Friday, April 17, 2015

Chiquito Falls

Hiked: 4/17/2015
Distance: 9.3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2390' (at Chiquito Falls)
Elevation Gain: 1550'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.24
Round trip time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 72 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

It wasn't my goal to hike to a half dozen dry waterfalls this year, but that's how it is turning out. I wanted to the explore the Santa Ana Mountains further and this trip fit into my shortened day, having volunteered to run the photo booth at my son's elementary school fund raiser. The trailhead is the same parking lot as for the San Juan Loop just off Ortega highway. You can start either direction on the San Juan Loop to get to the signed junction with the Chiquito Trail. I started north and returned south on the way back. The junction with the Chiquito Trail is at nearly the midpoint of the San Juan Loop. It heads north following a shady creek for about a mile, then crosses the creek, turns southwest and begins climbing the hills. Once you are climbing on the south side of the hills, you come out of the shade into full sun. After climbing most of the way up the unnamed bumps, you traverse around, then start gradually descending into Lion Canyon toward Chiquito Falls. The trail itself is in great shape all the way to the falls, I would even say delightful. It racks up a little gain and passes a few interesting boulders strewn here and there but is never steep or difficult.

Chiquito Trail junction

Dead trees on the trail

The trail parallels this creek north

Climbing out of the canyon

As expected, the 15' Chiquito Falls was bone dry and looks like it has been dry for a while. With no water to splash around in, the only thing to do was climb it. It was on the easy side of class 3 and not as slippery as the other local falls, maybe because it is more seasonal. The Chiquito Trail continues north up Lion Canyon and eventually ends at the Viejo Tie junction. I was here for the falls so I started back after a short break. On the way back, I followed a use trail that looked like it led to the top of one of the unnamed bumps. However, when it disappeared a little below the top, I turned around. There was nothing on top of the bump worth a full bushwhack.

Chiquito Falls from the bottom, completely dry

Chiquito Falls from the top

Great Basin Fence Lizard in Lion Canyon

"Viking Horn" tree on the south side of the San Juan Loop

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Margarita Lookout

Hiked: 4/11/2015
Distance: Drive up
Summit Elevation: 3080'
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.0
Round trip time: N/A
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

After Tenaja Falls, I wanted to drive up to Margarita Lookout while we were in the area. I had hiked to Margarita Peak in 2013, but didn't have time to go over to the old abandoned lookout. Margarita Road climbs all the way to the summit of the lookout and I didn't think it would take that long to get there. I underestimated the quality of the road and had to drive slower than expected. I recommend a high clearance vehicle with 4WD on this road. Technically, it wasn't a drive up because we had to park about a half mile below the peak when the road turned really nasty. I saw tire tracks on the last half mile, but I didn't want to risk my 4Runner on those ruts and boulders. We made it to the top quickly where we found a tattered American flag, the base of the lookout tower, and the foundation of some other structure. There was no benchmark or register that we found. We had great views into Camp Pendleton and hazy views in the Santa Anas to the north, other ranges to the east and south, and the ocean. There was a hole in the concrete where the tower once stood that had been used as a trash bin. We played a game trying to land rocks in it from various distances before heading back, a game Parker won fair and square. I recorded a GPX track from the intersection of Tenaja Road and Cleveland Forest Road to help future hikers find their way through the winding dirt roads. You can grab it at under the Margarita Peak entry.

Margarita Lookout from Margarita Road (8S01)

Hiking the last half mile

Tower remains below the summit

Parker at the summit

Base of the old lookout tower

Hole in the concrete that has been turned into a trash bin

Looking down into Camp Pendleton, Pacific Ocean in the distance

Another day in the dirt

Tenaja Falls

Hiked: 4/11/2015
Distance: 1.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1560' (above the falls)
Elevation Gain: 300'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.24
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

Parker and I made a short excursion to another local waterfall. Tenaja Falls in the southeastern Santa Anas is large and multi-tiered. The hike is easy and relatively popular, but the drive is long unless you live in the Lake Elsinore area. From Orange County, there are three ways to get to the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains.
  • You can go around the mountains to the north via highway 91, then south on I-15 to Clinton Keith Road.
  • You can go over the mountains via highway 74 (Ortega), then south on Grand Ave to Clinton Keith Road. As an alternative, you can turn right on South Main Divide Road and take it to the dirt Wildomar Road (7S04) and get to the trailhead from the north. The quality of Wildomar Road is unknown.
  • You can go around the mountains to the south via I-5, east on highway 76, then north on I-15 to Clinton Keith Road.
From Clinton Keith Road, go west/southwest until it turns into Tenaja Road at a bend right. In less than 2 miles, you will come to a stop sign where you need to turn right to stay on Tenaja Road. Go another 4 miles, then turn right on Cleveland Forest Road (7S01). Go past the Tenaja Trailhead, past the Fisherman's Camp Trailhead, and park in the turnout for Tenaja Falls Trailhead. This area is a confusing maze of dirt roads and I got lost here on my first trip to the area for Margarita Peak, which shares the same access route as far as Cleveland Forest Road. Cleveland Forest Road is a one lane paved road with turnouts, so I drove slowly around turns and was ready to share half the road with vehicles coming the other way if a turnout was not handy. There are some potholes along the way, but any vehicle can make this trip. Driving there is half the adventure.

I was surprised to find no one else at the trailhead. Near the start of the trail is a wide stream crossing. I tested the thin line of rocks across it and they were unstable. We followed a path to the right that led to an easy crossing and got us back on the main trail. There was a lot of poison oak just off and sometimes in the trail near the start. In about a half mile, the trail opens up to a full view of Tenaja Falls. I knew it would only be a trickle during the drought, but could tell it would be something special in full flow. A couple had joined us on the trail and we arrived at the top of the falls about the same time. There was a benchmark at the top, but it was too scratched up to read the marking. Parker played near the top seeing how far down he could throw rocks, while I scrambled around a little to take some better pictures. We hung around the top a while enjoying a welcome breeze before heading back the way we came.

