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

San Pasqual South-Peak 1755

Because of how I completed the 100 Peak Challenge, I actually summited most the of the peaks twice, once during my first incomplete attempt and again during my successful second attempt. Recently, I got to thinking about summiting those peaks I did not summit twice. Taking a look at them and I got to thinking, why not? While both the Six Pack of Peaks and the Sierra Club 100 will still come first, but when I can’t hike one of those peaks, you just might find revisiting one of my 100 Peak Challenge summits.

Several cars were already in the parking at a touch before 7. The plan was to hike up to Peak 1755, which is a bump just off the trail enroute to “The Chairs”. As I made my way up the trail, I note how the area had begun its recovery from the fire two years ago.

I reached the top of the canyon and found the use trail to the summit. There is no benchmark nor a register. I snapped a few photos and headed back down. From this summit I could see a small crowd milling around the chairs. I had no need to take my photo on them, so I opted to jsut end to the end of the trail instead.

I scrambled up the rocks to enjoy the view of the San Pasqual valley below me. Since I wanted to make it home in time for most of the Rosh Hashanah service, so I did not linger. I cruised back down the trail and headed home.

Hot Springs Mountain

Today’s plan included finally having a chance to hike with Gina Norte and cross Hot Springs Mountain off my 6POP list. For those who don’t know Gina, she might be the “queen” of Hot Springs Mountain. She was the driving force in allowing for Hot Springs Mountain to be included on the challenge. We have been Facebook friends for some time, but have never been able to have our schedules sync up.

When I woke up, a mist/light rain was falling, I figured it was nothing more than some coastal drizzle, & I did not give it much attention. As I kept driving out toward Warner Springs, I began to fear that the forecast I looked at the night before was off. I really hadn’t planned for a wet hike… Luckily, as I neared the guard shack at the reservation to drop off my $10 entry fee, the skies became clear.

I parked in my usual spot, and Gina soon pulled up and parked under the shade of a nice oak tree. After some introductions in real life, we set off. If you have never hiked Hot Springs Mountain, the first two miles will get your blood pumping!  We took a relaxed pace as we worked our way up the dirt road. 

The clouds rolled in the valley below us, making for some dramatic views. Soon, it was time to slip on the bug nets as the flies began to swarm. Once past the steeper section, the grade eased. Gina was in full tour guide mode, filling me in on so much about the mountain and the tribe that lives there the Los Coyotes Tribe. I never knew that they did not have electricity until 2000!

Before we knew it, the abandoned fire tower came into view. We decided to go climb the actual summit block first. Following the well-marked use trail, we reached the summit in short order. We scaled the summit following the same route as I took on my last visit.

As we sat there, the clouds still swirled below us to the west, while so many familiar peaks stood clearly to the east. After grabbing a snack and photos, we carefully made our way down. Just around the north side, a ladder has been set up for an alternate route. I scrambled up to photograph another reference mark.

We next wandered over to the old fire tower. This is the “Potato Chip” for this peak. Normally, Palomar would be visible to the west, but today the clouds hid it from us. Speaking of clouds, they started to move in, so we set off back down the mountain.

The breeze had picked up, so the bugs were being kept at bay as we made our way down. Gina told me about some possible new trails that might be opening on the mountain. This would be so exciting. For a long time all access to this peak was closed, so to have the possibility of seeing more of this beautiful reservation was wonderful news. We talked about how to inform hikers to be respectful of not only the trail but the rest of the land and its heritage. 

Before we knew it, we were back at the cars. We chatted some more, but real life beckoned. We made some plans for some future adventures and said our goodbyes. Somewhere near Ramona, I realized I left my poles on the top of the car! I guess I will use my back up pair until I can pick my replacements from REI.

Mt. Woodson

Since I am again working on the Six-Pack of Peaks challenge, I figured I would summit Mt. Woodson in the early evening to avoid most of the crowds. There were some cars along the side of the 67, but nothing like I have seen on the weekends. I grabbed my gear and set off up the service road.

As I made my way to the summit, I passed a few hikers heading back down. Since the route uses the service road, there is plenty of room to safely pass. Nearing the summit, I watched two climbers tackle an impressive crack.

Cresting the summit, I headed the short distance to the famous Potato Chip. I had no interest in scrambling out on it again. What I wanted to try was ascending the real summit block.

Looking up at the summit block

Just to the east of the towers is the summit block. Old trip reports spoke of a ladder, but that aid is long gone. Instead, a small rock pile serves as the only help now. I tried several times, but could not quite get myself up. I looked to see if there might be other rocks I could add, but there were none to be found. Instead, I decided to rotate the main rock and it gave me just enough to hoist myself up. With that little extra help, I was scrambling up the summit block! There I snapped the three reference marks and the benchmark itself! I had truly summited Mt. Woodson.

