Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak

I needed one more peak to climb to complete the 2021 Six Pack of Peaks SoCal Challenge. While I am planning to climb Mt. Baldy as part of the Climb For Heroes, that hike has already been postponed once due to the forest closure orders. With that hike now slated for Veterans Day Weekend, there is a chance of weather impacting it. Heck, the first time I did CFH, it was delayed due to snow! Although we might be near the end of the fire season, there is always a chance for a repeat. Therefore, I chose Strawberry Peak to ensure my challenge would be completed.

I got to the trailhead around 7:30 am. The sun had risen above the marine layer that covered the LA basin. Unlike the last time I had come to this peak, there was certainly a lot more traffic on the road and cars parked at various spots. Once David Lipsitz (one of my fellow San Diego Hiking Society admins) arrived we grabbed our gear and carefully crossed the road to the trail. 

Some Forest Service workers passed us on their bikes, hauling their gear up the trail to do some maintenance. We continued working our way to the summit. The din of motorcycles and performance cars racing around the road below us took away from some of the enjoyment. Soon, Strawberry Peak came into view. 

From the junction, the trail would begin its steep climb to the summit. I took the lead as we made our way over some minor false summits. Once at the summit, we took a nice break and soaked in the views. It was nice to have completed another challenge. Now, I can focus solely on the Sierra Club 100!

We retraced our route without incident, passing several more hikers making their way to the summit. Unfortunately, my tracker went wonky, but using the time stamps on the photos, we did the hike in 4:13. Given we stopped to chat with some folks a few times along the way, this was not too bad. 

Old Survey Road 97

Just around the corner from the Ramona Grasslands, is the Old Survey Road. Old Survey Road 97 was once the main thoroughfare connecting Ramona and Escondido. This trail is only opened for about 3 months out of the year by the county. You need a free permit to do this hike and only 50 hikers per day are allowed on the trail. I convinced a couple of other friends to join me on this adventure.

The trail is not too challenging, although it has some elevation gain toward the turn-around point. Unlike the last time I did this hike, we had a nice cloud cover to keep us nice and cool. We got to the trailhead just before 8 am. Once the ranger was set up, we checked in and set off down the trail. 

At the trail’s end, some grabbed a snack before making the climb back up. Partway up, I stopped to see how they were fairing and spotted a nice rainbow to the west. One of the primary features of this hike is passing the nesting area for a pair of Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, their nests are a fair distance away. Some folks had come to this spot with some seriously long lenses to try to capture them. One photographer shared one photo he grabbed earlier in the day. Once back at the car, we headed off to have some lunch at Mi Ranchito. 

Roost Benchmark

Last week, Susie Kara and I hiked the peak on which she finished her San Diego Sierra Club list. It seemed obvious that this weekend we should rehike the peak on which I finished. We found parking at the trailhead to the Sunset Trail/Lucky S Ranch and headed down the old jeep road. This was also an inverted hike, so we would get the joy of having to climb back to the car.

We grabbed our gear and darted across the road to the trailhead. I had tossed on a light fleece, as it was a bit nippy. We cruised down the road to the first junction and from there we took the short, but more overgrown, route toward the summit. Finally the old road came to an end and we would begin our bushwhacking and sidehilling portion of the hike. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far to reach the summit. We looped around it for the final push and got our first glimpse of the fire damage from the wildfire that occured in May. The fire stopped almost exactly at the summit.

We took a nice break, chatted about the various peaks that filled our vista, and signed the register. Someone had been out here the day before. That would explain the fresh tracks we had seen along the way. Since we both had plans for the late afternoon, we set off toward the car, and the climb would begin.

While I did not set any land speed records during our return, we still held a nice pace. All told by my tracker; 7.93 miles in 4:41 with 1,679 of gain.

Los Pinos

After summiting Gasp Benchmark earlier in the day, we decided to see if we could drive up to Los Pinos and get that peak crossed off Susie’s remaining peaks. I had already been there twice before, so I did not need to go back, but was more than happy to act as her ‘car sherpa’. As we passed the trailhead for Corte Madera, it was full, as were the next 3 turn-outs. It was certainly a popular one today. Once we reached the junction at the Corral Canyon OHV area, we spotted a sign that indicated there was a locked gate ahead on the road to Los Pinos. We decided to venture on and see which gate might be closed. Susie thought it might be the lower gate, as that was the one that was locked the last time she was here. But as luck would have it, it was open, so we continued driving upward. Once we reached the summit, the gate for the road to continue north was locked. That was the gate I was expecting to be closed. We parked the car at the junction and walked the .2 miles to the summit. The lookout tower was manned, and Shane invited us up for a tour. Next to the tower, a memorial lookout had been built for a long-time ranger, Norman Mitchell.

Shane gave a full tour of the tower and how it operates. I had been here before, so I hung off to the side to let Susie and Alberto have front-row seats to the lecture and demonstrations. After soaking in the views and all the great information, we bid farewell and headed back down. With that peak, Susie is now under 30 more to go to complete the San Diego Sierra Club 100 list a second time. 

