Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ghost Mountain and Quake Benchmark

Hiked: 4/29/2016
Distance: 4.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3400' (Ghost), 3164' (Quake)
Prominence: 380' (Ghost), 364' (Quake)
Elevation Gain: 900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.72
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Marshal South Home Trailhead
Difficulty: Easy

Ghost Mountain is on the Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List, and was recently added to the Lower Peaks in lieu of Santa Paula Peak. Santa Paula was removed because the main trail is on private land and no longer open to the public. This is the second major change to the list in as many years. Bedford Peak was also suspended from the list due to the trailhead being within a fire closure area. Getting back to Ghost, it is also the site of the Marshal South Home ruins. The summit is about another half mile past the ruins and has no trail. The roughly three miles of dirt road to the trailhead can be driven in a low clearance vehicle.

Because of the heavy concentration of cholla cactus, the going was slow once I got past the ruins. Beyond the ruins, Ghost is a long, flat mountain, ending in a simple class 2 boulder. There was a new Lower Peaks register on top. I did't see a benchmark. The view from Ghost is remarkable, with hulking Granite Mountain to the north and hulking Whale Peak to the east. You also get a good look at the Santa Rosa range, from Toro to Villager. It's worth the low price of admission. I returned to the car with zero cholla strikes and got ready to head for Quake BM. The round trip for Ghost by itself was 2.5 miles.

Start of the trail

Marshal South ruins

More ruins


Ghost Mountain summit block

New Lower Peaks register box

Quake BM below casting the shadow, Granite Mountain looming in the distance

Photosphere from Ghost Mountain summit

Because Ghost was so short, I searched the map for another nearby peak and decided to add Quake Benchmark. It was close enough that I just left my truck where it was and headed for it directly, not bothering with the road. The flat desert was mostly open with no real obstacles. I aimed for the nearest ridge line and had to slow down again when I started up due to the cholla. The cholla was thick on both peaks. When I got to the top, I had to visit three points to make sure I found the high point. I also spelled out my wife's initials in rock, claiming it on her behalf. There was no register or benchmark that I found. Careful steps got me down with no hits from cholla. I ended up not using the pliers I brought for cactus needle extraction. After that, I drove off to finish my business with Pike BM -- the one I missed doing Palm Mesa.

Ascent path on Quake BM

A blooming ocotillo at a cholla party

Quake BM summit with Ghost Mountain in the background

My wife's initials

Monday, April 18, 2016

Iron Mountain #3, Monte Cristo, Round Top, Granite, Rabbit

Hiked: 4/17/2016
Distance: 10.5 miles round trip on dirt road, firebreak, and use trail
Summit Elevation: 4275' (Monte Cristo), 5040' (Iron #3), 6316' (Round Top), 6600' (Granite), 5307' (Rabbit)
Prominence: 320' (Iron #3), 400' (Granite)
Elevation Gain: 4175'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.34
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 128 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous (combined)

Madison and I had been talking about this one for months and we finally worked out our schedules to make it happen. I was stoked to climb the third and final Iron Mountain in the San Gabriels. Alone, it was the easiest of the three, but the loop over 5 peaks was a substantial piece of work. Here is Madison's report. We got started around 7 AM with near perfect weather. This was our itinerary:

1. Monte Cristo (unofficial)
2. Iron Mountain #3 (HPS)
3. Round Top (HPS)
4. Granite (HPS)
5. Rabbit (HPS)

The loop can be done in either direction. We parked just off the road above Monte Cristo Campground and went down to the dirt road on the left. Campers in hammocks were motionless and asleep as we started up a drainage just before the gate. It wasn't a trail, but it allowed us to get on the ridge to Monte Cristo. We found a use trail on the ridge and followed it up. We didn't find anything at the high point on Monte Cristo, so we continued on toward Iron #3. The ridge intersected a dirt road below Iron. We turned right and caught the next ridge at a bend. We made quick work of Iron #3 and appreciated the views of the back side of the entire front range. In particular, the north face of Strawberry Peak was impressive. No benchmark was found on Iron but there was a register. Unfortunately, it was soaked and unreadable. Completely ruined.

Monte Cristo campground

We went up the drainage on the right, came back along the road

Looking down on the campground, the shadow of Iron #3 on the left

Heading up Monte Cristo, Round Top distant left

Strawberry Peak and Josephine Peak from Monte Cristo

On the Iron #3 ridge

The ruined Iron #3 register

The next peak in the loop was Round Top at 6316'. You drop about 300' a saddle, then begin the 1600' climb, going over three false summits along the way. This is the crux of the loop in this direction. There was a surprisingly good use trail up the steepest part. When we reached the top, a sustained 30-40 mph wind blasted us. It nearly blew my hat away, eventually forcing me to reverse it. There was a triangle post just below the summit and a small cairn. No benchmark or register. We took a break on Round Top to refuel and rest up for the next leg to Granite, the highest point in the loop. We followed the road down from Round Top and more than half way up Granite before we left it to find the summit. Granite had a large summit area with various boulder formations and burnt trees. We wandered around a bit before finding the highest point, a 10' boulder with the register underneath. The wind was relentless, turning a pleasantly cool morning into a cold one. We took shelter on the opposite side of some boulders to finish our lunch. The Granite register was also very wet and we were unable to sign it. Our subsequent hunt for a Granite Mountain benchmark came up empty. We packed up and started down the long Granite ridge toward Rabbit.

