North Fortuna

I needed to think through a presentation I was making the next day, so I figured a nice hike would help me focus. Since I needed some photos for some trail guides I am writing, I decided to hike up the Fortunas in Mission Trails. I wanted some better photos of the “infamous” South Fortuna stairs and the new summit marker atop North Fortuna. As I neared the parking lot, I remembered there was some construction happening on this side of the park, courtesy of the San Diego Water District. I looked over the map and realized that I wasn’t going to have an easy route to get to the South Fortuna stairs, but I still had a route to North Fortuna. 

I crossed the bridge into the park and headed north toward the Rim Trail. Clear signs warned me about various closures and detours. Cruising along the trail, I could see two work areas, to the northwest and southeast. The work was supposed to be done in early 2022, but construction is rarely on time. I reached four corners and had a decision to make – I could take the Suycott Valley Alternative Trail to connect to the Fortuna Saddle Trail and then the summit, or I could take the Shepherd Ridge Trail to approach the summit from the north side. Since I had never done North Fortuna from the north side, my choice was an easy one. 

I had passed a few folks on the trail, but as it was about 4 pm on a Thursday, I did not expect to see many. The trail took me northward, getting closer to the northern edge of the park and the 52 freeway. The evening commute was starting to pick up. The trail connects briefly with the Perimeter Trail before turning southward to begin the real climb up North Fortuna.

While it wasn’t the South Fortuna Stairs, I did have a small section of stairs to assist me. After crossing a false summit, the real summit was just a short bit away. I snapped my photos and took a short break before continuing southward toward the saddle. 

I took the saddle back down to the west until it reached Suycott Valley Alternative Trail. Normally, I would stay on this trail, but the construction closure prevented that. As I made my way on the trail back toward Four Corners, it was clear that this trail was heavily favored by mountain bikers, and was glad I was here on a weekday. I would not recommend this trail on a weekend. Once back at Four Corners, I retraced my route to the car. Just before I started the short climb from Four Corners, two mountain bikers came screaming down the wide trail, reaffirming my thoughts about weekend use. As I made my way back to the car, I passed several more mountain bikers. Back at my car, I saw that both sides of the street were now packed. This route was 5.75 miles with 1,195 feet of elevation gain.  

Heller’s Bend

One of the things I tried to do, while working on the San Diego North County Sierra Club’s 50 for 50 Challenge, was to hike trails I have not hiked before. Since I was only doing half of them to earn the patch, I could be afforded that luxury. My wife had made plans with some friends for Mother’s Day morning and would not be home until the afternoon. My son had come home for the weekend from Arizona, and joined me in a couple of short hikes I needed to do. The first hike was Heller’s Bend. 

Once we found enough space to pull off the road (there is no set parking for this hike) we set off. Technically, this is the “Karen Tucker Preserve at Heller’s Bend”, but that is quite a mouthful. It is managed by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, which also manages several other hikes and preserves in the area. We followed the paved road down and across a small creek. Oaks hung over the path, giving us some nice shade. The road then made a few small turns before beginning to head southward. We climbed up the steep road that served as our way up toward a small ridge. 

At the top, two benches allowed my son to take a breather, while I chose to explore around the area. The paved portion of the trail ends here, with a nice vista of Fallbrook. The trail did continue, but I didn’t feel the need to take it. We carefully worked our way down back to the car. I logged the round-trip at just under a mile, but with a nice 295-foot gain.

Corte Madera

I had hoped to squeeze in one more desert peak, but with my daughter leaving for DC for the summer, I could not afford the time. Instead, I opted to knock one of the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks off my list. Corte Madera would fit the bill nicely–not too long and not too far of a drive to the trailhead. I pulled into an empty parking area and hung my Adventure Pass from the mirror. While the car’s thermometer read 37, it did not feel that cold, plus I knew both I and the day would be warming up.

