Orange County Highpoint Trip Report

Santiago Peak

Date: May 2, 2005
Author: Don Nelson

The Indian Truck Trail road, described in all other trip reports to date, is closed indefinitely due to major landslides, washouts and rock falls. Also, construction of a housing development has caused a detour in the road after exiting I-15 at the Indian Truck Trail exit but there are excellent signs pointing the way to the national forest and you should easily be able to find the route and get to the gate on the road. This could now be an excellent mountain bike route, which would shorten the time considerably, though a couple of the landslides will take some skill to get around. One more thing: When you get to Bear Spring, take the hiking trail up the hill to the right of the creek as it will save you about a mile on the round trip. T his shortcut rejoins the road in 1.1 miles. Total distance from the gate to the summit: 9.9 miles one way (using the shortcut), and approximately 5,000 vertical feet gain in the round trip due to some ups and down in the road.

I'm always interested in grabbing a few miles and a few vertical feet to gain the benefits from the exercise and enjoy the scenery but my Santiago Peak trek was somewhat more than I was expecting. I read some of the posted trip reports and looked at the map. Plus, having driven up I-15 a few days prior, could see that the east face was by far the most heavily forested and thus more interesting side, so I chose the Indian Truck Trail as my route. I half expected to find the road in ill repair due to the well publicized rains of this past winter but didn't expect a locked gate at so low an elevation on the route. Just a short distance past the Korean women's retreat a forest service gate blocked all car access and, since it was at only the 1,600-foot level, this nearly dissuaded me from my project due to time constraints. To be sure, I could have driven a few miles north to Compton or driven around the peak and explored some possible other access points but, not having studied them beforehand, not knowing if they were even passable and not having a surfeit of time, I opted to go for it and hope for the best.

The day was misty but comfortable at about 55 degrees with no wind so I embarked with two liters of fluids, an apple, and a box of Milk Duds. (Hey, "health foods" are in the eye of the beholder, right?) I soon found out why the road was gated as I encountered one after the other major rockslides blocking the road. I continued up finally reaching the summit 2 hours, 45 minutes and about 10 miles later. The peak was alternately bathed in sunlight and totally obscured by clouds and mist but there was enough of a vista to make it a memorable sight.

The problem occurred on the way back: I took off down the road in a very deep mist/fog and, not consulting my GPS at a road junction, managed to take the wrong fork just below the summit and ended up heading down the wrong road. It was over two miles later that I realized I made a mistake so back up I went to gain the correct route back down. Fortunately, I found a shortcut apparently used by dirt bikes and mountain bikers that shaved considerable distance off my return (but none of the vertical!). This error cost me about 500 vertical feet and nearly an hour of time but, as I mentioned before, I can always use a few miles!

The weather that day continued to improve and the run down was most enjoyable and I arrived at the car just after 3 for a five and a half hour total outing. My GPS told me I had covered 22.5 miles and done 5,500 vertical feet so this was surely a good day from the exercise standpoint!

I highly recommend this route, as this is one of the best forests I've seen in southern California. The area boasts mature Douglas fir, Big Leaf Maple, Coulter Pine (those are the ones with the cones over a foot long!), Jeffery Pine, and some of the largest Live Oak anywhere (a type of oak tree that is evergreen). In addition, due to three times the normal rain this past winter, the forest is greener than I've ever seen it in southern California with moss, ferns, wildflowers, etc. unusually abundant.