Burn BM
Vasquez Rocks
Peak 2,820ft
Three Sisters Rock
Peak 3,277ft
Saddleback Mountain

Thu, Mar 9, 2017

With: Patrick O'Neill

Etymology
Saddleback Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3

Continued...

On our second day in the Soledad Canyon area east of Santa Clarita in Southern California, Patrick and I planned a visit to Vasquez Rocks, a small county park featuring some unusual sandstone formations that have been featured in a number of popular movie and television productions over the years. We also planned to visit Three Sisters Rock, another sandstone formation along the PCT that appears from a distance to have no easy way to the top (spoiler - it doesn't). All of the peaks we visited were decked in their best spring greenery with wildflower displays enhanced by the abundance of rainfall the state received this year.

Burn BM

Since Vasquez Park doesn't open until 8a, we spent the first hour upon rising to visit an unnamed summit in the Angeles National Forest above Mint Canyon and the Sierra Hwy. The hike from the southeast involves about 1,000ft of gain over the course of 1.5mi to reach the summit. There was no trail to start, requiring a steep cross-country climb up grassy slopes for a few hundred feet to reach the powerline road above which could be used for the rest of the hike (there is another option from the west via the Vasquez Truck Trail that utilize a 4WD road from that side). It was a bit chilly and breezy at this early hour around 7a, keeping the poppies that populated the hillsides closed for the time being. Still, they were out in such profusion that it was hard to miss then coloring certain slopes. The summit is open to unobstructed views in all directions, overlooking Santa Clarita to the southwest and the higher reaches of the Liebre Range and Sierra Pelona Mtns to the north and northeast, respectively. We found a reference mark from the LA County surveyors, but no benchmark. We returned via pretty much the same route, using a steep shortcut to bypass one section of meandering roadway, finishing up shortly after 8a.

Vasquez Rocks / Peak 2,820ft

Sandwiched between Sierra Pelona Valley to the north and the Antelope Valley Freeway (SR14) to the south, Vasquez Rocks is a large collection of sandstone rocks that have been uplifted, tilted and eroded to form striking features on the landscape. The county park has no entrance fee and is quite popular - there were already half a dozen other cars when we arrived shortly after opening. Over the course of many decades of recreational use, the area is honeycombed with trails, a few maintained ones, most informal. Patrick and I joked that the most popular trail is called the StayOn Trail, signs for which are sprinkled throughout the park. Still, it seems to be a losing battle. There are so many interesting rock formations to investigate that visitors can't help but wander off to explore them. PB and LoJ do not agree on what constitutes "Vasquez Rocks". It appears the name is generic to the area and not meant to distinguish a single point, but that doesn't stop us from trying. PB has the iconic feature alongside the parking lot (used as the background for the famous Star Trek scene where Kirk fights with the Gorn) as such, while LoJ choses another, higher rock outcrop to the west that can be reached via the Horse Trail. The park highpoint is found further southwest at Peak 2,820ft. We visited all three points in a rambling tour that occupied us for more than an hour and a half. The highpoint offered the best views taking in the springtime landscape, but the more interesting point was the iconic rock outcrop alongside the road and parking lot. There are routes to the summit from various sides, via ledges on the north and south sides which lead to the short but steep-angled slab climbing on the west side to reach the top. The PCT also runs through the park, and after getting our fill of the scrambling here, we repositioned the cars to the the south end of the parking area and set off on the PCT heading south.

Peak 3,184ft / Three Sisters Rock / Peak 3,277ft

The PCT drops into a section of Escondido Canyon, crossing the creek several times as it winds its way through more interesting sandstone features. The recent rains have damaged the trail in places, and left debris on it in others, but it was not difficult to follow. The trail goes under the freeway in a long, dark tunnel through which the creek flows. The tunnel is shaped like the rounded triangle of the PCT logo and made for some fun photo ops. On the south side of the freeway we left the PCT to climb a more direct cross-country route up to Peak 3,184ft which is featured in PB as "Spacerock Half" (we never did discern what that means). It was 11:30a by the time we reached the top of this open summit, overlooking our second major objective of the day, Three Sisters Rock, about a mile to the southeast. Concerned that he might be stuck in afternoon traffic, Patrick decided to call it a day at the summit of Peak 3,184ft, leaving Three Sisters Rock for me to explore on my own.

After bidding each other farewell, I followed a a few old firebreaks south and southeast to reach a powerline road that I followed to a ridge between Long and Nellus Canyons, with Three Sisters Rock perched above Nellus Canyon on the opposite ridgeline. I was surprised to find a home nestled in the canyon here at the base of the sandstone feature. I diverted around the home, giving it a wide berth to approach Three Sisters Rock from the northeast corner. On this side is a brush and talus gully that can be used to reach the top of the northernmost sister. There is a short 10-foot section of class 3 to reach the highest point where someone had installed a TV antenna, now in disrepair, probably the homeowner below in Nellus Canyon. Based on the size of the contour from the 7.5' topo map, LoJ has the northern sister designated as the highpoint, but looking south it is quite clear that the middle summit is higher by 5-10ft. I spent the next half hour circling about the middle and south summits in search of scrambling routes up those, to no avail. The middle summit has two possibilities, the west side with a class 4 start but a 10-foot class 5 vertical section halfway up. On the northeast side is a 5th class option that I might have attempted with a toprope, but would be foolish to do so without. The rock is fairly solid conglomerated sandstone, with rounded river rocks protruding to provide an assortment of holds. Even on the northeast side where I think it might be easiest, the slope is too severe for my liking. Though lower than the other two, the south summit looks to be the hardest. None of the rock is well-suited for protection other than bolts. Finding nothing to suit my abilities, I left, exiting on an old road found on the NW side that connects with the powerline road I'd used earlier and other roads as well. I went over the summit of Peak 3,277ft on the way back before dropping to the PCT and following it down to Escondido Canyon and back to Vasquez Park. Back inside the park, I left the PCT to follow other trails through the various gullies and rock formations. Someone had dammed a section of rock to form a small reservoir sometime in the distant past, but it has long filled with sediment and gone back to a more natural condition. By 2:30p I had returned to the parking lot to finish up the Vasquez portion of the day.

Saddleback Mountain

A few minutes' drive west from Vasquez Park, across Sierra Pelona Valley is the distinctive Saddleback Mtn, looking remarkably like the piece of equestrian gear for which it was named. I parked at the end of Morgan Rd on the east side. Most of the property around here is private, but one can follow old roads through empty lots to eventually pick up one of several equestrian trails that meander over and around the mountain. I met another gentleman with his dog as I started up. We exchanged pleasantries as if we'd been running across each other every afternoon for years, leading me to believe mine wasn't an egregious act of trespassing. I left one of the better trails as it was circling around the north side, following a use trail along an old fenceline up to the lower north summit. From there, easy cross-country led the short distance to the higher, rocky south summit with open views of the surrounding landscape. Some cross-country down steep slopes on the southeast and east sides got me to another equestrian trail that I followed back to my starting point, the whole 1.5mi outing taking but 45min. There was still a few more hours of daylight but I was feeling done for the day. Time for a shower...

Continued...


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