Sunday, February 23, 2014

Guna BM

Hiked: 2/23/2014
Distance: 1.4 miles round trip on road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 719'
Prominence: 119'
Elevation Gain: 468'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.37
Round trip time: 25 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Dartmoor Street
Difficulty: Easy

Guna Benchmark is at the top of an inconspicuous hill in Laguna Beach. There is very limited parking at the trailhead (the end of Dartmoor Street), but it is relatively unknown and mostly frequented by locals. After you follow the road past the first turn and just after a road junction on the left, there is a reasonable use trail heading up the hill. I didn't notice the landscape restoration sign until I got back, so I recommend sticking to the road. The use trail doesn't save much distance. The benchmark, placed in 1933, is just off the road near two white reflector signs. I walked up and jogged down for a quick morning jolt.


Guna Benchmark

Marine layer over a sleepy Laguna Beach from the Guna BM

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Signal Peak

Hiked: 2/22/2014
Distance: 0.4 miles round trip on road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1164'
Prominence: 794'
Elevation Gain: 100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.08
Round trip time: 15 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Ridge Park Road
Difficulty: Easy

From Ridge Park Road in Newport Beach, I took the paved service road up past the towers to the man made high point at the end. There were decent views of Newport Beach and the ocean, but the peak itself was uninspiring. Then, I went off the road to the boulder piles that appeared to be the natural high point. I climbed all three nearby boulder piles without finding a benchmark. A weak entry in the Peakbagger database.

The arbiters of signals on Signal Peak

Mount Zion

Hiked: 2/21/2014
Distance: 9.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 3575'
Elevation Gain: 2375'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.90
Round trip time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

From the popular Chantry Flats trailhead, Rod, Katie, Edward and I set out on a loop to Mount Zion: Forest Route 2N40 to the Gabrieleno trail into Santa Anita Canyon, to the Sturtevant trail, left on the Mount Zion trail, then Lower Winter Creek trail, and back up Forest Route 2N40. The twist on this hike was the DJI Phantom quad copter Rod purchased earlier in the week, then fitted with a GoPro camcorder. He was still learning to fly it and the forest canopy was not ideal terrain but he planned to get it airborne on the Zion summit.

Even on a Friday, the parking lot was more than half full when we started at 9:45 AM. We descending into Santa Anita canyon and followed several groups of hikers to Sturtevant Falls. With the drought conditions, there was only a weak flow over the Falls and the pool at the bottom was smaller than usual. It was still surrounded by at least 30 people and their dogs. Rod got the drone out and wanted to fly it, but it had no GPS signals in the steep canyon and he opted to keep it on the ground. We back tracked and took the trail that goes past the top of the falls, through Spruce Grove Campground, continuing around to the north side of Mount Zion before hitting the summit trail.

At the start near Chantry Flats

Bridge at the bottom of Forest Route 2N40

Edward, Katie, Rod, and the drone at Sturtevant Falls

Low flow over Sturtevant Falls

Looking over the top of Sturtevant Falls

Mount Zion summit trail

Nearly the entire hike is shaded with large trees. We were almost out of the canyon before getting a good view of the surrounding mountains. The Mount Zion summit is a bare patch of dirt with no benchmark or register, but it does offer nice views of Mount Wilson and friends. After a snack break, Rod successfully launched the quad copter on the first of three separate flights, while I caught it each time it came in for a landing. The last flight took it at least 500' above the summit and over the canyon. A real helicopter came down the canyon and from our vantage point, appeared to be on a collision course with the drone. Rod dropped the drone a couple of hundred feet and the helicopter appeared to dip down to see what was in the air before continuing down the canyon. We hoped the drone would have video of the helicopter, but the camera may have been facing the wrong way.

During the descent down Lower Winter Creek trail, I spotted a garter snake with a freshly killed lizard in its mouth. I foolishly attempted to pick it up, which angered it and caused it to flee without its hard earned lunch. With any luck, it returned to dine soon after. Near the bottom of the trail, we spotted a small cave. I took out my flashlight and discovered it was only about 20' deep with nothing inside. The final 200' climb up Forest Route 2N40 at the end of the hike was generally unwelcome by the crew, but everyone made it back to the car without incident.

Looking down Santa Anita Canyon from the Mount Zion summit

Mount Wilson from Mount Zion summit

Snake eating a lizard

Small cave about 20' deep on Lower Winter Creek trail

Hike to Mount Zion +DJI Phantom Flight from Rod Victoria on Vimeo.

