El Cajon

I needed a good hard hike to keep training for upcoming my Red Top/Sawtooth attempt. I considered some of the harder desert hikes as an option, but Ted needs most of those peaks and he was going to be unavailable on Sunday. I was able to convince my friend Dave to tag along for some company. Initially, I wanted to hike Agua Tibia again, but Dave’s time constraints were tighter than mine, so that was not an option. Since I signed up for the San Diego Edition of the Six-Pack of Peaks and am doing the Tour Our Trails challenge as well, I figured why not just do “The Hardest Hike in San Diego™”, aka El Cajon mountain.

We wanted an early start as we both wanted to be home to watch the game. As we drove out to the trailhead, I snapped a photo of the morning sky for Ted, one of his favorite parts of our adventures. The parking lot was not open yet, and a modest amount of cars lined the road. We quickly geared up and set off. The fruit stand was open and looked tempting.

We shed our jackets after about a mile. I was all set to stuff into the sleeping bag compartment in my pack, only to discover I never took out the windbreaker from last weekend. So into the main part of the pack it went. The miles ticked off fairly well as we made our way up and down the trail. A few folks passed us returning to the car from probably being at the summit for sunrise.

Stopping for a quick snack just before the old jeep, we hear the sounds of someone sharing their music. This behavior annoys me to no end. I came out here to enjoy nature, not your favorite jam. We let them pass, along with their unleashed dog, then waited a bit before resuming. Finally the summit came into view and we began the last bit.

Once at the summit, there were a few people scattered about. I found a spot off the side and enjoyed my PB&J and a few orange slices, while Dave had to take care of some work-related issues. The summit sign was no longer in the ground, but it was still attached to the pole. I snapped a few photos and was ready to head out. Since folks were hanging out where the marks are located, I skipped them this time.

As we headed back down, we encountered more folks making their way up. Also the day was warming up a touch. I had to think some of the folks are not going to like their hike back to the car. El Cajon is known as a hike that is “uphill, both ways”. I did regret not wearing a lighter shirt and pants, as I was starting to feel a tad warm. We plodded our way back to the car without any real issue. All told our active hiking time was 6:15, not too bad. I think if we had stayed longer at the summit, and I had some more recovery time before setting off our time could have been under 6 hours.

Dos Sombreros

With the local trails needing to dry out from the recent storm, and no way was I going anywhere near the snow, I headed back out to the desert. Some of this year’s 100 Peak Challengers were attempting to summit both Sombrero and False Sombrero peaks via what I think should be called the “Bennett Traverse”. The ladies kindly let me tag along for what was going to be a hard but fun day in Anza-Borrego. 

Sombrero under the full moon

As I neared our rendezvous at Mountain Palms Campground, the sun was still casting its glow on the mountains, the snow stood stark across the Lagunas, and the moon shone above it. This planned route was going to require a car shuttle. We parked two cars at the base of False Sombrero, then piled into the third car to drive over to the trailhead for Sombrero. Both Susie and I had done these peaks before as single ascents, but our friend Matt Bennett had explored a route that linked them together. Given the difficulty of both of these peaks, we were all up for this alternative route. 

The five of us headed along the faint trail and began our climb. Much of the elevation and effort was going to be the ascent of Sombrero. In just 1.4 miles, we would gain some 1,880 feet. This was one of the few hikes in the challenge I had not done a second time. I always find it interesting to compare my ascents and see where I have grown as a hiker.

The use trail did a pretty nice job getting us up to the plateau and I was feeling good. One of the reasons I wanted to do this hike was to see how my knee responded to some effort. With the use trail gone, we began working our way up the middle section of the peak. When I did this before I tackled it fairly straight on, while this time we took a more north east angle. I think we made a good choice. Finally, Sombrero came into view. As an added bonus, we found the metal pole and chain! Still have no idea why it is here.

We stayed more on the right side of the peak as we made our final push up. We started to find tiny patches of snow tucked in the shade. Just before we reached the summit, we ran into a small obstacle, so we split up and scouted alternative routes. In a short time, we each bypassed it and were atop the peak.

After a nice break and photos, we began to survey the route we would take over to False Sombrero, which lay to the northeast of us. We could see the basic path we would take, for the most part, so down we went.

We followed a ducked route that is used if you do this peak from the McCain Valley route. That is another route I hope to try one day. Once at the base, we passed a faded sign denoting this was indeed Sombrero Peak. We heard the din of some motorcycles riding the trails, but that was only for a short time. 

