Mt. Ellie
North Iron Mountain P750 CS
Ramona Overlook Peak P300

Sat, Apr 15, 2017

With: Jackie Burd
Patrick O'Neill

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Down in the San Diego area with the family for the Easter holiday, I had in mind a moderate 7-8mi hike around the Iron Mtn area east of Poway, tackling four modest summits in hills south of Mt. Woodson. Iron Mountain is on both the LPC and SDC lists and one of the most popular hikes in San Diego County. The busy trailhead off SR67 is found east of the state highway and directly across from the junction with Poway Rd. I had done the Iron Mtn hike more than ten years earlier and thought it would be nice to come back to try some of the other trails in the same area while visiting the lesser summits. It wasn't until later that I learned North Iron is actually higher (and more prominent) than Iron Mtn and on top of that, a difficult class 5 summit block that sees few ascents. Patrick drove down from Dana Point to join my daughter and I for this circuit that gave us more than we bargained for but all great fun.

Leaving the parking lot just around 9:20a, we immediately got lost wandering some use trails through the brush at the east end of the parking lot, quickly reversing course and heading off on a better tack. It might have helped if we'd read the map off the nearby kiosk, but it seems the only marked one is the Iron Mtn Trail that starts by heading south - not the direction we wanted to go. We soon landed on a good trail, noting other visitors similarly confused in that first quarter mile. We headed north towards the Ellie Lane Trail, passing by a small pond before finding signs where the trail turns east to climb up the ravine between Mt. Ellie and North Iron. The Ellie Lane Trail leads to Table Rock and the saddle between the two summits, climbing about 600ft over the course of about a mile. It was growing warm without much breeze to cool things and Patrick's fast pace kept Jackie and I on our toes trying to keep up. Nearing Table Rock, we paused to check the GPS, noting we'd past the turnoff for Mt. Ellie. Jackie decided to take a break and wait for us since the view up to the summit looked too brushy for her liking. Leaving her to find a rest spot, Patrick and I backtracked down the trail about 50yds and then headed off where the brush didn't seem so bad. The cross-country climb wasn't bad at all, with only mild brush, but Patrick discovered a clipped trail when he ventured left towards the NE ridgeline. We even came across a pair of gloves and heavy duty clippers stashed just off the trail. The trail made things much easier and by 10:15a we'd found our way to the class 2 summit.

A register here had the peak labeled as "Mt. Ellie" which matched the PB name I'd seen earlier. Two 8.5"x11" pages were filled with entries since 2012. Terry Flood had been the most recent entry two months earlier. We used the clipped trail to return to the main trail, finding Jackie above Table Rock perched on a 20-foot boulder overlooking the scene. Well rested, she cheerfully joined us as we continued up to North Iron about 20min above us. We found a good use trail leading up to the very large summit block (the area seems to be criss-crossed with various trails, we came to find), the largest of many giant granite boulders found sprinkled about the mountain. We first checked out the southeast side where a tree seemed like it might offer some assistance in climbing that side, but didn't get very far. Patrick prudently suggested we ought to check out other possibilities first, which we did. He found a way up from the north that got us within about 10-15ft of the summit, stopped by a steep friction climb. I spent about 5min trying to tackle this without peeling off and injuring myself, eventually concluding it wouldn't be possible with the boots I wore. Looking around, we noticed there were some other blocks to the north that might be higher, so we went over to check them out. Several provided short bouldering opportunities, but in the end we all had to conclude that the original block was higher. Brian Browning had warned me the day prior that it was a tricky problem that he hadn't solved, which may have increased my desire to gain the summit. On our way back from the lower summit blocks, I suggested we should spend more time checking out the tree-assisted route on the southeast side. This proved the key. Before reaching it, we found another cache of trail-making gear, this time a small chainsaw. Busy beavers, these trail-making gnomes of Poway.

A medium-sized oak growing on the southeast side allows one to get up the near-vertical start. I used the tree and rock to chimney my way up the first 10ft while Jackie chose to climb the tree more directly. Either seems to work. An inclined branch then assists one in walking up the high-angle slab above this, the combination proving to be the crux of the whole climb. Once past the tree there are some easy lie-back slabs to surmount leading to a ledge on the east side, then a short traverse over to the southwest corner, followed by a last steep slab climb to the summit with ample pockets for holds. It was an exciting scramble route, an unexpected gem that we all found exhilarating. Patrick and I were both impressed by Jackie's skill and composure. Not finding a register, we left one on the summit, the first in a series of commemorative registers I've assembled for obscure and noteworthy summits. Be the first on your block to sign one.

We reversed the route down the slabs, traverse, lie-back and tree before collecting our packs we'd left at the base and headed back to Table Rock. Our route continued down the east side of the saddle and along the trail network for another mile. At a junction where we planned to head east to Ramona Overlook, I paused our group to give Jackie the option to join us, wait, or head back to the TH. Having had enough of the warm day's hiking, she chose to head back. I gave her the van keys and my cell phone, pointing her in the right direction and sending her on her way. Half an hour later Patrick would get a text that she had made it back without trouble (or having to ask for help). Meanwhile, we continued east up to where the trail goes over a saddle and then took off northeast on a good use trail to Ramona Overlook Peak. As the name suggests, it has a great overlook of the community of Ramona to the northeast. A strong breeze had started up that actually cooled us quite nicely as we sat there for about 15min taking in the views. After some discussion, we decided to leave the remaining summit for another time. This would keep Jackie from having to wait around longer, would save me from having to ration my remaining Gatorade, and give us a reason to come back for a future visit. We headed back on the Wild Horse Trail that Jackie had followed down the canyon on the south side of Mt. Ellie, making for a nice loop. Time for lunch...

Brian Browning comments on 04/18/17:
Well Bob, I'm glad you proved me wrong! I'll certainly have to head back now and use the 'tree aid.'
Steve Mang comments on 07/15/17:
Yesterday I was in the area so I went out to tag a few peaks. Using this report I was able to easily summit Mt. Ellie, North Iron, and Ramona Overlook (with the addition of the small "Lannay Summit" peak to the west of Ramona Overlook). I then continued on to Iron Mountain summit and back to the parking lot for an enjoyable, if hot, 13 mile loop. Thanks for the information!
Keith Winston comments on 09/29/17:
Thanks for the unroped route on North Iron. It wasn't easy for me but I completed the route. Sad to report the register you placed is no longer there.
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