San Jacinto via Devil’s Slide

I wanted to try to cross off another peak on the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks challenge before my upcoming vacation to see my sister in Arkansas. Of my remaining peaks on the list, several have already been earmarked for other attempts later in the year, so that really only left San Jacinto available right now. Setting my alarm for 3 am, I hit the sack early. The drive up to Idyllwild was uneventful, sans passing what I later learned was a fatal roll-over crash on the southbound I-15. I picked up my permit from the ranger station and drove a bit further to Humber Park. This was going to be my third summit of San Jacinto. My first summit had been done via the Marion Mountain route, and the other time Ted and I had done the traditional route from the tram station. This time I opted to take the Devil’s Slide Trail until it connected with the PCT, then continue on to the summit.

I arrived a bit before dawn at the parking lot. Thankfully, the trailhead has some bathrooms, so I took advantage of that before setting off. I had hiked some of the Devil’s Slide trail years ago when my wife and I spent a weekend in Idyllwild. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot about that hike. Grabbing my gear, I headed for the southeast end of the parking lot to the start of the trail. While it was still dark, my eyes had adapted enough to clearly see the well-maintained trail, and I set off.

Knowing I had about 15 miles of hiking ahead of me, I kept my pace measured. As I made my way up toward Saddle Junction, I could see Suicide Rock to the west starting to emerge from the darkness. Once at Saddle Junction, I turned north onto the PCT. I would have a couple of sections of switchbacks to use. Just a friendly reminder that I was climbing to a peak that stands at 10,843 feet.

After crossing from the San Jacinto Wilderness into the Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness, I soon passed the Wellman Cienaga. Two springs still had some flowing water. I had packed my small water filter just in case I needed to refill upon my descent. It was just past here I finally met another person on the trail. He had camped at Little Round Valley the night before, and after summiting this morning was heading back down. We chatted a bit before parting ways.

I found a nice spot past the Wellman Divide for a short break for some fuel and fluids. Since I had dinner plans with some friends back in San Diego, I needed to be mindful of my time. I set a hard turnback time of 11, figuring I would be able to have a quicker pace on the descent. 

The trail had now become familiar to me, as this was the same as the route Ted and I followed last time. Around 10,000 feet I started developing a bit of a headache from the altitude, so I needed to be mindful of it as I continued pushing to the summit. As I kept working my way up, I also kept an eye on my time. It was going to be tight, but I should be ok. Finally, the hut came into view and I knew the peak was a short scramble away. I worked my way to the summit. Unlike last weekend, where I had the peak to myself for a bit, this was not the case today. Several Boy Scout troops were scattered about, along with other hikers. I snapped just a few photos and headed back down to the hut for a short break and a snack. It was almost 11 and I needed to begin my descent. I had really hoped to relax on the summit for a while, but I knew that was not going to happen. 

Making my way down, I passed more and more hikers heading up. I suspect many of these had started at the tram station. Continuing back the same way, I would check my current pace to see if I was still on track. Thankfully, I was. Reaching the spring, I stopped for a bit. My water bladder still had enough water, so I did not need to filter any, but I did take the opportunity to wet a towel to toss around my neck. I certainly could feel the day becoming warmer. But between the shade of the trees and the slight breeze, it was still a mostly pleasant descent. Judging by the faces of those ascending, they might have a different opinion.

I knew there was a chance of some thunderstorms in the later afternoon, and to the south, I could see the start of some clouds forming. Once I reached Saddle Junction again, I knew I had a mere 2.5 miles to go. Since I had forgone any long rest breaks, I was starting to feel the miles at this point. Finally, the parking lot came into view. I happily took off my hiking shoes and slipped on my sandals. The thermometer in the car read 91°F! Thankfully, I really did not feel it during the descent, although on some of the exposed sections, it was a bit warm. I grabbed a couple of cold drinks from the market and another snack and began the long drive home. All told the hike was 14.9 miles with 4,378 feet of gain in 9:45. And yes, I made the dinner party without any issue. 🙂

Baden-Powell

Decided to get back to working on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge by summiting Mount Baden-Powell. Since we were under a heat advisory, I knew a very early start was in order. I set the alarm for 3 am, and begged forgiveness from my wife. As I finished getting my gear ready in the morning, I discovered that my water bladder was leaking. Crud! I pivoted to using side bottles instead and tossed in an extra bottle in the pack as well. With that problem solved, I began the two-hour drive to the trailhead. When I pulled into the lot at Vincent Gap, there were just a handful of cars there. Another hiker was also getting ready across the lot. We chatted briefly. It turns out he drove up from Oceanside. He planned to do Big Horn Mine first with a friend, then attempt Baden-Powell. I wished him well and I left him waiting for his friend to arrive.

