Saturday, January 23, 2016

Los Pinos, Corte Madera

Hiked: 1/22/2016
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
Difficulty: Moderate

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]


Driving up to Los Pinos, fire lookout tower on top


Lookout tower on Los Pinos


Rod checking out Corte Madera, Coulter Peak near right


Corte Madera from the road

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.


Start of the Corte Madera trail


Left the trail here for the Coulter Peak summit, but we stopped at the wrong set of boulders


Rod on the edge of the south summit, Los Pinos on the left


Brad signing the Corte Madera register, drying out the wet register booklets


South summit, Los Pinos dominating the background

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.


Bulling our way to the true summit


Brad on the summit boulder


Looking back to the south summit and Los Pinos


Zoomed shot of the south face


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Welk West, Merriam Mountains High Point

Hiked: 1/17/2016
Distance: 4.4 miles round trip on dirt roads
Summit Elevation: 1643' (Welk West), 1754' (Merriam)
Elevation Gain: 1350'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.08
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Lawrence Welk Ct
Difficulty: Moderate (Welk West class 5 summit)

The Merriam Mountains lie just west of I-15 in Escondido. At one time, it was slated for a large housing development, but those plans have either fallen through or been postponed. For now, most of it is rugged and boulder filled, laced with confusing dirt roads. To get there, break out your favorite mapping program to find Lawrence Welk Ct in Escondido. At the end of the road is a turnaround. Park there and head past the gate up the dirt road. I recommend using a GPS or satellite map to navigate.

My first goal was Welk West. Many of the large boulders just off the trail were marred with graffiti. Before reaching Welk West, I spotted a pile of spent shotgun and 223 Remington rifle shells and an abandoned car. All part of the charm. The wide roads lead right to the top, no bushwhacking required. The summit area was surrounded with striking monoliths and spires. The summit boulder itself is about 25' high, the lowest access point is a near vertical 15' class 5 face. There is a double rope fixed to a climbing anchor on that side. I tested the rope with my body weight and it seemed solid, though it is probably a few years old. I could not find any climbing techniques to use, so I pulled myself up batman-style, hand over hand. Above the lip is a broad summit that slopes up another 10' to a rounded top. The anchor looked OK, but there was a lot of clutter from many old ropes either cut or decayed. There were great 360 views of the Merriam Mountains and nearby I-15. I sat down and enjoyed it for awhile before descending via arm rappel.


Start at the end of Lawrence Welk Ct


First look at Welk West


Abandoned car, Merriam Mountains Highpoint in the background


Giant monolith near Welk West


Welk West summit block


Broad summit block from the top


Anchor and jumble of old ropes


Rapping down


I referred to my GPS to find the best combination of twists and turns to get to the Merriam Mountains High Point. Along the way, I passed a makeshift shooting gallery of cans and bottles. It felt like the wild west, but the only the people I saw were a couple of dirt bike riders flying up and down the rough, rutted roads. The summit boulder of the High Point is about 15' and can be climbed using an adjacent class 3 boulder. The High Point has the best views of the entire range and a good look at the San Marcos Mountains, another small range across a valley. I carefully made the move to get the first foothold on the adjacent boulder on the way down, then followed a different road back. It was a fun couple of hours in north San Diego County.


Shooting gallery on the way to Merriam Mountains Highpoint


Class 3 Highpoint summit blocks


Looking south from Merriam Mountains Highpoint


Peak 2220

Hiked: 1/16/2016
Distance: 3.1 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2220'
Prominence: 370'
Elevation Gain: 1000'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.8
Round trip time: 52 minutes
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Modjeska Canyon Road
Difficulty: Easy

Peak 2220 is a quick hike on a smooth trail near Modejska Reservoir in the Santa Ana Mountains. The trail starts at the end of Mark Road, a short private drive where parking is prohibited. To get there, I parked on Modjeska Canyon Road just over the small bridge before the left turn to head to the bird sanctuary. There is room on the right side of the road for about 2 cars in front of the sign. I walked back over the bridge, headed right on Markuson Road, and left on Mark Road in less than half a mile. At the end of Mark Road, a dirt road heads through a couple of gates, both open when I was there, then shrinks to a wide single track as it winds up the canyon. In about a mile, it gains the ridge line that heads directly to Peak 2220. An Orange County benchmark is on top, but I didn't find a register. From the summit, I headed north and south to nice viewpoints at both ends of the peak. I jogged most of the way down the smooth trail to finish in less than an hour.


