I started just after 7:30 under the typical “June Gloom”, with my good friends Susie Kara and Gail Welch joined me on what was to be my 6th summit toward the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge (however, I am continuing on toward summiting the rest of them). The trail gently worked its way from the busy highway into the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness. Wildflowers still dotted the sides of the trail. The grey skies provided some nice relief, as there was not a lot of shade to be found while we worked our way to the peak. The entire route is now nicely marked with white signs at each of the junctions.
We came to the turn-off for the final push to the summit. This last portion is where you earn your peak-bagging merit badge, as the trail now becomes very steep and slippery. In fact, I actually fell while ascending one particularly tough section. Brushing myself off, I continued making my way up to the summit.
Once there, we had a well-earned break. Although the clouds had burned off near us, and the marine layer still socked in the coast, Santiago Peak stood out clearly to the north of us. After snapping a few photos with the summit sign, we started to gather our gear and prepared to tackle the tricky descent that awaited us. Just then a group of four ladies arrived at the summit, making it the perfect time for us to depart.
We made it down the steep section with no issues and then began cruising back to the trailhead. While we had only passed about 5 hikers on our way up, during our descent we passed about double that. Before we knew it we were back at the cars.
While I only have one more peak to summit to complete the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, fighting the crowds on the ones that are open was something I did not care to do. So, instead, I turned to summiting one of the mountains on the Sierra Club Lower Peaks Committee. This is a collection of peaks whose summit is below 5,000 feet. Some of these I have done while completing the 100 Peak Challenge. However, there was still one remaining to be climbed in San Diego, Wild Horse Peak in the Agua Tina Wilderness.
I drove up to Dripping Springs Campground, with Ted following in his own car. The three free spots were already full at 7:30. I put up my Adventure Pass and Ted grabbed one of the Self Pay slips. The skies were still overcast, but we knew this should burn off as we rubbed on the sunscreen.
We passed through the campground, where breakfasts were being made over the campfires. The smell reminded me of so many mornings at my parents’ cabin. I signed the register and we set off. This is the same trailhead for Agua Tibia and for the very adventurous Eagle Crag. After crossing the dry creek bed, we turned onto Wild Horse trail and began our climb.
The trail was a nice shape. Wildflowers still dotted the side of the trail. At times, some growth did extend onto the trail, but nothing bothersome. We did spy some poison oak at times, so know your plants! We kept on cruising up the trail, enjoying the views spread out before us. Off to the east, was one impressive orchard.
After a while, we spotted the cairn that denoted the use trail to the summit. The pleasant grade we had for the last 4.5 miles was to be replaced with a steep climb on loose decomposed granite. Descending this was not going to be fun. We made our way slowly up to the Ridgeline. The trail was fairly easy to follow, thanks in part to Kelly Laxamana who routinely hikes these trails and maintains them.
Now on the ridgeline, the grade eased and the summit was clearly in view. Before long, the familiar red register can stood nestled amongst a pile of rocks. We shed our packs and took in the sweeping views; Vail Lake to the north, with San Gorgonio far beyond that, to the northeast San Jacinto stood, calling for our return. Off to the south was Palomar High Point. To the Southwest, Agua Tibia.
I signed the register and saw that the last person to add their name was our good friend Susie Kara. There really isn’t a good place to sit down on this summit, so after a snack and some fluids, we headed back down the mountain.
Thankfully, the descent we worried about was not too bad. Slow and careful, as this was not a race. Once back on the main trail, we could return to a nice steady pace. The sun had broken through earlier, but we still had sections of shade and a light breeze to keep us comfortable.
Finally, with about two miles to go, we encountered our first set of hikers. I SO wanted to check the “Only Party On The Mountain” checkbox on peakbagger.com, but it was not to be. It was a large group, but they quickly passed as we turned our faces away. By the time we reached the end of the trail, we met four other groups working their way up the trail.
As we passed back through the campground, it had become mostly empty, although the day-use lot was completely full. With that, I had completed my 8th Lower Peaks Committee mountain! I logged the hike at 10.1 miles in 5 hours with an elevation gain of 2,200 feet.
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.
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!
Once back at the car, I headed off for the second summit, Margarita Peak. Just past the gate stood two crosses off to the side of the trail. Unlike the groomed road to the other peak, this hike was going to be more ‘natural’.
Initially, I trekked along an old firebreak until I came to a sign denoting the Margarita Peak Preserve. Now, the trail turned to a single track use trail and began its steep climb. The sun was warming up the day, and I was sweating as I pushed through the overgrowth.