The trail began its steady climb to the summit. I was mindful of my pace, as I knew I had almost 2,800 feet of gain ahead of me. I kept an eye on the east, as the sun had not cleared the mountains yet, and I was hoping to capture some nice photos. 

I would stop every so often and grab some water from my side bottles. While the short break was nice, I am more of a sipping style of hiker. I continued to make my way up the 40 switchbacks. It was not until the last mile or so that I finally encountered some hikers coming down. 

I stopped at the Wally Waldon Tree for a short break. 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.

From there I continued on the last tenth of a mile to the summit. The hikers that passed me were resting on the concrete platform where the monument to Lord Baden-Powell is erected. I headed over to the flag and the sign and took my summit photos. As I stood on the summit once again, I knew I had a better ascent. While I felt the last bit of the climb, I pushed on since the summit was close and I could refuel then. The other two hikers headed back down the trail, so I grabbed their spot and enjoyed my snacks. A couple more hikers joined me on the summit. One was another Six-Pack Challenger, and in fact, this was his final peak! Then I heard my name being called out. The two women I had met on Oakzanita had just summited. I went over and chatted with them for a bit. Meanwhile, the summit I once had to myself was now swarming with people. I figured now would be a good time to head back down, plus it was starting to get warmer.

I set off back down the trail at a quick pace. The trail was certainly more busy than during my ascent. One group of four ladies stopped me to inquire about my Garmin InReach and its use. We chatted a bit about it and how I use it when I am out. One of them has a Whitney permit and wants to have something with her. We parted ways, and I continued motoring down the trail. As I drew closer to the trailhead, I could feel the day becoming very warm. Whenever the trail passed through an exposed section, I could really feel it. My greetings to passing hikers changed from simple encouragement to more cautionary about staying safe. I could not believe hikers were still starting out under the heat for this hard of a hike. When I reached the car, its thermometer was at 88°F! I’m glad I started when I did. With that, my 4th peak on the Six-Pack of Peaks was in the books. I covered the 7.58 miles in 3:51, about 15 minutes faster than last time!

3-2-1 Overnight

For those who have done the 3-2-1 Challenge in Los Padres National Forest, you know that one of the real challenges is just the long drive to the trailhead. Last year when Ted Markus and I did these peaks, we did it as a day hike. During the long drive back to San Diego, we both commented that while the hike itself was great, sitting in LA traffic, not so much. Since we had both acquired backpacks and related overnight gear, we decided to do this trip as an overnight adventure.

Last year I logged that the entire hike was just under 11 miles, including a side trip to Sawmill Mountain West, so we knew this trip would be quite manageable. In fact it is about 4.5 miles to the campsite, and we’d pass the first two peaks on the challenge; Mt. Pinos and Sawmill. I figured once we made camp, we could go to the summit of Grouse, about a mile away.  Another goal of this trip was to test out a few new items before I embark on the Rae Lakes Loop in a few weeks. Primarily the bear canister and the water filter. 

Ted and I left San Diego just after 8 am and began our drive up to the trailhead. Our first stop was the Subway in Castaic. While there is a spring at the campsite, we were cautious about the flow. One site labeled the flow as ‘a trickle’. Rather than risk needing to use our water for food, we planned our hike to avoid needing to do so. Also, instead of hauling out lunch to eat on the trail, we stopped at Mike’s Pizza Co in Frazier Park and split a nice medium-sized veggie pizza. Ted had also packed a couple of beers for later that evening, so I ran next door to the market and grabbed some as well. 

About 30 minutes later, we were pulling the parking lot at the Chula Vista Trailhead (aka Nordic Base), and we quickly gathered our gear. I hung my Adventure Pass from the mirror and we were off. The temperatures were pleasant and the scent of the pines was a welcomed treat. I carried our dinner in the bear canister, along with 2 liters of water and one Gatorade. This fluid load is about what I am planning for Rae Lakes. While the actual pack will be heavier with more food and clothes for the trip, it should give me some insight to what I have in store.

The trail, actually a closed dirt road, led us to the top of Mt. Pinos. In just over 1.5 miles, we gained about 500 feet. Once at the summit, we snapped a few photos of the survey marks and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Neither one of us felt the need for a real break yet, so we continued on. The nice road ended at the Mt. Pinos Condor Observation Site. There are some nice benches here but we still felt fine, so instead of stopping we headed down the Tumamelt Trail. This hike is a bit of a roller coaster, up to one summit, down to a saddle, then up to the next, and once again for good measure. I remember needing to stop last time when I was ascending this section. I was interested to see how I would do on this section the next day. For now, we just worked our way down the switchbacks. 

