Sunday, March 31, 2013

Crystal Cove Back Country

Hiked: 3/31/2013
Distance: 7.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 915' (high point on this loop)
Elevation Gain: 1400' (1000' out, 400' on return)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.12
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: $15 State Parks
Difficulty: Moderate

The Crystal Cove Back Country, like a lot of popular state and county parks, is a maze of trails. Parking is available behind El Moro Elementary off P.C.H. (Hwy 1) in Newport Beach. Complete information is available on the Crystal Cove web site. The back country trails are generally mellow and offer a variety of family friendly loop possibilities. The ranger station is nicely appointed and has a collection of local stuffed flora, including a mountain lion and coyote.

The outing started as a rare family hike, but Parker soon lost interest, leaving Shelby and I to complete the following loop route:
No Dogs Trail
No Name Ridge
Ticketron past Deer Canyon Campground (single track)
Rattlesnake Trail (single track)
West Cut Across
Poles Trail
No Dogs Trail

Out of the entire route, only Ticketron and Rattlesnake were single track trails. All other trails were as wide as roads, well graded, and crowded. Because the park is so popular, expect to be sharing the trails with a lot of people, especially on weekends. Even in the most remote parts of the park, I never felt like I was in wilderness because there were almost always people in view. While there was some nice scenery near the ocean and some interesting geology, the crowds and expensive parking were a downer. The Center Benchmark is along the Rattlesnake Trail and we went right over it at a jog. I didn't bother to stop and take a photo.

Tip: pay the parking fee and display it prominently on your dash. While we were there, 3 people got ticketed for not paying the parking fee. The fine was a hefty $71.

Pacific Ocean from the No Dogs trail

Leisa and Parker on the No Dogs trail

Cave on the Ticketron trail

Shelby on the Rattlesnake trail

Monday, March 25, 2013

Aliso-Wood Canyon to the Top of the World

Hiked: 3/24/2013
Distance: 9 miles round trip on road and trail
Summit Elevation: 1041' (Top of the World)
Elevation Gain: 1091' (out and back)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.87
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Moderate

The Aliso and Wood Canyon Park is in my back yard, two miles from my house, and I know every nook and cranny. The hills were a good training ground for me before I graduated to bigger things. There are many interconnected trails, but most are well signed, and maps and directions are available online at the OC Parks site. The Park is very popular on weekends with mountain bikers and the trails are ideal for biking. If you plan to hike there on the weekend, expect lots of bike traffic.

From the trailhead, there is a monotonous 1.5 mile section of flat, paved road. At about the half mile mark, there is a dirt trail on the right that parallels the road and is more pleasant to travel on than the pavement. This 1.5 mile section is quickly and easily dispatched on a bike, but is a drag for hikers who have to deal with it out and back. To save time, I jogged most of the road section and was pleased with my 3.6 mph average over the entire 9 mile course.

There are a few attractions to see after leaving the road and heading into Wood Canyon. The first is a short signed trail leading to Cave Rock, a large formation with multiple small and shallow caves. It returns to the main trail in about a quarter mile. A little further is a signed trail leading to Dripping Cave, a former hideout for bandits. Dripping Cave is large enough for a group of people but is still shallow, no more than 20' deep. From Dripping Cave, I continued on until it intersected the Mathis Canyon Trail, then took an immediate left on the Oak Grove Trail. Oak Grove offers some shade and turns into the Car Wreck Trail, which has an actual wrecked car on it, a good mile from the nearest road. I still don't know how the car got this far down into the canyon.

After passing the car, the Car Wreck Trail gets steep and all of the elevation gain comes in the next 1.5 miles. Follow Car Wreck Trail until it hits the Mathis Canyon Trail, then make a left to the junction with the West Ridge Trail and left again all the way to the Top of the World in Laguna Beach. At the Top of the World, there is a park, nice restroom facilities, a great view of the Pacific Ocean and the City of Laguna Beach. The high point is actually Carolyn Wood Knoll about a 100 feet off to the right. On a clear day, you have a great view of Saddleback Mountain, but today was pretty hazy and it was hard to make out either Saddleback or the ocean. On my return trip, I stayed on the Mathis Canyon Trail.

I almost classified this hike as easy, but the distance was a little much and all the elevation comes in about 1.5 miles after the car wreck. A family friendly hike could be done by turning around at Dripping Cave or the car wreck and bypassing all of the elevation gain.

Start of the dirt trail that parallels the road in Aliso Canyon

Dripping Cave

Oak Grove Trail and Mathis Canyon Trail split, go left on Oak Grove to get to Car Wreck Trail

Shady section of the Oak Grove Trail

Car wreck on Car Wreck Trail

Looking back down the Car Wreck Trail near the top

Pacific Ocean and Laguna Beach through the haze at the Top of the World

Alta Laguna Park at the Top of the World

A rattlesnake crossing the road on a previous trip into Aliso Canyon

Bobcat ready to pounce in Aliso Canyon, also on a previous trip

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sandstone Peak 4-bagger

Hiked: 3/22/2013
Distance: 8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3111' (Sandstone Peak), 2825' (Boney Peak), 2800' (Inspiration Point), 2950' (Exchange Peak - attempt), 3000' (Tri Peaks)
Prominence: 2201' (Sandstone Peak), Others < 500'
Elevation Gain: 1927' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.54
Round trip time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free
Difficulty: Moderate

Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the highest of a cluster of nearby peaks on the Sierra Club lower peaks list. It is a popular destination because of its close proximity to LA, ocean views, and boulders and cliffs that attract rock climbers. Following in the footsteps of Bob Burd and others, Noel and I planned to hit all of the "Sandstone Seven" peaks, only six of which are officially recognized by the Sierra Club. However, things don't always go according to plan and we only bagged four.

