Welcome! This site is my collection of trip reports from my various peakbagging adventures. For those who don’t know what peakbagging is, it is hiking with the goal of reaching the summit of a peak. The genesis of this blog was to chronicle my attempt at the 100 Peak Challenge, which I completed in 2019. It has since expanded to include the other challenges I have done or am in the process of attempting, like the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge and the San Diego Sierra Club 100. I hope these trip reports help those heading out on toward a summit Enjoy, and have a safe hike!
With the desert starting to cool off a bit, Ted, Susie, & I decided to return to peak 3339 just east of McCain Valley. In addition to this peak, we wanted to summit Al Holden as well. That peak was named in honor of the OG San Diego Peakbagger, so it seemed like something we had do. We timed the drive to arrive just before sunrise, figuring we would have some amazing views to capture. As the sun slowly rose, the three of us snapped away. To our south another gentleman was atop a boulder doing the same thing.
After grabbing our gear we began our descent. Yes, this is a canyon, or inverted hike, meaning we get to climb back up at the end. Some folks had cowboy camped right at the trailhead, but the sunrise had already awakened them before we passed.
The trail was steep for a bit, then became more gentle. Peak 3339 was a mound of boulders off to the east. Eventually we left the trail and began our cross-country portion. We worked our way up close to the summit. Opting to approach from the south, we drew close and found a small tunnel, which guarded the register and through which we were atop 3339.
Both Susie and I agreed this was much easier than our previous summits. The day was warming up, but we felt that we could get Al Holden in. We passed back through the tunnel and retraced our route for a bit. Finally we headed north, referring to one of the few tracks to this peak. Scrambling over boulders and past the occasional juniper, we realized the mound of rocks we thought was Al Holden wasn’t. It stood one pile to the east.
With the proper peak located, we began our careful climb up. This is a “leave the poles behind and put on gloves” kind of peak. We picked our way up, with a few careful Class 3 moves, & found ourselves atop Al Holden. We had a nice break, and I found some shade as I was starting to feel the heat. There is no register, but a metal sign is cemented atop a boulder.
We worked our way back down from the summit, then over the saddle. From there we continued cross country until we rejoined the trail. The heat was taking a toll on me. I may have grown up in Bakersfield, but I don’t have the same tolerance anymore. The temps were in the mid 80s, but without the breeze it felt worse. Now we had the ascent back to the car. My pace dropped considerably and I had to rest in the shade a few times. Ted shared some ice water, which helped. I cracked out my emergency Coke for some sugar and caffeine. That bottle of Gatorade I left in the fridge would have been helpful.
Slowly but steadily I plodded my fat ass up the trail, with Ted and Susie watching over me. I tried to keep moving while not going too fast and overheat further. Finally, the end came into view and this effort was done. The cold water back at the car felt wonderful, as did the AC. Once I cooled off again I felt fine. I’m going to have to be more cautious next week when I am out at Joshua Tree NP. Again, thanks to Ted and Susie for their support in this one!
With the forests closed, we opted to try for a pair of peaks—The Thimble and San Ysidro out near Ranchita. We knew it was going to be a warm one, so hit the trail just before sunrise.
We worked our way up the old road to the saddle. From there, Ted got his first look at The Thimble. Having summited this peak before, I outlined the basics of our ascent for Ted. There is no trail to the summit, so this climb would be a true adventure for us. We left the old road and began crossing toward the base. Carefully crossing the boundary fence into Anza Borrego State Park, we began weaving past the brush and boulders as we made our way up the 30-50% grade.
Soon we found ourselves at that wall of brush. The right edge still provided a narrow passage past the thicket. From there it was a quick scramble to the summit.
Greg Gerlach had left a new register earlier this year, which we happily signed. The views were tremendous. I took the opportunity to scan my upcoming route into Hellhole Flats and San Ysidro East Peak.
After a pleasant break, we began our careful descent. Since Ted had spotted a baby rattlesnake on our ascent, we were mindful of that as we retraced our route.
We kept looking for a route that would allow us vector toward the route up to San Ysidro. Nothing revealed itself to me, so we went to the base. We then evaluated if we should go for our second peak. The day was certainly warming up. I looked over the distance and gain, along with needing to be back in town for my annual flu shot scheduled for early afternoon. With that, we would leave San Ysidro for another day.
Once back in the car, the thermometer read a toasty 88. Turning back was the right call.
Today’s adventure was to summit Blue Angels Peak. With the forests closed due to fire danger, we were looking for something that we could do. I had suggested doing San Ysidro and The Thimble, but Susie wanted to explore something new, so Blue Angels peak was selected.
