Friday, July 25, 2014

Borrego Mountain East Butte

Hiked: 7/25/2014
Distance: 2.7 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 1196'
Prominence: 536'
Elevation Gain: 1020'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.81
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at OHV parking lot off highway 78
Difficulty: Easy

Borrego Mountain East Butte is only a few miles away from Borrego Mountain, but the intervening badlands make it worth driving a few miles up highway 78 for a better approach. We parked at an OHV parking lot near some nice (by our standards) restrooms. Rod had injured his calf reffing league basketball the previous week and was feeling it after The Slot. He decided to sit this one out. It was only 9:30 AM, but was already pushing 100F in the July desert. Having reloaded our water, Sean and I set out toward the main gully. The summit was not visible from the parking lot or approach. As we got near the gully, we spotted four more coyotes scattering and at least two were small pups. I tried to get pictures, but they didn't turn out. The left side of the gully was filled with 20' boulders, so we went up the right side, then moved back toward the center. The only shade was behind an occasional large boulder and the sun was scorching. Without really planning it, I started heading up the main ridge while Sean continued up the gully. It was stiff class 2 cross country bouldering and we made slow progress.

When I made it to the top of the ridge, Sean was no longer in sight. The last I saw of him, he had topped the gully. The ridge continued up a bit more, then leveled off. There were a few cairns leading to the now visible summit. The sun was sapping my energy and water. Of the 64 oz of water/G2 I started with, 48 oz were gone when I reached the summit. I thought Sean had beaten me there, but he was not quite sure where the summit was and was waiting for me to reappear. A couple of minutes later, he came up from the direction of the gully and we took turns signing the register. Sweat was pouring off me like a broken faucet. The temp was well over 100F and the heat index who knows? Sean led us down the gully which I thought would be an easier descent than the ridge. There was a little exposure on the sidehill section. We stopped twice to hide from the sun behind boulders on the way down. I sipped my last bottle of water until we got near the bottom of the gully, then we trudged back to the car. We had planned an optional hike of Sentenac Mountain on the way back but decided to call it a day with the temperature hellish and still rising.

Borrego Mountain East Butte (summit not visible)

Approaching the gully

Coyote in the gully

Quartz band running through the rock

Looking down the gully about half way up

Sean and I on the summit

Looking east toward the Salton Sea

Starting the descent

Sean heading down the main gully

Our sixth coyote of the day, having just crossed the road

The Slot and Borrego Mountain

Hiked: 7/25/2014
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1207'
Prominence: 507'
Elevation Gain: 850' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.68
Round trip time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Butte Pass Dirt Road
Difficulty: Easy

"The Slot" in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a slot canyon nearly a mile long on the edge of the Carrizo Badlands. This was my first experience hiking a slot canyon, carved by flash floods creating walls that are high but narrow. It took about 2.5 hours one way to get to the trailhead from south Orange County. With an expected dangerous high of 111F in the desert, we left early enough to start at dawn and planned to finish our day before noon and the worst of the heat. In addition to water, I packed plenty of S! tabs to keep my salt and electrolyte levels balanced. The forecast called for a 10% chance of rain and we saw a large storm in the distance. Throughout the day, we heard thunder roll across the desert but the wind kept the storm on the horizon.

The Butte Pass dirt road was easily navigable in my low clearance sedan. Just after sunrise, the temperature was already 90F. At the end of the road, we headed straight ahead and descended into The Slot. Later on, Sean found a somewhat easier entrance to the east, but it wasn't hard to drop in directly. It started as a fairly wide slot canyon, then soon narrowed as the walls gained height. At some points, the gap was only one or two feet wide as it twisted through the badlands. The walls were mainly mud and silt and easily crumbled. In places, debris and boulders were trapped overhead. On the way through, we passed a few side canyons that we came back and explored later. In less than a mile, we came to the scepter, a tower of rock that had fallen from one wall to the other. It is a very interesting and unstable looking formation. Beyond The Slot, the path turns into a Jeep trail. Instead of looping around toward Borrego Mountain, we reversed course and returned back through to explore the side canyons and enjoy another look. Sean took a difficult side canyon that led to an uncomfortable pitch while Rod and I explored the easier wide canyon near the beginning. Sean caught up with us and after a bit, we scrambled up to look around from a ridge. The mazes spread in all directions, but we found a way back in The Slot and back to the car. After reloading water we headed to Borrego Mountain.

