Monday, December 29, 2014

Red Rock Canyon

Hiked: 12/29/2014
Distance: 4.4 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1400' (high point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 600'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.48
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Easy

Red Rock Canyon lies in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Foothill Ranch. There are two main entrances to Whiting Ranch, the Borrego Parking Lot entrance is at 26701 Portola Pkwy, Foothill Ranch, CA 92610. There is a portable restroom at the trailhead. Since the parking area is connected to a large shopping center, you won't get any kind of wilderness feel to start. The Borrego Canyon Trail starts just north of the parking lot. Leisa and I headed out along with packs of mountain bikers and scattered hikers. For the first mile or so, houses were visible above the trail on both sides, eventually giving way to more of a wilderness feel. It's hard to believe this suburban park was the site of multiple mountain lion attacks, though not on these particular trails. My theory is that deer attract lions from the Santa Ana Mountains into this park surrounded, in places, on three sides by housing developments. Then, they become accustomed to humans and lose their fear. It's just a theory.

After following the Borrego Trail a while, stay right at the Mustard Road junction and the second junction, then take a left on the signed Red Rock Trail. Once we got onto the Red Rock Canyon Trail, the bikers disappeared, and we relaxed a little not having to dodge them any more. In another half mile or so, the Red Rock sandstone formations become visible and the official trail ends at a sign near the main formation. We climbed up into the main formation, but the smooth sandstone doesn't offer safe holds for climbing all the way out. Back near the entrance to the main formation, (facing toward it), I carefully scrambled up and right so I could take a few pictures from above it. The geology here is striking and rare in Orange County. Use caution when scrambling around on the sandstone since anything you touch may crumble. It's a pretty fun family friendly hike with a payoff at the end. Dogs are not allowed in the park.

Start of the Borrego Canyon Trail

Plump acorn woodpecker along the trail guarding a tree stuffed with acorns
(thanks Madison for the ident)

End of the trail at the main sandstone formation

Leisa climbing up the main formation

Looking back, Dreaded Hill in the distance

Above the main formation looking down the canyon

Cliff near the high point of Red Rock Canyon

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Brown Mountain, Bear Canyon

Hiked: 12/21/2014
Distance: 14.4 miles one way on trail
Summit Elevation: 4466'
Prominence: 386'
Elevation Gain: 2775' (3470' loss)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.22
Round trip time: 8 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 112 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

This hike had two goals. First was to get to Brown Mountain (#20 on the Lower Peaks List). Second was to explore Bear Canyon, following the old, mostly unused trail from Tom Sloane Saddle to Switzer Campground. There were four other people in the party today, Sean, Cecelia, Madison, and Henry. We dropped Sean's car off at Switzer Campground, our end point, then car pooled to Red Box Trailhead, our starting point. From there, we headed up the trail toward Mount Disappointment, then took the San Gabriel trail to Mt. Lowe Road, then the Tom Sloane Saddle trail. This was definitely not the easiest or fastest way to hit Brown Mountain, but we started from Red Box because we considered completing a loop back to the cars from Switzer. From Tom Sloane saddle, it is a little more than a mile over the rolling ridge and several false summits to Brown. We had not counted on a large hiking group (26 people!) also heading out to Brown Mountain today and we got mixed in their large group, sometimes passing a few and sometimes getting passed. We all ended up on the Brown summit together. Fortunately, it is a large open summit and there was plenty of room.


Chainsaw dude doing some trail maintenance

Heading toward Brown Mountain on the Tom Sloane Saddle trail

Brown Mountain at the end of this ridge

Tiny hikers on the ridge show the size of Brown Mountain

Crowded Brown Mountain summit

Our private group on Brown Mountain summit, taken by one of the 26 hikers in the USA hiking group,
(L to R) Cecelia, Sean, Madison, Keith, Henry

The very crowded Brown Mountain summit

While the large group headed off to pick up other nearby peaks, we returned to the Tom Sloane Saddle, then started descending the old trail into Bear Canyon. The first mile or so was in good shape and there was clear evidence of very recent brush clearing. That was encouraging and made our descent much easier. Water was flowing strongly at the bottom of the canyon. The trail started getting worse and navigation became more difficult as we followed pink ribbon placed every few 100 yards where the trail used to be. In place of the trail in many places was deadfall, overgrown sections, washed out sections, and large patches of poison oak and poodle dog bush. Our pace slowed as we tried to find our way and avoid the poisonous plants. I set a personal best for stream crossings, losing count after a while, but believe it was well over 20. The canyon was filled with strong and interesting waterfalls, pools, and the constant gurgling of water. The whole canyon was wet, making logs and rocks very slippery. Sean led for most of the hike, and it ended up costing him when he stepped on a loose rock in the stream and ended up face down in the water. It looked quite unpleasant, but he continued on without complaint, having saved his camera by virtue of having it strapped up near his shoulder. Eventually, we popped out at Switzer campground, and there was some discussion about completing the loop via Arroyo Seco. Sean seemed to be only one with more than a passing interest, so we packed it in and drove back to Red Box.

Descending into Bear Canyon

Getting tougher

Massive uprooted tree

Heart-shaped rock, reminded me of Leisa :)

Bear Canyon campground

One of many interesting waterfalls

Other reports:
Taming Bear Canyon (Wild Southland)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Five Fingers

Hiked: 12/19/2014
Distance: 2.1 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 5174'
Prominence: 734'
Elevation Gain: 1700'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.36
Round trip time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

The last vestiges of the southern Sierras melt into the high desert. Five Fingers is on the edge of the melt zone, an artifact with a striking profile visible from highway 395 near Ridgecrest, CA. I became interested in Five Fingers on my way back from Mt. Whitney in 2013 and finally got around to climbing it. The standard route from the south starts at a turnout on Indian Wells Canyon Road. It is a dirt road that a low clearance vehicle can navigate with some caution. From the turnout, I headed for the saddle between finger #4 and #5 on the far left. About half way up, I ran into a use trail that was not obvious at the start. The slope was very steep sand and gravel, and gained about 1500' in 0.8 miles. My hiking pole was sinking 6-12" deep every time I put it down. It was slow going up to the saddle.

