Grasslands Loop

The second hike of the day was to do the Grassland Loop & Oak Canyon out in Mission Trails. The Oak Canyon portion was one of the hikes I recommended for my synagogue’s Stepping Into Israel hiking challenge. I decided to add in the Grasslands Loop for a change of scenery while doing it. The skies were still grey and a light mist was falling as I set off. Since almost all this hike has no shade, this was welcomed hiking weather. The trail was mostly empty, in part due to the weather. The stream was once again dry. Making my way back to the car, I passed a nice collection of morteros. Once back at the car, I headed off to grab lunch and then my third hike of the day.

Torrey Pines State Park Extension

Ever since March, I have been exploring some of my local peaks. One peak, Torrey Pines State Park High Point (that’s a mouthful), has been on my list for a while. This ‘peak’ sits within the extension to the state park, and had been closed for some time due to Covid-19. The extension has several trailheads to start from, but I opted for the trailhead closest to the high point near the school, & set off along the Red Ridge Trail. It passes by several multi-million dollar homes before entering the state park. The trail was nice and flat, and as I made my way to the end, a few Torrey pines lined the trail. According to Peakbagger, the actual high point was located in a section that was beyond the roped off area. Close enough for me. The view from the end of this little trail was lovely. I had a sweeping view of the lagoon and Torrey Pines SP.

With the knee feeling good, I set off toward the D.A.R. viewpoint. I followed the trail down into the gully, then turned up to go back up another trail to climb up to the viewpoint. The sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean. While I could have done something closer to my house, I wanted to enjoy the sunset over the water. 

I then began working my way back to the car, and decided to take an alternate route back. I wanted to take the Gully Trail, but I discovered it was closed. I debated returning the same way I had come, or loop back through the streets. Since I was close to the streets, I decided to take that route. As I returned to my car, the trailhead was filled with cars, some were probably folks I passed along the trails, but others were just sitting there enjoying a spectacular view. 

Bear Mountain

After dropping my son off to spend his one-year dating anniversary with his girlfriend in Tempe, I opted to head up to Sedona for some hiking over the weekend. I had planned to try to hike out to Devil’s Bridge and  then maybe try Doe Mountain afterwards. But as I drove up to the trailhead, the parking situation looked worse than Mt. Woodson on the weekend. So, I decided to pivot to one of my alternate hikes. Boynton Canyon trailhead was nearby, so I decided to see if I could find reasonable parking there. Sadly, the lot was full and the roadside parking was also packed.

Instead, I opted to hike Bear Mountain, one of the peaks on the Arizona Summer Six Pack of Peaks Challenge. Figuring since this was a harder hike than the other two, it would be less crowded. As I pulled up to the trailhead, I saw that the small lot was full, and about 8 or so cars lined the roadside. Since this is also the same parking spot for Doe Mountain, I figured I would probably be ok with the amount of trail traffic.

I grabbed my gear and crossed the road to the trailhead. The trail starts off crossing a short, flat section before beginning its first climb. I knew from the research I had done, that I was in for a short but steep hike. The trail was fairly easy to follow and whenever there was some uncertainty, painted white markers pointed the direction.

After a steeper section, I found myself on a plateau. It was here I finally got to see the actual summit. Looking back, I was rewarded with some sweeping views.

The trail continued climbing, but at a much gentler grade for a bit. In fact, there were a couple small descents just to keep me on my toes. Off to my right, was Fay Canyon. I had hiked this several years ago with my twins during a Thanksgiving vacation. I am pretty sure I could spot the rock arch in the cliff.  I took a short rest on a log at the saddle before the final steep push to the summit. Thus far, I think I saw about 10-15 hikers on the entire trail. With my break over, I began making my way up to the summit.

After about a quarter mile of climbing I reached the end of the trail. I enjoyed another break, as well as the views. A rock pile served as the summit marker. I could see Bear Mountain – Middle Peak off to the northwest, but I did not feel the need to add another two miles to this hike. 

