Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hiking the Devil's Punchbowl (Devil's Chair)

The Devil's Punchbowl hike in Los Angeles County is an absolute must do hike in Southern California. The hike to the Devil's Punchbowl shows any visitor to the area the tectonic/geological forces that act underneath Southern California. The power of these geological forces are on view for all to see as these Los Angeles hiking trails are located where several major earthquake faults collide together to form amazing rock formations. The Devils Punchbowl hike is a must do for anyone in Southern California and to this date is one of Brian and I's favorite hikes in Southern California.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Devil's Punchbowl, exit the 15 freeway at Pearblossom highway (138), and follow it to the town of Pearblossom where you will turn left (south) on Longview Road (County N6). Follow the signs to the Devil's Punchbowl County Park approximately 7 miles ahead. Note that facing the nature center, the Burkhart trailhead is on the right side of the parking lot. Check in with the people there at the Devil's Punchbowl County Park Nature Center and they have hiking trail maps available. For personalized driving directions to the Devil's Punchbowl County Park click Here. There is no cost for parking.

Description of Hike: The hike from the Devil's Punchbowl Nature Center to the devils chair is 7.4 miles roundtrip. It is an absolutely breathtaking out and back hike. The trail was in good shape when we went and is usually well maintained. While on this hike you will most likely see other hikers out enjoying the trail since this is a very popular hike in Southern California. There is an elevation change of approximately 1,000 feet. The hike will take about 4 - 5 hours. Remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, especially if you are hiking in this area during the hot summer months. This park can get very warm during the summer months with temperatures regularly getting above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Brian and I also did the 1 mile hiking loop at the Devil's Punchbowl Nature Center which is also worthwhile and highly recommended. This is a perfect loop for those looking for a less strenuous hike or for those with kids (note it is still fairly rugged terrain). For a printable trail map of the hiking trails at the Devil's Punchbowl County Park, click Here.

Further Thoughts: Devil's Punchbowl is a point where two earthquake faults collide (Punchbowl Fault and San Andreas Fault), creating upwards jutting vertical walls as high as 300 feet. It is a spectacular setting in Southern California, with the high desert spreading out on one side, and the pine covered forest of the Angeles National Forest on the other. The hike takes you along the mostly shaded rim of the Devil's Punchbowl, to the dramatic Devil's Chair, a breathtaking overlook with a 360 degree view of the geologic formations. (Hikers with extra energy may want to also hike the 1 mile loop trail, which drops down into the Devil's Punchbowl among the stunning rock formations.) The 1 mile loop trail is a great hike for those that want a less strenuous hike or for those with kids.

Brian and I really enjoyed this hike at the Devil's Punchbowl. It was beautiful with the contrast of blue sky, white puffy clouds that within a couple of hours turned into thunderstorms that dropped a half an inch of rain on us. During the summer months be on the look out for thunderstorms, when monsoonal moisture comes to Southern California.

The Devil's Punchbowl County Park has a Nature Center, that (in cages) has snakes and owls that were rescued from the surrounding area. They also have lots of fossils on display and stuffed animals to show you our native wildlife in a more "up-close and personal" way. The visitor's center is worth stopping at because of the different rescue animals that they have there at the center. The Devil's Punchbowl hike to the Devils Chair is an AWESOME geological hike. The rock formations were amazing.

The hike turned into an even bigger adventure as we approached the Devil's Chair. When we arrived at the Devil's Chair we saw a flash of lightning followed by the sound of thunder a few seconds later and we found ourselves in a massive thunderstorm that grew very large, very fast. We booked it back to the trailhead where the nature center was and managed to walk about 3 miles in 25 minutes, which was no easy task. Brian had a great idea to take the disposable plastic rain coats, which helped keep us dry from the rain.

Normally this hike would be incredibly hot, and hikers must be well prepared to hike here during the summer months with plenty of water and proper gear. Fortunately  Brian and I lucked out with a blanket of clouds that covered us and the rain that kept the air cooler. Note, in the winter time this trail can receive a fair amount of snow. The hike was beautiful and the visitor center was very informative. You see nature in two totally different settings: the high desert and mountain pine forest. The Devil's Punchbowl County Park's Nature Center (Vistor Center) is closed on Mondays but is open from 9am - 5pm Tuesday through Sunday. The tall mountain peaks above the Devil's Punchbowl Count Park are 8,000 feet in elevation while the Nature Center is located at 4,740 feet above sea level. The Punchbowl Canyon is 300 feet deep at the Devil's Chair vista point.

