Friday, May 31, 2013

Bald Peak

Hiked: 5/31/2013
Distance: 9.4 miles round trip on dirt road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3947'
Prominence: 147'
Elevation Gain: 2911'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.32
Round trip time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Bald Peak is another Sierra Club Lower Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains, sitting between Bedford Peak and Modjeska along Main Divide Road. The normal route used is to go up Silverado Motorway trail toward Bedford Peak, then continue east/northeast along Main Divide Road to Bald Peak. That route is 14 miles round trip. I suspected it would be shorter to go up the Modjeska use trail from Maple Springs Road, then head north on Main Divide Road to Bald Peak. That is the route I followed and the round trip was only 9.4 miles. A bit of a surprise since my eyeball estimate was closer to 12 miles. Another surprise was the amount of shade on the lower part of the Modjeska use trail. The upper sections have no shade. Bald Peak sits right above Maple Springs Road where I parked, but there is no direct way up the steep canyon walls covered in chaparral. Glad I used bug spray today because they were out in force from start to finish.

I went over two unnamed bumps before reaching Bald Peak. On the bump at 4330', I found a veterans war memorial stone, hat, and flag set up. I don't know what the date means, and the blue lettering is no longer readable. It is an interesting memorial in such a remote location.

I ascended Bald Peak from the south fire break, but it was very overgrown and I had to wade through deep grass much of the way and noticed the tail of an unidentified snake (not a rattlesnake) moving out of my way. I suggest using the nicer northeast use trail, which I did on return. I took a short break at the top, signed the register, and found a one dollar bill stuffed in the zip lock bag with it. According to the register, someone named Xavier Kurl(sp?) left it there in March, 2013 but without explanation. After taking a picture, I stuffed it back in the bag with the register. The log went back to 2001. This little peak that sits on the border between Riverside and Orange Counties doesn't see as much traffic as many of the others. The benchmark has both counties listed on their corresponding sides. The only other person I saw today was someone on a dirt bike zooming down Maple Springs Road. The return was uneventful, but the temperature warmed up to 80F before I got back to my car.

click an image for a better view

Start of the Modjeska use trail


Memorial on an unnamed bump before Bald Peak


Bald Peak benchmark and summit register, straddling Riverside and Orange Counties


Looking into Silverado Canyon from Bald Peak


Mysterious dollar bill with edges torn in the summit register


Panorama looking east


Panorama looking south




Typical route and my route to Bald Peak.


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Friday, May 24, 2013

Mt. Wilson, Mt. Yale, Hastings Peak

Hiked: 5/24/2013
Distance: 9.2 miles round trip on trail, use trail, cross country
Summit Elevation: 5710' (Wilson), 4763' (Yale), 4003' (Hastings)
Prominence: 150' (Wilson), Unknown (Yale), 0' (Hastings)
Elevation Gain: 2575' (total loss and gain)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.06
Round trip time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

note: the mileage and loss/gain were inflated a little due to backtracking and searching for my hiking partner.

Mt. Wilson is an iconic peak in the San Gabriel mountains and a communications hub for local TV and radio stations. It also houses a famous observatory with multiple high powered telescopes. It is surrounded by a number of lower peaks on the Sierra Club LPS list and the goal was to summit three of these starting on top of Mt. Wilson. The trip was planned canyon style, descending first, then climbing back up to Wilson. One reason I wanted to do it this way is because I have a bias against peaks with paved roads to the top. There is just no sense of accomplishment for me if anyone can drive up to the benchmark, so it seemed more satisfying to bag the easy HPS peak by car and pick up the others via trail and firebreak.

The first obstacle started when we arrived on top of Mt. Wilson and the gate to the parking areas were closed. A sign indicated that the park would open at 10 am. Not what you want to see at 6:30 am. I pulled off into a dirt area and looked for ways around the fence. There appeared to be a way through on the left side of the gate, but Noel convinced me to walk around the outside of the barbed fences to reach Mt. Wilson Trail. We could have just taken the Mt. Wilson Toll Road down, but I wanted to find the Wilson benchmark and that meant getting around the fences. A short time later, I had my photo and we proceeded down Mt. Wilson Trail. It passed by Mt. Harvard, which has been private property for some time, and sports its own communication towers. Since it is private property, the Sierra Club removed it from the HPS peak list in 2000. The Mt. Wilson Trail intersects the Mt. Wilson Toll Road shortly before Mt. Harvard road splits from the Toll Road. We stuck to the Toll Road and circumnavigated Harvard toward Yale. It seems like a Gilligan's Island joke that Yale is lower than Harvard. Thurston Howell III would approve.

