Distance: 13.5 miles on trail
Summit Elevation: 4510'
Elevation Gain: 4070'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.25
Round trip time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Robinson Ranch Road
This was my second visit to Los Pinos Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. The normal route is relatively short, leaving from Blue Jay Campground. I was aware of the Bell Ridge trail coming down from Los Pinos, but only recently learned from Scott Richardson that the trail went all the way to Rancho Santa Margarita. Thanks! Bell Ridge was a section of the Santa Anas I had not seen. The Bell View Trail starts on Robinson Ranch Road just past Vista Road and runs the entire length of the ridge. You can park on the side of the road for free. The previous weekend, I had done a short scouting hike on the trail up to an unnamed peak at 2537' where an American flag stands on a pole. The task ahead was to tackle the entire ridge.
After a couple of switchbacks, a use trail shortcut near a sign takes off to the right. It merges back with the Bell View trail in a mile or so. I took the shortcut going up and coming down. There was no benchmark at the flag pole summit, but it looks like there used to be some kind of wooden post or sign set in cement. I was looking forward to maybe the best views in the entire range with Trabuco Canyon on one side and Bell Canyon on the other. It was promising based on my scouting mission. But on this day, the cloud cover was low and the entire sky overcast as a low pressure system moved through the area. This made the hike much cooler by blocking the sun, but it also killed views in every direction. I resigned myself to the fate of the weather gods and continued up to a T-junction. The main trail goes left, the right trail goes to a lookout point.
I thought I would be alone on the ridge all the way, but I caught up with another hiker and his dog a little more than 3 miles from the start. He had come up from Trabuco Road and had no particular destination in mind. Like me, he was drenched from the humidity, wet plants, and sweat. I wished him well and moved on, hitting a long stretch of gain taking me to 3500'. The clouds were still thick and moving north, but once in a while, I got glimpses of the bumps and peaks surrounding me. I got a look at peak 3789 ahead of me and it was impressive. There is a bypass trail that runs around the south side if you don't want to climb it. I took the bypass on the way out and went over it on the way back. I found a fire ring on top with ashes but the summit didn't look big enough to set up camp. As I moved past peak 3789, it started to rain. Lightly, at first, then steadily. I stopped to put on a poncho, not to keep me from getting wet, but to keep my camera and phone from getting wet. It rained for about 30 minutes, increasing the humidity another notch before I put the poncho away.
The next bump took me over 4000' and a little past the top I found the use trail heading down to Yaeger (Caltopo spelling) Mesa. The series of bumps continued along the ridge dropping me well below 4000' before the final push to Los Pinos. It was a relief to hit the Los Pinos ridge, turn right, and walk the short distance to the summit. I did my usual rituals and cursed the clouds for blocking my just rewards. On the way back, the clouds started to burn off just a little. I got a slightly better idea of what the ridge looked like. At around 3460', there was a minor bump with a nice outcrop of boulders just off the trail. I stopped to scramble up and take a few pictures of Trabuco Canyon. The rest of the descent was uneventful. I saw almost no wild life and was not surprised. Most of the animals were taking the day off.