Margarita Peak P1K LPC / ex-SDC
Margarita Lookout ex-SDC
Lakeview Mountains HP P1K
Box Springs Mountains HP P1K
Mt. Russell P1K LPC

Thu, Jun 30, 2011
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2


I awoke just before dawn, having slept in the back of the van on a lonely dirt road in the backwaters of northern San Diego County, somewhere on the east side of the Santa Margarita Mountains. The range is really the southern extension of the Santa Ana Mountains but the USGS saw fit to give them their own designation. The highpoint is Margarita Peak which lands on both the LPC and SDC peak lists. I had managed to drive the low-clearance van to within about 3 miles of the summit the night before. I was stopped by loose gravel on a steep, somewhat rutted slope that I judged to be excessive abuse on the van. It might have made it up to the usual trailhead only a mile from the summit, but I'd decided not to take the chance of getting stuck or worse. Help seemed far away out here.

As the sun came up on this corner of the county's chaparral-covered landscape, I hiked the two miles up the road to the trailhead described in the LPC guide. For the most part the road was decently graded and well-worn. This part of the Cleveland National Forest butts up against the backside of the Camp Pendelton Marine Base and probably sees a modest amount of traffic. At the described turnout, a side road heads south, gated closed to motor vehicles. A few minutes later a sign declaring this a Watershed Conservation Area marks the start of the route up to the main ridge following an old firebreak. Though brushy, a use trail up the firebreak keeps the bushwhacking to a minimum and in another 20 minutes I had reached the crest of the range and turned northwest towards the highpoint. I picked up an old road leading down towards Pendleton a short distance until an obvious duck presented itself, marking the location of a clipped use trail through the heavy chaparral found about the summit area. This led through a shoulder-high stretch of manzanita to the summit a few minutes later.

It was just after 7:30a when I arrived at the pile of rocks marking the summit. A rusted steel survey tower had fallen over to one side, probably many years ago. There were a few scraps of paper dating to 1973 and the oldest register book dating to 1977. It had been 2 1/2 years since the last party had signed in, but there were many entries over the 34 years covered by the two books, most of the visitors coming up from the military base to the west. I recognized all but one party on the last page where I added my signature. The views were typical of the area, rolling hills for the most part and a mix of chaparral and grassy ranch lands. Looking north along the crest, one sees a dense thicket of manzanita stretching out for several miles. I had hoped to reach Margarita Lookout as well (a delisted SDC summit) but it would not be possible along the ridgeline without clippers or machete and a whole lot of upper body strength and patience. I had none of these things.

I went back down to the main dirt road via the same route I had taken on ascent, then decided to continue following the road up as it turns northwest towards Margarita Lookout. The good road traverses around the north side of the lookout before dropping down to Camp Pendelton. A side road in poor condition branches off to the lookout. Following this, it was not long before 9a when I reached this second summit. All that remains of the lookout is the concrete platform on which it once stood, along with some other concrete foundations that probably served the residence or storage facility that stood nearby. On my way back down the road on the east side of the crest, a USFS truck drove by on its way towards the lookout. We exchanged waves but no words.

It was just after 10a when I returned to the van. The rest of the day was going to be taken up with some minor peaks, small range highpoints and another isolated LPC peak as I made my way back north towards the San Bernardino Mtns where I was to meet Tom Becht the next day. An hour and twenty minutes of driving had me to my first stop, the Lakeview Mtns highpoint. This tiny range is located a short distance SE of Perris Reservoir, east of Interstate 215 near the small community of Homeland. The area has seen much recent development, and a good portion of the Lakeview Mtns are part of a private gated community. There are two spot elevations shown on the 7.5' topo map with an elevation of 2,673ft. The nearest one is not far from the entrance gate, about 500ft above the gate to the northwest. Evan had described climbing this point topped by a water tower and it was to here that I first turned my attention.

The area does not lend itself easily to a stealthy approach. It was necessary to park a short distance below the entrance gate as there was no place to park nearby. Further, private property lines the left side before and after the gate, the side in the direction of the highpoint. I took a route on the right side of the road leading to the gate, hidden somewhat in a dry creekbed until I reached a point past the gate where I crossed the road and then made a beeline for the righthand slope that held the highpoint. There were several nearby homesteads, but I managed to hike through an empty lot adjacent to one of these homes and was happy that no one was about to confront me in broad daylight.

