Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vicker BM, Yaeger Mesa, Horsethief Peak

Hiked: 1/26/2014
Distance: 14 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 4316' (Vicker), 3000' (Yaeger Mesa), 4313' (Horsethief)
Elevation Gain: 3875'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.10
Round trip time: 5 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 156 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous (combined)

Yaeger Mesa is a unique feature deep in Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains. This is the remote heart of the range where the last wild grizzly bear in California was shot in 1908. I planned a loop that would go over Vicker BM, down Trabuco Canyon trail, up Yaeger Mesa, then down and up West Horsethief trail and over Horsethief Peak. I avoided the awful Trabuco Canyon road and started from Main Divide Road by the Falcon Campground. It is a short climb up the road to Los Pinos saddle. Just before the saddle, I veered along a firebreak to visit Vicker BM about a 100' above the road. I was pleasantly surprised to find a benchmark, though no register. Vicker would be my highest elevation of the day, topping Horsethief Peak by 3'. After a short stay, I went down the firebreak on the other side to Los Pinos saddle.

Firebreak up to Vicker BM

Vicker benchmark

Firebreak down from Vicker to Los Pinos saddle

Los Pinos saddle is the junction of Main Divide, Los Pinos trail, and the Trabuco Canyon trail. This was my first time on the Trabuco Canyon trail as it descends into the canyon through a rare stand (in the Santa Anas) of pines and cedar. The tall trees and dense brush provided a canopy of cover, dimming the light of an already overcast day. Despite the lack of water this year, the upper trail was lush, with a little poison oak lurking on the side of the trail. I pushed myself down into the canyon at a quick pace, trying to give myself a little extra time for route finding to Yaeger, and knowing it would be slow climbing out. About half way down the canyon, the trees and brush drop off providing great views into Trabuco Canyon. I met a couple of hiking groups on the trail on the way down, but fewer than the Holy Jim highway.

Dense forest on upper Trabuco Canyon trail

It's still Xmas in Trabuco Canyon

Looking down Trabuco Canyon

I passed the junction with West Horsethief trail to continue down to 2400' to look for a trail up to Yeager Mesa. Apparently, until 2009, the mesa was a private inholding, but is now owned by the USFS. The other trail to the mesa I know about comes down from Los Pinos summit along Bell Ridge. It would have been a cleaner loop for me to go that way, but I wanted to hike Trabuco Canyon trail. There were several side trails descending to the bottom of the canyon, and I ended up passing the one that crosses the canyon and heads up to Yaeger Mesa. Instead, I descended all the way to 2246' where I spotted a duck and followed it into the canyon, looking for some way up. I went in circles looking for a trail, and ended up wasting about 30 minutes and some energy thrashing around the brush and boulders. Eventually, I headed back up and took the most likely looking trail along the canyon wall, and it turned out to be right. It is a steep climb up loose dirt to the mesa, and once I arrived, I wandered around the upper and lower mesa, a cool geological formation. After a short lunch break, I headed down and spotted the wreck of a PT-19 (WWII era two-seat trainer). (The GPX for this hike was uploaded to peakbagger under vicker and horsethief, I can email you the waypoint file as well if you request it.)

Sign at junction of West Horsethief and Trabuco Cyn trails

Lost and scrambling over boulders looking for Yaeger Mesa trail

Yaeger Mesa trail on the north side of Trabuco Canyon around 2400'

Yaeger Mesa

Yaeger Mesa

Plane wreck just below Yaeger Mesa

Back in the canyon, I started the 1600' climb out along West Horsethief trail back to Main Divide Road. The switchbacks are long and there is not much new to see along this stretch except great views of the mesa. When I got back to the road, I took a right and got my first clear view of Horsethief Peak. The road gave up some elevation before I reached it. The first firebreak I came to went up from the north. It starts with a 15' dirt wall and the last hundred feet is completely overgrown in spots with manzanita and other brush. I came prepared with my machete and hacked a path through the worst of it. Even though I cleared some of it, I still recommend avoiding the north firebreak and going up the south firebreak which is clear of obstructions. I found no benchmark or register at the top of this unofficial peak. After taking a few photos, I went down the south firebreak and headed back. I ran out of water just before reaching the Los Pinos saddle again, so I increased my recommended water on this hike. When I got back to my car, I downed another bottle of water before heading home. Temps were in the low 60s all day. This loop would be killer in the summer heat.