Gasp Benchmark

A recent storm left temperatures a bit below normal, so we decided to hike one of the more moderate desert peaks we needed. We had a handful of options to pick from, but since Ted had injured himself during a running race, that narrowed the choices to either doing the Webo/Ted combination or Gasp Benchmark. We chose the latter. I picked Susie and Alberto up and we were greeted with a wonderful sunrise as we left San Diego.

Soon, we pulled onto McCain Valley Road and then made the turn onto the rough dirt road toward Sacotone Overlook. This is the same road that will take you to the trailhead for Mt. Tule. It has always been a bit rough, but it has deteriorated quite a bit since I last drove it back in December. Once it turned on to the road toward our starting point for Gasp, it became much better. We gathered our gear and set off down the road. It was a crisp 46°, but we knew it would warm up quickly. We cruised down toward Redondo Springs, chatting about recent hikes. This hike is inverted, so we mostly go down to the peak, then get to climb back up to the car.

The miles passed quickly, and soon we were on the rocky ridge working our way carefully toward the benchmark. At times the winds were quite strong. We guesstimated they might have hit about 40 mph. We weaved our way across the steep and rocky terrain toward the summit.

Once there, we hung out a bit, having a snack, snapping some photos, and signing the register. Thankfully, the winds were not an issue. Soon it was time to climb back to the car.

I kept a nice measured pace on the ascent. Susie and Alberto would pause for a bit at times and once I reached them I just kept motoring on. Soon we reached our car and had another peak crossed off our list! Our stats were 6.34 miles in 3:04 and 1,729 feet of gain.

Eagle Peak

Today’s adventure had Susie Kara and I heading out to hike Eagle Peak. After some navigational errors on my part during the drive (that I atoned for by buying a flight at Calico Cidery), we pulled into the parking lot. There were a couple of cars already there, including a ranger. After grabbing our gear, we set off down the trail, stopping to chat with the ranger for a bit. He informed us that they are hoping to make some major improvements to this trailhead, pave the parking lot (which is very rutted), add a pit toilet, and some picnic tables. If the budget is approved, work might start in 2022. 

For those unfamiliar with this trail, it shares the same trailhead as Three Sisters Falls, hence why there is a need for the improvements. After about 6/10 of a mile, the trail comes to the junction — to the left is the descent down to the VERY DRY waterfalls and straight onto Eagle Peak. In fact, there is a sign near the start of the trail with a photo of the state of the falls.

Initially, it felt a bit warm and we were glad this hike was just over 4 miles in length. Luckily, a nice breeze picked up and kept things pleasant. The trail is a little overgrown, but not too bad. We quickly worked our way up toward the summit, passing over the minor false summits. We signed the register and stood out on a boulder for some nice photos. We did not linger too long, as we really wanted to sample those ciders back in Wynola. Once back at the car, we estimated it was now in the mid-80s. A few more cars had arrived since we had left. Never can understand hiking in the heat to see a dry waterfall. We did the 4.2 miles in 2:04, including the time on the summit. My tracker reported just over 1,000 feet of gain. 

Our post-hike stop this time was the Calico Cidery in Wynola. This is a really cute tasting room. We each had a flight of the three ciders that were available, and enjoyed them on some nice shaded benches. I filled my growler with “The Granny” and Susie opted for “Fieldblend”. With a little luck, we might be able to do one of my remaining peaks next weekend.

Wilson Benchmark & Pinyon Ridge

Another fantastic day out in the high desert near Ranchita. Susie Kara and I decided to tackle Wilson Benchmark and Pinyon Ridge. She needed to summit this pair of peaks on her quest to complete the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peaks list for a second time. Initially, we had talked about doing this hike as an overnight just to mix things up, but in the end we opted just to hike it.

I turned on Old Wilson Road in Ranchita, then hopped on to a side road to connect to Old Culp Valley Road. There was one spot on this dirt road that took a touch of care. We parked at the trailhead and grabbed our gear. We opted to do Wilson first and summit Pinyon on our return. When I had done these peaks previously, I had done Pinyon Ridge first then continued onto Wilson Benchmark. 

Once we reached the point where we could leave the old Jeep road to make the climb up Wilson, we debated where we might want to work our way up its gentle slope. The climb up Wilson was nice and easy. The skies were much clearer than last weekend, so we could truly enjoy the views. Our descent took us a slightly different route. We actually spotted a cairn this way, not like it was really needed. We then retraced our route back toward Pinyon Ridge.

Since I saw there was supposed to be an azimuth mark near Pinyon Ridge, just a bit to the north of the road, I spent some time trying to locate it. Sadly, I did not, but I did get a nice photo of Pinyon Ridge. Since this hike was about exploring new routes, we stayed on the ridge we were on to make our way to the summit. This route took us right to the base of the summit and avoided some of the challenges I remembered from my previous ascents.

