Los Pinos Peak
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
The third day of my rambles through the Santa Ana Mtns found me on the north side of Highway 74 at the southern end of the range. I'd spent the night at the Blue Jay Campground whose only other occupants were a group of students filming a movie on location. The campsite was very pleasant and clean, a nice mix of tree-shaded alcoves and more open, grassy areas. Things were very green in this early springtime weather that had arrived after a month of more rainy conditions.
Near the entrance to the campground is the trailhead for the San Juan Trail that leads southwest to the LPC peaks of Sugarloaf and Old Sugarloaf. Old Sugarloaf is the higher of the two and the peak that looks like the hard sugar lumps that were delivered to grocers in days of yore for resale in smaller chunks. At some time in the past, the map maker accidently transfered the name to the wrong point on the map, and both ended up on the LPC list.
In addition to two Sugarloafs, there are two San Juan Trails that can be used to reach it. The old one starts at the westernmost end of the campground and is more direct but more seriously eroded due to the lack of modern trail architecture. Starting with the new trail at the campground entrance, I used a combination of both trails on the way out and return so that I covered both in their entirety.
Starting by headlamp at 6a, I followed the new trail to the second junction with the old trail before switching to the shorter route option. The trail took me through a combination of forest and chaparral with a few small meadow areas thrown into the mix. Though not ubiquitous, there was poison oak sprinkled along the trail enough to keep me vigilant and close to the center of the path. There were only a few varieties of flowers that had begun to bloom at this early date, and I stopped to take pictures of those I found.
Sunrise came around 7a, and not long afterwards I was greeted with views of both old and new Sugarloaf summits. By 7:30a I'd reached the third and last trail junction with the new San Juan Trail located at the base of Sugarloaf on the south side. I chose to ascend this peak on the return, knowing it would be the spicier of the two with a reported class 5 summit block. West from this point only a single trail continues, and I followed this around Sugarloaf and down to a saddle on the east side of Old Sugarloaf. A small cairn marked the unsigned turnoff for the use trail up to the peak. It is easy to find if you are looking for it.
The use trail was in fine shape, well groomed and easy to follow, though steep. It took fifteen minutes to ascend the use trail to the summit where I found the red cans and a register placed by Gabriele Rau in 1999. The views were fine and clear, though east to Sugarloaf had the glare of the sun and to the west clouds had socked in the coast up to the foothills of the range. Santiago could be seen poking up over the Los Pinos ridgeline to the north, and the summit of Los Pinos to the northeast.
I returned to the trail junction south of Sugarloaf, and then found the cairn marking the use trail up to the second peak. Much short than the first one, it took only five minutes to ascend to the summit blocks. A narrow passage between two of the large blocks is first encountered before coming to the south side of the highpoint. I checked out other blocks in the area, looking for a register I couldn't find, before deciding the northern block was the highest. It was perhaps class 3 to scramble up to the second highest block where a four-foot jump or reachy step led to the higher block. Here I paused as strong, gusty winds kept me huddled low on the lower block, waiting for a break in the wind to allow me to jump across the gap. I could see an excellent hand hold on the highpoint, but I was afraid the high crosswinds would push me off the mark and down the 15-foot drop between the blocks. The pause in the wind never came though I waited several minutes, and eventually I gave up the prospect. I would give the summit blocks a class 4 rating.
I returned to the main trail and started back on the new San Juan Trail that takes a more meandering route to the south on its return to the TH, which incidently is higher than both of the Sugarloaf summits. I passed by junctions with the Viejo and Chiquito trails before rejoining with the old San Juan which I followed back to the campground and then back to the other trailhead outside the campground. The college students were somewhat busy with their film project at this time. There were signs posted on the restrooms and other places that "prop weapons were being used in the filming". I wondered if this was some sort of low-budget slasher film, but the filming was taking place out of view from the roadway and I didn't take the time to ask.
It was 10:40a when I returned to the van, after which it took only 10 minutes to drive to the next trailhead little more than a mile to the north. I parked at the southern start of Main Divide Rd, a generally well-maintained dirt and gravel road that runs the length of the range. The gate at the start was closed, same as I'd found for the Maple Springs Rd in Silverado Canyon, so I'd have to hike up to Trabuco and Los Pinos starting from here.
