Santiago Peak P2K HPS

Aug 10, 2002
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


After a fine visit to San Diego with much Filipino food and catered living with my in-laws, three days had gone by and it was time to return home. I decided I had time for one more county highpoint if I left early enough. So I awoke at 3a while everyone else in the house still slept soundly, ate breakfast, and headed north on I5. It took two hours for me to drive to Orange County and the Holy Jim Trailhead which leads to Santiago Peak, the highpoint of the county. The peak can be driven to the top by those equipped with 4WD, but 16mi RT hike with 4,000ft of climbing is a fair alternative for those of us that are vehicularly challenged.

Starting at 5a by headlamp, I found myself heading out of the parking lot in the wrong direction. If there was a sign directing me the right way I missed it in the dark, as I crossed a bridge and wandered about some of the homes situated here at the end of the road. Realizing my mistake after about 10 minutes, I crossed back over the bridge and headed up another dirt road which began to follow the description in the guidebook. Finding the trailhead, I hiked up the dry Holy Jim creekbed as the trail crossed several times before climbing out of the canyon. Holy Jim was actually "Cussin' Jim" in the distant past, one of the early settlers, but cartographers felt that name was inappropriate for geological features and changed the name. No sense of humor, some of those cartographers. I turned off the headlamp after half an hour, and the sun set fire to the wispy clouds that were sprinkled high in the atmosphere sometime around 6a. I climbed higher out of the canyon, following contours in the chaparral-covered hillsides, with views opening up to the southwest behind me. Sunrise brought warmer temperatures and I was eager to get to the top before the heat of the day set in.

After five miles the trail reaches the main ridge where it joins a dirt road that follows the ridge to the summit. Three more miles and I reached the antenna-strewn summit at 8a. From what I can tell, this is the motherlode of telecommunications in Southern California, probably the entire state. There are half a dozen major installations, each one housing a rat's nest of cables, dishes, and antennae. The views can be quite expansive, but it was hazy that day, which I imagine it resembles for most of the summer months. To get views you have to walk a quarter mile circle outside the installations, which I did in a relaxed fashion while I ate a snack. I found the highpoint of the summit area (not obvious) where a USGS marker showed I had indeed climbed Santiago. After 40 minutes at the summit, I headed back down, alternately jogging and walking as I went. Back at the Holy Jim Trail junction, I came across a group of bikers who'd just finished riding the trail up to the ridge and were taking a break. They passed me on the way down, but as I was jogging and they had a few slow members that they periodically waited for, we crossed paths several more times on the way down.

Hiking the highpoints all over the Southland for the last few days, I'd come across discarded toilet paper on a number of occasions that caused me to take pause. I can't recall seeing this phenomenon in the Sierra, but it seems that a portion of So. Cal. hikers find it appropriate to wipe their asses and simply discard the used toilet paper alongside the trail. I didn't know if I should find this funny or disgusting, but it made me wonder how the rationalization process went that would lead to such behaviour. Maybe packing out the toilet paper is too gross (I agree), burning it unsafe (it's a tinderbox everywhere you look), and burying it is too much trouble. But no effort to discard it off the trail. And no signs of poop anywhere. I would have guessed it was discarded by female hikers who had to simply urinate, but the obvious brown spots seemed to discount that theory. So I'm somewhat baffled at why there is just used toilet paper sticking to the brush. Did someone take a dump in the bushes, walk back to the trail and realize they forgot to wipe? Did they take a dump on the trail and kick it into the bushes? Nothing really made good sense. Someday I will have to confront an avid Southern California hiker and see if they have any good theories for this behaviour. But I digress. :)

Other bikers were on their way up all during my descent, and I realized this was a very popular weekend mountain bike ride with the locals. The horribly rutted, 5 mile dirt road to the trailhead seemed little deterrent. Back down through the dry creekbed, then I reached the trailhead at 10a. Not bad for a 16 mile hike I thought. As I prepared to leave I noticed huge contingent of hikers, primarily in their 20's, gathering at the parking lot. Some sort of hiking club from one of the local universities or colleges I gathered, and after the last of about 15 cars filled the parking lot to near capacity, I headed out, returning to San Jose many more hours of driving later the same day. Temperatures reached well over 100F as I suffered overheating for the first time in my car. With the outside temperatures so high, I found I could not climb hills, drive over 70mph, and have the air conditioner on in any combination of two or more. Such suffering - how the west was settled without air conditioning I'll never know.


I found Gary Suttle's book, "California County Highpoints" a very useful reference. Though it is slowly getting outdated, the road descriptions were quite accurate and the trail descriptions mostly so. I followed the recommended trails found in the book for eight of the nine summits I climbed. I would have used it for Hot Springs Mtn. as well except for the small problem with the recommended road running through an active fire line at the time. I must commend Gary for a fine bit of research, as each trail seemed in retrospect to be the best access to the summits. I spent four days climbing nine summits, but believe all 10 So. Cal. county highpoints can be climbed by the recommended routes in three days by a determined individual. Further, if one had a 4WD vehicle and chose to drive (and use trams and ski lifts) as much as possible, the summits could be tagged in a much shorter time. As an introduction to the Southland mountains it was a superb tour, as I felt I got a better lay of the land in those 4 days than I got in 23 years of living in Los Angeles. I plan to go back and climb the highpoint of Santa Barbara County sometime in the not-to-distant future, and wished I'd had another day or so to tag that one as well.

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