On a scale of 1-10, Brian and I give this hike a 10. It was well worth it, not too difficult, and it was very relaxing being out in nature.

Rating: Hike to the Devils Chair: Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft. (Moderate), Distance: 7.4 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).
Nature Center Loop: Elevation Gain: 300 ft. (Easy), Distance: 1 Mile Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 3.5 - 4.5 hours. (30 minutes for Nature Center Loop)

View Untitled in a larger map

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hiking Mt. Baldy (Via Devil's Backbone Trail)

Mt. Baldy (Officially Mount San Antonio), at 10,064 feet is the tallest summit in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mt Baldy, is one of the most photographed iconic pictures in Southern California and is unrivaled by any other peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. On July 12, 2008 Ashley and I attempted to hike Mt Baldy, via the Devil's Backbone Trail in the Angeles National Forrest. A hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy in Southern California is a must do hike for any avid hiker as it is the tallest point in Los Angeles County.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Trailhead to hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, take the 210 freeway to Upland and exit Mountain Avenue heading North into the Angeles National Forest. Follow Mountain Avenue to the intersection with Shinn Road and make a left turn. Continue onto Mt. Baldy Road, by making a right onto Mt. Baldy Road and follow until Manker Flats. Park at Manker flats if you want to take the longer way to the Baldy Notch from the Manker Flats trail, or keep going to the Mt. Baldy Ski lifts which operates their ski lifts for hikers on summer weekends for a much shorter option to the summit of Mt. Baldy. To park at Manker Flats you will need a Forest Adventure Pass, since this hike is in the Angeles National Forest. You can get one at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center on your way up the mountain. There is no cost for parking at the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift area if you are going to take the ski lift up to the Baldy Notch, as the costs are rolled into your lift ticket. For specific times the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift is operating, click Here.

Description of Hike: The length of the hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, using the trail from Manker Flats to the Baldy Notch and the Devil's Backbone Trail from the Baldy Notch to the summit of Mt. Baldy, is 11.25 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 4,300 feet. If you take the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts up to the Baldy Notch, the hike is 6.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,300 ft. It is up to you to decide how long you want the hike to take, but as described in this write-up both hikes are out and back. The longer hike will take about 8 hours and the shorter hike will take about 4 hours. Either way there is a lot of elevation gain in a short period of time. There are also several areas along the Devil's Backbone Trail with sheer some drop-offs of a 1,000 to 2,000 feet (the devils backbone area picture below), those with a fear of heights should be very careful when hiking of this section of the trail. Make sure to take your time while traversing these sections of the Devil's Backbone Trail and only experienced mountaineers/hikers with crampons and ice picks should attempt this hike if there is snow or ice present. This section of the trail is treacherous when snow and/or ice are present. The hike to the Summit of Mt. Baldy via the Devil's Backbone Trail goes through some of the most rugged terrain in the Angeles National Forest. The best seasons to do this hike are late spring after the snow melts, Summer, and early fall before Southern California winter storms arrive.

Further Thoughts: We started our hike to Mt. Baldy from Manker Flats and decided not to take the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift. On the way up the hiking trail we saw San Antonio Falls, which was very neat. Ashley and I were amazed to see plenty of water cascading over San Antonio Falls even in July. This first part of the trail is the ski resorts maintenance road going up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Area, so watch out for maintenance trucks as we saw one while we were going up this trail from Manker Flats.

When we reached the Mt. Baldy Ski area located at the Baldy Notch, we stopped and enjoyed lunch inside their lodge. It was very nice to be able to sit down and enjoy lunch at the midway point. The views from the ski lodge area were amazing. For those that don't want to do any hiking, the views are worth it to come up the ski lift to have lunch at the Baldy Ski area during a weekend in the summer. The Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts offer fun dinner/ski lift ticket deals during the summer. From this section at the Baldy Notch we could see the valley looking towards Los Angeles. There were also great views of the high desert as well. We could see Victorville, the Cajon Pass, and much more. It was beautiful. The Ski Resort/Baldy Notch is at an elevation of about 7,800 ft. When leaving the ski resort the trail makes a left and heads steeply up the mountain. We made the mistake of going up the steep part of the trail when we left the ski area. There are two options, one steep and one is less steep, but longer because it utilizes switchbacks. We would definitely recommend going on the less steep option.

