Saturday, July 25, 2015

Marion Mountain 5-Pack

Hiked: 7/24/2015
Distance: 12.5 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 10362' (Marion), 10160' (Ellens), 10388' (Shirley), 10170' (Joyce), 10160' (Newton Drury)
Elevation Gain: 4895'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.91
Round trip time: 8 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 184 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

My goal on this hike was to pick up the rest of the 10000'+ peaks in the San Jacinto Wilderness. It completed an outing from last September. Since that time, I decided to add a couple more unofficial but locally recognized "summits" like Ellens and Joyce. I started the hike on the Marion Mountain Trail, but every one of these peaks is off trail, and every summit is class 2 except Marion at class 3. A free permit is required for the San Jacinto State Park. Here is a direct link to the permit form (PDF). To get there, take exit 100 (8th St/CA-243) on I-10 for highway 243, go south about 20 miles and turn left on Azalea (4S02). Take another left at the first intersection, right at the next three intersections, following the signs to the Marion Campground and Trailhead.

I visited the peaks in this order:
  • Mt. St. Ellens (unofficial)
  • Marion Mountain (west, middle, east)
  • Shirley Peak (unofficial)
  • Joyce Peak (unofficial)
  • Newton Drury Peak

The Marion Mountain Trail is the shortest, steepest trail to San Jacinto at 5.25 miles one way. In many ways, it reminded me of the Ski Hut Trail on Mount San Antonio. Marion has a couple of very steep sections, but it is mostly moderate with some level sections for relief. I passed the Seven Pines junction, the only one that was fully signed. The other junctions were deficient as far as signage. The junction with the PCT/Fuller Ridge only has a sign for Fuller Ridge, the other trail is a continuation of Marion/Deer Springs. When I got near the Deer Springs Campground, I started looking for a gully to ascend to take me near St. Ellens and Marion. I learned on the way down that a good choice is the gully directly above Deer Springs Campground. However, I made a mistake by picking a point after that. It looked OK to start, but soon I was up to my waist in vegetation. I headed for boulders, islands of calm in the green, but couldn't spot a way out, other than down. I considered bailing out to look for another entry, but I kept thinking I would find a clear path. Eventually, I saw the next gully to the right start to clear out and I fought my way over to it. It was a huge waste of energy and time. If you download my GPS track from Peakbagger, make sure you don't leave the trail where I did. After what seemed like forever, I finally topped out at the saddle between St. Ellens and Marion and headed for Ellens first.


Starting out


Pastel sunrise


Junction with Seven Pines Trail, the only junction with full signage


Junction with Fuller Ridge/PCT, Marion Mountain Trail continues right


Looking down during my unplanned bushwhack


Looking up, nothing good


Finally back on better ground

The summit of St. Ellens, a locally named peak dedicated to hiker Ellen Coleman, required some class 2 scrambling and avoiding some pine trees. On top was a wooden sign, a register, and a photo album of Ellen's adventures. It was fun seeing who had already visited (not that many), and flipping through the photo album. As soon as I was down, I started off for Marion.


Looking up at St. Ellens from the saddle


St. Ellens summit


St. Ellens register

Marion Mountain is the southernmost peak over 10000' in the San Jacinto Wilderness and the most interesting with a jumble of giant granite slabs making up it's rugged class 3 summit. It was apparently named after Marion Kelly, who worked at the Indian Bureau in Morongo Valley Reservation, by USGS topographer Edmund Perkins. It is also interesting because there are two summits, east and west, (with a lower middle summit in between). The official USGS mark on topographic maps is on the east summit, but the west summit is higher. The Sierra Club register is on the west summit. When I got to Marion, I climbed the west summit first via the crack system that starts behind a dead tree. There is a thin slab sticking out in the longer section that is perfect for using a layback technique, both up and down. Near the top of the crack, it opens to the right making it a little easier to get to the summit. I signed the register that only went back to 2013. After climbing down, I visited the middle summit, then the east summit. Both were class 2. The granite in this area is solid and grips reliable. The rock is nearly ideal. I wasn't expecting to find any benchmarks, and didn't.


Looking up at Marion Mountain


Approaching Marion Mountain summit


The first crack on the west summit


Second crack, perfect for a layback


Looking down from the top of the crack


View south from the Marion summit, Tahquitz Peak and Lily Rock in the distance


Mount St. Ellens on left from the Marion summit


San Jacinto and satellites from Marion


Marion register


The east summit block, class 2


Looking back at the higher west summit from the east summit

Photosphere from Marion Mountain west summit


Next up was Shirley, an unofficial peak sitting just below Jean. Shirley is higher than Marion and the highest point in my day at 10388'. There is a false summit on the way to Shirley, and knowing that, I stayed on the side of it. A little navigation was required to find the best way to the top of Shirley. I found the register in an old coffee can between two slabs at the top.

To get back to Joyce Peak, another unofficial peak named after Hikin' Jim's daughter, I had to backtrack down Shirley, then head across a wide, pleasant, open area. The flat pine forest on top of San Jacinto is one of the most idyllic areas I've visited. I could not see the small outcrop for Joyce Peak until I was right on top of it because of the trees. I didn't find any register or other indication that I was actually on Joyce. I spotted another couple of outcrops a little further out and went ahead and climbed those, too, also finding no register or clues. I am guessing one of the three was actually Joyce.