I headed out early to try and catch the sunrise and squeeze in a quick summit of Jade Benchmark. It was a short climb to the summit. I found the register, but the ink in the pen was dry. I was also able to locate the benchmark before I hustled back down and waited for Susie and Gail to arrive. About 7:30 they pulled up and transferred into the Subaru. Rather than make the steep climb up from the trailhead we opted to drive to a turn out to avoid this section.
The views were spectacular as we worked our way along the roads. Finally we came to the point where we left the road and began to follow a use trail toward the summit.
With a bit of scrambling at the very end, the summit was reached. Susie found the register and we signed ourselves in. The Valley of the Moon spread out before us to the east, and Mexico was just to our south. A nice breeze kept us cool. A Border Patrol jeep cruised the road below us.
I scrambled around the summit locating the various reference marks. Plastic bottles could be found scattered about. Our next goal was the boundary marker to our south. This obelisk denotes the border between the United States and Mexico.
We took our photos and then headed back. I had located several other peaks also on the Borrego Benchmark Club list, but the day was warming up a bit and I needed to get home since Yom Kippur starts at sundown. This is place I need to return to and explore this region further!
I had an awesome time talking with Jeff Hester, Jason Fitzpatrick, and Saveria Tilden on the “Almost There Adventure Podcast” about the 100 Peak Challenge! I, along with Derek Loranger, (creator of the 100 Peak Challenge as well as a good friend) and Susie Kara, my often hiking companion (in addition to being the first finisher), talked about completing it and what that adventure has meant to us (plus other ramblings).
Hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it.
Because of how I completed the 100 Peak Challenge, I actually summited most the of the peaks twice, once during my first incomplete attempt and again during my successful second attempt. Recently, I got to thinking about summiting those peaks I did not summit twice. Taking a look at them and I got to thinking, why not? While both the Six Pack of Peaks and the Sierra Club 100 will still come first, but when I can’t hike one of those peaks, you just might find revisiting one of my 100 Peak Challenge summits.
Several cars were already in the parking at a touch before 7. The plan was to hike up to Peak 1755, which is a bump just off the trail enroute to “The Chairs”. As I made my way up the trail, I note how the area had begun its recovery from the fire two years ago.
I reached the top of the canyon and found the use trail to the summit. There is no benchmark nor a register. I snapped a few photos and headed back down. From this summit I could see a small crowd milling around the chairs. I had no need to take my photo on them, so I opted to jsut end to the end of the trail instead.
I scrambled up the rocks to enjoy the view of the San Pasqual valley below me. Since I wanted to make it home in time for most of the Rosh Hashanah service, so I did not linger. I cruised back down the trail and headed home.
Well, it finally happened, I went backpacking! I had finally reached a point where some of the peaks I want to summit are more than a long day hike. Susie Kara suggested testing out my set up at Crystal Cove State Park. I booked a spot at the Upper Moro campsite. Throughout the week, I kept a close eye on the air quality. The plan was to start after work, hike back to the site, spend the night then head back down. I got to the state park around 5, spoke to the ranger, and asked about the conditions. She said it wasn’t too bad, and agreed if we opted to leave the trail is easy to follow in the dark.
Ted Markus graciously decided to join me. We hit the trail right at 5:30, packs strapped to our backs. Our route wandered up through Moro Canyon. After about a mile we reached the East Cut Across trail to begin climbing up toward the ridge.
Here is where we would earn the beer we packed! Over the next mile the trail would gain about 700 feet. Once on the ridge, we passed through Lower Moro Campground. We snapped a few photos of the view and continued on, as our campsite was about another .85 miles further.
We arrived at sunset, and quickly set about setting up camp. We had the entire campsite to ourselves, so we did not need to camp next to each other. Once the tents were up, we enjoyed our sandwiches and beer. We chatted for a while then turned in for the night. In many ways this was going to be the real test for me.
My sleeping pad and tent worked well. While not the best sleep, I woke just after 6. I had a granola bar and some oranges while I broke down my gear. We loaded our packs and headed back down. A few early morning mountain bikers were testing their calves climbing the ridge and some others were enjoying the trails.
We soon found ourselves back at our cars, knowing that we were ready to attempt a real backing trip once it was safe to do so. I quickly changed shirts and headed off as I had a 9:30 meeting.
The alarm went off way too early, but we wanted to be at the trailhead around sunrise to once again beat the heat and the crowds. My partner in crime this time was Susie Kara. We met at a Park And Ride in Escondido and headed up the 15. We caught up on things–my kids starting their college classes remotely and Susie filling me in on her recent camping trip.
