Saturday, July 15, 2017

Morena Butte, Morena Butte South

Hiked: 7/15/2017
Distance: 9 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3920'
Prominence: 700'
Elevation Gain: 2064'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.65
Round trip time: 4 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at turnout on Lake Morena Drive
Difficulty: Moderate

A couple of weeks ago, I bruised my right knee. The bruise faded in a few days, but the knee didn't feel 100%. Last week, I went to the gym and tweaked it hard lugging dumbbells around. I had been invited on a canyoneering trip down Big Santa Anita Canyon and did my best to rehab in time. I iced it morning and night and wore a compression sleeve to work. The first day it hurt just to walk normally. The night before the canyoneering trip, I had to pass because it wasn't ready for serious off-trail work and rappels. Until now, I'd been lucky and hadn't had to deal with injuries. It was very frustrating, compounded by the slow healing that comes with age. I looked for a consolation prize with a trail. Morena Butte, #52 on the SDC list, seemed reasonable.

I drove to the turnout on Lake Morena Drive where the PCT passes by. There were two parking areas. One might be inside Lake Morena Park and the other one just outside. I parked in the outside turnout and started up the very smooth trail. It wasn't long before I got a look at Morena Butte. The trail wanders over the intervening ridge. Sometimes the trail moved parallel to the Butte and sometimes away from it, but eventually it went over the ridge into a shallow valley. The PCT then climbed up to the south ridge where a use trail leads up. The use trail was in good shape with plenty of cairns. It goes over to the west side of the butte and climbs behind the south summit ending at the giant south summit slab. It was easy to get to the highest boulder on the south summit where I found a tiny register in a tin can. It looked more like a geocache than summit register. Signatures went back to 2007. I found a spot to sign in and flipped through it, not finding many familiar names.

Morena Butte near the start

South summit (left), Sierra Club summit (right)

The west summit from the south summit (high point), tin can with register visible

Looking south to Tecate Peak

Tiny register on Morena Butte South

The Morena Butte summit is a three-headed snake, but only two are listed in Peakbagger. None of the heads are venomous. The south summit was the highest. I followed some cairns down the giant slab and into the shrubs on the way to the Sierra Club summit. There I found the official Sierra Club full-sized register. I signed in and found more names I recognized than from the tiny register. The north summit doesn't have the best views but it does have a great view of Lake Morena and Morena Reservoir. I only stayed a short time before packing up and heading toward the west summit. I didn't find a use trail over to it, but the brush was thin and not even waist high. I made short work of the trip and followed some cairns to the top where two boulders could argue for the high point. The northern most boulder looked like it might be higher. It was a 10' class 3 rock covered in bird poo. I started climbing, but saw a swarm of flying red ants on the top that I would have to disturb to stand on it. I decided to leave them be and check out the other boulder. To my surprise, there was a plaque set in the boulder. Some kind of ode to friendship signed "KMRJDE". The Internet didn't turn up anything on the plaque. The west summit has especially good views into Hauser Canyon. I didn't find any benchmarks anywhere. I could have returned on a different trail to make a loop, but instead returned to the south summit and followed the PCT back to the car. All three summits are worth a visit and without much additional effort. My knee held up with minimal pain. I think it's on the mend.

Looking north to the Sierra Club summit

Sierra Club register

Morena Reservoir and Morena Lake

Looking at the west summit

Hauser Canyon from the west summit

West summit boulder

Friendship plaque

Looking down from the west summit boulder

Heading back to the South summit

Traversing the south slab back to the use trail

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sheephead Mountain

Hiked: 7/7/2017
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 5896'
Prominence: 576'
Elevation Gain: 1034'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.82
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