Our route took us across the ridge, for the most part with little issue. We tried to stay along the same contour line as we worked our way ever closer to False Sombrero. Staying beyond the actual ridge, we finally came to a spot where we could now see the Inner Pasture, Red Top, and Sawtooth rising up. I stared at them, wondering if I will be able to conquer them…

The final scramble up False Sombrero stood before us. We quickly made our way up and took a well-earned break. The views were incredible. The Salton Sea to our east, the snowy Lagunas to our west, and Sombrero off to the south. 

After a snack, some photos, and of course adding our names to the register, we headed down. The descent is in two parts–the very steep and loose sandy section, followed by a bouldery portion. Our descent would have us lose about 1,300 feet in just 8/10th of a mile. 

We cruised down the sandy section without incident, sans one cholla that tried to hitch a ride on me. While descending, I had flashbacks to when Derek and I did this peak. Later that day, Facebook reminded me that it was two years ago that we did it. After picking our way through the boulders we found ourselves back at our cars. The ladies piled into the Jeep and headed back to the Sombrero trailhead to get the other car, while I headed back solo. This route is the best way to do these peaks. Skipping the tough ascent for False Sombrero and not having to descend Sombrero is worth the couple extra miles via traverse.

Indian Hill

Since it was just past noon, we decided to add in one more peak. When we were out 4x4ing a few weeks back, Ted had done Piedras Grande, but we skipped Indian Hill. I drove out to the trailhead via Mortero Canyon.

As we grabbed our gear, the wind was starting to pick up. Once at the base of Indian Hill, we debated on our route. This time I decided to try it from the east side rather than from the north. The ascent was pretty straight forward and a bit easier.

We snapped a few photos, signed the register and returned via the same general route, as the wind continued to pick up.

Mine Peak

After summiting Red Hill, Ted and I then hopped back into the car and drove the few minutes to the Mine Peak trailhead. We picked up the use trail along the ridge, and soon found ourselves at the summit.

This peak has some great views of southern Anza-Borrego! Back at the mine buildings, we chatted for a bit with a couple out riding their motorcycles.

Red Hill

I wanted to get some hiking in during the brief break in the weather, so on Sunday Ted Markus and I headed out toward Anza Borrego. Our first two options seemed like weather might still be a factor, so we went for our third choice to hit some of the peaks Ted needed to summit for the 100 Peak Challenge.

First up was Red Hill.

We took the ridge route I had used twice before up to the summit. After signing the register at the summit, we opted to drop into the wash to the north and follow it out. It was a great choice! 

Fall on Cuyamaca Peak

Since I could not tackle any of my remaining Sierra Club peaks this week, I opted to finish the Six-Pack of Peaks- San Diego collection. I had been saving Cuaymaca peak for the fall, in part to enjoy some fall colors along the hike (I had also saved Mt. Wilson for the same reason, but the Bobcat Fire changed those plans). But also, to see if the SDGE construction closure order would finally be lifted. Ted Markus and I arrived at the Harvey Moore Trailhead just before 7 am. On the drive out we did catch a lovely sunrise. It was a brisk 44° as we set off. I was also testing out a new daypack, an Osprey Stratus 34. After last weekend, I realized I need a slightly bigger pack for longer hikes.

After carefully hiking across the bridge that spans the Sweetwater creek, we hopped onto the West Trail for a bit until it connected with the Monument Trail. The fleece I had on at the start was too warm, so it was time to test out the storage of the new pack. The pack has a small sleeping bag compartment, so I stuffed the fleece in there without an issue. We worked our way up the trail toward our first goal, Airplane Ridge. When I did this hike last year, I missed it and had to scramble back. This time I was a bit more attentive to the short cross-country scramble. Upon the small summit, we took a quick break. I opted to shed another layer before continuing on. There is no benchmark nor register, just a mystery can with a San Diego Adventure Club sticker. That will have to do.

Ted and I continued to make good time, and soon we came to the junction with the West Mesa Trail. This is one of my favorite sections, as there is something about a meadow that I like. Once across the meadow, we turned on the Burnt Pine trail. After a quick snack, we would travel through some of the only remaining pine trees that survived the fire. Intermixed with the pines were some oaks, so we got some lovely fall color. As we drew higher, small stretches of snow still remained, tucked in the shady northern sides of the trail. 

