Ascent of Santiago Peak on 2009-04-25

Climber: Matt Holder

Others in Party:Ruben Lozano
Date:Saturday, April 25, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Santiago Peak
    Elevation:5687 ft / 1733 m

Ascent Trip Report

6 hours and 45 minutes from parking lot to peak back to parking lot. Road to parking lot is awful and recommend high clearance vehicle only.
It was supposed to be a challenge hike for Mike, Ruben and me and hopefully Aaron. Mike and Aaron decided that because they both had been sick it was better for them to pass on doing the hike.
Ruben and I met up at the Quail Hill Shopping center at just before 8am. We took the toll road south and were quickly at the Trabuco Creek Road that leads to the trailhead. Last time we attempted Saddleback we were in my BMW 530i and remember being the only sedan there and getting lots of strange looks because the road is so rough. However, we didn’t remember the road being as rough as it is and Ruben’s Taurus took a beating on the way there. At one point we had to stop the car and get out to analyze a section that threatened to turn us around. We started piling some rocks into a pot hole to make clearance easier. However, two high clearance vehicles had stopped in front of us, the front vehicle had a bike get thrown off the bike rack due to the rough road conditions. They quickly saw the path for Ruben to steer through which was a great lesson to both of us on driving on bad roads. This part of the drive is probably 5 miles and it took us an hour.
We wedged the Taurus into a parking spot and used the porta potties (one in clean condition the other not). We went to pay for our daily pass and learned that you can no longer buy your pass on site…oh well, we’d come to far to turn back so we risked getting a ticket and started down the path.
We took our pictures at the beginning and meandered through some cabins that appear to be for rent. This leads to the trailhead sign and officially onto Holy Jim Trail. Holy Jim was not Holy after all. He was a 1800’s mountain man in the area who was known as “Cussin’ Jim” but surveyors felt the trail should be named for him and did so with it’s know name (sort of like calling a fat guy “Tiny”).
The creeks had a decent amount of water in them and the stream crossings are easy with solid rocks planted in well spaced formation. As you go through the canyon portion it is very pleasant and cool and you criss cross the stream. You turn left and begin to go uphill and there is a marker to turn right to Holy Jim Falls. We didn’t do this, but it is apparently a nice day hike.
Almost immediately out of the canyon we were exposed to the direct sunlight with very few opportunities for shade. There is a series of switchbacks which is very tedious as we seemed to be making no progress towards the top of the mountain. Once we made the top of these switchbacks and turned left towards the main part of the mountain we could see the summit tantalizingly close with the communications towers atop. Not so fast my friend!! We were only about a third of the way there and an hour into the hike. We continued on the path and moved around the base of Saddleback. The trail to this point is very well maintained with moderate slope. It is narrow and single file hiking is the only reasonable method. Again, the trail is exposed to direct sunlight and a hat and sunscreen are a must, a lesson we had learned two years ago hiking this trail on a HOT June day. That day we were exhausted and headed back down at about the half way point.
We hiked past a dad and daughter duo who had a GPS device and claimed to be four miles from the top. If the total trail up is 7.5 then we were “only” 3.5 miles into the hike. This seemed unlikely to us which lead to us updating the total distance of our hike from parking lot to summit back to parking lot.
Anyway, we passed our turning around point from the previous attempt and continued on. The view behind us towards the ocean was stunning. The mountains were lush green and rippled like a huge flag waving in the wind towards the Saddleback Valley. On clearer days it would be reasonable to see Catalina Island and the Pacific blue.
We then reached a welcoming, cool, forested area. It was probably 5-10 degrees cooler here and the trail declined. I hate loosing altitude when I know we still have quite a bit more to go. This portion of the trail leads to the intersection of the main divide road. A left here keeps hikers on the very wide graded road and it winds around to the summit at a steady incline. A right leads to Upper Holy Jim Trail. We asked some boy scout leaders what was the easier route and they claimed both were about the same, but Upper Holy Jim was more scenic.
We turned right and found the left hairpin turn to Upper Holy Jim Trail. More scenic was right, the same as a nicely graded road…NO. This was a fairly steep, winding, rocky and loose gravel trail. Definitely the most challenging section of the hike so far. This lasted for a mile and half or so until the trail meets up with the graded road. Easy sailing from here, although the Upper Trail had taken it toll on my legs, which started to fatigue a bit. We were definitely drinking more water now, but both of us had plenty. Ruben had brought Gatorade and I wished I had some electrolyte replacement drinks.
The main road meanders around and besides the occaisional jeep or motorcycle cruising past it was a nice portion of the hike. We were on the “back” side of Saddleback and had a clear view of Lake Matthews, San Gorgonio (Old Greyback), and San Jacinto. You can also see Baldy from certain sections (four highest peaks in their respective counties). The all terrain vehicles that passed us were very respectful and slow down as they went by and slowly sped up so as not to kick up too much dust. Once on top, we wandered around until we found a grouping a backs that we figured must be the “official” summit with the geologically survey marker. Sure enough. A group of boy scouts and their leaders were there and Ruben and took pictures there then went down the path to rest for a few minutes, drink water and eat whatever food we had…trail mix and cliff bars. It took us about 3:15 to get to the summit from the parking lot and we spent about 30 minutes up top. Then we made the dash to the bottom. We decided to find out how the other half lives and took the main road, instead of Upper Holy Jim. Smart move! Easy road although it has loose footing at times. We went through the cool forested area which now represented an uphill for us, but it didn’t last very long and we appreciated the refreshing temperature.
Not much different than the way up, except you get to look out towards Saddleback Valley the entire time and appreciate the beauty. We passed the Boy Scout troop we had seen on the top.
Ruben and I then started to guess how much longer we had in miles and time which allowed us to reminisce about the final “45 minutes to an hour” on Mt. Whitney which ended up being maybe about 2 hours. We agreed that I am terrible at predicting time left on the trail.
We made it back to the car in a total time of 6 hours 24 minutes which included the 30 minutes on top.
When we got back to the car we had sure enough been ticketed. However, the fine is the same as the fee to park. This seems pretty fair to us.
Ruben used his new found over road driving skills to get us through the creek road in probably thirty minutes. Thank goodness he did because we were TIRED!
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4687 ft / 1429 m
    Elevation Loss:4687 ft / 1429 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:4687 ft / 1429 m
    Route:Lower/Upper Holy Jim Trail
    Trailhead:Parking lot  1000 ft / 304 m
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:4687 ft / 1429 m
    Route:Access Road/Lower Holy Jim Trail
    Trailhead:Parking lot  1000 ft / 304 m

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