Round Top (right) and Granite Mountain (left) from Iron #3

Madison starting the climb up to Round Top, Iron #3 in the background

After several false summits, the final approach to Round Top

Leaving Round Top on the way to Granite

Looking north from the Granite summit

On the smallish Granite summit boulder

Burned forest on top of Granite

When we got below Granite, we got a break from the wind. There were interesting rock formations along the way and an abundance of yucca. After a long descent, we hit the saddle below Rabbit and began our last climb, a couple of hundred feet to the Rabbit summit. There was large cairn there, no benchmark, and a dry register. We were able to sign in for the first time. Dropping down from Rabbit, we met three other hikers who were starting the loop in the opposite direction. Doing the loop that way gets all of the gain over at once, but seems somewhat more difficult. We had a short visit and went our separate ways. Soon enough, we hit a dirt road cutting across Rabbit. After a brief discussion, we decided to take a shortcut down a ridge below electrical towers. It probably saved us a half mile or so. We didn't consider going further down the ridge, but it proved a better shortcut when we saw where it met the road. It was an easy stroll back to the campground and we were satisfied with the multiple summits of the day.

Descending from Granite

Approaching Rabbit

Rabbit summit, Iron #3 in the background

We found two of these strange white marks, one on each side of Rabbit.
They were in areas too small for helicopters.

Shortcut below Rabbit

Monday, April 11, 2016

Horsethief Peak via East Horsethief Trail

Hiked: 4/10/2016
Distance: 9.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 4313'
Elevation Gain: 2850'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.28
Round trip time: 4 hours
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Rice Canyon Road
Difficulty: Moderate

This was a last minute hike to explore the East Horsethief Trail from Lake Elsinore. Most of the semi-recent beta in the last five years came from mountain bikers, with mixed reviews from a few hiking sites. To get to the trail from Orange County, take highway 74 over the Santa Ana Mountains into Lake Elsinore and follow it as it turns north. Turn left on Grand Avenue, then left again on Mountain Street. At the end of Mountain Steet, there is a dirt road that forks three directions. Take the middle road, Rice Canyon. You soon reach a gate on the left that Google Maps thinks is the trail, but it's not. The USGS shows the trail starting about a quarter mile further up the road on the left. Trust the USGS on this one. You can park at the first gate or at a wide section of the road around a bend and walk up the road a short distance to the trail. There was no space for parking at the trailhead.

Not knowing any better, I parked at the gate and went through it to follow the dirt road. I immediately found myself in the middle of a hundred commercial bee hives from the Happie Bee Co., Menifee, CA. Bees were flying back and forth between the hives that lined both sides of the road. I covered my head and walked briskly, without running, to the other side. A few bees flew into me unintentionally without bothering to sting me. I followed use trails past some camp sites down into the creek looking for a connector trail to East Horsethief. Maybe there was a connector trail somewhere but I didn't find it, instead suffering a short thrash up the creek until I hit the main trail.

End of Mountain Street, start of Rice Canyon dirt road

Gate at wrong trailhead, leads to bees and brush

East Horsethief Trailhead, parking available further back along the road


Trying to find the trail

Back on the East Horsethief Trail

It had been raining the last few days and more rain was forecast today. The trail was sloppy in places. I saw mountain bike tracks but no human footprints. This explained the rutted nature of big parts of the trail. With or without clouds, the views of Lake Elsinore, Horsethief Canyon, and Rice Canyon were great. The trail climbed in manageable chunks with level spots along the ridge to catch your breath. It was in much better shape than I expected and easy to follow. Only a few spots could have used some trimming. I went through a stand of pines just before reaching Main Divide Road. From there, continue straight up the brushy north firebreak to Horsethief Peak or turn left and head to the clear south firebreak. I had already battled the north on a previous trip so I went down the road to the clear firebreak. Clouds drifted over the summit just as I arrived and conspired with the brush to limit the view. Horsethief hasn't been crowned with a benchmark or register so far. I only stayed on top long enough to add tape to my heels and hydrate. Then, I started the much faster trip down. Dark clouds threatened the descent, but I only got some light rain. It was raining harder farther away over Lake Elsinore.

Lake Elsinore

Trabucco Peak


Cloud shadows over the Gavilan Plateau and surrounding peaks

Deep wash next to East Horsethief Trail

Pine stand before Main Divide Road

Intersection with Main Divide

Firebreak to Horsethief

Horsethief summit

Dark clouds and rain