The GPS track has a few bad data points from loss of satellites in the canyon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

OC Peaklet 5-pack

Hiked: 2/18/2014
Distance: 8.4 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 808', 867', 817', 1063', 1034'
Elevation Gain: 1469'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.17
Round trip time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Moderate (combined)

A string of peaklets in the Laguna Coast "Wilderness" rise along the San Joaquin Hills Tollway (Hwy 73). They offer a surprising amount of fun for an urbanesque setting, especially Peak 808, which is not easy to find and has a 45 degree dirt scramble if approached from the south. I started at the Laguna Wilderness parking area on Laguna Canyon Road just south of El Toro on the right. I followed the Laurel Canyon trail, turned right at the Stagecoach South trail, and went off trail to the left up a big rock slab that leads to a use trail to Peak 808. Along the way, there are a couple of false summits. The final dirt section can be done standing up, but is easier using your hands. The trail is clearly visible as an S-shape from the 73 Tollway heading north. There is no benchmark or register on Peak 808. From there, it is a 10 minute trip down to a saddle, then up to Peak 867. Chaparral hides the benchmark on Peak 867. Follow a faint use trail about 30' around it toward the Tollway to find a metal pole and damaged OC Survey Mark. No register found.

Junction of Laurel Canyon and Stagecoach trails

Rock slab to Peak 808 trail

Final approach to Peak 808

Damaged OC benchmark on Peak 867

Looking north from Peak 867

I continued north over Peak 867 across a wash, then under the 73 Tollway to pick up the uninspiring Peak 817 off the Serrano Ridge trail. There is a weak use trail up 817, but it is overgrown and some light bushwhacking is required to reach the high point. For your effort, you'll find nothing there.

Heading under the 73 to Peak 817

Thrashing up to Peak 817

Hawk hunting along Serrano Ridge

Next, I went back under the 73 to hit two peaks over 1000' behind Crystal Cove State Park. The highest and northern most of the two, Peak 1063, sits directly above the 73 Toll Gates a short distance off Bommer Ridge. I approached on an unnamed trail. Peak 1063 was surrounded by a fence and had some signs about "closed" and "violators something" but I was too busy getting through the fence to read them. After that, I returned to Bommer Ridge and picked up a use trail on the left up to Peak 1034. No benchmarks or registers found on either of the 1000'+ peaklets. I returned on Bommer Ridge, then Willow Canyon trail back to the parking area, completing a pleasant 8.4 mile loop.

Approaching Peak 1063

The 73 Tollway gates from Peak 1063, Saddleback in the distance

Peak 1034 ahead

Looking across Laurel Canyon at Peak 867 and Peak 808 From Peak 1034

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winslow Train Tunnel

Hiked: 2/16/2014
Distance: 1.4 miles round trip on railroad tracks
Summit Elevation: 1735' (track elevation)
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.00
Round trip time: 30 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free near the tunnel
Difficulty: Easy

While visiting family in Fayetteville, AR, I wanted to explore some of the local caves, but they have been closed to the public since 2010 due to some fungal infection in the local bat population. Most of the mountain high points were impractical to drive to during my short visit, so I decided on a nearby train tunnel. The Winslow (AR) train tunnel was built in 1882 and is very active, used several times a week by the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. The A&M Railroad handles both passenger and freight traffic and trains pass through the tunnel frequently. I checked the passenger schedule to find a time when the tunnel should be clear, but I could not find a freight schedule so had to take my chances. Luck was on my side as no trains passed through from either direction.

The tunnel was originally completed in 1882, then expanded in 1967 to the current dimensions: 1702' (about 1/3 mile) in length and 24' wide. When I parked, a couple of motorcycles parked next to me and a biker couple got off and started following me toward the tunnel. I asked them if they were headed there and they said yes. They were unfamiliar with it and came without a flashlight, though you can safely travel through it without one. When we got to the portal, I continued in at the same pace, and they followed me in for a few hundred feet, then made some funny noises to hear the echo and turned back. The inky darkness inside the tunnel makes it very hard to judge the distance to the other end and it feels like you are not making any progress walking the tracks. After getting to the south portal, I climbed up the blocks that make up the outer wall to the top for a view down, then headed back through. As I was leaving, I spotted the bikers heading down the road and they waved at me as they drove off, having flaked out at passing through the tunnel.

North portal

North portal, looking through to the other side

The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train, this time.
Safety notch visible on left. They appear on both sides about every 100'.

The south portal

Looking down from the top of the south portal

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Goat Canyon Trestle, Piedras Grandes, Puff BM, Moan BM, Indian Hill

Hiked: 2/7/2014
Distance: 13.3 miles round trip cross country and use trail
Summit Elevation: 2601' (Piedras Grandes), 2716' (Puff), 2939' (Moan), 2280' (Indian Hill)
Prominence: 241' (Piedras Grandes), Unknown (Puff), Unknown (Moan), 120' (Indian Hill)
Elevation Gain: 3520'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.81
Round trip time: 10 hours
Recommended water: 164 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free near Dos Cabezas Road
Difficulty: Strenuous

Goat Canyon Trestle is one of the largest wooden train bridges in the world, and is sort of the San Diego county "bridge to nowhere" with some notable exceptions. One is that the private company that owns the rail line plans to put it back in service in the near future. Spanning 600' across Goat Canyon, it is a worthy destination by itself in the southern Anza-Borrego desert and Jacumba mountains. The hike planned would cross four San Diego Sierra Club peaks, with a side trip down Goat Canyon to the trestle, and possible side trip to a Native American petroglyph cave. A California Gold episode with Huell Howser on the railroad and trestle is available free here.

