The training continues, this time super locally (25 minute drive on local streets). Most of the area to the east is closed due to a devastating fire, but this area was green and lush looking (when you are in it, it’s poking brush and cactus). I’d never been on this trail before, idea and hiking partner (shocker, I know, me not being solo) was my boss! Second highest peak in the Santa Ana Mountains at 5495′ (barometer on GPS consistently incorrect at this point), it’s just over a half mile west from Santiago Peak (5689′ and covered with microwave and telecommunication antennas), and this hike comes right into the saddle between that gives the area the name Saddleback which can easily be spotted from peaks all round SoCal. GPS: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7312084133
The parking was along a dirt road, which was surprisingly graded (used to be a near riverbed of rocks), and now lined with blocks to prevent off-roading. We started out pre-dawn near 1240′ for our 4255′ climb (plus some additional gains and losses for an extra 600′). For a few moments, there were clouds and they were lit cotton candy pink over views across Orange County all the way to Catalina – very clear, though a marine layer sat atop the ocean.
The morning was mercifully shaded by the rest of the mountain range, including the ridge up to Santiago. The middle section follows a drainage and is also shaded by twising oaks – and there was water higher up. We did reach a section that was very lovely but difficult to enjoy as there was a swarm of annoying bugs (didn’t seem to get any mosquito bites…), so we just pushed though before the heat arrived.
We gained the rocky, brush-covered peak in 3:17. Very much a thigh burner on the way up as I felt a tad shaky. Snacked, made idle chatter, admired the views in all directions, and started the decent. There are some overly steep parts, but overall less rough on the knees that some previous recent hikes – that they are already sore is besides the point. Most of it was just steep dirt and, fear of slips aside, you could jog it – but I just shuffled. The last 3.2 miles were rough for me, though, because it was way too hot. I am not made for this stuff.
So, my poor companion not only had to listen to me prattle on about nothing endlessly, or some TMI, but now some complaining and he slowed for me as I had to get my body temperature down. Only a couple breezes and the occasional cloud cover to help out, I finished the last of my two liters of electrolyte-supplemented water when, at one mile left, we saw the cars below get close and I just tried to push through it. Honestly, my eyes still sting and I have more weird heat rashy patches in places nothing rubbed – gotta figure that one out or, you know, stop hiking when it’s hot. It was 90F plus bare soil in direct sun.
Anywho – GPS says 14.66 miles (a bit was extra from a missed turn, another danger of my chatting) with moving time of 6:01, total 6:26. If you read the other trips, you might be thinking – wait, that seems way faster. You’d be absolutely right. The reason is no thin air. Maybe 1/2 hour was pushing a tad harder since I wasn’t alone, but nearly all other hikes started near where this one topped out and climbed to over 10k’ where the air is dry and thinner and that counts for a lot. Leg muscles are large and less oxygen usually means a slower speed or frequent breaks to catch a breath. Not so today, this was just exercise!
It was a very dusty trail and my toes were almost muddy, my legs sported a dark dirt tan though I was wearing full length pants, and my arms and shoulders still got a bit too much sun despite being covered. It was very sweaty business and my white runners visor is all pink in the back from my hair color sweating into it and my lower back was drenched (I used a hip pack for day hikes – the only Osprey pack I’ve ever liked [loved] a Tempest 6: I never have to take this thing off with bottle holsters, hip belts, and pockets I can reach, I bought grey from REI, but here’s the brand’s page: https://www.osprey.com/us/en/product/tempest-6-TEMPEST6S21.html). The shower was much enjoyed, and a protein-packed, cool lunch of salmon and cream cheese wraps was followed by a nap. Whew! Until next time, mountains!