Manza Benchmark

After summiting Sheephead Mountain, I drove a short way back down Sunrise Highway to the trailhead. I actually grabbed a spot right next to it. Both the Sunset and Big Laguna trails start from here, so it is a popular spot. I grabbed my gear and set out again. The Sunset Trail is a hiking-only trail so I did not worry about being run over by a mountain bike since the Big Laguna Loop is a very popular trail for them.

As I cruised along the trail, I spotted patches of poison oak to either side. I had a feeling that this was going to be an issue on this summit attempt. Soon I reached the meadow that I needed to cross to join up with the use trail that would take me down the ravine and then back up to Manza Benchmark. As I set off across it, poison oak was scattered about. This was going to be a challenge.

I never found the use trail in the actual meadow, but on the other side, I spotted it and began my descent. The trail through this section was fairly easy to follow and only slightly overgrown, but tons of poison oak to attempt to avoid. After losing about 300 feet of elevation, it was time to make the steep climb out of the ravine. The bugs had started to come out, so on went the bug net.

The trail became fairly well marked with cairns as it quickly rose to the ridgeline. Poison oak continued to grow everywhere, I only hoped my contact would not become an issue later.

So I reached the crest of the mountain and turned northward. Here I would meander through the manzanita and over boulders toward the summit. The trail here was a bit more overgrown and I had a few spots that took a moment to resolve which way to go.

Finally, from atop the false summit, the Manza Benchmark stood before me. As I scrambled over the rocks, the same incredible view was presented to me. I sat on a rock and enjoyed a snack. I took my photos and again signed the register and began the trek down.

The return back to the Sunset Trail went by quickly, again hoping that the poison oak not going to leave a ‘gift’ for later. Soon, I was back at my car and my 74th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge was completed.

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, Central Coast, 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. 

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