I grabbed my new trekking poles, as I had worn the tips down on my previous pair, and set off. The route to the summit began along a nicely shaded road for about 1/2 mile before I reached the Espinoza Trail. Now I would begin climbing up toward the saddle, with some nice wildflowers scattered along the trail. Once at the saddle, I got my first view of the impressive rock face of Corte Madera. A warning sign had been posted for anyone continuing on the Espinoza trail, to be careful from the fire damage. Off to my left stood the Los Pinos lookout tower and to my right was the road I would follow for a short while.

Another sign pointed to the trail branching off to the left from the road. This portion of the hike would have the more “challenging “ portion of the hike. The gentle climb up the Espinoza would be replaced with a steeper and rockier one. In addition, the overgrowth was also heavier through here as well. 

I passed by a jacket and bag off to the side, which I assume were left by a migrant. After climbing down the rocky section, the trail would now roller coaster toward the summit. My left calf was starting to tighten, so I slowed my pace to give it some relief. I recognized that I was almost at the summit and would have a chance to give it a rest.

As expected, I had the summit to myself. A new wooden sign had been left next to the register. I signed in and snapped my photos, then found a spot to enjoy my orange and take a breather.

I pulled my pack on and began to retrace my route. Not long after leaving the summit, I met my first other hiker. He looked a little lost, as he was staring intently at his phone. I gave him some guidance for the last bit. It turns out he started at Corral Canyon. We each went our separate ways. As I neared that one climbing section, I met the second set of hikers. They recognized me from my blog, and we chatted a bit before continuing. I would encounter another 10 or so by the time I reached the saddle.

Once back on the road to the Espinoza trail, a truck passed me, as did a motorcycle. I had wondered about driving back here for some car camping. Given that the truck looked almost stock, I could probably get my Subaru back here for an evening.

As I made my way down the Espinoza trail, I could feel the day getting warmer and my calf getting tighter. I knew I didn’t have that much further, plus the last 1/2 mile would have some shade and was mostly flat. The car said it was in the low 80s and I would believe it. This time my tracker logged me traveling 6.8 miles in 3:41 with an elevation gain of 1,557 feet.

West Side Road

The original plan was to meet up with someone I used to admin with on the San Diego Hiking Society Facebook group. I left that role a few months back and wanted to catch up with her. Unfortunately, work got in the way and she had to cancel. I had never done the West Side Road Trail and still wanted to cross it off my list. I drove out through Ramona and toward San Diego Estates. Mt. Gower loomed over me to my north as I made my way to the trailhead. I parked and grabbed my gear. The trail begins along a paved road next to a house. I crossed over the road-closed gate and continued making my way up the road. Some bits of graffiti lined the road. The paved road became dirt as it still climbed up. I was rewarded for this effort with some nice views of the mountains. I could see Cuyamaca, Middle Peak, Viejas, and Volcan with ease. With some care, I could spy Eagle Peak and Peak 1546.

The road eventually turned northward and I could see more of Gower off to my left. While I had passed another hiker just as I began, I encountered one more out enjoying the trail. We chatted for a bit. He moved down from Riverside and was getting to know the area. We said our goodbyes, as he still had a ways to go to return to his starting point.

Eventually, the road came to an end, and the trail turned into a single track before coming to a very clear No Trespassing sign. I snapped a few photos and retraced my route. Soon I found myself back on the pavement and nearing my car. I could see a couple of miles away from the trailhead to Ceder Creek falls. That is one hike I have never done. In part don’t want to deal with the crowds and when it is flowing it usually means it is desert hiking season. I logged this hike at 4.5 miles and I covered it in 1:39 (including the time spent chatting). There were almost 870 feet of gain, so I did get a nice workout from it.

Raptor Ridge Trail

As I continue to work toward the 25 hikes goal and the patch, I wanted to grab a hike before work. I decided to revisit another one of the hikes that I had done for one of the Coast to Crest Challenges, Raptor Ridge.