I had originally planned not to be hiking this weekend, as SpaceX was conducting a launch and land landing from Vandenberg AFB. But between the road closures forcing a fairly distant viewing spot and Covid, I opted to skip the 5-hour drive up to Lompoc. I was tracking the progress of the launch on my phone. As we reached the turnoff to Japacha, I pulled up YouTube to watch it. I missed the actual launch but followed the first stage’s return to the landing site. With that event done, we set off to summit Japacha peak. We weaved our way through the brush, following just a hint of the route. I had to double-check my previous track a couple of times to get us to the summit, where we took another short break. I signed the register seeing that the last person to sign in was almost a month ago, and the one before that about the same amount of time. Cuyamaca stood towering over us just to the north, so we once again headed off. 

We then reached the fire road that would lead us to the summit, about .4 miles away. Technically, this is still closed, but all reports stated the SDGE closure was not being actively enforced as they are no longer working on that project. There is a reforestation effort closer to the campground, and when that is occurring the closure is in effect. The road was steep, but the new tarmac was nice, no more crumbling asphalt to worry about. As we drew close to the summit, a new fence now surrounded the towers, so we hiked to the end of the road and followed the trail to the summit.

Ted and I took our photos, then found some nice spots, socially distanced, and had our lunch. We found the NASA mark, two reference marks, a metal plug atop one of the high rocks, and some rock graffiti from long ago. We set off down the fire road, and we finally started to encounter some other hikers, whereas up to that point we had only seen one trail runner.

We debated on what route to take; retrace our ascent or head down the fire road and take one of the connecting trails? We opted for the latter option. While the new pavement is nice, it is still a steep road. As we made our way down, some heavy equipment was parked along the side of the road in support of the reforestation. 

Once we reached the Fern Flat Fire Road, we left the pavement behind. The road also looked like some recent work had been done, and sure enough, we passed the parked grader that was smoothing out the ruts. This stretch was a pleasant stroll this time. Last time, I was hustling to make it back to the car to attend a birthday party for a friend. The only issue this time was I seemed to be developing some blisters on my pinky toes. At this point, I figured I was close enough to the car to not deal with them. 

Soon we spotted the parking lot and our three-peak adventure was over. Ted got to cross off three more peaks on the 100 Peak Challenge, and I completed the Six-Pack of Peaks – San Diego collection! The entire hike was about 14.2 miles, 2,780 feet of gain in 6:53 of hiking time.

Mount Woodson

Jeff Hester, creator of the Six Pack of Peaks, was in town summiting most of the Six Pack’s San Diego peaks. He, along with his wife Joan, plus their two dogs, invited Derek Loranger and myself to join them climbing Mt. Woodson. Lately when I do Mt. Woodson, the hike has been a full moon hike, so I take the service road up from the Ramona side. It has been years since I used the trail from the Lake Poway side. Jeff was running late, so Derek and I chatted about how he was progressing on finishing his challenge and the fact there were now two more finishers to add to the list.

We spotted their newly wrapped SUV as it drove into the parking lot. Once we were all settled and geared up, we set off. Derek, Jeff and the dogs lead the way, while I stayed with Joan, chatting as we circled around the lake.

We stopped every so often to make sure the dogs got some water and take in the views. I would point out the various landmarks (aka: other peaks)  along the way. We continued working our way up toward the summit, and after a while both Derek and I picked up the pace, with Jeff and Joan’s blessing. I was still feeling all the hiking I did in Sedona, as well as the drive back, so Derek pulled away from me. 

There was a crowd milling around the Potato Chip, so I just kept going for about .2 miles to the towers. Derek was sitting on log, enjoying the views to the west. We chatted some more, this time about our profession (my current, which is also his former) of being in the user experience field. After a bit, Jeff, Joan and the dogs rejoined us. They had done the ‘Chip’ but their phone ran out of battery, so no photo. We offered to wait and get it on the way down, but they were ok. 

I wanted to try to climb back up the summit block and retake the benchmark photo again. Jeff and Derek followed me around to the block on the east side of the towers. Both declined to try to make the scramble up the rock. I carefully pulled myself up the ledge and finally onto the summit block. Carefully taking multiple photos of the reference marks and the actual benchmark, I scrambled back down.

With that task done, we set off back down the trail. Not before giving directions to the ‘Chip’ to several people who had made their way up via the service road. Derek needed to get back down and get to work at his restaurant, Burger Bench. I cruised down with Jeff for most of the way, chatting about hiking challenges, what running 6POP was like, and so on. We would stop for breaks for the dogs and to regroup with Joan.

Soon we found ourselves back at the parking lot. Since we took the climb at a more mellow pace, and Jeff being a tad late, we had to skip lunch at Burger Bench due to early afternoon commitments. We took a socially distanced photo and said our goodbyes.

