Vulture Crags
Peak 2,420ft
Flores Peak

Sat, Jun 18, 2016
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

I was in Orange County for a few days, a family reunion of sorts with cousins on my mother's side. In all we had almost 20 members from three generations, ages 15-75, converging at my cousin's home in Mission Viejo. The HS graduation of my cousin's daughter was reason enough to get together for food, games, laughs and just catching up. Mission Viejo happens to sit up against the west side of the Santa Ana Mtns, a hotbed for SoCal mountain biking and some pretty good hiking, too. You'd think with so much related genetic material at hand I'd be able to drum up some interest in a few hikes, but alas, I had no takers. It didn't help that it was forecast to be over 100F in the afternoon and was already over 70F at sunrise. I had to go out and rustle up some bagels and coffee for the clan when I arose, and with being social and all at breakfast, it wasn't until almost 11a before I would start hiking and it was already 85F. I had been to most of the highest peaks in the range, so today's outing would be a pair of short outings to some of the lower summits on the west side.

Peak 2,420ft / Vulture Crags

Peak 2,420ft is the highpoint of a ridgeline that forms the western half of the Santiago Truck Trail (STT) starting from Modjeska Grade Rd. It is super popular with mountain bikers, often included with a descent of "The Luge" (aka known as the Morrow Trail on the topo map) down to Live Oak Canyon Rd. Even with temps in the high 80's, there were at least a dozen cyclists riding by in the few hours I was hiking it. Not surprising, I was the only one discovered on foot.

Parking sucks for hikers. The STT starts at the top of Modjeska Grade Rd with both sides of the pavement signed for No Parking for a good quarter mile. I found a small turnout about that distance down the north side of the grade. There is a newish private home on Modjeska Grade Rd where the STT begins, and I suspect the owners' displeasure with parking issues led to the signage in the immediate area. Though called a truck trail, motor vehicles, including all manner of trucks, are prohibited. One could only drive a short distance anyway, since the wide dirt road devolves to a single track within about a mile. The STT climbs about 800ft over the course of 2.5mi with open views looking south and west over Orange County. When the trail runs along the northeast side of the ridgeline, it affords views down to Santiago Canyon and up to the higher summits of Modjeska and Santiago, rising to over 5,000ft.

The summit of Peak 2,420ft, also called Flag Hill, is crowned by a large flag pole often sporting California and American flags. Today, only the CA flag was waving, the American version having long been shredded by the elements, its remnants left wrapped around the pole. After climbing up the northwest side, I took a few pictures and descended the SE side, utilizing narrow trails in both directions. I continued another 1/3mi along the STT to Vulture Crags, a small collection of rock outcrops eroded from ancient seabeds. The highpoint, just above the crags found on the south side of the ridge, has no actual trail reaching it and requires a bit of bushwhacking. I found the bushwhacking easiest where the slope is steep and loose on the East Ridge. I went down via the North Ridge which is fairly brushy but easy footing. I spent almost 2.5hr all told on the six mile effort. Biking would certainly have been an easier way to do it.

Flores Peak

Unnamed on the topo map, this small peak lies on the north side of Modjeska Canyon. A narrow and winding paved road runs east up the canyon through a collection of private homes, ending at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. Others have reported parking here, but I found a closer spot, albeit a tight fit for the van, closer to the dirt road that runs up steeply on the south side. This road eventually joins another on the SW Ridge (an alternate trail comes up from the Modjeska Community Park at the base of the SW Ridge). The last stretch from the route junction is a steep and narrow foot path, not very accomodating for bikes. The whole route takes just over half a mile to climb 500ft to the top. The summit is bare and rounded, open to views in all directions. Terry Flood had visited only seven months earlier and left a register which already had a dozen entries. By the time I finished up before 2p, the temperature was in the high 90s and I was feeling a bit foolish to attempt further. I had a few other short hikes in mind, but decided they'd be better left for more cooperative weather. March would probably be a good time...

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