Five Fingers from the turnout, the high point is on the summit of finger #5 on left

Looking back, about half way up, the turnout is visible and the black dot is my 4Runner

Approaching the saddle between fingers #4 and #5

Once at the saddle, I proceeded to the north side and down to the spiny ridge, then back up. I soon reached two class 3 chutes and chose the one on the left. It was a fun climb to the top, where I turned right and scrambled about 100' to the summit. There I found an ammo box with a couple of registers. The newest one was placed in 2013 and had hundreds of names. This is a popular HPS destination, though I was alone on the mountain today. On the way back, I detoured on the north side to the base of finger #4 to get a photo of the fingers from the north. It would have been fun to do more exploring, but I had limited time and a long drive home. Coming down, I was able to plunge step as if in deep snow, making it down from the saddle in about 1/3 of the time it took to go up. The hike was short, sweet, and big fun.

Two class 3 chutes up, I took the blue route

Almost to the top of the chute

The other fingers from finger #5

Summit block

At the summit

Summit ammo box and registers

Fingers from the north side from the base of finger #4

Final look back

Part of the California Aqueduct system taking water from central CA to LA

To get to Indian Wells Canyon Road going north on hwy 395, take a left on Anthel Ave, then left going south on hwy 14, then the 1st dirt road on the right. It is not signed along the highway, but a sign says Indian Wells Canyon Road in about 1/4 mile.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Flag Pole Hill

Hiked: 12/7/2014
Distance: 4 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 700'
Elevation Gain: 1150'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.92
Round trip time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Camino De Los Mares
Difficulty: Easy

Flag Pole Hill is a small hill in San Clemente that can be climbed from several different trails. I parked at the end of Camino De Los Mares and took an immediate left up the steeper trail. There are a lot of minor ups and downs along the way, but not much in the way of scenery. Parts of the trail were muddy from the recent rains. In addition to the flag pole, there is a mailbox at the summit with a couple of large registers and plenty of pens. From leafing through one of them, it is a popular local destination for both hikers and mountain bikers. On a nice day, I would have had a good view of the ocean, but today, the marine layer made it hazy. With over 1000' of gain on this particular route, I was able to work up a little lather. The trail is dog friendly.

Ups and downs on the wide trail, Flag Pole Hill is on the other side of the taller hills ahead.

Flag Pole Hill on the next ridge, hazy ocean in the distance

A couple of hikers and bikers at Flag Pole Hill

Mailbox with the registers, I-5 down below

Bird of prey above

Friday, November 28, 2014

Morton Peak, Cram Peak, Peak 4400, Peak 4030

Hiked: 11/28/2014
Distance: 8.1 miles round trip on dirt road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 4624' (Morton), 4162' (Cram), 4400' (Peak 4400), 4030' (Peak 4030)
Prominence: 724' (Morton)
Elevation Gain: 2000' (Combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.6
Round trip time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 100 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Morton and Cram are two lower peaks in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. I drove up on Black Friday, escaping the shopping hordes, and turned on Warm Springs Truck Road from highway 38 outside Mentone. The first gate was open, so I dropped into 4WD and continued past the gate up the truck road. It is rocky, rough, and requires high clearance, but you can save 2 miles round trip by driving up to the second gate, which is usually closed. I parked near the gate and headed up the road toward Morton. After about 1.7 miles and 700' of gain, I reached Morton Peak. There is a lookout tower there that was locked, a picnic table, and a restroom. No register was found, but I did find a reference mark and the triangulation benchmark (missing the cap), underneath the tower. Since I was just warmed up, I didn't loiter. I continued back down the road where a use trail heads down the ridge toward Cram Peak. There is a small cairn marking the spot.

Morton Peak and Cram Peak from highway 38

1st gate trailhead, unless you have a high clearance verhicle

Morton Peak Lookout Tower

Ridge line to Cram Peak

Reference mark pointing to the triangulation benchmark

Benchmark under the tower, missing the cap

The use trail was a little brushy, but never completely overgrown. It descends to a saddle where it intersects a dirt road losing the fight against nature. It quickly melts down to a single track trail with yucca encroaching on a few sections. The trail moves up and down the ridge over several bumps before winding around Cram Peak. Near the top of Cram, I ran into a deer and watched it for less than a second before it crashed into the brush on the south side of the ridge and went into hiding. The Cram summit is a round shaped flat area with an iron post and triangle marking the top. There I found the register dating back to 2004 with less than the half the book filled. This seems like another unpopular peak, mostly frequented by list chasers and peak baggers. I added a second plastic baggie to protect the register, then returned the same way. When I hit the road again, I was looking for more action. I remembered seeing Peak 4030' on the Peakbagger map, but before I got there, I decided to head off trail to hit unnamed Peak 4400' at a bend in the road. As I got to the saddle below it, I found an abandoned road winding around the north side to the summit. Nothing was on the summit other than a few small boulders and a cigarette butt, evidence that I wasn't the first person up there. Next, I headed down and quickly climbed Peak 4030, also finding nothing of interest. It was a short day of hiking, but two more Great Lower Peaks got crossed off the list.

Approaching Cram Peak

Cram Peak summit

Looking northwest from Cram Peak

Peak 4400 climb path

Looking up Mill Creek from peak 4400

Looking down on my car and 2nd gate from Peak 4030