Finally, the trail reached the ridgeline and the grade eased. A lone oak tree stood atop a false summit. I took a moment to catch my breath and cool off. Once I was ready, I set off for the final push. A cairn and ribbon helped guide me through the manzanita to the summit.
The summit has an odd metal pole and two interesting metal squares. I didn’t find a register, even though it is listed on the lower peaks committee list. The views were even better of Pendleton than from Margarita Lookout.
As expected, the descent was tricky but I kept my footing. Once back at the car, I enjoyed some cool water and a dry shirt. Just then a quad-runner came screaming by. The passenger was helmetless. I could only shake my head and hope they didn’t crash. A couple more riders passed by, properly geared and riding at a reasonable speed. I knew I would need to keep my eyes open on the drive down in case I encountered any riders. These were two fun little adventures in a part of San Diego county I have never explored. Personally, I think one of these should have been the replacement for Rock Mountain instead on the 100 Peak Challenge list.
Peak Name: Ghost Mountain Distance: 2.24 miles Date: November 30, 2019 Summit: 3,397 feet
The final summit of the day was to be Ghost Mountain. I had hoped to get this peak in after summiting Whale Peak, but that did not happen. I drove down the dirt road to the southern end of Little Blair Valley to the trailhead. As I pulled in, one couple was just finishing their hike, and another car was parked there as well. Given this was Thanksgiving Weekend, I expected some other folks on this trail, at least to the Marshall South Homestead.
Ghost Mountain is higher in the desert than my last two peaks and as the day was getting late, I tossed some of warmer gear back on. I also packed another layer and my cap into my pack. The trail to the homestead is easy to follow and I made good time to it. The other hikers were here mulling about. We chatted some before I headed east toward the summit.
This portion of the hike is like the childhood game of ‘the floor is lava’, but with cacti replacing the lava and rocks in place of the living room furniture. The summit is denoted by a large boulder, so spotting it is relatively easy. While no benchmark is here, there is an old ammo box placed by the Lower Peaks Committee. Someone had moved it to the actual top of the rock, so a small scramble was required to sign the register.
The sun would be setting soon, so again I did not stay too long before working my way back down. The snow on the mountains was certainly a wonderful sight. Back at the car, I packed my gear away and headed toward the Scissors Crossing, stopping at the store in Shelter Valley for a soda and a candy bar. The road was open toward Warner Springs, as I did not want to deal with the insanity that Julian would likely be. I wished Ted was with me, as the snow-capped mountains around Ranchita were equally stunning, but since I was driving I could not get any photos. That was peak #94 of my #100PeakChallenge!
Peak Name: Eagle Peak Distance: 4.8 miles Date: August 24, 2019 Summit: 3,217 feet
Kept waffling on what peak I wanted to do. Settled on attempting a three-fer, but the temperatures I might be pushing it. I pulled into the parking lot for Three Sisters/Eagle Peak a bit before sunrise. To my surprise, the road down to the trailhead for Sunshine Mountain was closed. That was going to put a wrench in my plans. But one peak at a time…
I headed off down the trail, the air was already warm, the cooling effects of a marine layer were not there. I held a nice pace as I worked my way out to the peak. The trail was certainly more overgrown than last time. Toward the summit, it took a bit of poking around to find the trail.
I was amazed at the graffiti along the trail, and the trash. Since this is an out and back hike, I tried to remember where the empty water bottles were to pick them up on the return. Sadly I left the five Bud Light bottles behind.
The summit was quiet. I found the benchmark and reference mark with no trouble. I did not find the register.
I headed back down the trail. The overgrowth again was an issue near the top. Since the road to the trailhead for Sunshine Mountain was closed, I was looking to see if there was a connecting trail. Caltopo showed one, but as I got near where it was supposed to be, I could find no evidence.
The parking lot had filled up, and I had to wonder if these hikers knew of the difficult and forecasted temperatures as they set off down to Three Sisters. None of them were headed to Eagle Peak…
Peak Name: Woodson Mountain Distance: 7.5 miles / 4.1 miles Date: August 17, 2019 Summit: 2,896 feet
Since I had a family obligation in the morning, I decided to summit Mt. Woodson to catch the sunset. I had been trying out some new hiking shoes from Oboz and had been experiencing burning pain in one ankle. I tried two different sizes and no change. So I decided to switch back to my Merrill’s to see if it was truly the shoes or something else. Unfortunately, I took a closer look at them and a Viking funeral might be in order. So I high tailed to REI and bought some replacements. I tossed them on and drove out to the trailhead off the 67.