Coyote just off the road on the way to The Slot

The Slot

Inside the slot canyon

Rod moving through

Sean moving through

Winding our way

127 hours

Sean got his hand trapped!

Rod at peace

The scepter

The scepter back view

Another view of The Scepter

High walls


Climbing out

The trek toward Borrego started on a well groomed trail from the same parking spot as The Slot. The trail started winding around the summit, then appeared to wander. There were conflicting cairns set up all over the place and we eventually just headed up toward the summit, intersecting numerous trails near the top. Based on a recent trip report, I was surprised to find a summit register stuffed into a small container. We all signed it, rested briefly, and enjoyed the steady wind that provided much needed cooling already. We had great views of the Carrizo Badlands and our next goal, Borrego Mountain East Butte. We could make out Villager and Rabbit Peaks, but there was considerable haze in the distance. The return trip was uneventful as the heat continued to build.

Trail on Borrego Mountain

Corrizo Badlands

Borrego East Butte from Borrego West Butte summit

Small register

Rod and Sean on the Borrego Mountain summit

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shady Hill #2, LC-13 BM

Hiked: 7/20/2014
Distance: 7.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1044'
Elevation Gain: 1267'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.01
Round trip time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Moderate

With limited time, I looked around for a new local hike. I found some candidates in the Orange County Geodetic Control data, helpfully available in Google Earth (kmz) format. With that data, I could see all the horizontal and vertical benchmarks in the county with several close by. Mikey Sullivan had mentioned Shady Hill #2 in an email and I was able to locate it in Google Earth along a ridge line accessible from the Nix Nature Center on highway 133. It appeared to be about 100' off trail. I found a few other obscure marks off trail near my planned route. It became a game something like a Geocache hunt.

From the Nix Nature Center, I followed the Stagecoach Trail until it started descending to Camarillo Canyon. Then I left the trail and picked my way around brush and cactus looking for the LC13 benchmark. I knew it was about 500' down the gentle ridge and I eventually spotted a white unmarked sign where I found the benchmark. On the way down the ridge, I spotted a nice looking western patch-nosed snake, who was quite lethargic in the overcast early morning. They are usually skittish, but he apparently hadn't had his morning coffee and was in the same spot on my return.

Western patch-nosed snake

Western patch-nosed snake close up

Unmarked sign by LC-13 benchmark

Orange County LC-13 horizontal control benchmark

Returning to the trail

I continued up to Serrano Ridge, then went south at the four corners junction, then northeast past a gate on the Hogback Ridge road. I followed Hogback Ridge to the Ridge Route single track trail toward Shady Hill #2. I eventually found a metal pole just north of the trail that marked the location of the Shady #2 summit. The benchmark was covered with a tiny shrub. I was able to look back across Shady Canyon at Shady Hill #1. With the main mission accomplished, I started back along the Ridge Route trail.

What I didn't know when I planned this trip is that Hogback Ridge and the Ridge Route trail are restricted City of Irvine trails. They can only be accessed as part of a scheduled program with the City. As I went along, I noticed a number of game cameras set up. Turns out they are monitored, and the City of Irvine doesn't take kindly to stray humans. Just before reaching the Hogback Ridge gate, a City of Irvine police truck rolled up and stopped in front of me. The officer got out and asked what I was doing. "Hiking", I replied. He notified me that I was trespassing and that the fine ranged from $250-$400. He asked for ID and wrote my name on a naughty list in his notebook. I explained that I was a frequent hiker of the nature trails in the area and had wandered this way for the first time. I got a good, long lecture on reading posted signs and staying on the public trails. It was touch and go for a few minutes, but in the end, he gave me a trail map showing the restricted trails and let me go on a promise not to tread this way again without permission. Despite the lecture, the officer was quite pleasant. I definitely recommend following the rules for these trails, because they...are...watching.