The last peak of the day was Sheephead Mountain, #7 on the Sierra Club San Diego Peaks list, and #193 on the misnamed Hundred Peaks Section list. I had checked the Cleveland National Forest site to make sure Kitchen Creek Road was open. I was the only car at the trailhead. The first part of the hike is along a dirt road, then a single track that connects with another dirt road also named Kitchen Creek. This part of San Diego county is relatively high (>5000') pine forest. It was very tranquil, in stark contrast to the desert. I headed down the second Kitchen Creek road to a barbed wire gate with a no trespassing sign. This was documented in several trip reports and is generally ignored. The road skirts the edge of the national forest and hikers only need to walk about a quarter mile to the clipped use trail. I continued past the fence and followed Michael Sullivan's GPS track to locate the use trail. I had read the use trail was overgrown and came prepared with clippers. There was only one spot that was really overgrown, next to a large boulder just as the trail started to ascend. It looked like you should go forward but the trail actually turned right. That delayed my ascent a few minutes while I searched around for the continuation. After that, the trail was mostly clear. It was a light bushwhack at best. The trail was steep for about 0.4 miles before it topped out at the first set of summit boulders. A San Diego county benchmark was set into one of them and an empty cairn marked another. The high point and namesake "sheephead" boulders were only 100' further. The boulders are supposed to look like a pair of ram horns.


Sheephead ahead

Up through the manzanita

County benchmark placed 1970

Sheephead summit boulders

At the base of the boulders was a red ammo box containing the register. I signed in, then took a look at the large summit boulders. The right boulder is the highest. The easiest way up appeared to be directly up the right boulder. A single class 3 move was required to get onto the right boulder and around the left one. Once I was on the right boulder, there was a crack midway and plenty of holds. Class 2 the rest of the way to the top. Pictures make it look tougher than it is. I climbed around on both summit boulders, then returned to the lower boulders to rest. On the way down, I spent time thoroughly clipping the section of trail that was overgrown and piling the cuttings over the wrong way. At least the next visitor should be able to easily spot the trail continuation. My round trip time includes breaks and clipping time. I realized later that Sheephead, #7 on the San Diego Peak list was my 77th completed and I did it on 7/7/17. A lucky hike!

First move is between the bush and left boulder

Looking down at the register box from the high point

Looking back toward Kitchen Creek

Looking south to Channing Meadow

The right boulder looks almost vertical from the left boulder
but is really only about 50 degrees

I clipped this section that was completely overgrown

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Tecate Peak

Hiked: 7/7/2017
Distance: Drive up
Summit Elevation: 3885'
Prominence: 1885'
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.00
Round trip time: N/A
Recommended water: N/A
Parking/Fees: N/A
Difficulty: Easy

The dirt road to Tecate (#53 on the SDC) starts on Bowmans Road at the intersection with highway 94. It is not a straight shot and part of the road may be private. A sharp, non-intuitive left turn was required, then a right, but nothing Google Maps couldn't handle. The road was a little rougher than Otay Truck Trail, but less scary. It didn't have the huge drop offs and the road was wider. High clearance recommended and 4x4 not necessary. I didn't meet any vehicles on the road to Tecate, taking it all the way up. Tecate is very rocky and sits close to the border. It is also a popular border patrol hang out, but I had the summit to myself. I had a good view of Tecate, Mexico, the border wall and mountains on both sides. I noticed a border patrol helicopter flying well below me in the valley, but paid it no attention. I wandered around taking photos, then got back in the truck to descend. Just as I was leaving the summit, the border patrol helicopter flew over. It wasn't happy to see me there and buzzed me, no more than 20' above. He circled around and buzzed me a second time. I wanted to show that I was friendly, so I rolled my window down to wave. That's when I got buzzed a third time, the rotor wash blasting a two handfuls of dirt and twigs in through my window. Jackass. The helicopter then left me alone and flew off. I wasn't trespassing and hadn't committed any crime, but I half expected to be met back at highway 94 to show my papers, Thankfully, the coast was clear. I put it behind me and drove off to Sheephead Mountain.

