before the campground. There are about 4 parking spots on the side of the road. I thought I would make it clear in the title that I was in the Santa Ana Mountains because every state has about 10 peaks named Sugarloaf.

The trailhead is higher than either peak, so it resembles a canyon hike, losing about 700 feet of elevation before climbing toward Sugarloaf with a use trail to the summit on the right. There were several deer that greeted me near the trailhead before sprinting away into the canyon. To shorten my hike time, I jogged parts of the trail. The first half of the hike is well shaded with plenty of tree cover. I ran into several unmarked trail junctions and learned along the way that the shortest route is any one that heads directly toward Sugarloaf. It was a pretty short climb to the boulder filled summit of Sugarloaf. Red cans with summit logs were hidden under one of the large boulders. I signed the log and considered climbing up the two largest boulders. The lower of the two is a class 3 scramble, but the only way to the higher boulder was to jump from the lower one. It looked dicey so I skipped it this time. Back on the trail, I circled behind Sugarloaf and dropped down to a saddle where the use trail to Old Sugarloaf also begins on the right.

Sugarloaf (left) and Old Sugarloaf (right) near start of hike

Approaching Sugarloaf

Register cans

Summit boulders on Sugarloaf

Unfortunately, I missed the Old Sugarloaf use trail and went a good half mile beyond it and started rounding a tall bump. I backtracked and looked for any excuse of a use trail. When I thought I found a faint one heading up the bump, I took it but had to bushwhack my way to the top of the unnamed bump at 3000'. There was no path to Old Sugarloaf from the bump, so I got discouraged and started back, thinking I would not bag Old Sugarloaf today. The bump side trip cost me about 45 minutes. On the return trip, I spotted a broken cairn and the use trail and moved up as quickly as I could, feeling some time pressure. The summit trail to Old Sugarloaf was more difficult than Sugarloaf and had a few short scrambles. Another red can held the summit log, but the can was half full of water and the pen didn't work. I emptied the can, returned the log and took a short break before heading down. At the bottom, I repaired the cairn and added a few more rocks to make it more clear for the next hiker.

Approaching Old Sugarloaf

Climbing the use trail to Old Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf from the Old Sugarloaf summit

See also:
Sugarloaf Redux

Monday, February 18, 2013

San Gabriel Peak 4-bagger

Hiked: 2/17/2013
Distance: 7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 6161' (San Gabriel Peak), 5960' (Mt. Disappointment), 5728' (Mt. Markham), 5603' (Mt. Lowe)
Prominence: 1561' (San Gabriel Peak), all others under 500'
Elevation Gain: 2130' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.70
Round trip time: 4 hours
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

This trip started from Eaton saddle on the Redbox-Mt. Wilson Road. To get there, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) north from the I-5. Stay on the 2 north about 10 miles past Lacanada-Flintridge to Redbox, then take the Redbox-Mt. Wilson Road for about 2 miles to Eaton saddle. There is ample parking on both sides of the road.

San Gabriel Peak is the second highest point in the front range of the San Gabriels and is surrounded by a cluster of other peaks, making it easy to bag 4 peaks in one trip. From Eaton saddle, start down the gated dirt road and through the Mueller tunnel. About half a mile from the start, you will find a cement water tank. The trail to San Gabriel Peak is to the right of the water tank and easy to find. It climbs to a saddle between San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment. Take the right fork for San Gabriel Peak, left for Mt. Disappointment. There was a little snow and ice on the north side of the trail to San Gabriel Peak but it was not much of a problem. Return to the water tank for the other two.

At the water tank, head left and up the East Mt. Lowe trail that climbs slowly away from the road. After about a mile, you reach the saddle between Mt. Markham and Mt. Lowe. Make a sharp left on the use trail and head for Mt. Markham. I looked for a short cut up Markham, but it appears to be very steep, loose rock on all sides except the ridge that starts from the saddle. This was a fun climb on a narrow ridge that included a few class 2 spots. There are couple of large cairns at the summit. Descend the ridge to the saddle and follow the Mt. Lowe trail for another half mile before turning right at the signed trail to the summit.

Each peak offers similar views of the area, downtown LA, and even Catalina depending on the haze. There are benches on the summits of San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Lowe. The only summit log found was on Mt. Lowe. This particular day, there were two large organized hiking groups (20+) on the mountains. One heading for San Gabriel Peak, the other on Mt. Lowe. These mountains appear to be very popular on the weekends.

Mueller tunnel near the start of the hike

Mt. Markham near the start of the hike

On the summit of Mt. Disappointment

San Gabriel Peak (left) and Mt. Markham (right) from Mt. Lowe summit

San Gabriel Peak benchmark

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dreaded Hill

Hiked: 2/15/2013
Distance: 4.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1653'
Elevation Gain: 1000' (550' out, 450' on return)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.80
Round trip time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Concourse Park
Difficulty: Easy

Dreaded Hill is the high point in Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County. It sounds much worse than it is. The trails I followed started at Concourse Park. To get there, head east on El Toro Road from the I-5 and make a left on Ridgeline Road, the last light before Cook's Corner, then left on Saddleback Ranch Road. Parking is free in the parking lot and there is a nice, clean restroom at the park.