Cool rock on Hogback Ridge

Hogback Ridge and Ridge Route junction

Shady Hill #2 summit marker from the trail

Shady #2 summit

Shady Hill #2 benchmark

City of Irvine Open Space Preserve [RESTRICTED]

Trail map I got from Irvine Police. Yellow trails are restricted

Friday, July 11, 2014

Strawberry Peak West Ridge

Hiked: 7/11/2014
Distance: 8.8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 6164'
Prominence: 1604'
Elevation Gain: 2770'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.21
Max Slope: 73.7%
Round trip time: 5 hours
Recommended water: 132 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Strawberry Peak was closed for 5 years due to the 2009 station fire that burned 160,577 acres. The USFS recently reopened the area and I was looking forward to climbing the class 3 west ridge. It has a reputation for being exciting with moderate length pitches and some airy exposure in places. Noel and I carpooled up the Angeles Crest Highway to Clear Creek Fire Station and started up the Josephine fire road. The climb to Josephine saddle was uneventful. We headed right to pick up the Colby Canyon Trail and got our only shade of the day on the north side of the saddle. We were looking out for the use trail on the right up the ridgeline to Strawberry but walked right by it. It is very faint and cuts sharply about 100 feet past the point where the trail starts to wind around to the north side of Strawberry Peak. On the way back, I built a rock cairn where the use trail starts. Missing the use trail ended up creating a close call that could have earned either one of us a hospital visit.

Trailhead at Josephine Fire Road

Strawberry Peak in the distance

Rock cairn I built where the use trail diverges from Colby Canyon Trail

We continued down Colby Canyon Trail for about half a mile until a GPS check showed we had missed the use trail. We considered heading back to look for it, but since we missed it the first time, decided to scale the ridge next to us and intersect the use trail. There were some loose dirt animal trails that got us to the top of the first ridge and also got us covered in dirt PigPen style. From there we followed a shallow dry creek to the top of the next ridge. Noel was about 20' behind me as we crested it when I heard him drop an F-bomb. My first thought was that he fell on the way up, but when I checked on him, he said a snake had struck at him and missed. I came back and saw a juvenile rattlesnake, maybe 3' long, moving under a bush. I had walked over the exact same spot where Noel encountered the snake, but never saw it. It never rattled to warn Noel, but it did rattle at me when I attempted to smash it with a rock (from a distance). It slithered further into the brush and we moved on, glad that it had missed its target. Soon we were back on the use trail, but since 5 years had passed since the area was officially open, large swaths of trail had gone feral. Dead and living poodle dog bush and buckthorn lined the trail and while the trail was never completely choked, there were sections where contact with one or both were unavoidable. I had chosen to wear shorts and now regretted that decision. The next challenge was a roughly 100' section of class 2 boulder scrambling I called the Strawberry Notch. After the notch, we took a short break before tackling the vertical class 3 section of the west ridge. After climbing a short distance up the west ridge on the right side, Noel spotted the first painted arrow, showing the best route. The arrows were green, purple, and white, and were very helpful. Some were placed to aid people down climbing and we made good use of the arrows both ways.

Trying to find our way back to the use trail

Feral trail with deadfall, poodle dog bush, and buckthorn

Noel coming down Strawberry Notch

The west ridge

Who is Kamper Ken?

One of the many helpful painted arrows



On to the next section

Looking down from the second pitch

There is a short trail to the summit when the class 3 section ends. There we met two German tourists who had come up the east ridge from Red Box. They were friendly and we chatted about mountains and the World Cup before they took off back down the east ridge. The metal summit register box had been destroyed, but there was a plastic tupperware container with a fresh register in it dating back to May 30, 2014. I didn't recognize any of the names while we were adding our own. The 360 degree views from Strawberry Peak were fantastic and you could see most of the major mountains in the front and back range. After some food, we headed back to the west ridge to a fun down climb. Again, the arrows were helpful and the few times we strayed from the main route, it was obvious because we hit class 4+ or a cliff. We successfully followed the use trail all the way back to the Colby Canyon Trail, but it led over a bump with an unexpected 50-75' class 3 down climb. The cross country route we came up completely bypassed this section and I think it was easier than following the use trail. With that bit of extra adventure behind us, we cruised down Josephine Fire Road and took a short cut at the end that saved us a couple of switchbacks. It was a great day in the mountains with high adventure and big fun.

Noel and the Germans on the summit

Battered metal summit register box with fresh register inside

Mt. Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, and Mt. Disappointment from Strawberry Peak

Baldy and friends in the far distance

Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukens from Strawberry Peak

Noel starting the down climb

Unexpected class 3 down climb from a bump along the use trail