Mark Road with warning sign, I think regarding parking


Approaching Peak 2220


OC Benchmark, placed 1980


Pleasants Peak far right with towers, snowy San Gabriels in the distance



Update: 3/27/2016

I made a second visit as a plan B after finding upper Halfway Canyon Road blocked by Irvine Water District restrictions. After reaching Peak 2220, I continued down the parallel ridge to reach the last two bumps, peak 1901 and peak 1892. It was a nice addition to the hike with a lot of wild flowers. I built up the small cairn on 1892 and came back on a brush free road that runs below 2220. This variation was 4.7 miles and 1530' of gain.


Looking down the parallel ridge from Peak 2220


Looking back at Peak 2220 from Peak 1892


Upgraded cairn on Peak 1892


I'm stubborn as those garbage bags that time cannot decay
I'm junk but I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet



Saturday, January 9, 2016

Falls Canyon Falls

Hiked: 1/8/2016
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip on use trail
Summit Elevation: 1586' (at falls)
Elevation Gain: 150'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.12
Round trip time: 35 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass (maybe)
Difficulty: Easy

Falls Canyon Falls is a beautiful 35-40' vertical waterfall about 1/2 mile off Trabuco Creek Road in the Santa Ana Mountains. The trailhead is about 3.3 miles from the start of Trabuco Creek Road, a notoriously bad and potholed dirt road. Low clearance vehicles can make it by driving slowly and carefully around the worst of the potholes, but high clearance is suggested. When you get to the turnout on the right, park and head back down the road about 100' to find the use trail descending toward a stream with a log crossing. There are no facilities at this spot along the road, so an Adventure Pass may not be required, but I displayed mine to be safe (GPS coordinates N 33.67432 W 117.53655).

After three days of intense rain, I was motivated to do a waterfall hike. The last few I've done were all dry from the long drought. I crossed the first stream that had solid flow, and followed a very good use trail up Falls Canyon. It crossed the stream several times. Poison oak was a constant danger, but the trail was mostly clear. There are only a few obstacles along the way, some fallen trees, and one easy 10' rock scramble. Shortly, the falls came into view. It was a welcome sight to see the strength of the water. Just before reaching the falls, an obvious use trail on the right climbs steeply up the side of the canyon. That is the way to get above the falls and deeper into the canyon. I only went up far enough to see there was some class 3 involved and more than one fixed rope installed as aids. I didn't have time to go deeper into the canyon, but more waterfalls can be found above.


Start of the trail, descending to the stream crossing


Healthy water flow at the first crossing


Virulent red poison oak


Minor obstacles


Easy rock scramble


Almost to the falls


Falls Canyon Falls


One of the roped sections on the use trail to get above the falls



Other Trip Reports:
Photos from beyond the first falls (Scott Richardson)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Bell Bluff

Hiked: 1/3/2016
Distance: 7.2 miles round trip on road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3409'
Prominence: 429'
Elevation Gain: 1800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.44
Round trip time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Calle Colina Roca or Via Dieguenos
Difficulty: Moderate


Bell Bluff is in the Cleveland National Forest and #66 on the San Diego Peak List. The trail begins on the south side of Via Dieguenos near Alpine, CA. The roads are paved all the way. There is only room for a couple of cars at the trailhead so we parked a short distance away on Calle Colina Roca. No fees or passes are required since these are public roads. Leisa and I started down the Spanish Bit Road trail that ran between houses. It was a single track for a good distance before widening out to a somewhat rutted road, then returning to a single track. More than a mile along the gently rising trail, Bell Bluff came into view. It is an impressive rock structure with giant boulders jutting out the sides and along the top. We continued along the trail for just over three miles, with the scenery not changing much, before reaching double cairns on the right marking the west side use trail.


Horse near the trailhead


Trail start, fence is bypassed on the left


Just past the dry Sweetwater River crossing


First look at Bell Bluff


Getting closer, west use trail path


Double cairns marking the start of west use trail

The west use trail was in good shape and well maintained, but very steep in places. I knocked one tick off my pants from casual contact with brush. Leisa didn't get any, but we were vigilant checking for ticks after that. The final half mile gains about 700' and requires one class 3 move up an outcrop. There are multiple route options for this move. Small cairns marked the trail in the few places where it was not obvious. The summit area had an intact benchmark and a register in the trademark red cans. Views were very good in all directions including the north sides of Lawson and Gaskill. There were two other parties on the trail, but no one else ventured up Bell Bluff while we were there.


The one class 3 move


Looking down


Bell Bluff benchmark, 1938


Summit and a random can of anchovies (that something pooped on)


Gaskill, Lawson, and Lyons from Bell Bluff


Looking west, El Cajon far right


Viejas Mountain dominating the north. I didn't recognize it during the hike.


Looking east, massive Sunrise Powerlink station, run by SDG&E