Most interesting day... I'd planned this day out thinking I'd be covering 13-14 miles, with the initial 4 miles being a walking shuttle to the trailhead across city streets, three miles of on trail descending from Ortega Peak... and 6-7 miles of off trail ridge hiking. At this point I'm not really sure what I did! The city streets and descending trail are not in question, but now the ridge traverse mileage, judged initially by plotting on the Map Source from my GPS software, has been radically challenged by the mileage charted by the GPS unit itself. Instead of the expected 6-7, it shows over 10! I've never had my GPS unit to be far off on mileage, so I have to wonder if my route just wandered around that much...? ... or if the ridge is just that much longer. I did alter course shifting back and forth to gaze down into the different sides of the ridge, and I created softer sloped routes by angling on the steeper climbs. A few times I drifted off to check on route options. Hard to imagine there could have been over 3 miles of alterations!
So, if anyone is odd enough to really follow the ridge all the way over to Ortega Peak, be aware that the posted 6 miles may not get the job done!
I kicked the day off by angling cross country up to the ridge (instead of entering at the mouth of Beeman Canyon). This alternative route heads up hill about a quarter mile before the big church on Scenic drive... following an old Jeep route that goes up into the Maze (system of rolling ATV tracks; good for skilled mountain bikers and conditioned trail runners), and from there breaking through the Garden Wall to the north. The Garden Wall is a few miles of rock ledge that run along the base of the cliff on the west... ending before they reach Beeman Canyon.
From there I traversed multiple drainages to finally connect up with the ridgeline, and the old pack horse trail. Once on the old trail I enjoyed pleasant striding until reaching the meadow at a bit over two miles. The meadow includes an interesting section full of natural rock "headstones"... could call the area the graveyard. Down drainage towards Beeman Canyon stand the 3 Sisters, and interestingly distinctive rock formation guarding the lower meadow.
At this point you would notice the obvious, you stand below an abrupt wall... including a variety of mini-cliffs. I chose to move up to the top of the meadow and begin my climb on the basin side. The Basin is the broad area of drainages between this ridge and The Mesa, far across to the south. It includes numerous drainages and a variety of nice ridge hiking trails, all leading up to Ortega Peak. For most of this hike, the Basin is closed off from the ridge by a series of vertical rock cliffs. The great aspect of this route is simply to walk the edge of those cliffs, taking in the great views and vistas. You can traverse over to the Beeman Canyon side of the ridge but the views will not rival this southern exposure.
The Wall... well, probably 500' of climbing over less than .2 mile. It is not technical. If you slip and fall you'll still be where you were standing, and the fall will likely not be far. You can reach out and touch the slope in front of you for most of the way up this section.
There is a reward, once on top you have soft ridge walking again. There will be additional mini-walls, but the terrain allows for easy slanted traversing, softening the grades out nicely. You will continue in this fashion all the way up to Winter Peak, with a few gullies to drop into and back out of. You'll first know you've hit the peak because of the odd bit of concrete slab poured tilting out over the edge of the cliff. This is the launching pad for paragliders. I just missed 5 of those crazy guys... saw them a few hours later as I was finishing up the hike.
From the south end of Winter Peak I looped around to the east side of the mountain for an easy downclimb. The Basin side is pretty much cliffed out. The Dry Canyon side (east) has some reasonable down climbs. From there I moved back around to the ridge and headed out to Ridge Peak, the next highest point along the ridge, again moving around to the Dry Canyon side to move down the ridge.
There is a lot of down through this section. Unfortunate in that the goal, if you are here, is to move up to the highest point of the ridge: Ortega Peak. Moving finally down to the lowest saddle, you have the option to drop on off the ridge, but I'd suggest staying up high for awhile longer... you'll top out once again and once again begin to drop to a saddle. This is the one time you do not move to the Dry Canyon side, even though the Basin side is cliffed out, so is the Dry Canyon side. Just walk right out to the ridge point and over the edge... look closely, it is easily downclimbed, just a couple of steps and you are there.
From here, the hike is down and into the upper grasslands... with the option of continuing on up the ridge to Ortega Peak, or to following the Ortega/Dry traverse, a double track that has been created by ATV (illegally!!) that will carry you down and around to the west and south side of Ortega, for an easy ascent. It is interesting to look back and view the full ridgeline that you've left behind you.
I have figured out that the much better looping route would be to follow the Ortega/Dry traverse to connect down with upper Mineral Springs, to follow it around the upper Basin and down to Scenic drive at Indian Wells. That would cut off the last Ortega Peak section, which is not all that scenic, it would avoid the steep and rocky t119, and it would cut off a couple of miles of city streets. Overall, more scenic and easier. This hike is long enough anyway... shorter and more scenic just has to win out, unfortunately, not for me today... my truck is parked at the bottom of t119, so I get to visit Ortega and enjoy all those extra miles.
Statistically, this day is very similar to the one that killed me a week ago: 4000' and 17 miles... but this has been a much different day. It did not include the killer, full body climbing necessary to get out of Deadman and up to Steamboat, nor the horrendous bushwhacking. The climbs today were often nicely calf burning, but always broken up by striding areas, with no real shrubbery obstacles. The difference really shows in the hours, three hours less than that other hike. Of course, last week's debacle made me at least prep adequate supply for this day: 3 liters of Gatorade, Liter of Energy Drink, 3 roast pork sandwiches, 4 apples, orange, box of prunes, a couple of Super Waffles, 40 ounces of water... I finished off the last of the fluid during the final mile of the hike!
This was a mild weather day... if it had been hotter I could have gone through a couple more liters? I only ate a couple of apples and one sandwich, but it was nice to know there was reserve.
I'd have to give this hike the very highest rating, and even if it were done as an out and back just to Winter Peak, I think it would still garner that rating. It just makes for a great day out, of the off trail variety.
Now, as I sit here, legs beginning to cramp up, I guess I have to factor that perhaps it is still too much too soon.