Distance: 7.9 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 4805' (Los Pinos), 4657' (Corte Madera)
Elevation Gain: 2080'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.66
Round trip time: 4 hours
Recommended water: 56 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Today was a two-peak outing in San Diego County, both on the SDC list (Los Pinos #29, Corte Madera #33). We made an effort to hit Coulter Peak in between, but unknowingly stopped on the wrong set of boulders a short distance from the summit. Brad Stemm, Rod, and I left the OC around 6:30 AM for the long drive. We parked at the gate below Los Pinos for the quarter mile walk up to the lookout tower. There was no one in the tower and it was blocked by a high fence with barbed wire. We walked around the area looking for a benchmark or register but found neither. We took some photos of Corte Madera and Coulter before heading back. We discussed the option of driving down to the Corte Madera trailhead, but decided to just leave the truck below Los Pinos and stay on foot. The round trip turned out to be slightly longer than I expected because of the winding switchbacks the road took on the way down. [Sidebar: There is a Los Pinos in San Diego County, one in Orange County, and one in Ventura County]
We followed the road to the trailhead for Corte Madera and started up the well maintained single track. Very quickly, we spotted Coulter Peak, probably named after the Coulter pine trees in the area. We continued on the trail as it traversed around the right side before climbing again. Before the trail started dropping again, we headed cross country through the trees and minor obstacles to what we thought was the Coulter Peak summit. The boulders appeared to be the high point, but checking the GPS track later, I saw that we did not quite make it to the summit at 4588'. After the diversion, we returned to the trail and wound around to the south summit and lookout point on Corte Madera. The register box was there with several books inside, many of them sopping wet. Despite the large number of books, none of them went back more than a few years. It is a very popular destination. We signed in and contributed another plastic ziplock bag to the cause of keeping the registers dry. The views were great in all directions, but especially back toward Los Pinos over the cliffs.
While the south summit has the best views, the slightly higher true summit of Corte Madera is about a quarter mile north on the plateau. It requires a heavy bushwhack through waist high manzanita, scattered trees, boulders, and other kinds of plants. We found a path to the closest large boulders and explored that before finding the way forward blocked. We returned a little along the trail before heading north again. There wasn't really a use trail, but we did follow a path of least resistance. Brad led the way with clippers. We passed a couple of tires mentioned in another report before reaching the highest point. The class 2 boulder at the summit presented no challenges. We spent some time looking around, then pushed our way back to the trail. On the return, we decided to save some distance by going up the firebreak instead of the road. The firebreak intercepted the road about 2/3 of the way up and we stayed on the road back to the truck. The sheer cliffs of Corte Madera made a lasting impression.