Santiago via Holy Jim Trail
I was feeling a hike this weekend and some tentative plans fell through, so at 1am on Saturday night I turned to SoCal hiker for some tips. I found this hike with decent mileage for a chill full day in Cleveland Forest, which I'd never been to and, I assume, is named after my home town (just kidding. I was also really excited for a hike because I was inspired by the stories Scoops told in his talk at the Alpine Club BBQ. He noticed so many details about the topography, the way his path interacted with water features, the intentional way he could relate features in the landscape surrounding the hike to the reason the trail did what it did; not to mention the thoughtfulness he brought to ordinary encounters with water, weather patterns, flora, etc. I can notice these things, and do enjoy identifying everything on the map while routefinding, but often the bulk of my hike is spent in a less engaged mode. lost in my own thoughts or thinking about the next rest or landmark as I push myself physically. I thought it would be fun to try to be as thoughtful and inquisitive as Scoops by noticing as much as possible on this hike. Unfortunately I waited on the trip reports but it did work out for a more interesting hike and I took plenty of pictures for reminders
as far as it could tell from the highway, Santiago is the most prominent point in Orange County, visible during most of my drive and topped with telecommunications towers. The Holy Jim Falls trailhead is in Orange County, down a long dirt road. You park your car and walk up what is I guess a long driveway, past many houses, some with huge succulents lining the road that I found impressive and friendly. After about a mile, I reached what felt like the actual trailhead. There is a wooden post and entryway below the last house on the road, the ranger's and a wagon with two cases of water bottles and a box for donations to fund trail maintenance (apparently entirely donation based). From there I followed the trail trail along a dried upriver bed. I figured Holy Jim Falls (the destination of my trail) was bone deny this late in the year. Indeed, I was feeling pretty dry myself, as it was a hot day for a hike to start near succulents. However, a half mile later the stream had a trickle tumbling over some man-made ledges, and farther on there was a decent streamlet. The trail was shady now, and I passed under tunnels of thick bushes or trees that arched with trunks on one side of the trail and branches near the ground at the other side of the trail.
The trail up to Santiago branched off and up to the West (left) about a half mile before the falls, so I headed up dusty switchbacks. The falls were actually formed below a drainage around an irregular ridge coming off of the East side of Santiago. The Holy Jim trail goes around this rocky and steep spurts gain a more northern ridge that gently leads to the summit.
As soon as I was above the canopy around the stream bed, I could see the flat, long summit of Santiago wrapping around a bowl. I would walk near the base of that bowl, but for now I was a bit put off by the idea of walking towards a bunch of shiny metal. Instead, halfway up the switchbacks, I stopped at a small outlook to sit and look West for a minute, as the sun lit up the Valley below. I couldn't see any of the city, I was tucked behind green. brown hills. I could only tell where the road and trail must be from the contours. The view from this direction was definitely more remote-feeling than the view above.
I continued, but frequently stopped on the dry switchbacks to take photos. I encountered what I first thought was a short and fat baby rattlesnake, but turned out to be a lizard with a stubby tail and tiny legs. maybe the tail was growing back. I noticed some spectacular and for me unexpectedly late season flowers in bloom, dressed in a bright purple fade. There were vibrant red berries. Perhaps the colors felt extra vibrant because much of the vegetation had already begun to dry out and the greens were fading. I spotted patches of brown on the slope across from me where I speculated that a fire had charred some of the bushes that were still green elsewhere. I also reflected a bit on the social solidarity in research labs. The switchbacks felt quite productive and fun for me; they were also almost unnervingly gentle, which might help.
