Peak 3,084ft P300

Fri, Nov 1, 2019
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I was on my way to Southern California with plans to stay with my sister in Santa Clarita that night. While looking for a place to go hiking, I came across the Wind Wolves Preserve in the southernmost part of the San Joaquin Valley, in the foothills of the San Emigdio Mountains. I had come across the name 11yrs earlier when I was climbing the HPS summit of Eagle Rest Peak from the south. At the time, I found the old gate I crossed with the name perplexing, but never looked into it. Years later I found that the preserve is open to the public, a sprawling 93,000 acres and the largest non-profit preserve on the West Coast. The entrance is from the north off SR166, offering free camping, picnicking, hiking, biking and equestrian trails, too. Most of the facilities and trails are centered around San Emigdio Canyon, more than 10mi in length and effectively cutting the preserve (and the range) in two. It drains a large portion of the range and has a perennial flow of water, though not so much in November. There are two summits to the east of the canyon that I thought I might be able to do in a 13mi hike. The only problem is that there are no trails going to the summit and hiking off-trail is not on the approved list of activities. In November the hills are all brown, the grasses and thistles having gone to seed and things are very, very dry. While I wouldn't have the lovely green slopes of early Spring, the temperatures at least were quite congenial for hiking.

When I got to the preserve I stopped at the entrance kiosk to fill in the visitor log and picked up a trail map. I had seen an online version the previous night, but this printed one showed a few more trails including an 18mi loop called the Redtail Trail. It climbs up into the foothills on the east side of San Emigdio Canyon, neatly traveling through the low saddle between the two peaks. Tossing the route I had planned the previous night out the window, I drove to the TH for the Redtail Trail and started from there around 11:30a. The first mile winds along the valley floor in a meandering manner before dumping one out at a gravel road (the one used to access The Crossing picnic area). I looked in vain for the continuation of the trail, but only found a gated spur road with a sign that specifically called out No Hiking. Did the allowed hiking on this trail really only include the first mile? Or did they more recently open this trail and forget to remove that sign? Neither really made sense to me, but it turned out the former was true. They really only allow hikers to use the first mile which I found out later, but could have learned much sooner had I actually read the trail map brochure. I'm not really sure why equestrians are ok on the rest of the trail and hikers not, but I ignored the sign and hiked up the road anyway. There are mile markers found along the trail, along with other signs to guide you in the correct direction at several junctions. After that first gate, the trail (now a ranch road) begins climbing into the grassy foothills, again in no particular hurry to gain elevation, making some big, lazy turns on the way up. I ticked off about three miles of trail before my unmoving scenery was interrupted by a herd of tule elk. I had forgotten that they had a herd of some 300 animals in the park, this group of about 30 being just a fraction of them. They were surprised when I first appeared and initially started to run off, but they soon stopped, watched me for a few minutes, and decided to just wander off in the other direction in no real hurry. There was a single bull elk among a herd of females that he had undoubtedly rustled up as mating season approached. The left half of his antlers had broken off, probably while fighting for the right to the females, but apparently was still able to command respect with only half of his armament intact. I got a few pictures of them before they were out of sight, the last I'd see of them on this hike.

The trail reaches a highpoint between miles 3 and 4, from which both peaks could be seen. The higher Peak 3,460ft was across a small valley down through which the trail travels, the peak still about 1.5mi away. I decided to make an easier outing by just going after the lower Peak 3,084ft, leaving the other for some future visit. Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 I left the trail to begin the cross-country effort up to the summit, about a mile along its northeast ridge. The ground was a bit uneven and partially hidden by the grasses and thistles, but not really difficult to hike at a decent pace. I was happy to find that the route was well hidden from San Emigdio Canyon as well as from most of the Redtail Trail. I don't know if rangers patrol out on this little-used part of the preserve, but it was good not to have to worry much about it. As it turns out, I didn't see another soul until I got back to the parking area where a couple with a dog were just getting out of their cars. I have no idea how many park personnel are around, but I'm guessing it's pretty minimal on a weekday in November.

Not long before reaching the summit, a pair of antlers popped up from the tall grass, then another, and finally a third. Three bucks, probably teenagers not yet able to contest mating rights with the bull elk, stood up and went off down the hill. The summit offers some views, but they were marred by heavy Central Valley haze. I decided to make a loop of my afternoon, descending the northwest ridge along a fenceline as I looked for a non-exposed route to drop into San Emigdio Canyon and pick up the trail network there. Around Pt. 2,381ft shown on the topo map, I found a spur ranch road that would eventually return me to the Redtail Trail if I stayed on it long enough. I followed this only a short distance to a side canyon that I could use to descend into the main San Emigdio Canyon. I had no idea how hard this might be, thinking I could find a dry waterfall, heavy brush or other obstacles. It turned out to work beautifully. Easy walking at first, then a few unexpected trees, but these could be negotiated by ducking under the branches. The canyon narrowed quite a bit in one place, but there were no dry waterfalls and eventually it opened up and I picked up a use trail that took me to the maintained trail network quite nicely. The San Emigdio Canyon Trail follows close to the creek, in and out of shade, crossing the bit of water still flowing a few times on a collection of rocks and well-placed boards. There are some lovely picnic benches found along the stream, and other features found downstream at The Crossing, including a small man-made pond and some outdoor educational placards. I was back to the jeep about three hours after starting out, a much faster return than I had expected. This side canyon route up from San Emigido Canyon is certainly the quickest way to reach either summit. I'll probably use this when I return again for the second summit...


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