It took somewhat less than half an hour to find my way to the water tank. Another home, high on the plateau and near the tank on the left side made it necessary to skirt below the ridgetop and reach the water tank more or less directly. There were three large summit blocks on the outside of the fence enclosing the water tank, all vying for the highpoint. The one on the southwest side, immediately adjacent to the fence appeared to be the highest, but I climbed them all to be sure. All were at least class 3, a fun surprise. From the tops I could see west to Lakeview Two about a mile away but completely exposed to view from the various homes that dotted the landscape. I felt it would be pushing my luck to pay it a visit during the day and decided one of the two noted highpoints would have to do for now. I went back via the same route I'd ascended, luckily without anyone confronting me for trespassing.

Back on the freeway, I drove north to the Box Springs Mtns just east of Riverside. The highpoint and much of the surrounding terrain is part of the Box Springs Mountain Regional Park. A set of communication towers crowns the summit with a road reaching these from the north. Evan had described a route to this small range that approaches along this road from the north, but I had spotted what I thought was a shorter hiking route from the east that I had picked out on the Google satellite view. This route worked quite nicely. There has been a good deal of new development on the east side of the range around Pigeon Pass Rd, but a small park was created south of this development with access for hikers and equestrians. There are restrooms, picnic tables and BBQs available for day use, no use fees that I was aware of.

The place was surprisingly busy for a Thursday afternoon, but I soon found it was a large trail crew that was working here in the warm sunshine, not the usual park visitors. The crew appeared to be from a prison. They were mostly quiet, obeyed the supervisor instructions with almost military precision, and dressed in orange jumpsuits that were much too warm for the outside temperatures. They almost too politely moved to one side as I came by. I commented, "Damn, you guys are tough!" as I went by which drew a few smiles of appreciation. Only afterwards did it occur to me that they were probably doing this out of obligation, not by their own choice.

This part of the park is mostly dry grass slopes in the summer and there appears to be a number of use trails that developed over the years before the park was created. Some of these I had eyed in the satellite views I reviewed beforehand. The crew was working on adding some switchbacks to make some of the steeper trail sections easier on both equestrians and hikers. There was some signage to help one find the way, but for the most part the highpoint was obvious to the west and it was not difficult to find one's way in that direction.

It took about 45 minutes to cover the two mile distance to the summit. It was the wrong time of day and year to put the views in the best possible light. Through an afternoon haze the suburban sprawl was evident in all directions. Those areas not developed had a uniform, dry brown look that matched nicely with the haze. Utilizing a short cut that bypassed a long, meandering portion of the main trail along with some jogging had me back at the trailhead in about 20 minutes or just after 2p. I used the water taps available to fill up several of my empty gallon jugs, then headed back out to Hwy 60.

I drove to the east end of Moreno Valley, then south towards Perris Reservoir. The LPC-listed Mt. Russell is the highpoint of the hills surrounding the reservoir. The LPC guide provides directions to approach from a campground near the reservoir southwest of the summit (fee required), but I decided to approach from the north end which appears much closer on the maps and satellite views I had perused. Again, recent development had encroached very close into the hills. I found a paved road leading to a water tank at one end of the development that I could use as a trailhead, less than a mile from Mt. Russell's summit.

The cross-country route was not as trivial as I had imagined it might be judging from past experience. Though also a fairly dry range, there was a good deal more vegetation to contend with, requiring more careful attention to the route ahead with much meandering. In consequence it took the better part of an hour to reach the summit of Mt. Russell despite the relatively short distance. Still, it was probably faster than the route described in the LPC guide. There was a long pole angled to one side marking the top, but no register that I could find. Perris Reservoir could be seen in its entirety a few miles away to the southwest. Across the Inland Empire to the northeast rose San Gorgonio Mtn. To the east lay San Jacinto Valley with the 10,000-foot San Jacinto Peak in the background. To the west and north was Moreno Valley, with plenty of open fields filled with brown summer grasses that will undoubtedly all become part of the surrounding sprawl in due time. It took about the same amount of time to return to the car as it did on the ascent, owing to the moderately difficult nature of the terrain and the need to make a more cautious descent than I might otherwise have preferred.

Returning around 4:30p, it was time to call it a day. It felt a bit weird washing up at the end of this wide paved road on the edge of suburbia, but one does what one has to do. Luckily I was not confronted by any of the neighbors out on a late afternoon jog or walking the dog. After finding a way to pass the rest of the afternoon in Moreno Valley, I headed northwest to the Jurupa Mountains between Riverside and Fontana. There was an easy range highpoint I wanted to visit in the morning and I found an excellent place to spend the night nearby, off the pavement and away from people where I could sleep undisturbed.


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