Eventually, the trail follows the contour of the bowl formed by the South and West ridges from Santiago. The peak is mostly visible now, but so are the rocky bluffs below the summit, which were more interesting to watch. A bird chilling on the trail ahead of me hopped further on the trail each atime I got near. I love when this happened, it's like making a friend. We walked together for a few minutes. The open meadow? scrubland? below the bowl was cut with several dry streamlets that crossed the trail and are probably beautiful in bloom. Past the bowl, I reenter moods that are damper than before and swarming with gnats. Fortunately I am quickly spat out onto a dirt road. I take it to the right to find where the Upper Holy Jim trail continues.. a pickup parked directly on the trailhead causes me to miss the turn on first pass. However, I strongly suspected I'd gone too far, since after the turn the left thorthl side of the road dropped down instead of climbing up. I had also gotten a decent view of the road ahead and had identified that truck as the place to turn. I doubled back and followed the trail directly up a ridge. I stopped to eat a peach, sitting on my hat as I do, but forgot to grab the hat when I got up, so I had to double back about a half mile. Doubling back is one of my most despised trail activities, a throw- back to my PCT days when time is miles and miles determine when you can sit, eat sleep, resupply, everything. bring less about miles is one of my long term goals, there's just something about eating them up though.
I realized I'm now near the center (East-West) of Cleveland forest. From the road the view down and out was entirely mountain. but from my vantage on the ridge I can see city to the East. I speculated that the road must come from the city to the East, since there's no road access from where I was to the West, and I wondered whether there is another trail that I could have taken to continue East, traversing the entire forest. Probably not much longer, if at all longer than my actual route.
Eventually the trail rejoins the road for the rest of the way to the summit. I stopped for a minute to steel myself for the extended encounter with society; from this height the sun lit the hills with a green blue tinge, accentuating ridge lines across a sista that continued endlessly south.
The road soon reached the summit. I walked around, at first unsure what was off limits and wary of trucks, but there is a well-trod path circumambulating the outside of the fenced towers. I was satisfied when I found the summit marker, but continued farther along the ridge to reach a lookout where afternoon sun lit the ocean and coastline. The view might have reached San Diego on perfect day, and certainly reached the San Gabriel Mountains today I was quite tickled to walk up from the desert to reach the ocean, and I enjoyed a beachside pomegranate, which I had saved to prolong the summit.
On my way down I got a good view of a lake between myself and the next mountains East. I am pretty sure I could see Jacinto, but I never see it from this far south and didn't bother with a large map so I wasn't confident in my identification. I was moving a lot faster on the descent (4 mph vs 3) , and I realized I was going to lose light, so I didn't stop to notice as much on the way down.. I guess I am not used to road walking, because I tripped on the first part of the descent (something that happens on literally every descent), but instead of catching myself I fell flat on my stomach and chest, forearms just barely preventing a faceplant. I scraped up my stomach, knees, and arms, and had to scream through clenched jaw for a minute, but mostly I was miffed at myself for being careless. I don't remember another time I've fallen flat forward in well over 1000 trail miles, so this felt pretty crazy. although maybe Brianna can remind me of another time I was so clumsy.
other than that the descent was not so eventful. I moved quickly, took the other half of the road- upper-Jim-trail loop (as if I had turned left instead of night at the first mood junction) for a change of scenery, it was cool and shaded. I got some pictures of some strange seed husks that looked like they were dropped from uphill and had spikes to catch in bushes below, so they could grow tendrils around the lower bush. That and some furry flowering bodies reminded me of a Dr. Seuss drawing.
Eventually I reached the falls just before sunset. It was one of those perfect water features that springs right out of the side of the slope. I eagerly washed my abrasions, which had been collecting dust and caked blood for too long. My feet also enjoyed the cool pool. I practically had a full wash, but with dark approaching I felt like getting home.
I definitely had a blast slowing down and purposefully noticing features of this hike. It definitely changed the nature of the hike, and I'm encouraged to incorporate even some formal mindfulness practice into future hikes. I did find it a lot less easy and enjoyable once I was tired, but that's probably reasonable. I think with my variations and double backs I did about 19 miles, and had plenty of juice to make some dinner at home. Great hike, just what I was looking for!