Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sentenac Mountain

Hiked: 1/16/2017
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3068'
Elevation Gain: 900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.72
Round trip time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Plum Canyon Road
Difficulty: Easy

Being able to drive to the Pinyon Mountain/Whale Mountain saddle allowed Brad and I time to add Sentenac (SDC #74) as a bonus. Sentenac is not far from Scissors Crossing, and I had done some preliminary research on it, planning to combine it with Grapevine Mountain. I remembered the trailhead being down a dirt road, but couldn't remember the name of it. I downloaded a track from peakbagger on my phone and used that to locate Plum Canyon Road, heading south from highway 78. The road was smooth, no need for 4WD or high clearance. It splits after a mile. We took the right fork to the end of the road to reach the trailhead.

A sandy trail begins up Plum Canyon, skirting the wall at one point, then dropping back down. In about a half mile, we followed a side canyon on the right (west). Interesting rock formations and a few dry waterfalls created a blissful small canyon. We continued up the side canyon until we were near Sentenac, then started up the steep slope toward the summit. The highest rock formation visible from the canyon turned out to be a false summit, but from those rocks we could see the true summit. I was surprised how good the views were in all directions. Grapevine Mountain swelled up across highway 78. Granite and Whale were both still prominent. The register showed some familiar names and there were hikers up the day before. We didn't find any marks, but we didn't make a serious search effort either. We took a slightly more direct line back to the canyon where the sun had warmed it into a really pleasant place.

Entrance to Plum Canyon Road


Into the side canyon

Ocotillo starting to bloom

Beautiful dry waterfall

Rocky outcrop

Approaching the summit

Summit and register, Granite Mountain on the right

Grapevine Mountain across the highway

Looking back at Whale

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pinyon Mountain and Whale Peak

Hiked: 1/16/2017
Distance: 7.1 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 4492' (Pinyon), 5349' (Whale)
Prominence: 512' (Pinyon), 2700' (Whale)
Elevation Gain: 2333'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.86
Round trip time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Pinyon Mountain Road
Difficulty: Moderate (combined)

Brad and I set out for a couple of SDC peaks that are often climbed together, Pinyon Mountain (#41) and Whale Peak (#22). Whale is also HPS #72 and has a blubbery 2700' of prominence. To start at the optimal location, I drove up Pinyon Mountain Road to the saddle between Pinyon and Whale. I was concerned about the road conditions due to recent rains, and also about one particular rocky spot that stopped other hikers from reaching the saddle. While the sand in the road was wet, the road was not muddy or overly soft. I sailed past the rocky spot and narrow sections of road to our starting point. I recommend 4WD and high clearance, but most cars can probably make it to the rocky spot if driven slowly. Further down the road are the notorious "squeeze" and "heart attack hill", best left to drivers with modified vehicles.

We started toward Pinyon, passing a family that had camped out near the east ridge. They were cooking breakfast and the smell of fresh bacon tempted me as we started up the east ridge. On top of the ridge, we found a faint use trail. The open desert on Pinyon made it easy to continue, with or without it. We guessed which bump was the high point, incorrectly, then found the high point a little further along. The register was packed with names, many from this year. Views were good, but I had to walk to the edge of the plateau for the best photo ops. The round trip from the car was less than 2 miles. We stopped at the car briefly, before heading the other way toward Whale.

Starting up Pinyon Mountain Road

Nearing the top

Pinyon Mountain summit

Looking back at Whale

Granite Mountain dominates the east, Ghost Mountain lower left

We followed the spur road toward Whale, finding a use trail at the very end of the road heading up the gully. The gully was the most fun part of the hike for me with easy class 2 boulders in multiple jumbles. At the top of the gully, the trail continued across a plateau, up a short ridge, across another plateau, up another short ridge, another plateau, then a final ascent to the summit area. The entire route was well marked with cairns. There was a little more class 2 on the final ascent, but nothing tricky. We passed what looked like a couple of camp sites on the long, flat summit. The red register cans were below the summit boulder inside a wind shelter and the Whale Peak sign was just outside. The summit boulder was only the third highest. It had an unnamed triangulation benchmark. The boulder next to it was higher with reference mark #1 stamped Whale. Reference mark #2 was on a lower rock by the sign. The highest boulder, oddly, had no marks. We signed the Whale register, at least as popular as Pinyon, then took a short break. The views were good, but we had to wander to the edges of the summit for the best views. Half way back, I commented that some people had managed to lose their way on Whale, but had probably ascended the more difficult south side. Naturally, a few minutes later, we found ourselves too far down a wash between ridges, backtracking and looking for where we lost our trail. The diversion was minimal, costing us probably 10 minutes until we were back on track. The rest of the descent was uneventful, other than a notable lack of wild life. We got back to the car ahead of schedule. This made us consider looking for another hike we could squeeze into the day before starting the long drive back to the OC. After a little mobile recon, we decided to head for Sentenac Mountain.

