Thu, Dec 23, 2004
Iron Spring Mountain
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2 3|
Coming in at dark the night before, I had trouble finding the trailhead for Beauty Peak & Iron Spring Mtn as described in the HPS guide. I eventually just parked the van and went to sleep, figuring it would be more obvious in the morning. I slept in later than usual, rising around 6:30am. Though there was plenty of light now, I had little luck making sense of the directions. I found a cable box on the side of the road as described, but no side roads leading off on either side as described further. After I got back I pieced together what happened - I had parked too far to the east, about 200 yards too much. I found the wrong cable box, not thinking there might be more than one (correct one), so I never looked further back down the road.
The brush didn't look too bad just off from the road, so I decided I'd head south along a route that looked to match my HPS map, hoping to intersect the proper route at some point. Off I went around 7a, weaving my way in and about the brush. It didn't take too long for the travel to grow more difficult, and some 20 minutes after I'd set out I was feeling pretty lost and hopelessly enmeshed in chaparral. I climbed atop a nearby rock outcrop to get a look around and found - lots of brush. I then noticed what looked like a dirt path off in the distance some 60 yards or so, and with no better idea decided to go check it out. Just before I got there (and the dirt was really the embankment of a dry creekbed through here) I spied the telltale pink ribbons marking the route - I'd found it, just when I was about to give up and go hike somewhere else.
Life was good now as I enjoyed the groomed route up the main canyon between the two peaks. There were plenty of ribbons and ducks marking the trimmed route, too many really, but I wasn't about to complain. Where the canyon flattens in large, flat area, the trail leads along to an opening where an earthen dam marks the location of a road. This is the trail junction for the two peaks. I followed the road to the right on my way to Beauty Peak. Taking the right fork at a junction, I soon found the road topped out before heading downhill, and here a large duck marks where the route leaves the road.
The trail follows mostly along a rounded ridgeline for a bit more than a mile, up and over a few intermediate bumps before climbing up to the summit. I reached the summit at 8:40a and took in the views after signing into the summit register. Mars Bonfire's name dominated the register as much in the San Diego area as it had in the central part of the state - it would seem that he's a one-man show, blazing and maintaining all these HPS trails. It was fairly windy (and chilly) atop the rounded summit, helping the views but not my ability to enjoy them for long. The Palomar Mtns dominated the view to the southwest, to the north could be seen San Antonio, San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto. The Santa Rosa Mtns rose up to the east in a long ridgeline from Tahquitz near San Jacinto to Rabbit Peak far to the southeast. And of course Iron Spring Mtn beckoned a short distance away to the northeast, where I headed next.
On my way down from Beauty I was surprised to see another solo hiker heading toward the summit. After an initial greeting, my first question was to ask if his name was Mars. It wasn't. He was using the same HPS guide as myself, and coming in during the morning he'd had less trouble finding the trailhead (my car further east along the road had unwittingly thrown him off, plus, as we both agreed, the HPS driving distances were off by two tenths of a mile). Like myself, we was just out to bag a few HPS peaks on a weekday morning. We parted. Later, I discovered that he must have found me an odd sight. I'd gotten a nosebleed earlier in the morning, source unknown, but had simply dabbed it off with my gloves as I hiked along. When I got back to the car there were dried streaks of blood across portions of my face from this. I chuckled as I wondered what he thought of that and how he coolly chatted with me like there was nothing wrong.
Returning to the earthen dam, I followed the road east until another duck marked the use trail heading off and towards the summit. This was as well-groomed as the Beauty trail, and I found myself on the somewhat higher summit by 10a. More pictures, similar views, another register, and I was on my way back. I briefly considered some bushwhacking in an attempt to cut a shortcut across the brush, bypassing the return to the dam. It was fairly impossible of course, but without spending that minute or so actually trying it, I probably would have wondered later if there wasn't an easier route. There wasn't.
Returning back to the TH, I figured out my trailhead-finding problem as described earlier, and found the other hiker's car nearby. He had the classic left-leaning bumper stickers: Free Tibet, Keary/Edwards, and a third one I can no longer recall. I hiked back up the road to my van.
It was now 11:30a, and I figured I had time for one more peak (again, three seems to be the magic number). I drove back out to Aguanga, then south on SR79 to Oak Grove, following the HPS directions for Combs Peak, a lofty peak (for San Diego County) that rises up just west of the Pacific Crest Trail. The hardest part of the whole outing was negotiating the very long dirt road for a number of miles to where it crosses the PCT. The road continues over the saddle to a Boy Scout camp some miles further down, but the TH was there at the saddle. The PCT TH here had numerous jugs of water left for the thirsty PCT hiker who finds himself short of water in this dry stretch, a very nice gesture I thought. Parking the van, I headed north on the PCT just before 1:30p.
It a fairly short hike out to Combs Peak, less than two miles. The entire area had been devastated by recent fires, not a tree or bush left untouched everywhere I could see. I actually enjoy hiking in such terrain after a fire as I enjoy observing how the chaparral begins to return not long after the fire has swept through. Many of the bushes don't die, their roots protected by the earth covering them, and green shoots come out at the base of the burned and dead branches that remain standing. The trees were decimated, only the burned trunks remaining with hardly a branch on any of them. Sparsely populated in this dry area, they will take much, much longer to recover.
Because of the lack of chaparral cover, I chose a shorter route to the summit than described in the HPS guide. The hillside was fairly steep and very damp still from the earlier rains. The burned branches of the chaparral were rich in soot content, and I carefully avoided brushing against them as best I could to prevent the black streaks across my clothing that would result. This made it somewhat of a game trying to get through the maze of branches and reach the summit unscathed (I wasn't exactly successful at this). I was atop Combs Peak by 2:10p, and already the sun was starting its downward fall towards the late afternoon. The sun reflected off the Pacific Ocean far to the southwest as well as Lake Henshaw much further inland. There were many, many hills and peaks to the south, but I could only recognize a few such as Hot Springs and San Ysidro. Beauty and Iron Spring were perhaps ten miles to the northwest.
I returned to the TH by 2:50p, and headed back. My five days were over and it was time to celebrate the holidays with the family in San Diego. The prodigious amount of exercise was a perfect excuse for me to indulge, quite excessively, in the standard holiday abundance of food and treats. I'm pretty sure it was a net wash, calorie-wise, by the time I returned to San Jose just before the New Year. I was also fortunate to get out just before an unusually long wet spell set in, lasting a full two weeks and dropping unbelievable amounts of snow and rain all over the state. Time to break out the snowshoes!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Combs Peak
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