Looking back at Yaeger Mesa from West Horsethief trail

Deep wash on north firebreak to Horsethief Peak

Ready to chop

Santiago Peak from Horsethief summit

Vicker and Los Pinos from Horsethief summit

Gear update: I replaced my old Camelbak Rim Runner with the Alpine Explorer model. It is very similar but has more storage (27L vs 22L) and a handy quick access pouch. I think the Alpine has the most storage of any Camelbak hiking pack. The Rim Runner was great, but a little short on space for very long day hikes. OTOH, I am not known for packing light. The other new piece of gear I used on this hike was the Gerber Gator machete (about $25). The blade is 18" with a saw blade on top. With the handle, it is 24" long. It came with a sheath and it was sticking up out of my pack most of the day. I needed it for one short section on Horsethief Peak and it was very effective. Of course, hacking through brush is slow business, and I only cleared enough to make it through the worst parts.

Google Earth close up of Yaeger Mesa

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pinhead Peak, Point Rancho SM, Peak 735

Hiked: 1/24/2014
Distance: 2.6 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 662' (Pinhead), 668' (Point Rancho), 735' (Peak 735)
Prominence: 62' (Pinhead), 88' (Point Rancho), Unknown (Peak 735)
Elevation Gain: 614'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.49
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks weekdays, $5 weekends
Difficulty: Easy

Personal business cancelled my hiking plans today, leaving me less than two hours for something in the morning. None of my planned hikes fit into that window so I looked around at the county parks. Caspers Wilderness Park was close, just barely up the Ortega Hwy, and had the interestingly named Pinhead Peak.

Entrance to the park is $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends. I haven't seen tiered prices at OC parks in the past, but maybe it is just at this park since it is large and multi-use. You pay an attendant when entering the park. For your cash, you get a nice park map and a warning flyer about mountain lions. I arrived at 9:15 and parked near the trailhead at Starr Mesa Equestrian Campground at #9. The trail was signed and portable restrooms were nearby. If all you want to do is Pinhead Peak, it is less than two miles round trip with a couple hundred feet of gain. If you want to add a little bushwhacking for the Point Rancho Survey Mark, it is a little longer but still easy. Finally, if you add Peak 735 along another use trail, the entire hike is still short and easy. This trail sees quite a bit of horse traffic, so watch out for droppings along the way.

Entrance to Caspers Wilderness Park


View into the park from Pinhead Peak, Saddleback in the distance

Pinhead Peak has no summit marker or register, a barely distinct point on the ridge. The trail continues to a lower peaklet with a little more prominence. At that point, there is a Trail Closed sign, which is the trail to the Point Rancho Survey Mark. It is somewhat overgrown and you have to pass through a barbed wire fence twice, but it is not difficult. I didn't find a survey marker when I arrived at the Point Racho summit, though now I wish I had moved the rock that marked the top. Maybe something was under there. On the way back, I was just getting warmed up, so I followed a use trail up to Peak 735, also requiring light bushwhacking and two more barbed wire fence crossings. The views were not very different from Peak 735 though I could clearly spot my car.

Typo on sign; it should say "Trail to Point Rancho SM"

Heading up the ridge to Point Rancho

Looking back at Pinhead and the lower peaklet from Point Rancho

Point Rancho Survey Mark, I should have checked under the rock to see if something was there.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Potato Mountain

Hiked: 1/17/2014
Distance: 4.5 miles round trip on dirt road
Summit Elevation: 3400'
Prominence: 440'
Elevation Gain: 1214'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.97
Round trip time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Mt. Baldy Road turnout (outside Angeles National Forest)
Difficulty: Easy

This was a backup hike, replacing the Mt. Zion loop that my friends and I had planned. The Glendora fire on 1/16/2014 changed that, closing Bailey Canyon, Chantry Flats Road, and Mt. Wilson Trail. The fire was started, allegedly an accident, by three men who had an illegal campfire. It quickly consumed 1700 acres of national forest and burned 5 homes, but caused no major injuries. After a day, it was only 30% contained, so we turned our sights east.

Chantry Flats closed

Potato Mountain is more of a beginner hike, but it would allow me to cross it off the Lower Peaks list. This is always a popular hike, even on weekdays, and today was no different. There were half a dozen cars parked at the trailhead off Mt. Baldy Road and several parties on the Palmer-Evey Motorway. It was 78F at the trailhead and no need for any layers. There was not much to see along the first part of the hike except parts of Sunset ridge. However, when we made the left turn toward the summit, Claremont, San Dimas, Upland, and Rancho Cucamonga opened up to the south. The summit views were surprisingly nice, with massive Ontario, Baldy, and Cucamonga Peaks looming to the north. There were already a few groups of hikers resting on the cement water storage tank owned by the LAFD. Someone apparently painted a misspelled Dan Quayle version of potato on the tank: POTATOE. After taking a few shots and some idle banter with the other hikers, we headed down. Looking over the edge of the road, Noel spotted a couple of deer, perhaps looking for water. The deer were a nice bonus.