There is a maze of trails in the park and your best bet is to get a map or print one from the OC Parks web site. I followed a counter clockwise loop on various trails in this order:
Concourse Road
Sleepy Hollow Trail
Santiago Ranch Road
Cactus Hill Trail to 4 Corners
Water Tank Trail
Dreaded Hill Road to summit and down other side
Serrano Cow Trail
Line Shack Road
Concourse Road

The Cactus Hill Trail in Whiting Ranch is somewhat infamous as the site of two mountain lion attacks in 2004, one fatal. There were at least two lions in the park at the time, one male (the confirmed attacker) that was shot, and a female that was run over by a car on a nearby road. Another 100 pound male mountain lion was captured in July, 2012 in the park after exhibiting what park rangers called unusual behavior.

The trails are optimized for mountain bikers and may explain why I saw a 10:1 ratio of bikers to hikers. Everything is groomed and smooth. The Serrano Cow Trail was well shaded, but that and parts of Sleepy Hollow were the only areas with tree coverage. I saw plenty of wildlife including a road runner and 3 deer. I wasn't able to photograph the road runner before he got away. I never got the feeling I was in the wilderness with houses in view from almost every part of the trip. It's hard to believe this is a home to mountain lions.

Dreaded Hill from the start of the hike

Three deer grazing through the trees. Lion food!

Red Rock Canyon from Dreaded Hill summit

Dreaded Hill summit

The elevation profile makes it look like there is a steep climb at the start, but there isn't. When I turned on my GPS, I had already gone down a hill in the wrong direction so it shows me climbing back up to the right trail then down again. I didn't count that in the elevation gain. To get a longer sustained workout, a clockwise assault on dreaded hill would have been better. There is bench on the trail near the top of Dreaded Hill, but the true summit requires a few more feet of climbing via faint use trail.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Indianhead Peak

Hiked: 2/5/2013
Distance: 9 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3968'
Prominence: 760'
Elevation Gain: 3145'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.51
Round trip time: 7 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: $7 parking at campground
Difficulty: Strenuous

Indianhead Peak is in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. To get there from the OC, take the I-5 south to the 76 east, then 79 north, left on Montezuma for 17 miles, then left on Palm Canyon. Parking in the campground costs $7. It is 116 miles from my house, adding about 5 hours of drive time to an already difficult hike. To get an early start, I left at 4:30 am, got my parking permit, and started the hike at 7:05 am. The temp was a brisk 47F, but it climbed all the way to 80F on the ridge line. It would be scorching in the summer. Despite the heat, I would not attempt Indianhead without long pants because of the abundance of thorny plants.

The terrain reminded me of Death Valley, with desiccated, crumbly, rocks piled high. The boulders in the canyon and near the summit were house sized like the giant boulders in Black Star Canyon. There is a trail heading up the canyon about 1.5 miles to the first palm oasis. The trail ends there and you are on your own to navigate past that point. The canyon had a healthy stream flowing through it and stream crossing was required several times in addition to the boulder hopping. During one crossing, I dropped my Garmin GPS into the stream and it sunk about a foot down. It took me a minute or two to retrieve it, but it kept on working. Whew!

I had downloaded the coordinates that others have used for the ridge ascent and was tracking my position. Once I got to the final oasis, it was time to start the steep climb. The final ascent of Smith Mountain was as steep as Indianhead, but only a third as long. There were short sections of Iron Mountain just as steep, but none of my previous climbs had the boulder problems on top of the climb or constant cliff exposure. Most trip reports I read rate the easier route as class 2 with some class 3 sections. There are definitely a couple of places with scary exposure, maybe due to route finding mistakes I made. This was the most technical hike I'd done so far and the raw numbers on elevation gain and distance don't come close to measuring the difficulty.

Indianhead Peak at dawn

The first palm oasis.

Looking up at the big palms in the oasis.

Bouldering in Palm Canyon

Looking down Palm Canyon at the start of the ridge climb

When I got near the summit, I ran into more house sized boulders that appeared to block the path to the summit. It took some trial and error and giving up a little elevation to find a way around to continue up to the summit. I was also fighting cactus and thorny bushes all the way up and down. I removed at least 20 cactus needles from my legs and arms before it was over. For the first time on any hike, I stopped and applied some anti-bacterial lotion and a band-aid.

When I finally made it to the top, I signed the summit register and read some of the old entries. The way down was steep and slow. There were a couple of places that I could not find a way down based on my ascent track, and found a slightly different route down. Despite all the difficulties, the hike was an epic challenge and was very satisfying to complete. The views were spectacular and the weather was perfect. Due to the distance from my house, I probably won't be back for a while.

Big bump along the ridge

Is there an easier way down?

Summit view toward Borrego Springs

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