Friday, August 23, 2013

Iron Mountain (San Diego)

Hiked: 8/23/2013
Distance: 5.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2696'
Prominence: 616'
Elevation Gain: 1101'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.88
Round trip time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Hwy 67 and Poway Road parking lot
Difficulty: Easy

When I left my house in the morning, my plan was to climb El Cajon mountain. However, that plan was shot down by a Park Ranger when I parked on the side of the road and was preparing to go. He told me the trail was closed in August due to the heat and would re-open in September. Had I not stopped for coffee on the way, I would have been well down the trail by the time he rolled by, but there was no heading up after getting warned. I had no back up plan, so I pulled up the Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List to try to find something else close. I settled on Iron Mountain, a short 7 miles away. While it has the same name as my blog, it has nothing in common with Big Iron Mountain in the San Gabriels. There are actually three Iron Mountains in the San Gabriels, but Big Iron is called that for good reason.

I got to the Iron Mountain trailhead off highway 67 at 7:00 AM and the parking lot was already 3/4 full, on a Friday. It is probably completely full on weekends. There were restrooms in the parking lot and trail maps, which I was glad to see since I only came prepared for El Cajon. The trail map listed the distance at 6.5 miles and gain at 1800', both of which turned out to be exaggerations, unless the brochure was for the Ellie Lane trailhead. My GPS measured 5.5 miles and gain of only 1100'. Other GPS trip reports are in the same ballpark.

The beginning of the trail had a nice entrance and a little shade, but only at the beginning. The trail itself was sandy and despite some rocks, easy to navigate. It almost seemed like a trail you would find in Disneyland, and with almost as many people. I got to the top in just under an hour. The summit register was a mailbox with loose leaf notes stuffed inside. I decided not to leave a note in the mailbox and I did not see a benchmark. There is a free viewing telescope on the summit and a couple of picnic tables. That completed the Disney feel. Views were pretty good in all directions. I took a couple of pictures, then headed back down determined to find something else to climb. While I was at the top, I spotted Black Mountain in the distance, having remembered it as a smaller peak in the area. Back at the car, I searched for the Black Mountain trailhead and set my phone navigation to take me there. I wasn't done for the day.

Welcome to the Iron Mountain ride at Disneyland!

Shade at the start, the only shade on the hike

Approaching the summit

Black Mountain #2 from Iron Mountain

Looking south at Cuyamaca from the Iron Mountain summit

Free summit telescope

Black Mountain #2 (San Diego)

Hiked: 8/23/2013
Distance: 4.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1554'
Prominence: 892'
Elevation Gain: 775'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.62
Round trip time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Hilltop Park
Difficulty: Easy

Black Mountain #2 is another small peak on the Sierra Club San Diego Peak list. There are four different trailheads, but I choose the Nighthawk Trail because it seemed the most interesting. It starts on the north side of Hilltop Park, where there is plenty of parking, clean restrooms, and water fountains.

The Nighthawk Trail is a wide dirt road that climbs a ridge adjacent to Black Mountain. Eventually, it winds back and connects with the main road to the summit along the only steep section of the trail. The climb to the top was uneventful. I met several groups on their way down and several groups arrived after I got to the top. These trails seem like they would be very crowded on weekends like Iron Mountain. Adorning the summit are a collection of dishes and communication towers, but the views are probably better than Iron Mountain. I could clearly see the ocean and surrounding suburbia.

Black Mountain from Hilltop Park

The one steep section of trail

Panorama from Black Mountain summit

Idled San Onofre nuke plant on the way home

This mountain was even shorter than the first, and my legs were ready for one more. I searched around for another local mountain and decided to head toward Mount Israel in Escondido. It was in the general direction of home and in the 5-7 mile range. It appeared to be in the Elfin Forest Reserve and I set my phone to take me there. It was a 40 minute drive. When I arrived at the Elfin Forest, I saw trails leading up, but stopped in the visitors center to see if there was a map. They had a map, but the elderly attendant had never heard of Mount Israel. Then, I went to Peakbagger and pulled up GPS tracks from other hikers. One path to Mount Israel appeared to start from Harmony Road, but at an undistinguished location that would require hunting to locate. After talking with the attendant for a while, I decided to abort the third mountain. The day wasn't a total loss, but I wanted a bigger challenge that would have to wait.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bridge to Nowhere

Hiked: 8/9/2013
Distance: 10.3 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 2772' (elevation at bridge)
Elevation Gain: 867'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.69
Round trip time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz. (or filter from the river)
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Because of the history of the bridge, this hike was on my to do list for a long time. It follows the east fork of the San Gabriel River from Heaton Flats for several miles through the canyon to the abandoned bridge built in the 1936. Now, the bridge is only used for bungee jumping which was not on my agenda for the day. It turns out the bungee operation was not running today anyway. If time permitted, I also wanted to explore Allison Gulch a little to find the old trail to the gold mine. Some day, I'd like to visit the mine and maybe tackle the southwest ridge of Big Iron.