Looking back up

The hike back down was mostly uneventful. One bonus was that the vistas were easier to see hiking in this direction. Even though it was now mid-afternoon, I did encounter some folks heading up. I gave them some information about what lay ahead, suggesting possible turn around points. Soon I found myself back off the mountain and making my way across to my car. The parking lot and roadside had thinned out. If I did not have plans to met a college friend for dinner, I might have done Doe Mountain as well. All told this hike was 4.5 miles roundtrip with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. 

Old Survey Road

Ted Markus and I had a chance to hike the Old Survey Road out on the Ramona Grasslands. This hike requires a permit and is limited to 50 per day. The trail is only open on weekends and for just a few months of the year. While we knew today was going to be warm, it was just about our last chance to explore it.

We arrived just before 8, and a group of four hikers were ahead of us, waiting to have their permits checked by the ranger. Once signed in, we headed down the dirt road. Cows to the left, Bulls on our right. The trail worked its way back to the northwest, past the ruins of a house and a lovely picnic bench under the shade of some oaks. 

The main attraction is the chance to possibly see some Golden Eagles. This the main reason for the closure dates, to allow for proper nesting in the nearby rocks.

We climbed a small hill and were rewarded with a nice view of San Pasqual Valley. The Safari Park’s hot air balloon was clearly visible, as was much of the trail I took on Thursday.

We had a decent descent to the trail’s end. After snapping a few photos and waiting for the group that was ahead of us to have a chance to make some progress climbing back up, we set off. Neither of us was in a rush. A few more people passed us by as we made our way back, including one horseback rider. 

As we drew closer to the car, we both commented that the day was certainly heating up. After checking back in with the ranger we tossed our gear into the car and turned on the AC. The thermostat read about 94 at just after 10 am. If you can get a permit and can do it, it was a really pleasant stroll.

Valley of the Moon

Today’s adventure was to summit Blue Angels Peak. With the forests closed due to fire danger, we were looking for something that we could do. I had suggested doing San Ysidro and The Thimble, but Susie wanted to explore something new, so Blue Angels peak was selected. 

I headed out early to try and catch the sunrise and squeeze in a quick summit of Jade Benchmark. It was a short climb to the summit. I found the register, but the ink in the pen was dry. I was also able to locate the benchmark before I hustled back down and waited for Susie and Gail to arrive. About 7:30 they pulled up and transferred into the Subaru. Rather than make the steep climb up from the trailhead we opted to drive to a turn out to avoid this section.

The views were spectacular as we worked our way along the roads. Finally we came to the point where we left the road and began to follow a use trail toward the summit.

With a bit of scrambling at the very end, the summit was reached. Susie found the register and we signed ourselves in. The Valley of the Moon spread out before us to the east, and Mexico was just to our south. A nice breeze kept us cool. A Border Patrol jeep cruised the road below us.

I scrambled around the summit locating the various reference marks. Plastic bottles could be found scattered about. Our next goal was the boundary marker to our south. This obelisk denotes the border between the United States and Mexico.

We took our photos and then headed back. I had located several other peaks also on the Borrego Benchmark Club list, but the day was warming up a bit and I needed to get home since Yom Kippur starts at sundown. This is place I need to return to and explore this region further!

Camping @ Crystal Cove

Well, it finally happened, I went backpacking! I had finally reached a point where some of the peaks I want to summit are more than a long day hike. Susie Kara suggested testing out my set up at Crystal Cove State Park. I booked a spot at the Upper Moro campsite. Throughout the week, I kept a close eye on the air quality. The plan was to start after work, hike back to the site, spend the night then head back down. I got to the state park around 5, spoke to the ranger, and asked about the conditions. She said it wasn’t too bad, and agreed if we opted to leave the trail is easy to follow in the dark.

