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A Trip to the Top

May 23, 1997

Modjeska and Santiago peaks combine to form Saddleback Mountain. They are the highest points in Oranger County. Santiago is the more difficult climb, requiring more time and endurance for the round trip. Tips on climbing to Santiago Peak's 3,950-foot summit:

* This eight- to 10-hour round-trip hike requires considerable stamina and time. You must be in excellent condition.

* Wear hiking boots and a hat; long pants and sleeves can help minimize exposure to sun and poison oak.

* Carry a backpack with plenty of water (don't drink water you find along the trail); include high-energy food, sunscreen, a compass, insect repellent, first-aid kit, pocketknife and toilet paper.

* Know your limits; be prepared to back off the hike long before you're at the end of your energy and resources.

* Do not litter on the trail.

* Inherent dangers include poison oak, ticks, rattlesnakes and even mountain lions; although such encounters are more the exception than the rule, learn what to do and what not to do.

Hours: Hiking allowed between dawn and dusk

Cost: Free

Restrictions: No camping or campfires

Parking: Unpaved Trabuco Creek Road is best driven in a four-wheel-drive vehicle; park off it to access Holy Jim Trail, or watch for trail-head markers off Santiago Canyon Road; parking also near Cook's Corner with about a quarter-mile walk to Vulture Crags

Hiking Resources

For equipment, guide books, maps and hiking in and around Orange County:

* Adventure 16, 1959 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 650-3301

* REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), 1411 S. Village Way, Santa Ana, (714) 543-4142

Books Describe Santiago Peak Hike

* "Afoot and Afield in Orange County," Jerry Schad (Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 1996)

* "California County Summits," Gary Suttle (Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 1994)

* "California Hiking," Tom Stienstra and Michael Hodgson (Foghorn press, San Francisco, 1994)

For Local Hiking Group Activities

Sierra Club/Orange County, P.O. Box 5367, Fullerton, (714) 997-2220

Sources: Afoot and Afield in Orange County, Times reports; Researched by BENJAMIN EPSTEIN/For The Times

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