Once at the saddle, we began to regain those 500 feet we just lost. I took a couple of short breathers under some refreshing shade, but overall everything was still feeling good. The summit of Sawmill sits off to the side of the main trail, about .2 miles away. We soon found ourselves before the massively stacked cairn and the curiously misspelled sign. I have seen incorrect elevations before, but not a misspelling on a simple word like Sawmill.

We dropped our packs and took a short rest. I had some Gatorade and some trail mix. After about 10 minutes, we put our packs back on for the descent down to Sheep Camp. At about 4.6 miles, we came to the junction of Tumamelt and the North Fork Trail. The campsite is about ½ mile down the North Fork Trail. As we neared it, we could hear the voices of other campers. Since this was a first-come, first-served site, I was hoping that we would find a spot. Thankfully, site #2 was open and we would not be looking to find an alternate site for the evening. I dropped my pack and walked the 50 yards or so to inspect the state of the spring. It had a nice steady trickle. I could see if you needed water for a group of Boy Scouts, you could wait a while. But for what we needed, this would be fine. 

Sheep Camp Spring

With our tents set up, we grabbed our slack packs and set off to finish the 3-2-1 Challenge by climbing up Grouse Mountain. Ted brought a simple waist pack, while I was testing yet another new item, the REI Flash 22 pack. We made our way back up to the junction and then continued on about .3 miles until the junction that would take us up to the summit. In keeping with the spirit of the day, we had another roller-coaster profile before we would reach ‘False’ Grouse. The well-defined trail ends at what appears to be the summit. There is even a small rock cairn. But in reality, the true summit is back along the crestline. There is where you will find the wooden structure that you probably have seen before. We snapped our photos and headed back to camp. Ted was hoping we might have a nice view to capture a sunset, but this wasn’t going to happen on this peak.

Back at camp, I went to the spring to filter some water for the evening and to have on hand since we were planning to enjoy a small campfire. As the sun slowly sank behind the hill, we broke out our sandwiches and beers. Soon evening fell and we began to enjoy the night sky. It was a new moon, so the stars were out in force. Ted was able to capture some pretty good shots.

I awoke just before sunrise, having an average night of sleep. Since we were just about 4.5 miles from the trailhead, we decided to wait on a real breakfast until we were back in town. I fired up the Jetboil for my coffee and Ted’s tea. As we sipped our beverages, we each munched on a bar, before packing up. We quietly left the campsite and began hiking out. I had a small blister on my pinky toe, but the KT tape seemed to be doing its job. 

The final test for me was going to be that final climb up to the Condor Viewing area. Unlike last time, where I needed to take a few breaks, this time I was able to motor up with no real issues. It was here we finally started to encounter some hikers starting their day. I was wondering when we would. I had figured once we reached Mt. Pinos is where we would spot our first-day hikers. 

Ted and I just continued on, thinking of some fresh eggs and toast… Soon we were back at the car, covering the 4.25 miles in just over 2 hours. We threw our packs in the car and changed into some clean shirts and drove back down the hill. Unfortunately, the restaurant I picked had some of the slowest service I had ever had. Not a lot of options in the area, so we just sucked it up and waited for our meals. But overall, the trip was great! Doing this trip as an overnight is the best way to do these peaks. Now to devote all my focus on getting ready for my big Rae Lakes trip!

Santiago & Modjeska Peaks

Since I had the day off, I decided to put it to good use and go hiking. I figured, why not get one of my least favorite hikes on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge out of the way? This would be Santiago Peak. I decided to follow the same basic plan as I did last year, to drive up from Silverado Canyon to just before the trailhead to Modjeska Peak, park, and hike on to Santiago. The road up the canyon was in good shape, with a few crossings still had water flowing slightly over them. At the junction with the Main Divide Road, I took a short break. I remembered this next section of the road was a bit rocky, but as I drove up it, I found that it was much nicer than expected. It was still rocky, but not nearly as worrisome as it was last time. I parked in the same spot, grabbed my gear, and set off down the road.

Once I reached the small saddle between Modjeska and Santiago, I looked for a side trail that would take a more direct route toward the summit, rather than the winding road. While it looks like it might have been an old road at one point, this was a nicely maintained trail. The biggest surprise was the old truck off to the side. While the trail was comfortably wide, I had trouble seeing a truck drive it. The trail eventually reconnects with the Main Divide Road, which I then followed on up to the summit. Along the way, I spotted one last patch of snow.