Potato Mountain trailhead

Sign at the road junction to the summit

Hikers resting at the summit

Misspelled (Intentionally?) on the water tank

Ontario and Cucamonga dominate, Stoddard and Frankish in the foreground

Deer below Mt. Baldy road

The second part of our hike was supposed to be Sunset Peak, but the Glendora fire smashed those plans as well, with Glendora Ridge Road gated. This was the second time in 6 months this road had been closed on me when I needed it. Not cool. We debated what to do and decided to head up into Falling Rock Canyon as far as Rod and Noel wanted to go. We parked at Ice House Canyon and it was much cooler. My fancy new thermometer read 60F. We headed up the canyon and veered right into Falling Rock Canyon. After scrambling to the left of the first dry waterfall, we continued about half way up the canyon. Noel was ready to call it a day at that point, so we headed back, having taken some nice photos in the canyon.

Climbing up Falling Rock Canyon

Noel climbing up Falling Rock Canyon

Rod coming down Falling Rock Canyon

Squirrel having lunch

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Twin Peaks and Waterman Mountain

Hiked: 1/10/2014
Distance: 12.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 7761' (East Twin), 7596' (West Twin), 8038' (Waterman)
Prominence: 1241' (East Twin), 236' (West Twin), 1438' (Waterman)
Elevation Gain: 3877'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.10
Round trip time: 7 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 128 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Twin Peaks and Waterman are remote areas of the San Gabriel mountains, and I was long intrigued by their rough reputation. Sean Green and I had been talking about doing a hike and we agreed on this one, even though he had done them before, saying that his friend Willie Price was also interested. The early winter had been warm and dry, so I expected minimal snow for this time of year, and was amped to do this hike.

We planned to meet at 9:45 AM at Buckhorn. Before tackling the big hike, I wanted to climb nearby Winston Peak as a warm up. I was up and down Winston Peak in 35 minutes. It was a balmy 48F at the trailhead and would stay warm most of the day. I started with 3 layers and quickly dropped to 2. Sean rocked 1 layer, sandals and no socks. We started up the Waterman Trail and descended to the Twin Peaks Saddle. Heading up steeply toward Twin Peaks East, Sean and Willie started pulling away from me. I'd like to blame it on my overstuffed pack, having done Winston Peak first, or my age, but none of that mattered. They were simply stronger hikers. I caught up with them on Twin Peaks East summit, where we signed the register and went down the other side a little for a view of Triplet Rocks.

Waterman ski area from the Angeles Crest Highway

Start of the Waterman Trail

First view of Twin Peaks East and West

Sean and Willie on the Waterman Trail

Twin Peaks Saddle sign

Heading toward the Twin Peaks East summit

Sean and I on the Twin Peaks East summit boulder

Triplet Rocks

Willie and I looking at the West Twin

We left Twin Peaks East and followed a pretty good use trail toward West. We stopped a couple of times for Willie and Sean to climb some boulder routes. During the boulder breaks, I saved my energy for the summit blocks and rest of the hike. The West summit block was the hardest to climb, but still probably didn't reach class 3. We signed the West register and spent some time taking in the best views of the day. Instead of ascending Twin Peaks East to get back to the use trail, we went cross country back to the saddle, stopping for the toughest boulder climb of the day. There were a couple of sketchy moments as Sean and Willie navigated a boulder with a thin ledge up an exposed route.

Willie climbing a boulder between East and West Twins

Looking back at Twin Peaks East

Sean and Willie on Twin Peaks West

Looking down from the Twin Peaks West summit boulder

On the West summit boulder, Waterman in the background

Taking photos on the West Twin, East Twin in the background

San Gabriel front range and Saddleback rising from the haze in the distance

Picking a route up the boulders

Back at Twin Peaks Saddle, we began the tedious climb up Waterman. We were all running low on water, but I had just enough to make it back to the car. Sean and Willie filled up at the one running stream coming down Waterman. They pulled ahead of me again on this stretch and I would catch up with them on the Waterman summit. When I hit the Waterman summit junction, shadows were creeping into the forest, the wind was picking up, and it was getting colder. I went back to 3 layers and put on my gloves. On the Waterman summit, I added some ear protection. I was only on the summit long enough to grab a few photos and the benchmark on the class 2 summit block. We all were ready to get out of the wind and down quickly, so we decided to skip the trail and head down the main gully, finding a few patches of snow. Before long, we hit an unexpected trail that ran along the gully and eventually hit one of the Waterman ski slopes. We descended that and found a fire road that intersected the main trail near the bottom. It was a fun day that quenched my adventure craving for the week, if not longer.

Big cedar near the saddle

Heading up the Waterman summit trail

Limber(?) pines in fading light on the Waterman summit

Waterman summit block

Waterman benchmark

Ski lifts on Waterman, obviously not open due to lack of snow

Sunset on Angeles Crest Highway