Peak 2,050ft P300
Peak 1,590ft P300

Mar 10, 2017
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I had 4-5hrs of free time in the morning before I needed to spectate at a VB tournament in Irvine and decided to head up the Ortega Hwy (SR74) to do a few easy hikes in the lower reaches of the Santa Ana Mtns. The two hikes shared a number of characteristics other than their difficulty level. Both were located in the Cleveland NF off Hot Spring Canyon, both had trails rising to a saddle with the unnamed summit, both had use trails then finishing the job from the saddle to the summit. Originally thinking I might be in for some bushwhacking, it would have been terribly selfish to wish for better circumstances.

Peak 2,050ft

The harder hike of the two, easier access for parking. The San Juan Trail starts at the USFS parking/camping area located off Hot Spring Canyon Rd. Part of the road is dirt/packed sand with some rutting from recent storms, but passable by any vehicles and regularly maintained. Signs remind one to have a valid pass to use the facilities (bathroom/parking/camping/etc). I left my Golden Eagle Pass on the dash and hoped that would suffice. The San Juan Trail switchbacks excessively for 1.5mi while climbing about 900ft out of Hot Spring Canyon. The trail is graded for mountain bikes which appear to be the primary users. In places the trail has a rounded groove making hiking awkward, but not enough to complain loudly about (and besides, I kinda like having bike access to public trails). The slopes were covered in fresh Spring green, flowers out in abundance. Once I reached the saddle I turned right and was happy to find a decent use trail leading through tall brush to the summit. Having carried clippers with me in case I found it brushy, I slowed my pace to do some trail maintenance on the move. It took about 55min to reach the summit where I found a register left by Terry Flood the previous year. A few folks had signed in over the intervening year, but only one other name I recognized - Craig Barlow. The views are not great due to high brush on most sides. Oh well, I was hear more the workout anyway. Jogging much of the way down, I got back in about half an hour, arriving at the USFS parking area by 9a.

Peak 1,590ft

The rest of the road past the USFS area is paved, probably to keep down the dust for the numerous residences found along both sides of the road. Parking is quite limited due to the private property. Half a mile past the USFS site I came to the end of the road at the Lazy W Ranch, a youth camp run by the United Methodist Church. Signs indicate Private Property and Registered Guests Only, but the TH for the Los Pines Trail was located somewhere on their property. I spoke to a maintenance guy driving around in a golf cart, a friendly chap who explained that the public is welcome to use their "greenway" (sounds better than "easement"?) to access the trail, but public parking is not allowed on their grounds. He said the only public parking was back at the USFS site, but I really didn't want to drive back down the road and hike back up, especially since there were three creek crossings I'd just driven over with about two inches of water. I found a small turnout just outside the camp's property, adjacent to the last home on the road. I'm not sure if it was legal or not, but I saw no signs and no one came out to complain in the few minutes it took me to pack up and leave.

I found the trailhead inside the Lazy W pretty much where the guy had told me to find it next to the archery range. The hike to the saddle is much easier, only half a mile with a gradient more befitting foot traffic than bikes. There are signs along the trail every 50yds or so, little inspirational messages or biblical passages, intended to give campers something to contemplate on the hike up the hill, and perhaps to reduce the complaining. The use trail found at the saddle where I turned left had been cleared much wider than the earlier one and the use of my clippers would have added nothing of any real value. Still, the trail is steep and one works up a sweat in short order. The highpoint is found where the trail crests the summit ridge, though the trail continues another 50yds along the ridge for slightly better views looking south. I didn't find a register here, but then didn't really look too hard. In addition to the view south across Hot Spring Canyon to Peak 2,050ft, there is a decent view looking west. Though hazy clouds somewhat obscured far views, I could still make out the Pacific Ocean in the distance. More jogging on the way down kept the outing to under 40min. Time to head back to Irvine for a shower and volleyball...


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