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. 

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.

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.

A happy Susie Kara after the summit!

For those who are curious about this hike’s profile, here is our track displayed in CalTopo. Note the average slope on The Thimble is between 40% and 50% for most of the climb.

Boucher Hill

Initially, I had planned to hike Guatay Mountain as part of helping Ted Markus complete the Sierra Club, but with all the National Forests closed due to fire danger, we had to pivot. Between the closures and hikes that are located in Anza-Borrego, we were left with just a couple of options. Since his knee was feeling a bit sore, we decided that Boucher Hill would be a good call. In fact, we both brought our wives to tag along. 

We drove up the mountain and paid the $10 day-use fee at the ranger station, then parked at the Silvercrest picnic area. I brought some spare hiking poles for the ladies, just so they would not feel left out. While you can drive to the actual summit and fire lookout tower, we planned to hike from the picnic area, up to the lookout, then loop back passing the Scott Cabin site.

We made our way up to the lookout tower without issue. There were a few folks hanging out. Due to Covid-19, access to the tower was restricted, so we did not go up this time. From there, we set off on the loop, enjoying the nice trail. Once we reached the Ceder Grove campground, we began the climb back up. The heat, elevation, and altitude slowed the ladies down some, but they took breaks in the shade and continued on. Soon, I spied one of the power poles and knew we were almost down. One final short but steep section and we were done. All told, we hiked 3.6 miles in 2:25, with a respectful 1,100 feet of elevation gain. Since they had earned their hiking chops, lunch at Burger Bench seem like the right call.

McGinty Mountain

Since it was my daughter’s last weekend before returning back to her college campus, I opted to stay local rather than continue to work on the SoCal Six Pack of Peaks. Since Ted was free, we decided to go hike one of his remaining Sierra Club 100 peaks. He has about 7 peaks left that are not out in Anza-Borrego, so it made the choice a bit easier. We settled on McGinty Mountain, a nice 4.5 mile hike out near Jamul. We parked in the lot, and there were three other cars already there.

We set off along the trail, enjoying the shade while we had it. Once we left the shade, we could feel the heat as we climbed up the middle section of this trail. Just about when the mine comes into view, we again had some shade. We took a short break here to recover a bit before pushing on to the summit.

Once at the summit, we took in the views. A nice marine layer was spread out before us to the west. We did not stay long as it was starting to really heat up. We passed three other hikers making their way up. Once back at the car, the temperature were already 82°F at 9:30 am.

Pine Mountain

After climbing Cush-Pi (Stonewall), we headed over to the Lagunas to summit Pine Mountain. Some recent reports of this peak spoke of bushwhacking to reach the peak. I did not recall this when I did it in 2019. There were a couple of cars in the Pioneer Mail campground when we pulled in. We cross Sunrise Highway and set off on the trail. A light breeze help keep the temps to a mild level of warm.

When we reached the turn off point from the road, it was fairly clear of brush as we made to the top. We took a short break and made our way down. Instead of retracing our route, we opted to use the dirt road instead. We had planned to toss in Wooded Hill as well. A small blister had formed on my toe, so I sent Ted Markus off on his own. With that he is three peaks closer…


Good to be back on the trails after visiting family. Didn’t feel like tackling any of my remaining Six Pack of Peaks this weekend. So instead I suggested we try to knock a few more peaks off Ted’s remaining 100 Peaks. First up we climbed Cush-Pi (Stonewall) after parking across the road at the day use area at Paso Picacho. The shade was nice, as it was going to be warm as we worked our way up the peak. We passed a few groups of hikers heading down from the peak, but otherwise it was pleasantly uncrowded for such a popular peak. Once at the summit, there were a couple folks soaking in the view. They soon headed back down and we had to peak to ourselves for a bit. I pointed out some of recent summits, Oakzanita and Sugg off to our south. Since we were hoping to bag two more today, we headed down. A few more folks passed us as we cruised back to the car. Now on to Pine Mountain.

Black Mountain-Miner’s Ridge

For the second hike on the Coast to Crest Challenge, I decided why not do the one that is almost in my backyard, Black Mountain. The recommended route was to take the Miner’s Ridge trail to the summit to snap your selfie. From the parking lot, the trail heads east for a bit before making its turn and starts climbing toward the summit.

I took a more direct route so I could also summit the ‘secondary’ summit as well. Plus, I was planning on getting in a second hike in after.

Once I reached the summit, there were numerous mountain bikers, some other hikers. I stayed long enough to take the photo and retreated from the crowds. I made my way back to the car, tossed in my gear, and headed off to the Scorpion Ridge-Santa Fe Valley Connector trail.