Ted Markus graciously decided to join me. We hit the trail right at 5:30, packs strapped to our backs. Our route wandered up through Moro Canyon. After about a mile we reached the East Cut Across trail to begin climbing up toward the ridge. 

Here is where we would earn the beer we packed! Over the next mile the trail would gain about 700 feet. Once on the ridge, we passed through Lower Moro Campground. We snapped a few photos of the view and continued on, as our campsite was about another .85 miles further.

We arrived at sunset, and quickly set about setting up camp. We had the entire campsite to ourselves, so we did not need to camp next to each other. Once the tents were up, we enjoyed our sandwiches and beer. We chatted for a while then turned in for the night. In many ways this was going to be the real test for me.

My sleeping pad and tent worked well. While not the best sleep, I woke just after 6. I had a granola bar and some oranges while I broke down my gear. We loaded our packs and headed back down. A few early morning mountain bikers were testing their calves climbing the ridge and some others were enjoying the trails.

We soon found ourselves back at our cars, knowing that we were ready to attempt a real backing trip once it was safe to do so. I quickly changed shirts and headed off as I had a 9:30 meeting.

Daley Ranch & Burnt Mountain

Today I decided to go out to Daley Ranch and summit Burnt Mountain. Daley Ranch has been closed for some time due to Covid-19, so I was glad to take advantage of its open status. This area has always been a popular spot for hikers and mountain bikers, so doing this hike on a weekday seemed like a good idea. I pulled into the Cougar Pass Trailhead’s parking lot just after 7. There were already 5 cars parked. I grabbed my gear and headed down the trail. I had hiked most of the route I was planning to take back in 2016. I found my route in Runkeeper, but not a single photo. I guess I will have to make up for that oversight.

The first part of hike would be along the Cougar Ridge trail. It would work its way upward, crossing two flowing streams along the way. Oaks provided shade in spots. The wide trail appears to be recently graded. After a bit, the Engelmann trail connected from the east, but I wanted to take it from the other junction, so onward I hiked.

The next trail I encountered was the Bobcat Trail. This single track bisects the Engelmann Loop. I might take it upon my return.

Finally, I reached the other junction for the Engelmann Loop. I could see Burnt Mountain before me, and where my route probably was. Flowing water worked its way down the middle of the trail, but there was enough space on either side to keep from having issues. I soon came to small pond. I spied a mother duck and her ducklings having breakfast upon the water.

From my research, I knew I had to cross a small meadow to the base of the mountain, & from there a use trail should take me to the summit. Just past the pond, I saw the meadow and a faint path through it.

Once on the other side, I picked up the trail. It was a little overgrown, but manageable. It worked it way up the steep slope, with an occasional cairn to help guide the way. 

With the summit in view, some lovely wildflowers blocked my path. Rather than disturb them, I was able to move around them. Once on the summit, I found the benchmark and the two reference marks. The summit had three rather large cairns that I opted to leave alone. After a short rest, I headed back down.

Back on the Engelmann Loop Trail, I continued taking it counter-clockwise. I still had yet to encounter another person on the trail. 

The trail’s beauty continued to impress me. I could see why Scott Turner, author of Afoot and Afield in San Diego, loves the trail. As I came up to the junction with the Bobcat Trail, I had a decision to make—take it or stay on the Engelmann Loop. I opted to stay on the loop.

Soon, I passed my first pair of hikers. Thankfully the trail was wide as they did not have masks. By the time I finally reached my car I passed 5 other hikers and two mountain bikers, all without masks. Just glad the trail was wide. All told I covered 4.94 miles in 2:35, with over 1,100 feet of elevation gain.

Van Dam Peak

I decided to get some early morning hiking in before sitting through a morning of online meetings. Figured I should finally summit the other two peaks around Van Dam. I decided to start up from the Savannah trailhead. Susie Kara joined me in a socially distant manner. That is, as always I was behind her as she led the way 😉

The start of the trail took us steeply up to the main ridge. A bit overgrown, and the wet plants soon made my pants wet as well. Once on the ridge, we made our way to Van Dam peak. Typically, when hikers refer to Van Dam, they are actually referring to North Van Dam (where the graffitied concrete slab is). We turned south on the Iola trail for a bit, before picking up a faint use trail that took us to the summit. There is no benchmark or even a register. A large rock was just to the west of the summit, and Susie scrambled up for her photo.

