Monday, September 2, 2013

Modjeska Peak from Maple Springs Visitor Center

Hiked: 9/1/2013
Distance: 8.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5496'
Prominence: 536'
Elevation Gain: 3875'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.10
Round trip time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

The typical route to Modjeska starts from Maple Springs Road where it turns to dirt. However, there are times when the gate to Maple Springs Road is closed at the Visitor Center, especially in the winter and spring. I searched for a way up from the Visitor Center without having to walk the three miles of paved road to the regular trailhead. Last March, I scouted a use trail leaving on the right side of the road just past the gate that connects with fire breaks and eventually, a path to Modjeska. I completed the route on this trip that adds 1.5 miles and about 1300' of gain compared to the Sierra Club Modjeska route #4.

Due to family scheduling, I could not get to the Maple Springs Visitor Center until 10:30 AM. That means I was walking right into the teeth of the heat. It was 85F at the trailhead, and when I started ascending the first ridge, my thermometer read 90F. It hovered between 85F and 90F the entire hike, and the heat was definitely an energy drain. Hot! It also made me not want to eat. I was hoping to gain some heat acclimation for a possible October attempt at Cactus to Clouds. In addition to the heat, I was accompanied by mosquitos and horse flies most of the way. I had covered myself with bug spray before I left and that kept them from biting, but it didn't keep them from annoying me.

The early part of the use trail stays on the right side of a dry creek. Soon, you reach a point where dirt steps lead down to the creek. When you get to the creek, turn right (up creek) and follow it for about 150' until an obvious use trail climbs on the left side. The use trail follows the south ridge above Lost Woman Canyon. The first couple of miles are comprised of very steep, loose dirt. The gain is about 2400' over those two miles, 1200'/mile. Several places require using your hands to pull yourself up using roots or rocks. The 45 and 60 degree angles with loose dirt reminded me of Big Iron Mountain in the San Gabriels. It is difficult going up and more so coming down those sections. After the first two miles, it mellows out and the gain is roughly 1400' over the next 2.3 miles.

Start of use trail on right side of road

Stairs descending to creek, then head up creek

Looking back down ridge half way up second major bump

Rare shade along the ridge line

Third major bump on the ridge

After cresting the third major bump, there are a series of ups and downs over bumps that don't gain or lose that much. At one critical bump, you turn left to reach the intersection of Maple Springs Road and Main Divide Road. From there, you follow the regular Modjeska use trail that leaves on the left side of the road just past the gate to Main Divide Road up to the summit.

Pleasants Peak in the distance

First view of Modjeska

One of many smaller bumps before hitting the road

Flowering plant

Another odd flowering plant

I saw no hikers on any trails during the day. They probably had more sense than to be exposed to the heat. I did find three kids and a Jeep at the summit. They were surprised I hiked up in the heat and were concerned enough to ask about my water supply. I told them I was doing OK. I didn't linger at the summit, since it took me longer than I expected to get up. I took a small number of photos and headed down without bothering to sign the log. I made good time going down the mild upper section, then had to slow down on the steep, loose dirt as expected. I also had to make a few stops to empty my shoes of burrs and rocks. Ankle gaiters could have saved me some misery. When I got down, I realized I had a certain Pig Pen quality. My legs were black with dirt from the knees down, and my clothes didn't look much better.

"Dogface" rock near Modjeska summit

Modjeska benchmark

Panorama from Modjeska

Kids and their Jeep on the summit

Santiago from Modjeska

I had one new piece of equipment today, a Leki Khumbu trekking pole. I was initially impressed by the solid feel of it, but was disappointed that the lower locking mechanism failed under pressure on the way down. The lower section refused to stay locked in any position and I was forced to compensate by moving the position of middle section. I was putting a lot of weight on it to help me navigate down the steep sections, but it failed three times within minutes. The middle lock held so I was able to use it on the way down, but I can't recommend it.

Leki Khumbu trekking pole


  1. Pro: No hikers on the trail

    Con: Walking into the teeth of the heat.

    Love that imagery.

    My view, with enough water, sun protection, and the right gear, we, as organisms, can pretty much handle very hot hiking without dying.

  2. Derek,

    I agree we can mitigate heat with preparation. The trick is preparing for actual conditions which are sometimes not what we expect. That is often the source of my own problems.

  3. Excited! Doing this route next Sunday. Thanks for the info!

    1. Unknown,

      Have a good time. I don't think you will be disappointed. A fun and challenging way to get to Modjeska.

    2. It was great. That initial hike up was a booty-kicker! My group decided to head down the Sierra Club route #4 and then do the walk rather than face that pathway downhill. All in all, it was a really good hike. My wife and I will be doing this again soon.

    3. Nicely done! I understand avoiding the descent. It's not an easy one, but I still prefer it over the extra 3 miles.

  4. I gave this a try yesterday. got lost twice in the lower area. Seems the trail has eroded badly or I just didn't know what I was doing. I ended up on sections that were very steep with crumbly slippery dirt and nothing solid to hold on to. I really wanted to try a trail up mojeska peak, to avoid hiking with motorized vehicles, but this one was really hard to follow for me.

    1. joe schmoo,

      Finding the use trail out of the creek at the start can be tricky. I haven't been there in a while. Steep, crumbly slippery dirt with nothing to hold onto sounds like you were on the right track. The section up the first bump was the most difficult. If you have a GPS device or GPS in your phone, you can follow the track from this link:

      Another option is a use trail/firebreak that starts just after the first sharp turnaround on the dirt section of Maple Springs Road. It follows a ridge and crosses the road twice before hitting it higher up. You are only on the road for maybe a half mile. Here is the route in caltopo:

      I've done the caltopo route but never wrote a report about it. The use trial is much easier to find.

  5. I took the caltopo route today and it was wonderful. A bit overgrown in places, but more in my comfort level. The views from the top were incredible today. From San Jacinto and San Gregornio to San Clemente Island. unreal.

    1. Nice job. Modjeska is one of my favorite peaks in the Santa Anas.