We carefully plotted our route up to the top of the actual summit block. Susie took the more traditional scramble on the north side, while I found a nice route on the east side that bypassed the minor friction move that was needed. We took a short break, signed the register, snapped our photos and then headed down. We would switch our descent routes off the summit. Susie tried my route, and I was able to navigate down her route with no issues at all. 

Although we had a nice breeze blowing, it was starting to get a tad warm. Soon, the car came back into view. Continuing the “new routes” theme of this hike, we decided to drive out toward Culp Valley instead of back toward Ranchita. Initially the road was great, but there were a couple of spots to be mindful of. For future hikers coming out to this trailhead, I recommend driving in from the Ranchita side. All told this hike was 9.1 miles in 4:40 (including the summit rests), and about 1,500 of elevation gain. On the way home, we again stopped at Don’s Market for a cold drink and Dudley’s for a sandwich. 

Ranchita Benchmarks

Operation: Help Susie to 100×2! continued today with a return to Ranchita to hike out to White and Bonny Benchmarks. These peaks sit on the very western end of Anza-Borrego State Park. In fact, our initial route from the car parallels the border fence. I had done these peaks several times, so like yesterday I took the lead. Our path weaved around the various bushes and cacti following the animal trails that criss-crossed the desert floor. The plan was to hike out and up to White Benchmark, then work our way back down to pick up Clyde and Bonny Benchmarks.

We would gain almost 1,000 feet by the time we stood atop the summit block of White. The last push to the summit took a bit of effort, as it did become a bit steep and sandy. The skies were still hazy like the day before. It appears the register has been lost, so if anyone reads this and is planning to climb White Benchmark, bring a new one. We both again stared at The Thimble to our north and wondered how people climb it from the south or east side. Susie was so thankful that my route yesterday was 100x easier than her first time up it. 

As we made our way back down, we set off toward Clyde Benchmark. We made it part way up, but did not feel the need to reach the top. Again, no register was found where we thought one should be. Bonny was a short distance away. I lead us around the south side to the ledge on the west to the summit. Susie recalled working her way up a crack when she did it in 2017. We sat here for a bit taking in the views. Bonny still had her register, so we dutifully signed it. I opted not to crawl over the reference mark this time. 

We scrambled down and continued making our way back to the car. There is yet another benchmark nearby, Hut. But, neither felt the urge to go get, as I recalled the descent was a bit brushy. We stayed heading east to avoid some of the heavier brush that tends to grow in the drainages that seemed to always pull you in. So, we were back in the car and headed home. Normally, we would have grabbed a cold drink at the Montezuma Valley Market, but sadly it burned earlier this year. They are hoping to rebuild. Instead, we made a quick stop at Don’s Market for some cold drinks, and Dudley’s for some sandwiches. The entire hike was 4.6 miles in 3:24 (including stops) with 1,130 feet of gain.

Big Black Mountain

After summiting The Thimble and bailing on San Ysidro, we decided to drive up Big Black Mountain just north of Ramona in Pauma Valley. Susie had hiked this long exposed road hike back in 2017 and I drove it twice before. So we hung a right once we got back into town and set off up the dirt road. 

The road is rough and rocky, but the Subaru handled it with ease. Passed a couple of cars working their way back down from the summit. Finally, we reached the end of the road and parked. A nice grove of pines stood just to the south. We grabbed our gear, even though the summit was a short 1/4 mile walk. 

Once at the summit, we again took in the views. The day was getting long, so we did not stay too long. Plus we had the long drive back down. Another car had joined us at the summit and was having a picnic in the shade. Three cars passed us as we drove down the road. With that, Susie was two steps closer to completing the list and we all had a great day.

The Thimble

Today’s adventures were about moving forward to finishing the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list again. Both Susie Kara and I are embarking on this effort. While most peaks are still unclimbable due to the desert temps, we do have a few that we can tackle. Our first summit of the day was The Thimble out near Ranchita. 

Ted Markus tagged along for the adventure as well. The two of us had done it back in October of 2020. Since I had multiple summits of this peak, I took the lead once we reached the saddle. I guided us up its steep slopes with no real issues. I checked my previous track only near the top and was happy to find I was spot on.

We slipped through the brush tunnel and made our final scramble to the summit. Susie could not believe the difference between this approach and her first one back in 2017. We signed the register and took in the views. The skies were hazy, so it was a bit disappointing. To our north loomed San Ysidro. We had hoped to also summit it today as well. We began our descent, mostly following our earlier route, but we kept looking to see if we would find a path that would allow us not to lose more elevation. Try as we might, nothing opened up. Finally, we threw in the towel and descended to the wash at the base of the peak. We took a nice break and discussed our options. The day had warmed up some, so we became a bit less motivated to make the San Ysidro climb. Plus, our friend Gina Norte had wanted to climb San Ysidro but could not come on this attempt. So we decided to come back when she could join us.