Today’s summit was going to be Strawberry Peak, in the front range of the San Gabriels. This was going to be my 10th peak in my Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. We followed the Angeles Crest Highway as it wound its way up. The sun was just beginning to rise as we pulled into the Red Box Picnic Area, and a couple of cars were already parked. We grabbed our gear and carefully crossed the highway to the trailhead.
The trail would follow the road for a bit before heading off to the north. The grade was gentle and we cruised right along. We knew this hike would be in two parts–this gentle section and the steep push up to the summit.
The morning sun was shining its glow across the peaks around us. After about 2,5 miles, the trail dropped steeply down toward the Lawlor Saddle. Thankfully, this section was relatively short. We reached the junction with the trail to Strawberry Meadow and took a short break. Staying on the trail up to Strawberry Peak, we began the real climb.
While some might find this section technical, our countless hours exploring the peaks of Anza-Borrego made this section almost second nature. Reaching Strawberry Peak requires crossing several false summits, so remember that as not to be disappointed when cresting one, to only see another climb ahead of you. But, finally, the true summit was a short climb before us. Susie, of course, reached it first and was resting as I made my way up.
Next to the summit post, four different wooden signs were available for our summit photo. I had unfortunately forgotten the strawberries in my fridge that we were going to enjoy. We were soon joined by three trail runners. We shared the summit respectfully and chatted a bit. After snapping our photos we began our descent.
The trail runners soon passed us as we carefully descended. Susie had forgotten her trekking poles, so she was a bit more cautious, and I paid attention to my knee as we traversed down the steep section. We would now start to encounter more hikers making their way to the summit. Everyone would don their mask as we passed.
After climbing back up from Lawlor Saddle, we cruised the two or so miles back to the car. It was starting to warm up, and I was glad we were heading back down. We could hear folks enjoying the twists and turns of the highway as we got closer.
After quickly crossing the road again, the parking lot was now almost completely full. We tossed our gear in the car and headed back home. I logged 7 miles with 1860 feet of elevation gain in 3:30 of active hiking time.
The planned summit for today was Mount Baden-Powell, just west of Wrightwood. Given the heatwave that much of the state had been under and the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm, we knew that we needed to have an early start for this peak, and being a San Diego resident, this meant an even earlier start with the two-hour drive to the trailhead. Ted arrived just before 4 am and loaded his gear into the back of the car. We slipped on our masks and drove northward. As we climbed up toward the Cajon Pass, a small rain shower came down. This hike might have turned out to be a long drive for nothing if we felt the weather conditions weren’t favorable.
We pulled into the parking lot off the Angeles Crest Highway. About ten or so other cars were already there. We gathered our gear, used the (thankfully open) restroom, and headed onto the trail.
The route was going to be a fairly constant climb along the Pacific Crest Trail. While we were going to be under the shade of the various evergreens for much of it, we still had some 40 switchbacks to count off as we worked our way ever upward toward the summit.
As we made our way up, a few light sprinkles began to fall. Since the temperature was pleasant, it did not bother us as we plodded upward. After about a mile in, we passed the bench, and since we were feeling good we did not stop. The sun was making itself visible from over the mountains, so we grabbed a few photos and continued on up the trail. We kept a fairly steady pace, as the gradient of the trail stayed mostly constant, although we slowly would feel the elevation in our lungs. We passed a few hikers along the way. The trail did make it hard to step out of the way, but everyone was wearing a mask as they passed.
The trees began thinning out as we drew near the summit. Around 3 miles in, we started to get some nice views of Antelope Valley to the north. Finally, we reached the Mount Baden-Powell Saddle. It was there that we would leave the PCT for the final push to the summit.
We paused under the Wally Waldron Tree for a bit. This limber pine is believed to be the oldest living thing in the entire San Gabriel Mountains and was named after Michael H. “Wally” Waldron, an L.A. area Boy Scout leader who helped organize a nine-week project to repair the trails and erect the concrete monument and plaque to Lord Baden-Powell.
We then climbed the final tenth of a mile to the summit. A couple of other hikers were milling about. The flag was there, along with two wooden signs. Since no was over by them, we opted to get our photos out of the way before taking a well-earned break.
We found some shade to the south of the summit and enjoyed a nice snack and took a brief rest. Mount Wilson’s domes could be seen off to the west. Since we knew it was only going to get hotter and there was a chance of some afternoon thunderstorms, we decided it was time to head back down. We stopped at the monument to Lord Baden,took some photos, and signed the nearby register. I found two survey markers for the summit just off to either side of the peak.