Sean and I met at Laguna Hills Mall parking lot at 4 AM and carpooled the nearly 3 hour one way trip to Mortero Wash. The turn off for Mortero Wash is just past the Border Patrol checkpoint on S2. I parked about 0.4 miles from my planned parking spot on Dos Cabezas road. There was a very rough part of the road that I didn't feel comfortable driving over in my low clearance sedan. That added distance and time to an already ambitious hike. We got under way just after 7 AM with Piedras Grandes the first target. The wind was blasting us from the start, with estimated gusts of 40-50 mph.

We started out on a faint road, then headed into the desert around the first rock pile. Sean wanted a direct assault on Piedras Grandes, while I wanted to come up the ridge further to the right. We agreed to meet at the top. He ran into dead ends and met me at the top about 10 minutes after I arrived. The register was newly replaced, but there was no pen or pencil to sign it and neither of us had one in our pack so it went unsigned. The wind had nearly blown my hat off on the way up so I stuffed it in my pack until it died down. It also had a chilling effect and kept my layers on, despite being around 60F. We wanted to get out of the wind and were soon off to Goat Canyon descending the south side of Piedras Grandes.


Water tank at Dos Cabezas

Piedras Grandes

View down from Piedras Grandes summit

Sean on Piedras Grandes

Descending the south side of Piedras Grandes

We did a lot of bouldering and side hill work to finally reach Goat Canyon. Once we found the main trail, it was in good shape and easy to follow. The trail mostly followed the right side of the canyon, sometimes dipping in and out. It climbs to around 3300', then quickly loses about 1100' as you approach the Goat Canyon Trestle. The first good view of the trestle comes at the end of the official trail at the top of a steep dry waterfall. There didn't appear to be an easy way down. We back tracked a little, then traversed right along a loose gravelly slope until we found a steep gully where we slid down one at a time. From the bottom of the waterfall, you veer to the right toward a dirt road and the trestle with a couple of abandoned rail cars. The trestle had some spots of soft rotten wood, but also some new steel grating and signs of repair. We crossed it to explore tunnel #15 on the other side and get different views of the amazing wooden structure. After some photos, we took our first break and ate lunch on a pile of railroad ties. I enjoyed some Bumblebee Spicy Thai Chili Tuna. The hike had already roughed us up a little leaving cactus needles deep in our legs and feet. The biggest danger were the baby cholla, balls of spikes lying nearly everywhere. A few that penetrated my shoe were in so deep I had to use tweezers to remove them. Sean's legs were bloodied and he lost his sunglasses and his camera case somewhere before the trestle.

Goat Canyon trail

First view of Goat Canyon Trestle

Goat Canyon final descent

Looking back at Goat Canyon, descent gully on the left

Almost there

Collapsed train tunnel (old #15)

Trestle panorama

Trestle side view

Here's Johnny!

On the trestle

Looking over the right side

Train tunnel #15

Goat Canyon Trestle from the other side

Looking up Goat Canyon from the trestle

Bumblebee Spicy Thai Chili Tuna. Nom nom.

Cholla attacks me

Cholla attacks Sean

The next stop was Puff BM rising directly over the trestle. We followed the tracks around to find the best place to start up the ridge. That ended up being the very end of it. There was a very faint use trail up the ridge to Puff BM and a birds eye view of the trestle. There was no register. Next, we tried to determine the best way to head toward Moan BM. Two other trip reports I had read suggested to side hill around in that direction. It looked difficult and slow, and it was. Sean led this section, following goat trails where possible. There was goat scat everywhere in the mountains, some fresh, but we never saw a goat. When the GPS said Moan BM was near, I led us up the wrong rocky summit, then made some corrections, and led us up another wrong summit. Sean consulted his GPS and between us, we agreed on the next likely candidate, a less prominent peak along a ridge. What stood in our way were piles of car sized boulders. We picked our way across hoping nothing fell into one of the deep wedges between them, including us. When we got to Moan BM, it was clear that the approach we took from the south was more difficult than the east. Moan BM had a register with a pencil, so we recorded our trek to that point, and took our second break.

Approaching Puff

Puff BM

Goat Canyon Trestle from Puff BM

Side hilling toward Moan BM

Damn baby cholla

One of three peaks I mistakenly thought was Moan BM

Giant boulder hopping

Moan BM

Looking northwest from Moan, at Sombrero Peak (I think)

It was starting to get late in the afternoon, and we didn't have time to explore the petroglyph cave, so we headed for Indian Hill. It was another boulderfest descending toward Indian Hill, but not the giant boulders we hit on the other side of Moan. The San Diego Sierra Club list has Indian Hill as a class 3 climb. It was an easy class 3, if that. Indian Hill had a register, but no benchmark that we found. We descended on the north side and followed the road, then the train tracks back to the car. We got back as the light was fading, bruised and punctured, but four peaks richer for the experience. We didn't see any other people all day. Thanks to Mike Sullivan for valuable beta on the area.

Heading toward Indian Hill, the taller hill center left

Climbing Indian Hill

Indian Hill register with nice painted rock inside

Standing on top of Indian Hill

Following the tracks home

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