Once back on the Iola trail, we cruised to North Van Dam. Surveyed the graffiti for a bit, then continued on to the north. At the junction, we veered to the left toward our third peak of the day, Peak 1080.

We finally encountered someone on the trail at this point, and passed without issue. We missed the use trail to the summit and continued along the side trail. Checking the map, we realized our error and backtracked slightly. The use trail was actually right where we encountered the other hiker.

We quickly followed it up to the top. Like the others, no marks or registers. A nice view of Black Mountain was the best it could offer. The trail continued down the west side of the peak and back onto the main trail. We followed it until it ended at Sabre Springs Parkway, then we just road hiked back to our cars. Another two peaks crossed off the ‘Near-By” list.” 

West Sycamore

Continuing my local peaks adventure, I headed out to summit Stonebridge Hill and Sycamore Ridge. Both these bump-lets are located in the West Sycamore section of Mission Trails. 

I parked next to the closed parking lot. There were about 8 cars already there at 7:30, but it was a Saturday. I grabbed my gear, and slipped my buff on, then hit the trail.

The empty trail was nice and wide, and I soon came to Stonebridge Hill. A quick jaunt through the low brush to the high point, which was marked by a small cairn.

Back in the main trail, the Sycamore Ridge was just a few minutes away. With no visible high point, I counted it as ‘summited’. Rather than simply turning back, I opted to make this a loop. At this point the trail splits, one route continues toward Goodwin Ranch, while the other follows the ridge northwestward. I picked the latter for today’s adventure.

The trail now turned to singletrack, so I would need to keep my ears open for others. I knew from the cars at the trailhead that mountain bikers were probably out enjoying the trails as well. About 5 minutes later I spotted my first one. I stepped aside and let him pass. 

I continued to work my way down the ridge, I would encounter about 10 more riders throughout the hike. I had no trouble hearing them coming and they were quickly past me.

Once at the bottom of the ridge, I continued west, the sides of the trail were dotted with flowers. Passing a grove of eucalyptus, the trail curves around a nice house tucked away. Crossing a dry stream, the trail made its way west. In the distance, I could see a group of people flying radio-controlled airplanes. I turned on to the cement road and climbed up the hill to the houses near the start of this hike. Once back up on the ridge, I walked along the street back to my car.

All told 4.7 miles with about 620 feet of elevation gain. On the way home, I stopped at O’Brien’s bakery to pick up our bread order. A nice brioche loaf for French Toast for Mother’s Day!

Flags of Rancho Bernardo

For of us who spend way tooooo much time on, one of the tabs on the mobile app is Nearby Peaks. During this period of staying local, I have been browsing this list for peaks that I have not yet summited. Today’s adventure would take me to “The Flags of RB”. You have probably seen these three flags on the peaks to the west of the 15 near Rancho Bernardo road.

I headed out along the service road for the power lines, which would connect me with the trail to the summits. The early morning fog had burned off here, but could still be seen around me. As I made my way up the trail, the occasional sound of a dove cooing could be heard. 

I reached the first flag atop Peak 1190. This flag was securely mounted its pole. Snapping a few pictures I headed off, as I knew we had another warm day ahead of us.

Peak 1163 from Peak 1190

Down the trail and across the saddle I went. The trail is well defined, so no issues with that. The next flag is atop Peak 1163.

Grabbing a few photos, I was off to Peak 1001 and the final flag. This one had a surprise, an empty wine bottle. I left it.

Retracing my route, I soon found myself back at the car, having done 3.15 miles. A nice way to start the day and cross off three more of those ‘near-bys’.