Noel and Tom on one of many river crossings

The bridge to somewhere on the bridge to nowhere trail

Swan Rock about 3 miles into the canyon

The trip to the bridge was easier than expected, even counting the 5 or 6 river crossings. The water level was low, but the river was flowing and it is undoubtedly harder when the water is high. I thought more route finding was going to be required, but solid trails were available on one side or the other all the way. About 3 miles in, we spotted the "swan rock" formation from different colored rock strata in the canyon wall. When we finally arrived at the bridge, another group was there taking pictures and resting. We had them snap a photo of us and we returned the favor. Then, we continued past the bridge and found a way down to the river for our rest stop. Noel and Tom waded in the river and enjoyed the water, while I was content to stay dry and eat some snacks. After a while, I decided to head back on my own so I would have time to explore the Allison Gulch a little. I bid Noel and Tom farewell and got back on the trail.

Noel and Tom on the bridge

Looking down from the bridge

The three bridge amigos

Looking back at the bridge from the river

After crossing the bridge on return, I spotted two bighorn sheep climbing a cliff on the west side of the canyon. I did my best to grab some photos, but the sun was in an unfavorable location and made for some poor shots. It's hard to believe my good luck this year with bighorn sheep, following my other close encounter on the Cucamonga hike. Several hikers stopped to watch with me, and I passed the news of their presence along to the next group I saw. I sped up after leaving the sheep, only to get blocked on the single track by group of slow and oblivious teens. When the trail widened, I sprinted past them and jogged most of the way to the Allison Gulch junction. I went straight up the gulch, but veered left to a use trail I spotted right away. I followed the trail until it vanished back into the gulch. Not far up the gulch, there was a single backpack/camp set up but no one was around. I wandered up the gulch a short distance looking on both sides for any sign of use trail or switchback. My GPS was beeping to warn me about losing sat lock, which caused unusual spikes in the track. I called off my exploration of the gulch early since I needed to get back for some family business. Looking at the track later, I realized I had not gone nearly far enough up the gulch to find the trail to Allison Mine. It would have to wait for another trip. A couple warned me of this rattlesnake hiding in a crack in this rock just off trail. I hope for the rest of the days hikers, he stayed right there.

Mr. bighorn wonders how I move with only two feet (top right)

King of the bighorn sheep

The king surveys his realm

Every San Gabriel hike seems to have a rattlesnake this year. This one was hiding in a crack.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

San Juan Hill and Gilman Peak

Hiked: 8/4/2013
Distance: 9 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1781' (San Juan Hill), 1685' (Gilman Peak)
Prominence: 976' (San Juan Hill), 195' (Gilman Peak)
Elevation Gain: 2031' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.62
Round trip time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz. (water available on hike)
Parking/Fees: Parking free on Rim Crest street
Difficulty: Moderate (combined)

Almost any hike is going to be a let down after Mt. Whitney, and this is not a visually stunning hike, but it was a good way to ease back into the non-epic hiking world. These two peaks in Chino Hills are near the bottom of the Sierra Club lower peaks list, neither rising to 2000'. Parking is free in a residential neighborhood on the corner of Rim Crest and Blue Gum in Yorba Linda. Use your favorite mapping program for directions. These regional parks usually have a maze of intersecting trails, but I didn't bother to print one for Chino Hills. I just loaded the GPS track from Patrick O'Neill, downloaded from, and figured it would be good enough to find the major junctions.

Because I arrived at 8:30, I had to park a few streets before Blue Gum as cars from earlier park goers lined the right side of the street. I had no trouble getting started down the South Ridge Trail toward San Juan Hill. There is a modest gain at first, followed by rolling hills on a wide dirt road. I jogged most of the down hills since there was not much scenery. The clearly marked summit trail on the right came quickly and I made short work of it. Along with the hexagonal cement marker, there are two benchmarks on San Juan Hill, but I found no log.

Sign at trailhead

San Juan Hill summit trail

Hexagonal cement marker on San Juan Hill

Looking back from San Juan Hill summit

I only rested a few minutes on San Juan Hill before heading back toward Gilman Peak. The Little Canyon junction is the path toward Gilman and it immediately drops about 300' into Telegraph Canyon. I made a left on Telegraph Canyon, then almost an immediate right on the unmarked summit trail to Gilman. I enjoyed the trip to Gilman because it was more isolated and had a steeper finish. Gilman Peak had better views of the other local mountains although morning smog made everything hazy. I found a solar powered satellite antenna just below the peak. With this hike, I broke in some Vasque Mindbender trail runners and had started to develop a blister on my left little toe. I added some tape to the toe on Gilman and it was fine after that. When I was almost back down to Telegraph Canyon Trail, I spotted a coyote trotting along the trail. I was surprised he didn't see me. He paused on the side of the trail at one point, as three bikers stopped behind him to watch. After a few seconds, he decided to head back into the brush. I thought he looked a little scrawny and maybe was having a hard time catching the local rabbits and squirrels. I completed the loop by taking the Easy Street Trail back to my car.

Unmarked trail to Gilman Peak from Telegraph Canyon Trail

Approaching Gilman Peak

Gilman Peak

Gilman benchmark, placed by CA Division of Highways

San Gabriel Mountains from Gilman

Coyote on the Telegraph Canyon Trail

Coyote heading back into the brush