It took about 45 minutes to climb the steep initial part of the road to the main saddle east of Los Pinos Peak. Hiking up the road, one is treated to views of Sugarloaf and Old Sugarloaf to the rear, Lake Elsinore and the surrounding communities to the southeast. The first view of Trabuco is gained just past the saddle and it appears to be quite distant, though only 4 miles along the road. The hike along Main Divide Rd is fair, nothing particularly outstanding, with views off various sides to McVicker, Trabuco and other canyons, and various summits, named and unnamed, along the way. The trail traverses around the east side of Peak 4,313ft which I later learned is unofficially called Horsethief Peak (had I known this I would likely have followed the old fireroad up and over the summit). The rough East Horsethief Trail ascends the Northeast Ridge from far down below in Temescal Valley. About half a mile northeast of the summit the road passes the junction with the West Horsethief Canyon Trail coming up from Trabuco Canyon.
It was almost 1p by the time I reached the south side of my peak where a use trail follows the old firebreak steeply up that side of Trabuco to the summit. Five minutes later I was in a tiny clearing amidst the chaparral-covered summit where benchmark and register can were located. The can had been left upside down, allowing the rain to reach the register, most of which I found unreadable. The location was completely surrounded by brush and only occassional cutting had kept this small opening free. It didn't look to be the highest point which was some yards to the north, but there was no way I was going to thrash through that stuff for the honor. The trail continued a short distance east where there was at least a decent overlook, albeit not the Trabuco highpoint. The view swept out about 180 degrees, from the snowy summits of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the northeast, to Los Pinos to the southwest. I had to backtrack along the trail before getting a view to Santiago, which was marginal.
I spent the next hour and twenty minutes returning to the saddle east of Los Pinos. It wasn't immediately obvious where to find the trail to this last peak was located, but it would be hard to get lost as there were several options. One could take the fireroad on the other side of a barrier to intersect the trail higher up, or look for a small side trail heading right immediately after crossing the barrier to find the trail lower down. The third option, and the first I stumbled upon, was to take the trail from its start, just after starting down the Trabuco Canyon Trail. The only real mistake would be to miss the immediate left turn and follow the Trabuco Trail down into the canyon.
The trail was well-groomed away from the encroaching brush that grew well over head level on the first few switchbacks up the slope. A false summit is reached within ten minutes from which the true summit can be viewed still fifteen minutes further west. After a few intermediate saddles, I found my way to the rocky top of Los Pinos, the last of the four LPC peaks for the day (the summit is the westermost of the possible summits). Amongst the rocks was an ammo box containing a recent register, going back only a few months. The summit appears to be very popular with mountain bikers who ply the trail from both directions, east and west. There is also a 1939 benchmark found embedded in one of the rocks, placed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Returning back to the main saddle and then down to the van took a bit more than an hour. During this time, I experienced the tingling or buzzing sensation in first my fingers, then spreading to my face, my arms, and eventually my whole upper body. This was probably the sixth or seventh time this has happened in the past few years and I'd yet to figure out its cause. Until then, I noted it always happened during downhill travel, always at lower altitudes, usually after the third or fourth day I'd been out hiking. I had considered fatigue, dehydration, and other causes, but rejected those after various experiences that seemed to argue against them. I then noticed I was breathing somewhat deeply, to the rhythm of my footsteps. Over the years I have developed a habit of forced breathing to help with acclimatization issues in the High Sierra. Could this be the cause? I kept my mouth closed and breathed only through my nose, keeping the same pace moving downhill. Within five minutes the sensations had stopped altogether. To further prove the case, I went back to the heavier breathing and before I had reached the trailhead I had induced the symptoms again. Mystery solved! Later I learned that overbreathing can cause calcium levels to drop in the blood which will then cause the numbness and tingling I experienced. Who would have thought that one could breathe too much while out hiking?
It was just before 4p when I returned to the van and was done for the day. I still had about 3 hours of daylight, but my knees were telling me to stop and I was good with that. I still had another day of hiking and then the LA marathon the following day. Sometimes resting up isn't a bad idea. For my trouble I found USFS ticket on my windshield. I thought I had done a decent job of obscuring the expiration date on my Adventure Pass, but the wiley ranger saw through my weak ruse and gave me my just desserts. I paid the $5 ticket when I got him, too. I deserved it.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Trabuco Peak - Los Pinos Peak
This page last updated: Thu Apr 1 16:58:05 2010
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