We made it to the Devil's Backbone at which there are sheer drop offs of a 1,000 feet on each side of the trail. However, after crossing most of the Devil's Backbone, we began to take notice of approaching thunderstorms. After, some observation we both came to the decision not to go any farther since the desert thunderstorms were developing rapidly and they looked like they were heading our way. We chose to put safety first, as we did not want to be at the summit of Mt. Baldy when a thunderstorm hit. Note, if you are doing this hike in the summer make sure to check the weather to see if thunderstorms are forecasted for the mountains in Southern California. If they are, make sure to begin your hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy early enough to be done before thunderstorms build in the afternoon.

Our decision to turn back was the correct decision because not long after we were on the way down the mountain we started to hear thunder and by the time we got back to our car at Manker Flats it was thundering and lightening on top of Mt. Baldy and beginning to rain at the trailhead. Overall, the hike to Mt. Baldy was great and the views were amazing even though we did not make it to the top. We will have to come back and get to the top sometime in the future.

If you are looking to do a loop hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy, that can be done by combining this hike described in this post with the Ski Hut Trail which can be found in Ashley and I's other post on Mt. Baldy. 

Rating: Manker Flats: Elevation Gain 4,300 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 11.25 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate - Strenuous).
Taking the Ski Lift: Elevation Gain 2,300 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 6.4 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 5 - 6.5 hours from Manker Flats.


Devil's Backbone Trail (This Post)

Ski Hut Trail

View Mt. Baldy in a larger map

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holy Jim Trail to Holy Jim Falls (Cleveland National Forest)

Ashley and I did this hike along with our hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak 5,687 feet), but many hikers do Holy Jim Falls as its own independent hike. While we were on the trail, there were several hikers and family's on the trail going to view Holy Jim Falls. This hike is a great outing for the entire family. Holy Jim Falls is one of the most well known hikes in Orange County and it lives up to its reputation of being one of the best.

Directions to Trailhead: From Cooks corner take live oaks canyon road heading toward O'Neil Regional Park. Keep going until you pass Trabuco Creek, after which make a left and head up Trabuco Canyon Road (Bumpy dirt road) if you keep going on live oaks canyon road you will run into the back of Rancho Santa Margarita and have gone too far. The trailhead is several miles in on the dirt road. You will cross over Trabuco creek a couple of times via several concrete wash ways. The trailhead is beyond the river crossings and is located just past the volunteer fire house. There is ample parking and there are signs indicating that this is the parking area for the hike. I would recommend a truck with good clearance for the trip out to the trailhead, as some parts of the road are a little rough. A Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking at the trailhead since the falls are located in the Cleveland National Forest. (Note: wait a couple of days after a major rain storm to use the road, as water levels can get high in the river.)

Description of Hike: The trail to the falls is in good condition and on most any day when you go to the falls, you will see someone else hiking on the trail. Roundtrip from the trailhead parking lot to the falls is 2.8 miles and it will take you about 1.5 - 2 hours depending on how long you stay at the falls. The elevation gain for this hike is 650 feet. The trail follows the canyon and there is plenty of shade for this hike which will keep the temperatures cool even during the warm summer months. When we went in July there was still water cascading down the falls. The best time of year to see the falls is during the raining season, but during most of the year there is still water at the falls. It is a great hike for beginners as well as seasoned hikers. The waterfall is about 20ft high.

Further Thoughts: The trail starts off in Trabuco Canyon and you have plenty of shade the whole way to the falls. The official trail does not begin at the parking lot. You follow a single lane dirt road through a community of beautiful mountain cabins in Holy Jim Canyon. At the last cabin is the official sign that signals the beginning of the Holy Jim Trail. Along the trail you have to cross the stream in a couple of places but unless there has been recent rain it should not be a problem to cross. You might want to bring water proof shoes if you are going during the rainy season. Also be on the lookout for poison oak on this trail.

When Ashley and I did this hike we were a little tired from going to the top of Santiago Peak (Saddleback Mountain) and back. But, both Ashley and I were glad that we went to see the falls. We were both surprised that the falls had plenty of water even though it was in the middle of summer. It is amazing at how dense the foliage is in the canyon. This is a great Orange County Hike in the Santa Ana Mountains for anyone to do and the falls lived up to their reputation. As always bring a camera on this hike to take pictures of the falls. Since you are in the Cleveland National Forest you also might be able to photograph wildlife getting water from Trabuco creek.(Picture for this paragraph is of the parking area)

Rating: Elevation Gain: 650 ft. (Easy), Distance: 2.8 Miles Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.

View Holy Jim Water Fall in a larger map

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Top of Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak)

The day had finally come to hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain. Santiago Peak sits at an elevation of 5,687 feet and is the tallest point in the Santa Ana Mountains. We hiked up to the top of the mountain starting out at the Holy Jim Trail head. The Holy Jim Trail runs into the Main Divide road which goes to the top of Saddleback. This is a must do hike for any Orange County Hiker! For more pictures make sure to check out our Facebook Page!

