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.

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.

Trailhead

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.