I expected the tricky part of the hike to be the scramble from the Toll Road up to the Yale ridge line and that turned out to be true. As we approached Yale, I searched the embankment for signs of a use trail or reasonable way up. Nothing looked inviting. After passing up some possibilities, I decided to scramble up a section of loose dirt that had some exposed tree roots. The ridge line was about 85' up at that point. I had to really dig into the dirt with my hands and feet to make progress, but after I was half way up, it got easier, and the last 20' or so were over some dead fall and branch piles. Noel decided to continue along the Toll Road looking for a better way up, while I continued up the ridge. I expected to meet him coming up the other side as I descended.

I scrambled up and over Mt. Yale, which had an abused benchmark and no register that I found. It was a class 2 affair with nice granite, except for the bushes that had overgrown the use trail. Very bushy all the way down. I didn't find any shortcuts back to the road and had to descend the ridge all the way until it met the Toll Road again. As I got off Mt. Yale, I received a few texts from Noel that he thought we had passed the ridge to the next peak and he had returned to my scramble point. I headed back up the road looking for him. No sign, I continued up the road past two cairns that marked the Hastings ridge, around a few corners to where my scramble started and no sign. Then, I thought he had followed my path and would be coming down the other side of Yale. So I returned to the bottom of Yale and ascended a little ways back up. No sign. Then, I went back to Toll Road, sent him a text that I had found the Hastings ridge, got out my whistle and went back up the road. This continued for about 45 minutes until I received another text that he had headed back up to Harvard. I'm not sure how we missed each other, but I decided to tag Hastings Peak. We had planned to also hit Jones Peak, but both of us had afternoon obligations and there was not enough time left for Jones.

The initial descent on the ridge to Hastings was steep, but soon I was down and over a big bump, arriving at Hastings Peak quickly. I was surrounded by clouds so the views were a zero. The Hastings benchmark reads "Sierra Madre" and there is a pole on the summit. No register that I found. I immediately started back toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road eating a snack on the way. By the time I got the to bottom of the steep ridge, I had gone about 2.5 hours without a rest and the ridge was pretty unpleasant. It requires hands in parts so I took my time. I avoided the rusted metal cable that looked like it was there to assist climbers, having read a recent warning about frayed cable wires sticking up in parts. When I got to the road, I decided to stick to the Toll Road all the way back to the car.

The return trip did have some excitement in the form of a baby rattlesnake sunning itself on the road just below Mt. Harvard. I was able to snap a few pictures before I got too close and it turned around to take a defensive posture. I let it be and continued on my way.

click and image for a better view

A couple of the many towers on Mt. Wilson


Mt. Wilson benchmark (at the end of the large parking lot)


Scrambling up to the ridge line for Mt. Yale


Mt. Yale benchmark


Looking down on the clouds from the Mt. Yale summit


Looking down the ridge line toward Hastings Peak


Hastings Peak benchmark


Baby rattlesnake on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road


More baby rattlesnake, can you ever get enough baby rattlesnake?




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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Shady Hill #1

Hiked: 5/19/2013 (x9)
Distance: 2 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 945'
Prominence: 140' (estimated)
Elevation Gain: 567'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.45
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Easy

The Nix Nature Center loop is a path I've beaten to death. An inspection of the area from Google Earth revealed a use trail leading up to the center hill the main trail circumnavigates. I was surprised this had missed my attention and I set out to explore it. A northern and southern use trail are available. I chose the southern approach, which is steeper near the top (the last 100') and easier going up than down. It is steep enough to require using your hands in a few spots, but no real difficulty.

The top of the hill is marked with an Orange County benchmark as "Shady #1", and I added a summit register in red cans which may not last if discovered by the park rangers. The short two mile loop is quick fun, especially if you have worn out the normal 4.7 mile loop. It is also higher than any point on the normal loop trail. There is an unnamed hill across Little Sycamore Canyon to the north that is a little bit higher at 973', accessible from a use trail on Serrano Road.

Update 5/13/2013: I am still the only person in the summit log. I signed and dated it again.

Update 5/19/2013: Still the only person in the log. Followed the ridge use trail over to Serrano Road, then up to the higher unnamed hill north at 973'.

Update 5/27/2013: Still the only person in the log. Scouted around the cliff area on the north side looking for the best way up. Most appear to involve serious bush whacking. There is a narrow chimney in the cliff, but the walls have small rocks protruding so it might not be possible to use standard chimney techniques.

Update 6/2/2013: Got to the top of the cliff by climbing up one side through brush and trees. You can also get there from the trail above the cliff after powering through more brush.

Update 9/23/2013: Checked the log and there were some new entries:
7/7/2013 - Julia Sienski and Bill H.
7/21/2013 - Noel Proffitt
8/25/2013 - Dustin and Paul
The rangers have blocked off use trail on the north side with brush clippings. I was able to walk over it, but this is a clear sign they don't want people going up from that side.