I actually have never done Woodson from this side, as I like the trail up from Poway. The route up follows the service road to the summit. It is short but steep. I really wanted to see how the shoes felt, and I hustled up. I happily held about a 23-minute mile.
Upon reaching the towers, I went looking for the benchmark. I found the rock, but there was no way I was scrambling up it solo.
The sunset was still about 20 minutes away, so I decided to check out the Potato Chip. There was a small crowd and was able to get my photo on it again. But once the sun started to go down, I got some great photos.
I made my back down the road, passing quite a few folks heading up. Toward the end, I did break out my headlamp. Soon I was back at the car and happy that it appears that it was the shoes. That was peak #56 of my 100 Peak Challenge!
Peak Name: Iron Mountain Distance: 5.8 miles Date: June 15, 2019 Summit: 2,696 feet
Iron Mountain is another peak that I have done multiple times throughout the years. This peak is a great one to do with the full moon, so I looked up the moon’s cycle and marked down the possible dates. I initially figured this might be a July or August hike, but the stars aligned and we were able to do it in June.
Ted Markus happily tagged along as we set off under the ornate trailhead sign. The trail then passes under a canopy of trees, the only shade you will find on the trail, which is very typical of many of the hikes in San Diego.
Neither of us was set on racing up the peak, so we just put in cruise mode. The trail goes eastward for a bit before turning southward and beginning to snake its way up to the summit.
We encountered a few hikers along the trail. Much of the hike was spent talking about our recent high school graduates…
There were two hikers at the summit. We took a short break, enjoyed the views. I pointed out Mt. Gower to Ted and the rough route we took.
Heading back down, the full began to rise over the mountains while the sun began to descend into the marine layer. We encountered an organized hike working their way up to the summit about a third of the way down.
As we reached the flat portion of the hike, we captured the glow of the sunset and turning around the moon just above the summit of Iron Mountain. A perfect ending to the hike.
Peak Name: Agua Tibia Distance: 16.1 miles Date: April 28, 2019 Summit: 4,762 feet
Today’s summit was Agua Tibia, a 4,762-foot peak near the San Diego- Riverside county line. Our planned peak, Squaretop, could not be attempted due to a music festival on Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.
The trail starts in the Dripping Springs campground and begins its climb upward. The weather was pleasant and the smell of flowers filled the air. The trail weaved it’s way upward. At times switching back and forward to gain elevation. To our north, the snow-capped mountains framed our views.
About 4 miles in, Ted and I found a nice spot for a break. The route is not too hard, mostly just long…
On the way up we encountered two trail runners. One told us the Wild Horse trail had some downed trees. But we were not doing this peak as a loop. Soon we found ourselves about 8 miles in and looking for the use trail to the summit. This was the only portion that had some challenges, as we bushwhacked our way forward. The Palomar-Magee section used to require you to pass through hunched over. Thankfully, this section has now been cleared.
We found the register can and the primary benchmark and one reference marker. I signed us in and took another break.
Then we put our packs back on and grabbed our poles and began heading back down the mountain. The miles passed quickly, spotting a snake basking in the sun. Since this little fella was just a garter snake, we stepped over it.
We found ourselves back at the same logs for another break. That is one thing that this trail lacks is spots for a break. About a half mile later, we found a family resting on the trail. They looked woefully under-prepared for the hike they are on. Thankfully, they did turn around. As we continued down, we encountered a few more hikers. I doubt they were planning to summit the peak.
Near the base of the trail, someone was doing some maintenance. We thanked him for his efforts. Soon, we were passing the Agua Tibia Wilderness Sign and the end of our hike. We cover just over 16 miles, climbing over 3,400 feet of elevation to the summit at 4,762. This hike took just under 8 hours and was a great hike for my 95th peak on my 100 Peak Challenge!
Peak Name: Ghost Mountain Distance: 2.24 miles Date: January 13, 2018 Summit: 3,397 feet
After Grapevine Mountain, I drove south to Little Blair Valley, toward the south end of the valley stands Ghost Mountain. For most people, this trail leads to the Marshall South homestead.
The trail quickly begins to climb up the side of the mountain to the ridgeline. From there it follows it toward the homestead, providing a sweeping view to the north and south as the trail continues its gentle climb.
After about 2 miles, I reached the remains of the adobe cabin. Marshall lived here for nearly 17 years. I spent some time examining the ruins before continuing eastward toward the summit.
It is clear the 95% of visitors turn back at this point, as the trail faded away. I picked my way through the rocks and plants until I reached the actual summit.
Here I found the Lower Peaks Committee register which I gladly signed.
I was feeling the miles from earlier, so I headed back down the trail to the car and back home.