Shirley Peak summit


Coffee can register on Shirley Peak


Joyce Peak summit (I think)

Last on the list was Newton Drury, named after the fourth director of the American National Park Service. While heading toward it, I could see the manzanita on the southern flank that encouraged people to approach it from the saddle. One thing I learned about the San Jacinto summits is that certain flanks are protected by a moat of manzanita filling all the gaps between boulders. Each needs to be approached on a side free of manzanita. I had to wind around to the saddle, then found a faint use trail heading up. Along the way, I stumbled over an abandoned camp site near a dry stream, just south of Newton Drury. The summit was obscured by trees until I was just below it. It had a standard register in red cans. I relaxed on top and ate lunch, enjoying the perfect weather and solitude. I hadn't seen a single person all day and felt like I owned all the mountains. I was tempted to fall asleep in the sun, but reluctantly gathered my things and made my way down the north side, heading for the Deer Springs Trail. I followed an unnamed trail that dumped me out at "Owl's Hooch" camp site along the Deer Springs Trail. From there, I headed back toward the Marion Mountain Trail. "Bed Springs" was flowing nicely across the trail. On the way down, I ran into a dozen or so hikers and trail runners, all headed for San Jacinto.


Looking down on Newton Drury, needed to traverse to the saddle to avoid manzanita


Abandoned camp site and fire pit below Newton Drury


Approaching Newton Drury


Newton Drury summit and register


Owl's Hooch camp site on the Deer Springs Trail


Newton Drury 360



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sea Cave at Thousand Steps Beach

Hiked: 7/19/2015
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Summit Elevation: 0'
Elevation Gain: 142' (loss then gain)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.11
Round trip time: 30 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on PCH
Difficulty: Easy

Laguna Beach Tide Times and Charts

At 9th Ave and PCH in Laguna Beach, a long stairway descends to Thousand Steps Beach. For the record, I counted only 233 steps. It is long enough to discourage some people from dragging all their beach gear down and up so it is usually not as crowded as other local beaches. Parking can be a problem along the PCH, but I got a close spot early in the morning. A half mile south (left) of the stairs is a large sea cave that opens onto a private beach on the other side. To get into this cave, it is key to go at the lowest tide of the day, no higher than 2'. On my first visit, I was turned back by a tide with waves breaking at neck level. They would have slammed me against the jagged rocks had I made an attempt. Lifeguards will close the area if they think the tide is unsafe (and they are on duty). A couple of months ago, an 18 year old was swept off the rocks and drowned in the rip currents. It is definitely more dangerous than the sea cave at Dana Point.


The Thousand Steps Beach stairway, long but not even close to 1000 steps


Approaching the cave on slippery rocks


Entrance

I returned when the tide was down to 1.3' and had no trouble, though the rocks outside the cave are very slippery and covered with algae. Like most tidal pool areas, there were plenty of feisty crabs on and around the rocks. None were big enough for lunch. As I made my way into the cave, I surprised a couple, probably in their late 20s, doing a different kind of cave exploring. They were frantically trying to get their clothes back on. I apparently interrupted a romantic moment on the slime covered rocks of the sea cave. I offered a "Sorry, guys", then proceeded past them. The cave goes back about 150'. The other opening is on the right, while the deepest part goes straight back and remained in darkness as I groped my way through ankle deep water. After exploring the back of the cave, I made my way out the other side to a private beach area with a warning sign. There are two "secret pools" past the warning sign. After some photos, I scrambled back through the cave and jogged back to the stairway.


Standing in water near the back of the cave


Looking out from the back of the cave


Exit to the other side


Private beach and secret pool area


Early morning body boarders


Closure sign when the tide is high

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doe Mountain, AZ

Hiked: 7/16/2015
Distance: 2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 5067'
Prominence: 421'
Elevation Gain: 440'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.35
Round trip time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: Red Rock Pass ($5/day or $15/week)
Difficulty: Easy

It was about a 10 minute drive from Dry Creek Vista trailhead to the Doe Mountain/Bear Mountain trailhead. Doe Mountain is a small butte just over 5000' with a large flat summit area. We followed the trail from the parking lot and passed over the Aerie Trail. There were several signs to keep us on track. It was a steady, short climb with long switchbacks. At the very end is a short scramble to reach the summit area. The entire climb is only about 0.7 miles one way, but we wandered all around on the summit, adding at least a half mile to the total hike. Leisa reluctantly followed me as I headed into an area filled with cactus and small trees in search of the high point. It was nearly impossible to tell which part of the summit rose a few feet above the rest. I followed the mark on my GPS, which by luck turned out to be the true summit. I suspect most visitors don't bother finding the high point. There were absolutely no views or marks at the true summit, so after tagging it, we headed back toward the west side to rest on a cliff. After taking in the views there, we headed all the way across to the east side for another set of great views. All the good views are along the edges. We only saw a few other hikers on Doe Mountain and wrapped up the day before noon and before the high temps arrived.


Doe Mountain from a distance


Trail sign


Leisa on the trail


West side of Doe Mountain


Last section before the top


Unremarkable true summit of Doe Mountain


Looking at the west cliffs


View looking east