Santiago PeakComing from San Diego to hike this peak, i realized when we got up in the morning to head out we really hadn't done our homework very well.
The summit post page makes it seem as though you can easily find the trail head from the nearby campground (O'neil Park), which isn't exactly the case. It isn't hard but if you plan on summiting it isn't the best starting point either. The road to the trail head is about 4 miles from the ranger station in the park and once you get on that dirt road you have about a 5 mile drive to the parking area. Knowing this ahead of time would have helped us get an earlier start.
We did get a slow start going into this, partially because not being able to get out as often as i'd like and camping as often as i'd like my hiking partner and i brazenly stayed up late 'illegally' (no alcohol in the campground) drinking beer enjoying being under the open sky, as well lit as it was from the city just miles away and watching the night life creatures do their thing. I was suprised at the amount of life considering the close proximity to the nearby urban sprawl. We arrived late and set up camp in the dusk to witness bats roaming and later an owl hung out for quite some time. All of this blatant disregard for the hike in the morning did make the actual hike harder than it should of been.
Not getting going until about 10am only to discover that walking to the trail head wasn't an option with the time constraints we had created for ourselves made it so that by the time we actually made it to the trail head we were beginning far more behind than the 9am time we had originally agreed upon. By several hours.
We thought we would see the trail head on the park map somewhere and when we didn't, we went to the ranger station to find the details (again really should of done our homework on this). The ranger although nice wasn't particularly helpful, we provided more answers to him than he provided us. Being the adventurers we are we were aware that hiking in southern california and parking on mountain roads required an adventure pass which he didn't immediately offer as needed until we asked. We also didn't have one for this year yet and had thought we would be fine without it thinking we would be able to leave from the park. Getting info out of him as to where we could purchase one was a bit like pulling teeth from this guy. You can purchase them easily at the general store a few miles down the road on your way to the trailhead road.
After his terrible directions and knowledge that we could purchase a pass at the general store we headed out in search of the general store. The woman running the counter was very helpful although a bit too eager to sell us maps. She gave us simple directions and we were on our way. The road to get to the Holy Jim trail head is a rough one. A four wheel drive vehicle would be recommended but if you take it slow one that sits higher will be fine. We made it about 2 miles up and pulled off to the side and set out. By the time we hit the trail head it was 12:30.
The trail itself is one of the easier trails i've hike. The grade is pleasant and enabled us to go at a fairly brisk speed. After making it through the denser forestation around the creek it begins a switchback that allows for awesome views and fairly decent speed. If you are the type that likes to run trails, this is a great well maintained trail for that.
Near the end you will come out of the trail onto a utility road to finish up the last few miles. Here you will contend with motorbikes and truck traffic. It is an area people like to drive up to and enjoy and there is no escaping the traffic. Several motorbikes passed us and a jeep with two dads loaded with kids also were dust kickers.
This is were i began to really feel the effects of not enough sleep and dehydration. The utility road is pretty exposed and you lose the shade that accompanied the majority of the trail. Having started out dehydrated no amount of water could replenish me, and the sun began to take its toll.
Having come up from San Diego and not getting to hike as often as i would like I wasn't about to let a hangover stop me from summitting. But about a mile from the peak i let my hiking partner go ahead of me and dealt with the heat exhaustion that was taking its toll on me. This was the first time I had put myself in this position and wasn't completely rational about it. At this point time was an issue for us and my inability to accept i wasn't going to peak took me farther up than i probably should of gone.
I took my much needed break, put on my sweater and regulated my breathing while she summitted and returned. Although i was sad about not bagging this peak, my solace is that the view was terrible due to the heavy black smog clouds that hung below us (and that i was only about a mile shy). The fifteen minutes it took her to go up and back brought me back to a rational logic and i was able to begin at a good pace again fighting the clock to get down in time. (At this point I became the lead hiker as she suffered an ankle injury).
All in all, my meltdown and her subsequent ankle injury we managered to hike the trail in 6 and a half hours (trail head to trail head). Not bad considering. By the time we did get back to the car, and after slowing our pace when we hit the road, it was dark.
If you plan on hiking this trail and are coming from out of town there are a few things to know. O'neil Park isn't near the trail head, it isn't far but you will need to get in your car and drive to the trail head, so there is no escaping the adventure pass. Also that O'neil Park is probably the cleanest and most annoying campground i have ever camped in, and really serves no purpose except to be a crashing place. The camp sites are incredibly close together, and the road is inches from the grounds. It being in the middle of the urban sprawl means you can forget about a night sky. Drinking is not allowed although unless you're a kid that can't calmly enjoy a beverage and conversation without getting wasted and acting like an ass, you shouldn't have any problem having a beer or two or a glass of wine. Just wouldn't chance the open container of a can or bottle. The plus to this campground is that is remarkably clean and well maintained and the showers are free and hot, and after a long hike there is little else that is more welcoming.