Peak 3339 & Al Holden

With the desert starting to cool off a bit, Ted, Susie, & I decided to return to peak 3339 just east of McCain Valley. In addition to this peak, we wanted to summit Al Holden as well. That peak was named in honor of the OG San Diego Peakbagger, so it seemed like something we had do. We timed the drive to arrive just before sunrise, figuring we would have some amazing views to capture. As the sun slowly rose, the three of us snapped away. To our south another gentleman was atop a boulder doing the same thing. 

After grabbing our gear we began our descent. Yes, this is a canyon, or inverted hike, meaning we get to climb back up at the end. Some folks had cowboy camped right at the trailhead, but the sunrise had already awakened them before we passed.

The trail was steep for a bit, then became more gentle. Peak 3339 was a mound of boulders off to the east. Eventually we left the trail and began our cross-country portion. We worked our way up close to the summit. Opting to approach from the south, we drew close and found a small tunnel, which guarded the register and through which we were atop 3339. 

Both Susie and I agreed this was much easier than our previous summits. The day was warming up, but we felt that we could get Al Holden in. We passed back through the tunnel and retraced our route for a bit. Finally we headed north, referring to one of the few tracks to this peak. Scrambling over boulders and past the occasional juniper, we realized the mound of rocks we thought was Al Holden wasn’t. It stood one pile to the east. 

With the proper peak located, we began our careful climb up. This is a “leave the poles behind and put on gloves” kind of peak. We picked our way up, with a few careful Class 3 moves, & found ourselves atop Al Holden. We had a nice break, and I found some shade as I was starting to feel the heat. There is no register, but a metal sign is cemented atop a boulder.

Looking to the north
Looking to the west

We worked our way back down from the summit, then over the saddle. From there we continued cross country until we rejoined the trail. The heat was taking a toll on me. I may have grown up in Bakersfield, but I don’t have the same tolerance anymore. The temps were in the mid 80s, but without the breeze it felt worse. Now we had the ascent back to the car. My pace dropped considerably and I had to rest in the shade a few times. Ted shared some ice water, which helped. I cracked out my emergency Coke for some sugar and caffeine. That bottle of Gatorade I left in the fridge would have been helpful. 

Slowly but steadily I plodded my fat ass up the trail, with Ted and Susie watching over me. I tried to keep moving while not going too fast and overheat further. Finally, the end came into view and this effort was done. The cold water back at the car felt wonderful, as did the AC. Once I cooled off again I felt fine. I’m going to have to be more cautious next week when I am out at Joshua Tree NP. Again, thanks to Ted and Susie for their support in this one!

The Thimble

With the forests closed, we opted to try for a pair of peaks—The Thimble and San Ysidro out near Ranchita. We knew it was going to be a warm one, so hit the trail just before sunrise.

We worked our way up the old road to the saddle. From there, Ted got his first look at The Thimble. Having summited this peak before, I outlined the basics of our ascent for Ted. There is no trail to the summit, so this climb would be a true adventure for us. We left the old road and began crossing toward the base. Carefully crossing the boundary fence into Anza Borrego State Park, we began weaving past the brush and boulders as we made our way up the 30-50% grade. 

Soon we found ourselves at that wall of brush. The right edge still provided a narrow passage past the thicket. From there it was a quick scramble to the summit.

Greg Gerlach had left a new register earlier this year, which we happily signed. The views were tremendous. I took the opportunity to scan my upcoming route into Hellhole Flats and San Ysidro East Peak. 

After a pleasant break, we began our careful descent. Since Ted had spotted a baby rattlesnake on our ascent, we were mindful of that as we retraced our route.

We kept looking for a route that would allow us vector toward the route up to San Ysidro. Nothing revealed itself to me, so we went to the base. We then evaluated if we should go for our second peak. The day was certainly warming up. I looked over the distance and gain, along with needing to be back in town for my annual flu shot scheduled for early afternoon. With that, we would leave San Ysidro for another day.

Once back in the car, the thermometer read a toasty 88. Turning back was the right call.

Almost There Adventure Podcast

I had an awesome time talking with Jeff Hester, Jason Fitzpatrick, and Saveria Tilden on the “Almost There Adventure Podcast” about the 100 Peak Challenge! I, along with Derek Loranger, (creator of the 100 Peak Challenge as well as a good friend) and Susie Kara, my often hiking companion (in addition to being the first finisher), talked about completing it and what that adventure has meant to us (plus other ramblings).

Hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording it. 

Listen here