Now for the 4 miles back down to the car. The traffic on the trail was picking up, and we would stop repeatedly to let hikers pass. Almost all were wearing masks but we did pass a couple of hikers who were not. As we approached the parking lot, we could see that it had completely filled up. This was not a surprise given the number of hikers we passed during our descent. We got back to the car just after 11 am. We did the 8 miles with over 2,790 feet of elevation gain in just under 4 hours and 30 minutes (sans the break at the summit). That was my 9th peak on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Now on to planning the next one!
A large golden moon hung low before me, setting slowly in the predawn. Ted loaded his gear in the rear and settled into the back seat, With our masks in place, we set off for the day’s adventure, completing the 3-2-1 Mountain Challenge. This hike would take us up to the top of Mt. Pinos, the highest point in Ventura Country, then onto Sawmill Mountain, the highest point in Kern County, and Grouse Mountain since we are already there. The primary peak was to be Sawmill Mountain, as it is on the 6 Pack of Peaks list.
Ted dozed while we passed through Orange then LA county. One advantage of leaving so early was not having to worry about traffic. We pulled off the 5 at Frazier Park and began heading up to the Mt. Pinos Nordic Base. The parking lot was moderately full. I hung my America the Beautiful pass in the window, grabbed our gear, and set off right about 7 am, some 3 hours after leaving San Diego.
For me, this hike was going to be seeing how my knee responded. I recently had gotten a cortisone injection to help with the inflammation and this was my first significant hike. The trail began working its way up from the parking lot along the nice wide dirt service road. The temperature was perfect and we passed under the shade of the pines. We certainly could tell that we were over 8.000 feet as we continued the pleasant climb toward our first summit.
We passed through some wide dry meadows, with a few flowers still remaining. Soon, the radio tower for Mt. Pinos came into view. The peak itself is round and indistinct, and much of the view is dominated by radar antennae. We found the benchmark and a reference mark while surveying the San Joaquin valley in all its hazy glory to the north. This was to be the highest of the three primary peaks of the day at 8,818 feet.
The wide dirt road continued eastward until the Condor Observation Site. Two nice benches afford a lovely spot to sit and gaze south and onto the Sespe Condor Sanctuary.
We now set off on the Vincent Tunamait Trail, named in honor of a Chumash elder statesman, and on to Sawmill Mountain. The single track descends following a series of switchbacks, entering into the Chumash Wilderness. While initially mild, the later portion did become a bit steep. We were not looking forward to the return and the ascending of this section.
After crossing a small saddle, the hike began to climb once again toward the summit of Sawmill Mountain. At about 3.5 miles in, a spur trail headed to the north to the actual summit. About .2 miles later, a massive cairn stood before us.
We paused for a bit under some nearby shade for a bit of food and some electrolytes. My knee was still feeling good, so we continued on toward Grouse Mountain. As we made our way east, we hopped off-trail to summit Sawmill Mountain-West. A much smaller rock cairn marked the peak.
Once back on the trail, we descended down until we intersected with the trail for Sheep Camp. Keeping to the right, we began our third climb of the day. Nothing too hard, just at 8,000+ feet, we can feel it. The trail took us to the false summit of Grouse. In referencing the loaded track and my paper map, we knew the true summit was a couple of hundred yards to the north of us. Our boots crunched under the pine needles. The summit of Grouse is denoted by a large wooden teepee, as well as a nice sign. Unfortunately, the sign maker placed the wrong elevation on it.
Under the shade of the pines, I enjoyed a nice PB&J, some orange slices, and a bit of Gatorade. Now for the return…
As we started back onto the trail, a young couple was just reaching the area. We chatted for a bit, with proper distancing, and pointed them toward the true summit.
As we retraced our steps, we would encounter more hikers. Either they or us would step off-trail, and masks were in use as we approached. Some backpackers were head down to Sheep Camp, others just out enjoying the area.
At the base of the switchbacks, I could feel the effects of being off trail for about a month as I made my way up. I stopped a few times for some short breathers, then pushed on. Soon, the Condor Observation Site came into view. I had hoped to sit on those benches for a bit, but some amateur radio enthusiasts were using it for their equipment. Oh well, it was warming up some, and we had a long drive home.
Nearing Mt. Pinos, we started to encounter more and more folks on the trail, so the occasional need for a mask soon became almost permanent. We also started to notice a drop in the usage of masks by other hikers. Thankfully, the trail was wide and we were able to move past them quickly. The day was also warming up, while still nice in the shade, we could feel the heat building whenever we crossed a meadow.
Before we knew it, the parking lot came back into view and our adventure was over. We had completed the 3-2-1 Challenge, and I had completed my 8th peak on the 6 Pack of Peaks Challenge. But, more importantly, the knee felt mostly ok! The hike was 10.3 miles, with 2100+ feet if elevation gain in 4:59 of active hiking time.