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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Sitton Peak on a Sunny Saturday

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Date: January 16, 2021

Distance: 9.49 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 6h 3m

Total Moving Time: 4h 26m

Summit Elevation: 3,273 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,859 feet

Trailhead: Bear Canyon

Previous Ascents: February 21, 2020


Today I kicked off my 2021 SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks (Socal 6POP) quest with Sitton Peak located in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness area of the Cleveland National Forest. There are only nine peaks in the SoCal challenge this year (there were eighteen in 2020) and Sitton is the lowest in elevation on the list.

In case you're wondering, there are two reasons this year's challenge is half of what it was in 2020: First, last year was the inaugural year for six peaks in San Diego, this year those six were separated into their own challenge (I completed the final peak of 'San Diego Six' on January 12th). Second, three of the traditional peaks are closed this year due to the wildfires last year. I will miss hiking Mount Wilson, San Bernardino, and the San Gorgonio (the highest point in Southern California) but it's important for the wilderness areas to recover.

Great spot for a post-hike snack!

The peaks on the SoCal 6POP list require more planning on my part as they are just further away from home (Sitton is the closest at 86 miles away), I prepped most of my gear Friday night and was up at 0415 in order to be on the road by 0500. When I arrived at the parking lot across from the Ortega Oaks 74 Candy Store there were already close to 20 cars in the lot, it was going to be a busy day on the trail!

Trailhead Tips

  • Don't Park in the Candy Store Lot

  • The parking lot is a USFS Fee Area ($5/vehicle/day or a valid Adventure Pass) To be honest, I have an Adventure Pass so I didn't look to see if they had an "Iron Ranger" self-pay station. (I'll confirm and update this accordingly)

  • Adventure Passes can be purchased at the Candy Store

  • The Bear Canyon Trailhead is just past the Candy Store (across the street from the parking lot)

  • There are pit toilets at the parking lot

  • There is a sign-in log at the beginning of the trail, take the time to sign in as it gives the USFS feedback on trail usage.

Directional stakes help ensure you're on the right trail

I hit the trail right at 0700, it was very cool at the start, but I hit several thermal pockets as I climbed up the single track trail making me shed my puffy right away! The trail is easy to follow and well-marked with small white stakes, at about 2 miles in, you have the option of staying on the Bear Canyon Trail or taking the Bear Ridge Trail, both lead to the 4-Corners area and are roughly the same distance, I made the righthand turn and continued on the Bear Canyon Trail making a mental note to take the Bear Ridge Trail on my way back.

Most of my 'out' trip was peaceful, however, early on I was dismayed by the amount of trash along the trail (primarily tissues, 'wet wipes', and discarded masks) so I put on a rubber glove and got out a Ziplock to pack away the trash I picked up. (By the time I reached the summit my impromptu trash bag was full.)

I was overtaken by a few groups along the way and it wasn't until I reached the last half mile scramble to the summit that I began to pass hikers coming down from the summit. I consider this trail to be a fairly easy hike, however, the last scramble up a steep, narrow trail to the summit can be tricky and is what most people remember most about the route. Poles are definitely a plus, as are shoes or boots with good traction (although I did see a teenager going up barefoot!😲) Personally, I feel the ascent is easier than the descent because you're not dealing with slipping and gravity.

Trail traffic approaching the summit (upper right)

Since I hadn't passed a lot of people along the trail, I knew the summit would be packed (and it was) there were people everywhere! The actual summit spot (where the summit sign and survey marks are) is a smallish rocky area but the trail extends beyond to an area with more boulders, there were people dotted all along the summit ridge. This was quite a difference from last year's trip where I was the only one on the summit and I only saw three other hikers all day!

This little monkey likes his summits!

Still, I spent an hour at the summit taking pictures, having lunch, and visiting with other hikers. I parked my gear on the boulder where Reference Mark 1 was located and observed the comings and goings from there. Naturally, Curious George had his summit photoshoot, wrangling his way into my 'social proof' pics 🤣 The views were spectacular and I could easily see Catalina Island, again quite a change from last year where it was a gray day and I was doing my best to stay ahead of rain showers. As the next wave of folks hit the summit I decided it was time to head down. I felt like I descended that tricky half-mile trail much better this year than I did before 👍🏻, I'm sure my year of hiking sketchy desert peaks has sharpened my skills!

Sitton Peak

Locating monuments at the summit of peaks that I've hiked was what got me started on this hobby of actively seeking out survey marks. At first, I didn't know much about them I just thought they were cool looking. The more I found I began to notice they were not all alike, prompting me to start researching them. As they say, the 'Devil's in the details' I became fascinated with the history of their use.

Most people generally refer to all of these as Benchmarks, however, a benchmark is a specific type of survey marker that measures elevation above or below a specific reference datum (standardized reference point). The monuments on Sitton Peak consist of a Triangulation Station Mark (or simply the Station) and two Reference Marks. The station disc is often pre-stamped with a triangle in the middle, with a small hole inside (where the surveyor would place the measuring device) Topographical (Topo) Maps use a triangle icon with a dot in the center to mark a high point for a peak or mountain.

There are usually a minimum of two reference marks for each station, typically set at 90º angles and, depending on the terrain will be within 10 meters of the station. The pre-stamped arrows on the reference marks will point to the station and will be stamped with the station name, their number, and the date they were set. The purpose of the reference marks is to ensure the station location can be determined by a triangulation process even if the station disc is missing.

When I got back to the 4 Corners area, I had planned to take the Bear Ridge Trail back, however, there was a large group milling around, taking photos and it appeared as if they were taking the same route. I opted for the route with the lighter traffic, even so, I passed a dozen or more people heading out on the trail as I returned. I reached the Candy Store just before 1300 and popped in to grab some post-hike snacks and chat with the owner for a bit before heading back across the street to the truck. All-in-all, a great day for a hike and it was fun to be back out on the Socal 6POP trails again, one down and eight to go! Packed up and ready to head home, I decided to do some drive-by survey marker hunting along SR 74 (Ortega Highway), but that's a whole other post 😉

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