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Ortega Hill, Ortega Peak

31 January 1993 (Private trip)

By: Martin Feather

(Human interest italics added by Christy Bird)

The morning after the HPS Annual Awards Banquet, we set out to backpack to the Ortegas by a scenic route avoiding the shooting area. We followed trail 32WO8, starting from Hwy 33 a short ways above the Wheeler Gorge tunnels and campground. As shown on the Los Padres National Forest Map, and on the Wheeler Springs topo, the trail begins at the curve of a hairpin bend, marked as elevation 2249 on the topo. The trail has suffered from some severe erosion in spots, possibly aggravated by (blankity blank) dirt bike and/or mountain bike tracks leading water to cause eroded ruts running along the trail. The lower portion appears to have been abandoned to foot travel only. Intriguingly, two old-style camp stoves were visible off the trail at the 4350' elevation, but this point was insufficiently far along the route for our camp. We continued onwards (ascended mercilessly) to elevation 4750', where the trail crosses an intermittent stream as it prepares to circle around the northeast side of the (as yet unnamed by the HPS) bump with elevation 5100'+. Abundant(!), post-storm water flowing in the stream, and a flat, bare spot of just sufficient size, out of sight of the trail, were enough to qualify for our campspot.

The next day, we dayhiked on up the trail which soon widened to a jeep road, passing an ORV campsite at the 4900' elevation. In circling bump 5411', the road descends noticeably lower than does the trail shown on the topo. Fragments of the trail remain but our experience (no comment) at following them on the return suggest that walking the road is just as fast. This road is the continuation of the standard route to the Ortegas. Brush on Ortega Hill, previously burned away, had grown back with a vengeance. Patches of snow on the northern slopes of Ortega Peak posed no obstacles to reaching the top. From there, the hike back to camp and, with backpacks, on to the car convinced us that dayhiking this route would be long and strenuous - in excess of 5000 feet total gain - but we knew Frank could make it.

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