Gully of fun


A short ridge

The next short ridge from an intermediate plateau

Final scramble to the Whale summit area

Brad and I at the sign

Highest boulder on Whale

Reference mark #1 and benchmark

Looking toward the Santa Rosas and San Jacinto

Blair Valley, Sawtooth and Laguna Mountains in the distance

Friday, January 6, 2017

Diamond Head, HI

Hiked: 1/6/2017
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 761'
Prominence: 596'
Elevation Gain: 560'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.44
Round trip time: 50 minutes
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $5 State Parks (cash only)
Difficulty: Easy

Diamond Head is an iconic short hike on Oahu. It looms over Waikiki Beach and while it is not very high, it grabs the attention of everyone in the area. As first time tourists, it was a nice way to wrap up our vacation and check it off the list in case we visit again. The Hawaiian name for the peak is Leahi. According to the state of Hawaii, the "Diamond Head" name originated in the 1700s when western explorers mistook calcite crystals in the rock for diamonds. The volcanic crater was used as a military installation during World War II and concrete bunkers still dot the rim that faces the ocean.

Leisa and I drove up to the visitor's center in the center of the crater, letting the kids sleep in. The park opened at 6:00 AM and even though we arrived a little before 7:00 AM, the lot was almost full. We got one of the last 3 parking spots. The visitor's center has restrooms, a snack bar, gift shop, and picnic tables. The trail starts on a paved sidewalk just left of the restrooms. We followed the throngs of people up the sidewalk. In a short distance, it turns into a dirt trail with hand railings and plenty of benches along the way. As we neared the top, we passed through a 225' tunnel that was unlit, except for people that had their cell phone flashlights burning. Streams of people poured into and out of the tunnel in ant like formations. I took a few photos inside the tunnel but they all came out blurred from the darkness and motion. At the other end of the tunnel, you can turn left for views inside the crater and a winding path to the top, or go right directly up a long flight of stairs. We took the stairs, then a final three flights of a winding metal staircase that dumped us out on the ocean side of the crater. A final couple of stairs got us to the high point and the benchmark. We had to jockey around to get in position for photos, but the views were great in all directions. There were too many people to really enjoy the summit, so we got in the conga line going down. As we drove out, there was a line of cars waiting to get in and groups of people walking up from below. This is an easy hike and totally family friendly, but I suggest starting early since it is ultra popular.

Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach

Diamond Head from the visitor's center inside the crater

Stairs to the top

Spiral staircase at the top of the stairs

Bunker on the crater rim and Honolulu

Looking northwest to Waikiki beach and Pearl Harbor

Ocean below


Looking east toward Koko Head and the island of Molokai

Leisa took this shot of Diamond Head from the plane

More info:
Diamond Head Summit Trail (State of Hawaii)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Haleakala, HI Redux

Hiked: 1/3/2017
Distance: Drive up
Summit Elevation: 10023'
Prominence: 10023'
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0
Round trip time: 0 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: $20 National Parks (good for three days)
Difficulty: Easy

We had a late flight out of Maui to Oahu and had only planned a couple of things for the afternoon, including a few rounds of mini golf. We noticed the clear skies and could see the top of Haleakala. With time to kill, we decided to drive back up for another shot at sunset. Believe it or not, it wasn't even my idea. Shelby suggested it, Leisa was on board, and Parker was neutral but up for it if we brought sufficient snacks. When we decided to go, time was a factor. We would arrive near the top about 10 minutes before sunset. I knew it would be crowded, but we piled into the rental and drove up. People were parking at the 2nd visitor center and walking up and of course the top lot was overflowing. Cars were parked illegally everywhere and one was even abandoned in the right lane a quarter mile from the top. We circled the lot and I dropped Leisa off to take photos in case we didn't find a parking spot. I eventually had to drive down off the summit, but found a nice turn out on the side road to Magnetic Peak, about half way between the visitors center and the summit. From there, I jogged cross country in my tennis shoes toward the summit, sliding on lava scree. I started up the slope directly to the summit, much to the amusement of a couple at the top. With a little hand-and-foot scrambling, I topped out and the lady stated, "I didn't think you could make it up," to which I replied "no problem" through gulps of 10000' air. It gave me a few minutes get sunset photos from both the high point and other spots around the wide summit area.

Sunset over the University of Hawaii high altitude observatory

Crater with the shadow of Haleakala stretching to the horizon

Looking south toward the island of Hawaii

The island of Lanai and the Maui shoreline

North Maui

See Also:
Haleakala, HI (first trip)