There was no one at the summit, just the hum of the towers and a slight breeze. The sign was gone, but that is not why I climb. I wandered around the summit a bit, taking in the sights. Peakbagger was misbehaving, so I did not have a reference map to locate any secondary marks. Oh well. The last time I climbed Santiago, my knee was in no shape to try to summit Modjeska.

Today it was feeling just fine, so once I had reached that small saddle again, I took another side trail that would climb partway to the summit. This trail was a bit overgrown but still very passable — it connects with a road that works its way to the summit of Modjeska. I reached a fork and could either take the .6 mile road or the shorter but steeper direct route up what I assume was a fire break created during the Holy Jim Fire. I opted to take the short-but-steep route up and the long way back. As I neared the summit, I heard my first car of the day.

Two trucks were making their way up to the summit. I snapped a few photos and waited for the first truck to climb up the last bit. I chatted with the spotter a bit while she guided the truck over some rocks. I waved at the second truck and made my way back down. When they passed me again, we chatted about a side trail that I was near. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about it and when I checked GaiaGPS, and it had nothing, I wished them safe driving and they drove off. Soon after I was back in my car and ready to head back down the mountain. I kept my windows down and the radio off to listen for any oncoming traffic. I encountered several more cars, a couple of motorcycles, and some bikes all working their way up. All told I logged 5.4 miles with just over 1,300 feet of gain in 2:30. This was my first peak on the 2021 Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge.

Mount Inspiration

After grabbing lunch, it was time to enter the park proper to summit my third peak of the day, Mount Inspiration. As I sat in the slow-moving line of cars to enter, I enjoyed my burrito. Once in the park, I drove on toward Keys View. Along the way, I passed full parking lots and tons of people enjoying the park. I hoped I would be able to find a spot in the parking lot once I got there. One advantage of this destination is most do not stay that long, so I should not have to wait long for a spot to open. Thankfully, just as I pulled up, a spot opened and I grabbed it. I had tried to do the peak a couple of times before but was never able to work out the logistics. 

The trail begins at the northwest corner of the parking lot. I could see a few folks atop the first section of the trail enjoying the views. I worked my way up the trail with no trouble. Once I was at the top I could see the use trail continuing off to the northwest. It dropped down to a small saddle before working its way up toward South Mount Inspiration. Here I met two hikers returning from the summit. They were also working on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section (HPS) list. One of them had about 70 done! We chatted a bit before parting ways, and I noted a section they mentioned gave them trouble.

The use trail continued to be really good until it reached a small bump en route. I scanned the terrain and spotted it working its way around it to the east. This is where I think those two hikers had the trouble they mentioned. Also along the way, I passed a metal shed. I have no clue as to what it is — some more research is going to be needed.

Once on the summit, I found the primary mark, and reference mark #2. Try as I might, reference mark #1 could not be located. I also found the register tucked under a small rock pile. The label box made for a nice photo. The skies had become hazy, so those snow-capped mountains from earlier in the day were not nearly as visible.

On my way back, I made the small detour to the top of South Mount Inspiration just because. Soon, the parking lot came back into view, and shortly thereafter I was back at my car. With that, three more HPS peaks were now complete. Next week, I will attempt my 98th peak on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list.

Eureka Peak

Had I not wanted to have a low-key day, I might have connected my trip up Warren Peak to Eureka Peak, but I was not interested in that kind of mileage. Instead, I drove down Covington Flat road toward Warren Peak. This was a nicely groomed dirt road, better than some roads I have driven in San Diego. I had the window down and enjoyed the 25-minute drive.

I parked at the end of the road, with one other car parked nearby. Since the peak was only about 1/10th of the mile from the parking area, I just grabbed my wind shell and trekking poles.

The actual peak is almost barren, sans one lone plant. I could not find any marks nor a register but was not surprised. The views were lovely, but the wind made it chilly, so once again I did not linger. As I drove back toward town to grab lunch, several cars passed me. While some were off-road friendly, I hoped the Honda Civic and Tesla did not encounter any issues.

Warren Peak

After the intense effort of last weekend’s peaks, I wanted to spend some time taking it a bit easier. While I did have some friends planning to hike Mile High via Rattlesnake Canyon, a route that looks very interesting, that was going to be a bit more than I wanted. So, instead, I opted to head out to Joshua Tree and try to knock off some of the peaks on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section (HPS) list. Since it is high desert season, I knew I needed to get to the trailhead early for my first peak, Warren Point. The trail begins from the Black Rock Campground, & I got one of the last spots at the trailhead parking area when I arrived at 7:30. I grabbed my gear and set off through the campground. 