Update 12/24/2013: New entries in the summit register:
10/2/2013 - Mario Rosales, Juan Bautista
10/12/2013 - Howlie(sp?)
10/12/2013 - LB Cingh
10/24/2013 - AJ

Update 6/1/2014: New entries in the summit register:
2/1/2014 - Anthony Limon, Joseph Limon, Nina Rastogi
3/6/2014 - Jacob Lembeer
3/12/2014 - Anton Malinsky, Joe Hamilton, Kyle Stone
3/25/2014 - Stephan, Krishna
3/29/2014 - Jake Glennan, Sherri, Darl, Karol
4/3/2014 - Terry Flood
5/19/2014 - Mikey Sullivan

Update 6/29/2014: New entries in the summit register:
6/4/2014 - Balboa Horizons, Nick C, Kyle U
6/6/2014 - J.Z. (we sweatin' like a mutha), Joey (we can't stop #weonit)
6/29/2014 - Leisa Winston

Update 10/7/2015: Register has been removed
I suspect OC Park personnel may have removed it since there is a new sign by the south use trail discouraging people from using it. This was my 9th and probably final ascent of this hill.



King snake that let me pet him before he took off


Roadrunner near the trail head


Shady Hill from the north


Approaching the summit


Shady Hill benchmark


Passing a cliff on the northern side


Leisa on the trail to Shady Hill



Friday, May 17, 2013

Pleasants Peak

Hiked: 5/17/2013
Distance: 16.5 miles round trip on dirt road, trail, use trail
Summit Elevation: 4007'
Prominence: 647'
Elevation Gain: 3775'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.02
Round trip time: 7 hours
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Pleasants Peak is one of the LPC peaks in the Santa Ana Mountains. It can be seen from many places along Main Divide Road with two communication towers which are on a slightly lower and flatter bump from the actual peak. I started at 5:15 AM from the Maple Springs Visitor's Center parking lot, then up the single track Silverado Motorway Trail that is mostly used to reach Bedford Peak. My head lamp worked great in the dark, occasionally throwing a scary shadow in the brush. Several birds were settled on the trail, resting or looking for food. Their eyes reflected red from my light and they only flew away as I got close. When I got to the Main Divide/Bedford Peak road intersection, I headed toward Bedford to sign the register that I had missed my last three trips. My friend Rod clued me in to its location and I found it without incident. Tagging Bedford added about half a mile to the hike.

After a quick half sandwich, I got back on Main Divide Road toward Pleasants. This early in the morning, the "May Gray" clouds had enveloped the mountains and I could only see about 100' in any direction. I never got a glimpse of Pleasants peak on the way there due to the clouds. It was also misting, a mixed blessing. I was wet, but it kept me cool. Main Divide Road winds a long, twisted path to Pleasants Peak up and down bumps. Feeling strong early, I added some gain to the hike by climbing some of the bumps via fire roads. I also jogged some of the downhills. On one of the fire breaks, I had to wade through very wet tall grass. When I got back to the road, my pants were soaked from the knees down and my summer hiking boots and socks were also soaked. Wet socks with more than 8 miles of hiking in front of me was bad news.

By the time I reached the use trail heading up Pleasants Peak, I had developed a hot spot on my left heel. I stopped and taped it, then put my wet socks and boots back on and continued up. The use trail is somewhat steep and filled with scree. The high point of Pleasants Peak comes at the top of the use trail, then it continues down a saddle to another bump only 20-25' lower where the two communication towers are located. On the other side of the towers is a large, flat area that had cement pipe stumps sticking up. It looked like an old construction site or a place with underground storage tanks. The clouds were still blocking all views, which I suspected were pretty good from there. I took a short break to eat and down a gatorade, then started back the way I came. The trip back was uneventful, but my legs were not as springy so I skipped a lot of the bumps and stuck to the road. When I got back to the Silverado Motorway trail, the clouds had mostly cleared and I was able to get a shot of Pleasants Peak from a distance. It looked far away. I didn't meet a single person or vehicle the entire day.

Gear note: This was a Whitney trainer for me, so I took my Marmot pack after adding "stuff" bags to keep things organized. I have one bag for food, one for emergency supplies, and one for lighting. That really worked well. Water was loose at the bottom. The only thing I need to improve is to find a way to change the position of the straps on my shoulders. Long days with pressure in the same spot can be a problem.