I headed back down, watching the evening glow spread across Ramona and the hills beyond.

Hopefully, I will be climbing Hot Springs Mountain on Friday for #5!

From Hellhole to Paradise

I decided to venture out and tackle Paradise Mountain in the Hellhole Canyon Preserve. This is one of the replacement peaks for the 100 Peak Challenge and thought I should do it for completeness. The day’s route was to be a lollipop, first dropping down then crossing Hell Creek before beginning the ascent towards Paradise Mountain. I opted to do the loop counter-clockwise. Upon reflection, I would recommend doing it the other way.

Once past the creek, the climb would begin in earnest. Some wildflowers dotted the side of the trail as the trail continued gaining elevation. A little breeze helped, as there was almost no shade. I can see why they close it during August.

Soon the summit came fully into view. I took a break once I reached it, soaking in the views. Palomar stood clearly to the east, Harrah’s Casino to the north and Valley View Casino to the west.

I grabbed my gear and headed off to Ditch Benchmark, which was just to the west. I looked to see if there was a benchmark here, but did not find it. I tapped the summit cairn with my poles and motored on. I later learned there was one, oh well.

The final goal of the day was Viewpoint 1. This was just a bit off the main loop, but it did provide a lovely view of the area and is listed on Peakbagger.

Now to start the descent. The day was certainly warming up, and I was glad for the early start. Finally encountered my first set of hikers. They told me they did encounter a rattlesnake a bit down the trail. I had been keeping my eyes and ears open throughout the hike, and now I would add a little more caution to my steps.

As I continued to make my way down, I would encounter about 6 more groups. Some families, some getting in a trail run. I was able to pass them with no issues, however, only one person had a mask. For me, I just had to pull up my buff as I passed.

Crossing back over the creek, a family was enjoying the cool water. Now the climb back to the car. I was feeling the heat some as I worked my way up. As I reached the parking lot, it was now full and two horse trailers were there. Tossed my gear in the car and headed back home.

Palomar High Point via Oak Grove

Hiked: March 15, 2020
Summit: 6,130 feet
Distance: 13.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,520 feet
Round Trip Time: 5 hrs 45 mins

Our plan for the day was to drive out toward the Schoepe Boy Scout Reservation and hike out to Collins and Knob Benchmarks. This hike was going to be somewhere between 11 and 12 hours, so an early start was in order. We met up at the McDonald’s in Rancho Bernardo around 5 am and headed north toward Temecula. From there we would come back down the 79 to Chihuahua Valley Road then onto Lost Valley Road. As we drove on the dirt road, we encountered a closed gate. Crud. Although it was not locked, we opted not to proceed, as I had hit a few muddy spots already.

So, we thought about what alternate peaks we might go for instead. Both Matt and I needed to summit Palomar High Point for our respective lists, so up the 79, we went. Parking near the Oak Grove Fire Station, we geared up and headed off, following the nearby sign to the Oak Grove Trail.

Quickly the trail began its sharp climb, gaining about 1,500 feet in just under 2 miles. The trail was a little muddy in some spots, but nothing troublesome. With the cloudy skies, there was no worry about getting too warm from the lack of shade.

The single-track trail then connected with the Oak Grove Fire Road. We took a short breather here before continuing. We stayed on this road for about 1.5 miles until we reached the High Point Truck Trail. Along the way we caught some great views of the snow-capped peaks of Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto to our north. While not as steep as the first section of this hike, you still will be working those quads!

After about 5 miles into the hike, we reached the junction with the Palomar Divide Truck Trail. It was near here that I had parked on my previous times to the summit, so the rest of the hike was familiar. We started getting closer to the summit and the clouds were getting closer as well, so we donned another layer before continuing to the summit.

As we rounded the final section of the hike, we could feel the wind pick up and knew that we would not be lingering at the summit. We took a short break for some food and a few photos. The white domes of the Palomar Observatory were to our west. The tower was closed for the season (you can’t go up even if it is open).

We retraced our route back down the mountain, encountering several other hikers making their way up to the summit. I don’t think we stopped for any measurable period of time during our entire descent. Back in the car, we wondered when we might be able to try for Collins and Knob, given the forecast for the week and the uncertainty about Covid-19. With that said, we did the 13.1 miles in 5:45 hrs. That was the first peak toward my Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. I am aiming to complete all 18 this year. Wish me luck!