The trail was very well marked and clearly well-traveled by the number of footprints in the dirt. After a short bit, the West Side Loop Trail connected with the Black Rock Canyon Trail and continued south. This trail eventually reached the Panorama Loop. As tempting as it was to add this onto the adventure, I was hoping to cross three peaks off the list today, so I took the fork leading up to Warren Peak.

The trail would start to turn westward as it made its way up toward the peak. The peak finally revealed itself near the junction to the spur out to Warren View. The path now became a bit steeper, and I met two hikers returning from the summit. As I approached the summit, the winds had picked up a bit, so I tossed on my wind shell before reaching the top. The trail had curved behind the peak, so the scrambling I thought I might have to do never materialized.

I found the primary mark and the register. This is a fairly popular peak, given its closeness to the campground, so the register was at best a year old. The views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were spectacular from the summit. I did not linger too long, as the wind was a touch chilly and I had two more peaks to visit.

On my return, I passed quite a few groups of hikers making their way up the trail. For the most part, the trail is nice and wide, so I had no concerns. I opted to stay on the Black Rock Canyon trail the entire way back to the car. When I got to the car, every parkable area was taken. I was able to carefully back out and head to my next destination, Eureka Peak.

Two Pack of Peaks!

Hiked: October 31, 2020
Distance: 16.9 miles
Summit Elevations: Cucamonga (8,959 feet), Ontario (8,693 feet)
Elevation Gain: 5,501 feet
Round Trip Time: 11:02 hours

I decided to try to summit two of my remaining Six-Pack of Peaks this weekend. Given that wildfires have closed three of the peaks for at least a year and we were starting to enter into that time of year when the weather can play a factor, I want to try to climb both Cucamonga and Ontario Peaks, since they share the same trailhead. Somehow I convinced Ted Markus to wake up at some ungodly hour and make the two-hour drive to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. Part of the very early start was to secure parking. Because of the closures, the remaining open peaks are a bit more crowded. A bright full moon shone above as we headed off up the canyon. We had already secured permits for Cucamonga but needed to stop at the self-service kiosk and fill out forms for the initial portion of the hike.

We could hear the creek flowing nearby as we worked our way up the canyon. While the trail is usually pretty well defined, I did get us slightly off course. It turns out I took a path past one of the cabins, which dropped us down below the actual trail. We scrambled up a sandy steep section and were back on track. The rest of the route up to Icehouse Saddle was uneventful. That bright full moon certainly helped. Upon reaching the saddle, we took a short break. After grabbing a quick bite, we set off. Icehouse Saddle is a nexus of several trails, but each is well signed. 

We knew that we were not going to be at the summit for sunrise, but we were greeted with a lovely pre-dawn glow over Apple Valley. After passing the old mine, we reached the saddle between Cucamonga and the ridge up to Bighorn Peak. That ridge was an option as an alternate route to Ontario, but that was a decision for later.

To reach the summit of Cucamonga, the trail follows the northern side of the peak. From the saddle, we still had over 1,000 feet of elevation to gain. We got some beautiful glow upon the Ontario ridge to our west as we worked our way up the switchbacks. Suddenly, a Bighorn sheep stood foraging for its breakfast, and I froze. It looked at us for a bit and returned to looking for food. 

We kept pushing upward, crossing over some rocky avalanche fields. I was glad to be crossing these in the light. Finally, we reached the wooden post that makes the turn off to the summit, and had just .2 miles to go!

Once at the summit, we soaked in the views. The skies were pretty clear, so a lot of LA spread out below us. We found some rocks to shelter us from the breeze while we took a well-earned break. With some energy in our bellies, we took our photos. Ted was able to work his way out onto the overhang for the standard Cucamonga photo. Since it was a bit brisk with the breeze, we did not linger too long, plus we still had a lot of miles to cover.

Looking across at Ontario Peak

Making our way back down, we started to encounter more hikers working their way up. Back at the saddle, we looked over the map and decided that we did not want to attempt the ridge. Ted did need to be back in San Diego by 6-ish, so the trail route seemed more sensible. 

Heading back down from Cucamonga Peak

Once back at Icehouse Saddle, there were a few more people there than when we first passed through. We took another break and looked over the remaining miles, difficulty, and pace to see if it made sense to attempt Ontario. In the end, we felt we had enough time and energy to make the attempt, so off we went.