Parking at the trailhead, I grabbed my gear and set off. I had my headphones in my pack just in case I was not back in time to dial into my first meeting of the day. I cruised along the nice flat trail for about 1.5 miles before it would begin the climb up to the viewpoint. Once there I snapped my photo with a blank sheet of paper. I forgot my sign and would have to paste it in later. After taking in the views of San Pasqual Valley, I retraced my route. Met three others out enjoying the trail with their dog. Made it back to the car just before my meeting, I tossed in my gear, called in, and began the drive home. The hike was 4.7 miles in 1:35 and had 440 feet of elevation gain.

Twin Peaks

Having mostly recovered from hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, it was time to set my focus back on some of the ongoing challenges I am working on. So, I scanned the remaining hikes on the Sierra Club NCG 50th Anniversary 50 Hike Challenge list and settled on hiking up Twin Peaks again.

I parked near Silverset Park, grabbed my gear, and set off. I followed the same route as I had done twice before. As I neared the summit, another hiker was making his way down. So much for checking the “Only Party On The Mountain” box on I got to the summit and snapped my photos. It seems the summit sign disease has arrived here as well. Leave No Trace…

I really did not linger and opted to return back down following the same route this time. Previously I had made it a loop but wanted to get home and start grilling my birthday dinner. Just 10 more hikes and I can get the patch. I am a sucker for a patch…

Daley Ranch Loop

Really did not feel like making the long drive out to Anza-Borrego, plus Ted could only hike in the morning and Susie had out-of-town guests. So, instead, we decided to do a nice loop that combined 3 WBC hikes into one. We pulled into a moderately full parking lot at Daley Ranch about 7:30, grabbed our gear, and set off. After the short climb under the sign, we continued north until we reached the turnoff to the Boulder Loop Trail. After another little climb, Ted shed a layer before we continued on. At our next junction, we debated taking the slightly shorter route but opted for the longer one. I finally found a spot to snap my required photo. Some mountain bikers were resting at the gazebo near the junction with Cougar Ridge trail. 

We descended down to almost where we turned off to start the Boulder Loop Trail, then made a left turn to head to the Ranch House, my second spot for my photo. After a quick snack and helping a mountain biker with some directions we headed toward the Sage Trail and eventually to Stanley Peak.

We had another short climb before the trail leveled off for a while. One of the ponds lay off to our right. As the peak drew nearer, we had to decide to take the longer route or the shorter and steep route past the water tank. The longer route won again. We began our climb to the summit. Partway up a mountain biker passed us, but just a few minutes later he stopped to catch his breath. This happened twice more until we reached the summit nearly at the same time.

The summit was crowded, so we found a quiet spot to snap a few photos. We commented that we are not used to crowds given our usual hiking adventures. Most of the crowd left en masse, so we popped over to the eastern view for a quick look, then the west view before beginning back down. 

We opted to take the water tank route, just to avoid some people. Our route had a small amount of backtracking but we soon made it to the junction with the Diamondback trail that would take us to the Coyote Run Trail, then onto the East Ridge Trail, and finally onto the Creek Crossing Trail. We could see Dixon Lake to our left as we neared the now very full parking lot. We tossed in our gear and changed our shirts before heading over to Burger Bench for a well-earned lunch and brew.

Piedras Pintadas Trail

Since I was working from home, I decided to knock off another trail on the WBC challenge, Piedras Pintadas. I pulled into the parking lot, pulled on my fleece and set off down the trail. A light fog hung over Lake Hodges as I made my way along the trail.

I made the small climb to the summit, then took the required selfie. As I made my way back, I took my daily stand-up call. This short hike was a nice way to start the day.

Otay Mountain & Tecate Peak

Two of the peaks that Susie needed to summit in her quest to complete the San Diego Sierra CLub 100 Peak list are Otay Mountain and Tecate Peak. Both of these peaks are hiked by following an active dirt road to their respective summits, something neither of us enjoy hiking. So instead I offered to drive us up both peaks. I had done this not too long ago with Ted Markus, but Susie was out of town at that time. We began with Otay Mountain. Starting from the RV park, I drove up the long dirt road to the summit. Partway up, I pulled over to let a Border Patrol truck pass. I parked about 1/4 mile before the summit. The skies were very cloudy and we were not going to enjoy anything more than simply crossing this peak off our list. We walked up the road to the cluster of towers, then poked around a bit. We found a reference mark, and I pointed out the new rescue box that had been installed since the last time Susie was here. Once done with the summit, we hopped back in the car and headed down the east side of the mountain.