Tecate Peak

Approaching the summit

On a steel horse I ride

Tecate, Mexico

Looking north, Cuyamaca in the distance (center)

Border wall

Border patrol helicopter circling back to harass me

Black vulture, the first I've encountered

Friday, July 7, 2017

Otay Mountain

Hiked: 7/7/2017
Distance: Drive up
Summit Elevation: 3566'
Prominence: 2086'
Elevation Gain: 0'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.00
Round trip time: N/A
Recommended water: N/A
Parking/Fees: N/A
Difficulty: Easy

Otay Mountain was the first of three SDC peaks I planned to summit today, and ranks #61 on the list. If the roads are open, Otay and Tecate are both drive up peaks near the border with Mexico. I had been sort of dreading doing these, kind of like taking out the garbage, but both turned into interesting adventures. It helped that Otay has over 2000' of prominence. I started early to try to make it to the top at sunrise. Sunrise photos are often enough motivation to get me out of bed.

When I got to the start of Otay Truck Trail, I saw the gate was open, but a Road Closed sign sat to the side just inside the gate. A border patrol agent was parked in his truck near the gate and I got out to talk to him. He confirmed the road was open and I explained why I wanted to go up. He warned me about narrow spots in the road but was pleasant and had no problem with me driving up. I jumped back in my truck and got going. It was still dark and I had to pay attention. I turned off my stereo to concentrate on the road. The road was in pretty good shape, but had some ruts. High clearance is recommended. 4x4 is not necessary but I engaged it anyway for extra control. The agent was right about some very narrow spots with huge drop offs. A number of mirrors are installed to help you see oncoming cars around tight turns. I scared a couple of young mule deer off the road and got to the top a few minutes after sunrise. The road got better near the top, but the final section to the tower area had encroaching brush leaving some light scratches on the sides of my truck, hopefully not permanent. The summit area had some small boulders, but no register or benchmark I could find. I got some pretty good photos and a good look into Mexico, then started down. Luckily, I didn't meet another vehicle going either direction avoiding what would have been a complicated passing predicament. When I got down, the sun was still low leaving the valleys in twilight. I loaded Tecate in the nav and took off.

Lower Otay Lake

Otay summit towers from the highest boulder

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Water Canyon

Hiked: 7/4/2017
Distance: 3.9 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 890' (high point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 360'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.28
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: $5 California State Parks
Difficulty: Easy

Pulling another page out of the Jerry Schad book on Orange County, I headed to Chino Hills State Park for a casual hike up Water Canyon. I parked at a turnout on Bane Canyon Road on the west side of the park. I headed south on the Aliso Canyon Trail 0.7 miles to the junction with the Water Canyon Trail. There were several hikers and mountain bikers on the main trail, but I was alone in Water Canyon. Not far from the start, a wooden foot bridge crosses to the right side where the trail stayed most of the time. It started out with some light bushwhacking, mostly soft grass and plants. In the beginning, I kept a full stride through the growth. Maybe 10% of them were plants with some kind of thorny bulbs, but they were also soft and easily brushed aside. Poison oak was abundant in the canyon proper, but not a threat above the banks.

Less than a mile up the canyon, I stopped when I heard some loud crashing. At least two large animals were slowly and clumsily plowing through the brittle brush in my direction. My first thought was a pair of hikers bushwhacking their way back from the dark heart of the canyon. I thought about shouting to them, but waited instead. Deer? Deer didn't move that loudly with so little regard for making noise. I unpacked my hunting knife and clipped it to my belt, then stood still looking intently for whatever it was to make an appearance. After a couple of minutes, I decided to head down into the canyon to see what was what. My own noise started a stampede of large animals back into the canyon. A straggler stopped for a second to glance at me before joining the herd upstream. I recognized the large orange and white head of a bovine. What were cows doing this deep into the park in a wild section of Water Canyon? When I got back, research revealed that a herd of feral cows has been menacing Chino Hills State Park for years. Who knew? I didn't get a good picture of the herd, but can confirm they are still thriving. I continued on my way as the cows exited somewhere on the other side.

Water Canyon

Foot bridge

Grass and thorny bulb plant mix

The trail grew increasingly overgrown and the ratio of thorny plants to grass increased to 50%. I was looking for a use trail leading out of the canyon, but didn't find one. From the satellite view, the use trail I was looking for might have been less than a thousand feet ahead.

Thorny bulb plants starting to take over

Feral Cows in Water Canyon from Keith Winston on Vimeo.