For directions to the trail, a map and complete information is available at the National Park Service site. The convenience for LA residents is an inconvenience for a south OC hiker like me. Google maps predicted a full two hour drive to get to the Sandstone Peak trailhead on Yerba Buena Road. It took 2 hours to get there and a miserable 2.5 hours to get back due to traffic and accidents. Ouch.

Sandstone Peak is the first peak you reach along the Backbone Trail, requiring a quick thousand foot gain and short rock scramble. It has a first class register cubby built into the rock. It was quite windy on top, and on all of the peaks. The views were very nice in all directions with the ocean on one side and the sprawling valley on the other.

Boney Peak is reached from a use trail on the left and requires a full class 3 scramble up 15' or 20' to get on the summit block. There were multiple climbing anchors on it, but plenty of handholds meant no ropes were needed.

Inspiration Point was an easy walk up to the Boy Scout memorial at the top. The views from each peak pretty much matched those of Sandstone Peak.

Sandstone Peak trailhead

View toward Pacific Ocean from Sandstone Peak summit

Looking down from Boney Peak summit

Memorial plaque at Inspiration Point

Exchange Peak is where things starting going wrong. We followed the use trail past the water towers but were unable to locate a trail to approach the large summit formation. Instead of attacking it head on, we searched for an approach from the tamer looking West side. That led to us to attempt following a faint animal trail into the thick chaparral and brush. After getting most of the way up the West side, our gambit failed in a stand of poison oak. On our return we think we spotted an approach that was more direct but didn't have the heart for it with other peaks on the target list. [See this hike for my revenge on Exchange Peak]

Tri peaks got us back in the win column, following the marked but unmaintained trail. It has a giant summit block with a USGS marker at the base. I was content to hang out at the base while Noel made a partial ascent for a better view.

The last two peaks, Poptop and Big Dome did not show up on my GPS topo map, and did not stand out among the half dozen peaklets surrounding Tri Peaks. So we abandoned the last two and cut a cross country path over to the Mishe Mokwa trail to complete the back side of the loop. This took us past Split Rock and gave us a great view of Balanced Rock. I think the failure at Exchange Peak and not being able to find the last two peaks was due to lack of research. I should have spent some time looking at satellite images and other reports. The lesson was learned.

Approaching Exchange Peak

The quest for Exchange Peak ended in the middle of thick brush and poison oak

Boy Scouts benchmark placed on Tri-Peaks

Noel resting part way up the Tri-Peaks summit block

Balanced Rock

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rattlesnake Peak

Hiked: 3/15/2013
Distance: 8.8 miles round trip on dirt road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5843'
Prominence: 946'
Elevation Gain: 3844'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.07
Round trip time: 6 hours
Recommended water: 136 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Rattlesnake Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains is the baby brother of Big Iron Mountain which remains in view the entire trip. It is considered the second toughest single peak in the range with plenty of elevation gain, yucca hazards, and loose dirt. To get to the trailhead, follow highway 39 north out of Azusa as if heading toward Iron Mountain, except follow Shoemaker Road to the left instead of continuing on E Fork Road. Stop at the closed gate.

There are two main approaches to Rattlesnake Peak, the south ridge route (most popular), and the east ridge after going through two tunnels. It can also be done as a loop in either direction. Rod and I started up the south ridge which starts in a gully on the left side of the road at GPS coordinates N34.24946 W117.76476. There was a cairn marking the start of the use trail that I improved slightly.

Soon after leaving the road, the use trail faded away and I had to consult the GPS to determine which way to go. The GPS showed the way to a steep wash on the left where the dirt was so loose that it frequently meant taking a step and sliding back a few inches. Eventually, the use trail returned and after reaching the south ridge, it was clear where to ascend. There were plenty of intimidating bumps, some rock scrambling, and a few interesting places where the path led along the edge of a cliff. About half way up, we cached some water to pick up on the return. We were the only humans on the mountain all day, though we did see a few large horned lizards and a red velvet ant along with the usual squirrels and birds.

Most of the vegetation was burned, but it was hard to tell how recently. There was no bushwhacking, and very little brush or tall grass. It was pretty barren most of the way, except for a healthy yucca "garden" we encountered. Big Iron Mountain dominated the northeast the entire hike, with snow-capped Mt. Baldy behind it.

After passing several false summits, Rod and I planted a "rattlesnake flag" at the peak, signed the summit log and took some photos. The most recent log entry was from the prior Sunday. After a short rest and snack break, we returned on the south ridge. The east ridge would have to wait for another day.

Start of the hike on Shoemaker road

Start of the use trail that leaves on the left side of the road near a deep road cut

Rattlesnake peak from early on the south ridge

Facing one of several big bumps on the south ridge

Rod on a saddle between bumps

This bump is sometimes called Baby Rattlesnake

A horned lizard wonders why we are trespassing on his mountain

Looking over a yucca down the south ridge

South ridge

Rare velvet ant

On the summit

Rod on the summit, Iron Mountain and Mt. Baldy in the background

USGS benchmark labelled "Fang" instead of "Rattlesnake", placed in 1930.

Panorama from summit, click for a better view