Cairn garden on the Silverado Trail


Summit use trail heading to Pleasants Peak


Comm tower on Pleasants Peak


Descending back to the road, clouds starting to clear


Pleasants Peak in the distance (shot on return)




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Friday, May 3, 2013

San Mateo Peak

Hiked: 5/3/2013
Distance: 4.4 miles on trail
Summit Elevation: 3591'
Prominence: 931'
Elevation Gain: 800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.64
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

The San Mateo Peak trail starts at the Morgan trail head off South Main Divide Road (accessed from highway 74, Ortega). I tried to take a shortcut from a dirt road just past the Morgan trail head, but it was intentionally blocked with rocks and brush. Not to be stopped, I parked just off the South Main Divide Road and crossed the barrier on foot. In the end, this backfired because I wasted time going cross country trying to find the trail to San Mateo, only to back track and follow a trail that intersected with it. It also cost me time on return when I missed a junction and went a few minutes the wrong way. I'll start at the Morgan trail head next time.

One of the fun things about this hike is the pair of plastic dinosaur markers along the way. One marks the junction to the peak trail, and the other didn't seem to have any purpose other than entertainment. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. There are a few boulders to climb along the way and a few on the summit. The summit sign says "San Mateo 4000 ft." even though the summit registered only 3596' on my GPS. The Sierra club lists it at 3591' so I am not sure how the sign came to read 4000'. The register was in an ammo box just behind the sign. I signed it, then proceeded to climb all the summit boulders. One was an easy class 3, the rest class 2, but it was fun to climb and gave me some more boulder practice. On the return, I took a short side trip up to a bump that had a large California state flag fluttering in the wind. There were no markers or indications why the flag was there or who put it there. Like Margarita Peak, I met no one coming or going.


Dino marker #1 on San Mateo Peak trail


San Mateo Peak in the distance


Dino marker #2 on San Mateo Peak trail


San Mateo Peak summit register ammo box


Santiago Peak behind other mountains in the distance from San Mateo Peak


One of the summit boulders on San Mateo Peak. I climbed all of them including this one.


Panorama from San Mateo Peak



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Margarita Peak

Hiked: 5/3/2013
Distance: 6 miles round trip on dirt road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3189'
Prominence: 1029'
Elevation Gain: 1000'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.8
Round trip time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Recommended water: 56 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Margarita Peak is on the Sierra Club lower peaks list in the Santa Ana Mountains. It overlooks Camp Pendleton marine base and for that reason must be approached from the east (Lake Elsinore/Murietta) side of the mountains. Getting to the remote trail head is somewhat confusing and a challenge equal or greater than the climb itself. The general instructions are to take the Clinton Keith exit from I-15, follow it until it becomes Tenaja Road, then make a left on Margarita Road and follow it on a dirt road until it makes a hairpin turn to the right. You can park there or drive further up the road if you have a high clearance vehicle. From Orange County, I took the I-5 to the 74 (Ortega), went over the mountains, turned right on Grand and followed it south until it dead ends at Clinton Keith. Then, I went right to Tenaja and continued on Tenaja until it turned into a dirt road.

I made a big mistake after it turned into a dirt road. I was looking for the Margarita Road sign, but there was none. The first intersection after Tenaja turns into a dirt road is Tenaja Truck Trail to the left, while Tenaja continues straight. I continued on Tenaja looking for Margarita Road, following every path to a dead end. There were no signs after it turned to a dirt road. I backtracked to Tenaja Truck Trail, and that turned out to be Margarita Road. When I got to the hairpin turn, I didn't see any trail ahead, so I continued up the dirt road as far as I felt my car could handle it, then parked. With the wasted time, the travel time to start the hike was almost 2 hours. If you want to do this hike, my suggestion is to thoroughly study Google maps and Google earth so the maze of dirt roads doesn't lead you astray like it did me.

This peak sees little traffic, but has one huge fan on the web, which provided some useful beta. The Angeles Sierra Club web pages are from 1999 and useless. From the trail head, follow the road until you hit a T, turn left past a gate, then at the next T intersection turn right and head up the overgrown fire road to the ridge. The fire road is filled with poodle-dog bush, so watch your step. At the top of the ridge, follow the use trail around to the west side of the mountain, then back up to the peak. The final peak trail is about 18" wide and crowded with manzanita. The 360 views from the peak are some of the best I've seen, with views of San Onofre beach, the ocean, Saddleback, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and parts of San Diego. There were bees and flies bugging me at the summit, so I only took time to sign the register and snap a few photos. The last visitor to sign before me was almost 3 weeks earlier on 4/13/2013. If you want some isolation, this is a great peak. I met no one coming or going.


Sign at base of fire road to Margarita Peak


Tiger swallowtail butterfly


Overgrown fire road to Margarita Peak


Cairn marking the narrow summit use trail


Margarita Peak survey marker


View into Camp Pendleton from Margarita Peak. Marine vehicles and possible tents were visible.