Tenaja Falls Trailhead

Stream crossing, rocks were loose so we went around to the right

Tenaja Falls from the trail

Roughed up benchmark at the top of the falls

Parker at the top of the falls

Looking down from the top

Exploring the falls

A trickle coming down the first tier

Standing in the sad water flow

Launching rocks down the falls

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mt. McKinley and Iron Mountain #2

Hiked: 4/3/2015
Distance: 19.8 miles round trip on dirt road and trail
Summit Elevation: 4926' (McKinley), 5636' (Iron #2)
Prominence: 246' (McKinley), 578' (Iron #2)
Elevation Gain: 4330'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.46
Round trip time: 9 hours
Recommended water: 164 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

A long drive to the western Angeles National Forest was required to meet up with Madison for a run at Mount McKinley and Iron Mountain #2. Here is Madison's trip report. We met at the Paxton Park and Ride, then carpooled to a parking spot off Big Tujunga Road. Madison had his window smashed and car robbed at the trailhead on the last visit and I was a little nervous parking in the same area, but could not think of a better parking location. Car smash and grabs are one of the hazards of parking in remote areas that are still close enough to the bad people in the big city. The car was certainly not safe, but probably as safe as it could be.

There is no short route to McKinley. The Gold Creek route is about 12 miles round trip. The other main option was to leave from Dillon Divide, but that would not be any closer, and both were dirt roads. It was around 6:20 AM when we started, officially before sunrise, but there was plenty of early morning light. The gain was mild and steady, adding up as the miles rolled by. In what seemed a short time, we arrived at the water tank about 4.4 miles from the start where the Yerba Buena Trail junction knifes back toward McKinley. The trail was somewhat overgrown and we pushed through the light brush without problems. We took our first break to adjust equipment at the western saddle of McKinley. I checked out the ridge and was ready to plow ahead, but Madison convinced me it was better to follow the trail around to the north side and tackle the peak from the higher north saddle. That was good advice because the climb from the northern saddle was unobstructed. We had made reasonable time to McKinley and were feeling pretty strong. At 4926', it ranks second on the Sierra Club Lower Peaks List. We signed the register and refueled. Without much debate, we agreed to continue on toward Iron #2. I was happy to log the extra miles since most of my hikes this year had been on the short side.

Predawn at Gold Creek Road

First view of Mt. McKinley

Water Tank at Yerba Buena Trail junction

Western ridge of McKinley, trail goes left

A lot of flora was still blooming

The north ridge of McKinley

Madison slap-tagging the McKinley summit register with an Eispiraten sticker

Condor Peak from McKinley summit

Iron Mountain #2 from McKinley summit

Yerba Buena Ridge from McKinley summit

The Yerba Buena Trail between McKinley and Iron Mountain Saddle was starting to decay. It was somewhat overgrown like the earlier section, but there were also half a dozen wash outs where a slip might send you on an unpleasant ride into the canyon. The wash outs weren't too difficult, and a little care got us by them without incident. While traversing toward the Iron Saddle, we saw a distant tractor leveling the road. Sure enough, when we reached Mendenhall Ridge Road, we had a nice smooth path for the next few miles to Iron Mountain #2. The tractor had moved along to other duties. From our angle of approach, it was not clear where the long western ridge of Iron intersected the road. We marched right by the use trail and started looking for a way up as we got below the high point. We looked at two possible ways up, one a grassy slope heading up the north ridge and the other a scree field. We decided the grassy slope would be better and as we scrambled up the slope, discovered a reasonable use trail heading straight to the summit. That makes three use trails on Iron #2, one on the east, north, and west ridges. The summit of Iron #2 had a benchmark stamped "NAT S". I'm not sure what that means.

We relaxed and celebrated our second peak of the morning. When we started planning this hike, we wanted to make it a loop, coming down Trail Canyon from Iron. The research I had done on a recent trip report suggested the canyon was not maintained and clogged after Tom Lucas Camp. I was wary of descending into a nasty pit, with flashbacks of Hot Spring Canyon and Tanriverdi Falls. Still, we debated the merits and the shorter distance of returning through the canyon. Madison wanted to complete the loop and it certainly sounded more appealing. We agreed to give it a shot. Before leaving the summit, we opened the register to sign it. Reading an entry from 2014 by Amin Faraday, (a veteran hiker with over 200 HPS summits), he described his ascent up Trail Canyon as "horrendous bushwhacking...never again!". That persuaded us to return along the road. We descended Iron along the western ridge, a better way to go up. The sun warmed everything significantly on the way back bringing out the reptiles. I counted four snakes on the way back, but none were pit vipers. I was only able to capture one on camera. We also stumbled over the scattered remains of a deer. Madison removed a tick from his leg at our final break coming off the Yerba Buena Trail. It was a long slog on the way back, and the final road switchbacks seemed neverending. Arriving at the car, I was glad to find it undisturbed. It had been a great day in the front range with the bonus of bagging another Iron Mountain.

Charred tree hanging over the trail

Typical washed out section

Leaving the road on the north ridge of Iron Mountain #2

Looking up the north ridge

Iron Mountain #2 benchmark

McKinley from Iron Mountain summit

On Iron Mountain #2 summit

Deer parts along the road

Western patch-nosed snake


Other Trip Reports:
Mt. McKinley and Iron #2 Loop (EisPiraten, confirmed our decision to avoid Trail Canyon)