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.

We reached Kelly’s Camp at a decent pace, so we trekked on. I knew from the trip reports that we would have a number of downed trees to navigate. Our first one was quite significant. I clambered over it, while Ted bushwhacked instead. Once we were over it, we discovered the trail turned back and we had to climb back the other way. Arrgh!

With that misadventure behind us, we continued climbing. All told there were 10 downed trees that required us to climb. The trail hugs the side of the ridge, keeping a decent steady grade. Every once in awhile it intersects with a small saddle, and you are rewarded with a great view of the LA basin. Soon, the actual summit came into view, with the top of its famous tree poking out behind the rocks.

At the summit, four hikers were taking turns posing for pictures on the tree. We shed our packs and waited for our turn. I grabbed some food and some Gatorade. We knew that we did not have time to linger, as we had over 6 miles back to the car. 

We headed back down the trail, which did not have much traffic on it. Not that I am complaining. My hips were starting to feel all the miles and climbing, so I had some extra “Vitamin I” to help. Once back at Icehouse Saddle, we took another break before we set off down Icehouse Canyon. Just a mere 3.6 miles back to the car…

Icehouse Canyon

We cruised down the trail, seeing all the sights that we missed in the darkness upon our ascent. I can see just the hike up to Icehouse Saddle would be a fun excursion. As we got within a mile of the car, the sound of the creek returned. We also noted the trail was a bit rocky, slowing us slightly. I commented to Ted, “We came up this in the dark? What were we thinking?”

Soon, the cabins began to appear. We also kept an eye out for the slope we scrambled up, as well as trying to figure out where I veered off. 

Soon the trailhead came into view and our epic adventure was complete. All told we hiked 16.9 miles in 11 hours and climbed some 5,505 feet of elevation! That was my 12th peak on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge! We quickly changed and headed back to San Diego. I am happy to say we got back in time for Ted to make his dinner with the In-Laws.

Ryan Mountain

My second peak of the day was to be Ryan Mountain, which is also on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section list (#239). This peak is one of the more popular hikes in the park, in part due to the incredible views from the summit. Before I set off, I saw a couple looking over a map, and I offered some assistance as to their next adventure. Afterward, I chatted with one of the volunteers nearby. We commented on how many of the hikers were improperly clothed for the hike. Shorts, t-shirts, or tank-tops were common on many of them. While we stood there in long pants and long-sleeves and wide-brimmed hats just shaking our heads. 

The trail begins climbing straight from the parking lot. For the first part of the trail, stairs built from the native rocks helped me make the 1,000-foot climb to the summit. Standing off to the right, just after hitting the trail, was a massive rock formation. This white tank granite is over 135 million years old.

I would keep climbing up the mountain, letting the returning hikers pass safely by. It was hit and miss on the face-covering usage. After a short, relatively level section, the rock stairs returned until I reached the saddle. Here I got my first real view of the summit. At this point, the trail’s grade eased and I soon found myself atop Ryan Mountain. 

I had packed my lunch, so I found a nice spot to rest and enjoy my well-earned meal. The views were truly spectacular. The summit is nice and wide, so everyone was able to find a spot to safely distance from one another.

While it was warmer, the breeze made it pleasant to just soak in the views. I eventually figured I should head back down, as I had about an hour’s drive down to my campsite at Cottonwood Springs. The descent was uneventful, except for the sweeping views. All told, I covered the 2.8 miles in 1:43 with 1,060 feet of gain. 

Lost Horse Mine

I decided to spend a couple of days exploring Joshua Tree National Park. The first day was spent summiting some peaks, and the second day would be playing tour guide for a friend. Since the weather was still warm, I knew I wanted to get an early start. I arrived at the trailhead for Lost Horse Mine to an empty parking lot around 7:30 am. This was to be the longest hike of the day, so I wanted to get it done first. After grabbing my gear, I set off to see the well-preserved mine and then summit the nearby peak. The entire loop is just about 7 miles, while if you just go to the mine and back it is about 4.5 miles. Being mindful of the temperatures, I was unsure which option I was going to take. As I stepped onto the trail, I saw the sign that the park had turned this trail into a one-way route, so I realized I’d doing the loop.

