The sun was just illuminating the top of Cuyamaca peak as I pulled into the Sweetwater River parking lot. The air was crisp as I gathered my gear and set off counter-clockwise along the Harvey Moore Trail, which was named after the first superintendent of the park, with the goal of summiting the East Mesa High Point.
The trail works its way upward for a bit before reaching the mesa. Oakzanita stood to the south, and soon its summit was lit by the morning sun. Soon the mesa spread out before me, its golden grasses waving gently in the breeze as I made my way toward Granite Springs campground.
I passed through the empty campground, pausing for a bit on the bench beneath a grand oak tree. As the trail continued north, some movement to the left of me caught my eye. It was a deer walking through the grassland. I stopped and watched as it looked back at me, then it began leaping away. I turned back to the trail, and some 10-15 wild turkeys were just off to the side of the trail about 25 yards away.
As I crested the rise, I began to get my first glimpses again of the East Mesa High Point. There is no trail to this summit, so I spent some time scouting the possible route up. I had my GPS track from before but with the rains last year, who know about the growth…
I turned on the Deer Park Trail for a little bit before beginning the cross-country portion. I spotted a faint use trail that headed up the hillside, so I decided to follow it up. The basic route I was going to follow was to stay to the left of the heavy brush in the forested section up to or near the ridgeline, then begin the bushwhacking to the summit. This use trail led me to a small flat area that I remembered from before. Crossing through the knee-high grass, ever thankful for my gaiters, I reached the final rise to the summit. Again, I spotted a faint trail and began working my way up.
Soon, this trail reached the brush and the hard part was about to begin. I scanned the thicket and saw what seemed to be a route into it. I pushed through and would slowly find my way through, it actually turned out to be not as difficult as I had feared. As I neared the summit, I spied the metal pole denoting the summit. Weaving my way through the last of the brush, I had reached the peak again. I signed the register and enjoyed the views. I set back down the mountain, hoping that I would be able to pick up my route again. This is why it is so important to stop and survey the route you have taken.
Back on Deer Park Trail, I paused to address some burrs that slipped past my gaiters. A lone mountain biker passed by. We chatted some before we both continued northward. He turned south back along the East Mesa Fire Road/Harvey Moore Trail, and I decided to do the full loop. The last time I did this summit, I did it as an Out-and-Back. But this time I wanted to explore the rest of the trail. My legs were feeling great, even after summiting Hot Springs Mountain the day before. The trail continued through the mesa for a bit before making its steep descent toward Harper Creek. While the scenery was fine, I did have some shade to enjoy.
Once I crossed the dry creek, the terrain was almost desert-like in the canyon. Quite the contrast from the golden meadows a few hours earlier. I hustled down the trail. I could imagine when the creek is flowing, how one might enjoy this section, but for me it was meh. Finally, I reached the East Side Trail and begin heading south again back to the car, where the orange I meant to bring sat in the cooler… I kept up the pace, in part as it was getting a tad warmer and I had a farewell party to attend. The trail was gentle and shaded at times as it followed the dry Sweetwater River. After about two miles or so, I found myself back at the car. I quickly shed some of my hiking gear, enjoyed that orange, and headed back into town. That was my 68th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge!
I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest.