Monday, January 18, 2010

Santiago Peak

Deb approaching the summit of Santiago Peak with the snowy Mt. Baldy behind

When the time since my last moderately strenuous mountain climb creeps beyond two weeks, I start getting restless.  My last outing had been a hair-raising day on Mt. Baldy, but that was more than three weeks ago.  I had planned a New Year's ascent of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, but spent nearly two weeks cooped up at my in-laws' house with bronchitis instead.  Needless to say, I was feeling antsy.    

After negotiating with my wife, I managed to get a day away from the kids on Sunday, January 17.  To my delight, SoCal Hikers and Peakbaggers had a climb of Santiago Peak scheduled for that day.  After some dithering, I committed to the outing by RSVPing "yes". 

"Can you be home by 4:00?", my wife asked.  I smiled sheepishly.  After failing on several occasions in recent months to return from hikes at the promised time, I opted to say nothing.  I was not going to once again say, "I will probably be home by X but definitely no later than Y", only to arrive home hours after Y.

I had wanted to climb Santiago Peak since moving to Orange County, California in August.  At 5,687 feet, Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County.  The mountain dominates the surrounding terrain and bristles with telecommunication towers on its summit. 

At 6:45 AM, eight of us met at Cook's Corner and then drove a few miles to the beginning of Trabuco Creek Road.  At this point, those of us with low-clearance vehicles parked and hopped into high-clearance vehicles for the bumpy, five-mile ride to the trailhead.  Kirk and Erin were gracious enough to give me a ride.  Once we were all assembled at the trailhead, Gerry Frayer, the trip organizer, provided some details about the route.  After being asked how long the hike would take, Gerry mentioned his fastest time before offering a longer estimate for our group.  Upon hearing Gerry's fastest time, Tari, Tina, and Erin (another Erin) immediately blasted off.  We didn't see them again until the summit.

Gerry Frayer in his element

The lower section of the Holy Jim Trail is well-maintained  and remains at a consistently low angle for about five miles until it intersects the Main Divide Truck Road.  At the road, we opted to continue climbing the upper section of the Holy Jim Trail, which is less maintained and steeper.  After another mile or so, we again intersected the road and followed it for roughly two miles to the summit.  Wandering around the roads and buildings on the summit cone, I eventually found the high point, which was confirmed as such by a National Geodetic Survey marker and summit log. 

Sam, Deb, Gerry, Erin, and Kirk (L-R) on the summit

From the summit, one still has eight miles of descending to do.  One also has to dodge the trucks and motorcycles on the road.  At one point, I stood on the side of the road and watched about twenty motorcycles roar past.  Next to mountain lions, the motorcycles have to be the second most worrisome hazard on this hike.  Another slight concern on this particular hike were the clouds that had rolled in and enshrouded the summit -- a harbinger of the week-long storm that was forecasted to wallop California.  But our timing could not have been better.  It was not until we were bidding farewell at the bottom that the first drops of rain began falling.

Gerry, Deb, and Erin (L-R) on the road with Kirk and Mt. San Gorgonio behind 

Hiking with a group of strangers, I worried that some stragglers would keep me from getting home by 4:00.  I couldn't bear the thought of arriving home hours late after yet another underestimated hike to see my wife in a state of near-collapse after a day alone with our two small, insane children.  But I needn't have worried.  Every hiker in the group was fast (or at least as fast as me).  In fact, Gerry is planning one of the most audacious day hikes I have ever heard of: 10,000 feet of elevation gain and 48 (forty eight) miles in the Grand Canyon . . . in one day.  Though I enjoyed the hike Gerry led on Santiago Peak yesterday, I think I'll have to pass on his Grand Canyon hike.

And now, the numbers: 16 miles, 4000 vertical feet, 7 hours, 0 mountain lions (as far as we know).

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