The trail worked its way back into the wilderness. About a mile in, a runner shouted that he was coming up from behind. I didn’t expect to see that on the trail. I wished him a safe run and he wished me an enjoyable hike. As I made my way toward the mine, I was rewarded with some nice vistas of the park. Soon the mine came into view. I had tried several times in the past to hike out to this site but had been unable to. 

I took the spur trail up to the Lost Horse Mine. The mine itself is fenced off, so it took a little finagling to take my photos. It is quite a sight to see. After exploring some of the surrounding artifacts, I rejoined the main trail and headed along my clockwise route. I soon came to the turnoff to make the ascent to Lost Horse Mountain. This peak is #251 on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section, hence why I was eager to climb it.

The route is straight up the short slope, and I was able to follow the faint use trail for most of it. As expected I was rewarded with some sweeping views. A light breeze made it quite nice. There was no register nor benchmark to be found. After a short break, I headed back down, knowing I had another 4 or so miles of hiking to return to the car. 

Once I was back on the trail, it began its steep descent for a while. I stopped for a bit to explore what appeared to be closed mine shafts. Here, an actual hiker passed me. We exchanged hellos as he continued on. Since I was hoping for a multiple peak day, I was playing it conservatively with my pace and energy. 

After a bit, I came to the ruins of an abandoned cabin that Johnny Lang, the founder of the mine, moved to after being accused of stealing gold from the mine. All that remains is the chimney and the bed frame. This is also the site of the Optimist Mine, which unlike the Lost Horse Mine, was a bust.

Once I made a short climb, the trail would gradually descend back to the car. I was passed by another runner. Did I miss the notice for the race? Around a mile to go, I encountered three hikers going the other direction. I let them know that this trail is one-way and they might encounter some folks giving them the stink-eye.

While I cruised along, I debated what my second peak will be. Mount Inspiration was an option. While short, it was a use-trail-only hike. My other option was Ryan Mountain, which would have more traffic. In the end, I decided Ryan Mountain would be the smart choice. Soon the road came into view as well as the parking lot. The lot had filled up since I set off. Tossing my gear into the back and enjoying some cold water, I was off for the short drive to the next peak. This hike took me 3 hours to cover the 7 miles with 1,111 feet of gain.

Strawberry Peak

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.

The effects of the 2009 Station Fire

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.

Mount Baden-Powell

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!

3-2-1 Challenge

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.

Sawmill Mountain-West.

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.

Looking at the final ascent up the switchbacks…

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.

From near the Condor Observation Site

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.

Santiago Peak (aka “Saddleback Mountain”)

There is one kind of hiking that I am not fond of, hiking on active roads. Unfortunately, Santiago Peak is one of these. To offset this, I decided to hit the peak early and drive partway up, The Subaru Outback had no trouble making it to a nice wide flat area just before the trail to Modjeska Peak. I will say there is a section of road after Maple Springs Trail Road meets the Main Divide Road that is a bit rocky. If you are unsure about your car’s tires, then I would recommend parking at that junction.

Once there, I set off down the road, the summit and it’s myriad of towers off to the south-east. Unfortunately, my knee was really out of whack. After about a quarter-mile, I decided that I was not going to attempt it on foot. I hopped back in the car and continued driving up. The road was not an issue again until the final summit. There, another rocky section had to be navigated, but you could find a parking spot and walk the last bit.

Once on the summit, I parked and walked to the southern end of the peak, and took in the views. The June Gloom spread out before me. I walked back up to the summit to snap a photo of the summit sign and one reference mark. As was getting ready to leave, two more cars made their way to the summit. While driving back down, I encountered five more cars working their up. While, my hike was not as planned, the summit was obtained. Now to see what is up with this knee, got more peaks to climb! 