Directions to Trailhead: Via the Holy Jim route to the top of Saddleback: From Cooks corner take Live Oak Canyon Road heading toward O'Neil Regional Park. Keep going until you pass Trabuco Creek, after which make a left and head up Trabuco Canyon Road (a bumpy dirt road), if you keep going on Live Oak Canyon Road you will run into the back of Rancho Santa Margarita and have gone too far. You will reach the parking lot and trailhead in approximately 4.5 miles on the dirt road (You will cross Trabuco Creek several times), the trailhead parking area is just past the volunteer fire house. I would recommend a truck with good clearance as some parts of the road are a little rough and I would not use this road anytime after heavy rains. A Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park at the trailhead as it is located in the Cleveland National Forest.

Description of Hike: The trail is 16 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of around 4,000 feet. Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County and sits at 5,687ft. It is the best view in all of Orange County. The trail starts out in Holy Jim Canyon. The first mile and a half is in the canyon where there is lots of shade and usually water in the creek. However, once you split off from the trail and head towards the main divide road, at approximately the one mile mark from the official trailhead sign, there is not as much shade available (There is a sign at the split, you make a left to head up to the top of saddleback mountain or a right to go to Holy Jim Falls).  Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen as this hike can get deceptively hot, especially during the summer months. The trail is well maintained and most likely when you go you will see someone on the trail. From the split it will be about 4 miles to the main divide road where you make a left and follow the road all the way to the top and enjoy the views. This hike will be about an 8 hour hike for most. It all depends on how long you enjoy the views at the top.

Further Thoughts: Ashley and I were both prepared for this hike. We had plenty of water and were physically fit from the other hikes that we had done over the past couple of weeks. I would recommend that you do some training before doing this hike as it is strenuous. Possible training hikes might include Sitton Peak or Los Pinos Peak. When we hiked the trail on July 6, 2008, we could not have asked for better weather. It was a perfect 70 degrees when we started hiking. This was a welcomed change from the hot temperatures from only a couple of weeks ago.

The canyon part of the Holy Jim Trail is awesome and is a welcomed escape from the urban landscape of Orange County. The canyon is covered in dense woodlands (mostly oak trees) and when we were there the stream still had plenty of running water in it. Both Ashley and I were surprised to see that amount of water still present in the canyon in July. On the way up the mountain, several of the springs also had water in them as well.

During wet years, these springs might be a place to filter water from, however I would consider them unreliable sources of water. Bear Springs is located at an elevation of about 3,900 feet and will be located on the rights side of the trail before you reach the main divide road. Bottom-line is it was nice to see all of the green flora that was still there on the mountain. There was also quite a bit of pine forest on the mountain as well.

The one thing we liked about this hike is that for the majority of the hike you can see your goal, the top of the mountain. Once you hit the main divide road and you head up the back side of saddleback, you are rewarded with great views of the Inland Empire. You can clearly see Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy), and Mt San Gorgonio (Which is the tallest mountain in Southern California at 11,501 ft).

We enjoyed the view at the top of saddleback and ate lunch overlooking Orange County. There are multiple good locations to sit at the top and enjoy the view. It was a beautiful day and we could see for miles in all directions. It is always neat seeing the radio equipment up close and personal that we see, only at a distance, everyday in Orange County. The only bad thing about the hike was that we could see all of the smoke from the fires burning up near Santa Barbara. Also we wanted to note that during years when there has been a good rainy season in Southern California there can be a lot of bugs in the Santa Ana Mountains so it is a good idea to bring some type of insect repellent.

We did this hike in good time. It only took us 7 hours to hike to the top and back down to the trail split in Trabuco Canyon, so we also decided to go look at Holy Jim Waterfall. Even in July there was still plenty of water at the fall. You will find, most years that rain has been average or above average, there is still water in the falls late into summer and the fall months. This is a great hike and it is very popular with other hikers. When we did this hike to the top of saddleback mountain we saw about 15 people on the trail. This is a must do hike for any hiking enthusiast and both Ashley and I highly recommend it.

As always bring your camera as the views are breathtaking and you also have a good chance at seeing wildlife.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 16 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 6.5 - 8.5 hours. (It took us 8 hours, with a stop at Holy Jim Falls and a stop to have lunch at the top)


June 28, 2008 (This Post)

Map Highlighting Turn to Trailhead

View Top of Saddleback Mountain in a larger map

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