Partway down, two road signs informed us that the road was closed. What? Thay would have been much more useful to know back at Doghouse Junction. I could see a staging site for the work, as well as a good place to possibly turn around. There was a worker sitting in a truck, so we asked if it was possible to still use the road. She said that while she did not have a radio to talk to the crew, where they were working should allow us to pass by. We thanked her and continued on. Not too much further, we saw the skip loader working. We spoke with another worker who let us squeeze by. I will say, the road is in great shape. Continuing on down, we spotted more Border Patrol just as they were escorting migrants up to the road. A bit past that bit of excitement, a cluster of campers were scattered about. The biggest shock was yet to come. While two of the vehicles that were involved with the migrants passed us, we soon came upon a new Mercedes sedan driving very slowly down the road. Now the road isn’t horrible, but I don’t think I would want to take a sedan on it. Susie and I looked at each other with so many questions….

Once back on the 94, we headed for our second peak of the day, Tecate. I pulled on to the Tecate Mission Road and began working my way toward the base of the peak. I actually missed the primary road, so instead I just followed the border fence until I reached a point where I could rejoin the correct route. From there it was a long slow climb to the summit, and this road was not in great shape. There were a few spots where we needed to take some care, but the Subaru did just fine. Once at the summit, a Mobile Vehicle Surveillance System ( was stationed there. It was stationed by a young Army soldier, who we chatted with for some time. Since she was new to San Diego, Susie and I gave her the 411 on the peaks that she could see from her post. After chatting a bit, and grabbing a few photos, we said goodbye and headed back down the road. We had talked about trying to squeeze in Buckman Benchmark, but the timing was too tight. I dropped Susie back off at her place, then grabbed lunch to share with my daughter before she returned to college later in the day.

Mule Hill

We tentatively hoped to squeeze in Buckman Benchmark after crossing Otay Mountain and Tecate Peak off Susie Kara’s San Diego Sierra Club 100 x2 attempt. But we did not feel that we had the time given Susie needed to get back in town to teach yoga in the late afternoon. After dropping her off back at her place and grabbing lunch, I was itching to get some actual hiking in. The San Diego Sierra Club-North County group had kicked off a Wilderness Basics Challenge, so I decided to explore one of the hikes on that list. One that caught my eye was the Mule Hill Trail. This relatively flat-out and back hike was just about 15 minutes from my house. I parked in the large lot near the Sikes Adobe, grabbed my gear, and set off. 

After passing by the restored farmhouse, the trail arches around the shoreline of Lake Hodges before heading mostly east. This trail passes by the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Mexican War. A number of interpretive signs along the trail tell the story of a group of US soldiers surrounded by enemies after the Battle of San Pasqual. This is where US troops (including Kit Carson) retreated after the Battle of San Pasqual a few miles away. The US troops held the hill for four days awaiting reinforcements, while surrounded by enemies. They had to resort to eating their mules, and thus the small promontory earned its name. The US troops had just about given up all hope of rescue and were about to try and fight their way out when a group of Marines came to their aid.

After cresting a small rise, the fields of the San Pasqual Agricultural Preserve spread out before me. The trail continued straight along the edge of the fields for over a mile. Around 3.2 miles I came to a “Y” junction. To the right was a connector trail leading to the Old Coach Trail on the opposite side of Highland Valley Road. The Coast to Crest Trail continued to the left, heading to Raptor Ridge. I took my required photo for the challenge and retraced my route. There were a few folks out enjoying the trail, but for most of the hike, I was able to enjoy the solitude. I am guessing that this trail will be on next year’s Coast to Crest Challenge.