Hot Springs Mountain

Today’s plan included finally having a chance to hike with Gina Norte and cross Hot Springs Mountain off my 6POP list. For those who don’t know Gina, she might be the “queen” of Hot Springs Mountain. She was the driving force in allowing for Hot Springs Mountain to be included on the challenge. We have been Facebook friends for some time, but have never been able to have our schedules sync up.

When I woke up, a mist/light rain was falling, I figured it was nothing more than some coastal drizzle, & I did not give it much attention. As I kept driving out toward Warner Springs, I began to fear that the forecast I looked at the night before was off. I really hadn’t planned for a wet hike… Luckily, as I neared the guard shack at the reservation to drop off my $10 entry fee, the skies became clear.

I parked in my usual spot, and Gina soon pulled up and parked under the shade of a nice oak tree. After some introductions in real life, we set off. If you have never hiked Hot Springs Mountain, the first two miles will get your blood pumping!  We took a relaxed pace as we worked our way up the dirt road. 

The clouds rolled in the valley below us, making for some dramatic views. Soon, it was time to slip on the bug nets as the flies began to swarm. Once past the steeper section, the grade eased. Gina was in full tour guide mode, filling me in on so much about the mountain and the tribe that lives there the Los Coyotes Tribe. I never knew that they did not have electricity until 2000!

Before we knew it, the abandoned fire tower came into view. We decided to go climb the actual summit block first. Following the well-marked use trail, we reached the summit in short order. We scaled the summit following the same route as I took on my last visit.

As we sat there, the clouds still swirled below us to the west, while so many familiar peaks stood clearly to the east. After grabbing a snack and photos, we carefully made our way down. Just around the north side, a ladder has been set up for an alternate route. I scrambled up to photograph another reference mark.

We next wandered over to the old fire tower. This is the “Potato Chip” for this peak. Normally, Palomar would be visible to the west, but today the clouds hid it from us. Speaking of clouds, they started to move in, so we set off back down the mountain.

The breeze had picked up, so the bugs were being kept at bay as we made our way down. Gina told me about some possible new trails that might be opening on the mountain. This would be so exciting. For a long time all access to this peak was closed, so to have the possibility of seeing more of this beautiful reservation was wonderful news. We talked about how to inform hikers to be respectful of not only the trail but the rest of the land and its heritage. 

Before we knew it, we were back at the cars. We chatted some more, but real life beckoned. We made some plans for some future adventures and said our goodbyes. Somewhere near Ramona, I realized I left my poles on the top of the car! I guess I will use my back up pair until I can pick my replacements from REI.

Palomar High Point via Oak Grove

Hiked: March 15, 2020
Summit: 6,130 feet
Distance: 13.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,520 feet
Round Trip Time: 5 hrs 45 mins

Our plan for the day was to drive out toward the Schoepe Boy Scout Reservation and hike out to Collins and Knob Benchmarks. This hike was going to be somewhere between 11 and 12 hours, so an early start was in order. We met up at the McDonald’s in Rancho Bernardo around 5 am and headed north toward Temecula. From there we would come back down the 79 to Chihuahua Valley Road then onto Lost Valley Road. As we drove on the dirt road, we encountered a closed gate. Crud. Although it was not locked, we opted not to proceed, as I had hit a few muddy spots already.

So, we thought about what alternate peaks we might go for instead. Both Matt and I needed to summit Palomar High Point for our respective lists, so up the 79, we went. Parking near the Oak Grove Fire Station, we geared up and headed off, following the nearby sign to the Oak Grove Trail.

Quickly the trail began its sharp climb, gaining about 1,500 feet in just under 2 miles. The trail was a little muddy in some spots, but nothing troublesome. With the cloudy skies, there was no worry about getting too warm from the lack of shade.

The single-track trail then connected with the Oak Grove Fire Road. We took a short breather here before continuing. We stayed on this road for about 1.5 miles until we reached the High Point Truck Trail. Along the way we caught some great views of the snow-capped peaks of Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto to our north. While not as steep as the first section of this hike, you still will be working those quads!