Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Date: January 24, 2021
Distance: 26.87 miles *
Total Elapsed Time: 12h 54m
Total Moving Time: 10h 12m
Summit Elevation: 5,689 feet (Santiago)
Elevation Gain: 4,546 feet
Trailhead: Maple Springs Visitors Center *
Previous Ascents: March 1, 2020 (Santiago)
Statistics include a bonus side-trip to Modjeska Peak, 5,499 ft Elevation
Visitors Center lot full, parked on Silverado Canyon Road
Santiago Peak is the highest point in the Santa Ana Mountains and Orange County
Santiago Peak is a border point between Orange and Riverside Counties
Today's trip to Santiago Peak was officially my longest day hike clocking in at 26.87 miles (surpassing last year's Agua Tibia/Eagle Crag adventure (24.4 miles) by almost two and one-half miles).
Last year I solo hiked this peak starting at the Maple Springs Visitors Center and logged 24.3 miles, back then I didn't realize you could drive 7.5 miles up the Maple Springs Truck Trail to make this a more manageable 10-mile roundtrip hike. Nonetheless, I was happy to bank some 'hiking karma' by taking the long route. This year, I planned to make a withdrawal from that account and drive part-way in on the trail.
The hiking gods had other things in mind. Recent rains had the Maple Springs Truck Trail closed so no vehicles were permitted past the visitors center, even along the initial 3-mile stretch of paved road. On top of that, by the time I reached the trailhead, the small parking lot was full (explaining why I passed my hiking partner walking towards the trailhead along Silverado Canyon Road!) I headed about a half-mile back down Silverado Canyon Road to park behind Jonathan's car, geared up, and started towards the visitors center. This little deviation added a mile onto what I knew was going to be an already long day.
It was a chilly morning with temps starting out right around 34ºF. On the lower section of the truck trail, we'd hit a high of 40 degrees in the sun, but mostly we'd spend the day in the low '30s. I planned this trip after tracking the weather on the Mountain Forecast website hoping for optimal conditions between storms.
The weather played out pretty much as expected, we had sunny skies until we reached Modjeska Peak around noon, then the clouds began rolling in. By the time we reached the summit at Santiago Peak, it was fully enshrouded in clouds with a temp of 32.4 and a windchill of 20.5.
We made good time over the initial miles, maintaining a steady pace of 2.6 mph, as we left the paved road making the hairpin turn onto the dirt road, I pointed out the location where I saw this Hyundai Elantra over the edge of the stone bridge last year.
While we didn't encounter vehicle drama this crazy today, there was a white car parked near the bridge (by that rock in the background of this photo) That had four flat tires! Maybe it was a good thing that I parked out on the main road! This corner seems to be an unlucky spot for vehicles!
As we climbed up the truck trail, many of my favorite peaks came into view Mt. Baden Powell, Mt. Baldy, and Cucamonga to the North. As we moved higher up the trail, San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto came into view to the East.
It was great to have a hiking partner on this long trip and Jonathan was excited to join me as the route offered two peaks that he could 'activate'. He participates in this cool amateur radio program called Summits On The Air or SOTA. I originally planned on hiking Modjeska Peak when I thought I could drive partially up the truck trail, once I confirmed the road was closed to vehicles, mentally I scratched it from my list figuring Santiago was going to be a long enough hike for the day. However, since Jonathan was going to summit Modjeska Peak to do an activation, I tagged along to bag the peak and search for survey marks. He was more successful logging confirmed contacts than I was in finding survey marks!
We met a couple of different groups of hikers atop Modjeska, a few trail runners (in shorts!🥶), and a few who were headed over to Santiago next. While Jonathan set up his antenna and radio gear, I chatted with a new 'InstaFriend' 😀 @nature_wanderer_2019, and her group then explored more of the snowy summit area.
After wrapping things up at Modjeska, we dropped back down to the Main Divide Truck Trail and continued on towards the Santiago Summit. By this time, we were totally in the clouds and I really didn't expect to see the sun again today. Not surprisingly, the conditions mirrored my trip last year, snow, rain, clouds...I honestly need to hike this in the summertime so I can fully appreciate the views from the summit!
At the summit, Jonathan got to work rigging his radio gear while I snapped my obligatory summit pictures and searched for survey marks (to see what I found there, check out my Santiago Survey Marks post 😉).
Up to this point, I'd only snacked on a couple of bars so it was time for lunch. In addition to my usual V8 juice, SPAM slices, banana, and Little Cuties, I had a half-dozen GF DoubleStuff Oreo cookies, one of my backpacking staples: Creamy Potato Cheddar Soup by AlpineAire, and of course, some Starbucks instant coffee stix.
With the freezing temperatures at the summit, it was HOT soup and coffee for the WIN! In retrospect, I should have brought my JetBoil MiniMo instead of minimalist MightyMo simply because the MiniMo has a windscreen and boils water much faster. I usually take the more compact MightyMo when I'm tight on pack space but after a last-minute decision this morning to switch to my bigger Osprey Aether pack I just forgot to switch out the stove. With the sky looking more foreboding, we packed up and hit the trail right at 4:00 pm, we went from low visibility due to clouds and snow flurries to finishing up the hike in hail and rain!
The descent was a steady push to try and beat the worst of the weather and we covered the 12.4 miles in 4 hours and 10 minutes. Fortunately, even though we had steady "weather" all the way down, most of it was either snow or hail, in the last few miles that changed to rain forcing me to toss on one of my disposable ponchos to stay dry.
Jonathan had his Garmin in countdown navigation mode and my GAIA app was calling off the mile-markers as we ticked them off, I was impressed that our two systems were spot-on in agreement with tracking mileage. As we closed in on our vehicles, it was obvious that we were going to surpass the traditional 26.2-mile marathon distance, all thanks to a full parking lot forcing us to park further from the trailhead!