I love this shot of Ortega Peak. That’s the summit about a mile away. You can see how bushy the cross-country section is. Before the Thomas Fire that burned from December 2017 – March 2018 the route was virtually impassable due to thick chaparral. That’s Cobblestone Mountain (W6/SC-009) just to the left and Hines Peak (W6/SC-010) and the Topotopo Ridge to the right.
6 MARCH 2021 W6/SC-027
My brother Mark and I tried to climb Ortega Peak on December 27th, 1997 and we were met with an impenetrable wall of 12 foot chaparral. The Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section de-listed this summit in 2001 because of “heavy brush and shooting area.” Indeed there was a lot of target shooting going on when my brother and I tried it long ago. However, the area has been closed to shooting for a number of years now – and largely cleaned up due to a lot of volunteer’s hard work.
Then the epic Thomas Fire burned through so much of the area from December 4th 2017 through March 27, 2018. After that the area was closed for a long time. I was glad to see that these mountains have largely recovered and the route is once again passable. I read a review by Valerie Norton of her hike just after the area was opened in 2018 and emailed her. She told me the shooting area had been closed. This is what encouraged me to try this summit again.
The hike is 4.7 miles long that follows Cherry Creek up a gently climbing road for about 3 miles. I started about 6AM and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the early morning. I heard the distinctive descending trill of the Canyon Wren and the quiet burbling of Cherry Creek. At about the 3.82 mile mark things get a bit serious. There was a duck, or small cairn of rocks to mark the point and a faint use trail angles steeply up the slope to the left. The route is bushy and steep in places, but passable. Total elevation gain is about 1,700′ and it took me about three hours moving right along.
There is currently a lot of Poodle Dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi) in spots along the trail. The seeds to this plant can remain dormant in the soil for decades. It sprouts after a fire and is known to be a skin irritant. It doesn’t bother me much but your mileage my vary.
I made 24 contacts on 40m, 20m, 17m, 15m and 2m. I had 5 summit-to-summit contacts in California (thanks Neil K6KWI), Washington, Arizona and Colorado including Richard’s KJ7RTO first S2S. Chris F4WBN checked in from France first. I barely pulled Cassie KG6MZR out on 2m from home and, of course, no activation is complete without Jon K6LDQ from Torrance. UHF/VHF only would be tough from this peak. Cell coverage from Verizon was in and out, but I managed to get spots out via SOTAGoat.
The summit register went all the way back to May 27, 1997 and only had a couple of dozen names in it. This is a seldom-visited peak. I was the first to sign in this year. The last party was in November of last year. I only saw two other people the entire day, a young couple backpacking through to Matilija Creek. I thoroughly enjoyed this activation, but it is not one for everybody. I came back with my clothes and backpack covered in charcoal. Shooters and brush out of the way, my main concern on the descent was rattlesnakes and ticks. Rattlesnakes are often very active in the first warm days of March and with all the brush it can be hard to see where you are putting your feet. I had trekking poles to probe ahead of my steps.
Ticks often have blooms after the first rains of winter. I expected to see a lot, but saw none. Perhaps this is because it has been such a dry year. I did see a lot of Western Fence Lizards. Fun fact: Western Fence Lizards are naturally immune to Lyme disease. Not only that, they tend to immunize ticks that bite them. This is perhaps why we see fewer cases of Lyme disease in Western Fence Lizard habitat.