Garnet Peak

After summiting Monument Peak earlier in the morning, our second peak of the day was going to be Garnet Peak. While the trailhead at Penny Pines was filled with cars, there was no one at the Garnet Peak trailhead. I spied a couple of hikers making their way up the peak, and later a few more along the PCT. We passed through the meadow quickly and found ourselves ready to start up the rockier portion of the hike.

We made good time up the trail, and two hikers passed us returning from the summit. Once there, the three hikers I spotted on the PCT were enjoying the peak. The ‘infamous’ wind that usually is found on this peak was nowhere to be felt. We took a short snack break and snapped our photos. I tried to survey the extent of the fire that had burned recently near Oriflamme Canyon. It appeared not to have reached Roost Benchmark. I would later learn that it actually came within just a few feet of the summit.

As we made it our way back down, there were more hikers making their way up. Once back at the car, we looked at the time and decided that we would skip trying to squeeze in Wooded Hill and headed back into town.

Monument Peak

Initially, I had hoped to sneak in one more peak on the Sierra Club list, but some commitments in the early afternoon made it too tight to attempt San Ysidro. Instead, I opted to do some of the shorter peaks in the Lagunas that Ted needed to summit. First up was Monument Peak, a nice 2.8-mile hike. We pulled into the parking area and grabbed our gear and headed off along the trail.

The temperatures were pleasant as we made our way to the summit. Flowers still dotted the sides of the trail, making for an even more visually enjoyable hike. After a short stint on the PCT, we turned on the trail that would take us to the peak. This section of the trail was a bit more overgrown and could use some light pruning.

We reached the summit and were greeted by the fantastic desert views. Unlike previous visits, there was almost no wind to speak of. We snapped our photos and signed the register before heading back down. Once back at the car (and not missing the turn as I did on my first time hiking this peak), we headed off to our second peak of the day, Garnet Peak, just a few minutes down the road.

Oakzanita & Sugg Peaks

Being Memorial Day weekend, I did not want to drive up and tackle any of the Six-Pack of Peaks, so I turned to one of my non-desert peaks on the Sierra Club list that I needed to summit again. Since Ted Markus was back from his Grand Canyon adventure, I roped him into tagging along. Since he needed to summit Oakzanita, we opted to hit it along the way. We followed the Lower Descanso trail up until it reached the East Mesa Fire Road. After a very short stretch, we hopped onto the Upper Descanso trail. As we made our way up, wildflowers dotted the sides of the trail.

Soon we found ourselves at the junction to the peak, and the trail then began the final push to the top. Once there we enjoyed the views, Cuyamaca and Cush-Pi (Stonewall) to our north, Long Valley to our south, & the Lagunas to the east. We did not linger too long, as we heard voices from some other hikers making their way up. We chatted a bit and let them enjoy their time on the peak.

As we neared the junction, we passed two more hikers en route to the summit. These would be the last people we would see until we returned to the trailhead. Our route was to head south on the trail until it looped northward again, near the meadow we would cross to begin our cross-country trek up to Sugg Peak.

I had my track from 2019 when Susie Kara had graciously guided me to the summit. Now it was my turn to guide Ted. I remembered the landmarks that Susie had used when we did this peak, and I planned to use them as checkpoints. First up were the flat rocks just past the meadow’s edge. From here we were next on the lookout for the boundary fence between Cuyamaca State Park and Cleveland National Forest. After passing through the fence, we were now keeping our eyes out for the route that we would follow south for a bit. I spotted the faint path at the end of a small clearing; it had certainly become overgrown since I used it almost 2.5 years ago. The next landmark for us was the old jeep road sign. Ted did not believe there was once a road off to our right. 

Now for the last bit, the real bushwhacking would begin and the final push to the summit. From here we would leave the ‘trail’ and head east up the saddle toward Sugg. I would mostly just use my guts and some general suggestions from the track to weave through the thick brush that covered its slope. We reached the large rock slab that I tore my pants on the last time when descending. This was the only real landmark for this section of the hike, so reaching it was a good sign. I kept working us upward, checking my decisions with Ted from time to time. Soon we crested the false summit and Sugg Peak stood before us. We made our way over to the true summit. I signed the register, having to move the loose survey mark out of the way. We enjoyed the views while munching on our snacks.

We headed back down, hoping to retrace our steps, but I knew that following our exact route was a pipe dream. We hit a couple of dead-ends, but I worked around them and soon we were spot on with our track where we had left the ‘trail’! Maybe I have learned something after 100s of miles and 100+ peaks 😉

Once I got us back to the edge of the meadow, we had a decision to make. We had considered tacking on East Mesa High Point for Ted, but it was a touch warm and pizza and beer sounded really good (vaccinated bonus!). So, we cruised back down the trail toward the car. All told we covered 9.6 miles in 5:11 hours with 2,184 feet of gain.

Cody & Pike + 4!

When I was hiking with Gina Norte on Hot Springs Mountain last weekend, she mentioned that she was taking some fellow peakbaggers out for their attempt at Palm Mesa High Point, and possibly Cody & Pike. Since Gina was one of my hiking buddies when I summited Palm Mesa High Point, I knew she was not planning on doing that peak again. She said she might try for Phil and Norte Benchmarks instead. So, I asked if she would enjoy some company, to which she joyfully said yes. We chatted about what other peaks we might explore and how. In the end, we left it a bit flexible as to our plans and were just going to see how the day unfolded.

I arrived at the guard station for Los Coyotes Indian Reservation around 6:15. It was in the high 30s, but the forecast for the region that Gina and I would be hiking was in the low 70s. Alberto and Dale pulled up around 6:30. Initially, another peakbagger, Phil Y. had planned to come but he just did a long hike up in the San Gabriels and was not up for this adventure. Gina arrived soon after and we headed back to the campground. Dale and Alberto transferred into Gina’s car and I stayed in mine. Since I did not know how long Gina and I were going to spend hiking, having my car allowed me to leave if we finished before Dale and Alberto did (which is what we expected).

We drove to the familiar parking spot near the cemetery and quickly gathered our gear. Gina and I weren’t in a rush, but Dale and Alberto had a long, hard day ahead of them, so we got underway fairly quickly. This was the first time I had a chance to meet Dale in real life. We chatted about various topics as we made our way down to the wash and then up the saddle. The biggest question I had was “what order/route they were going to take?” Alberto had been with the group that was with me when I did Palm Mesa High Point. Per our recommendation, he had climbed Cody and Pike Benchmarks, but he was unable to make it down to Palm Mesa High Point. So for him, this was his first priority.

The hike up the wash went quickly. This time I did not miss the junction to the right, but did leave the wash a bit too early to reach the saddle. Nothing too problematic, but that is what happens when you are too busy talking and not double-checking your route that closely. Gina took a quick break just below the saddle and I escorted Dale and Alberto on up to it. Once there I pointed out Pike off to the left and Cody off to the right. I pointed at the wash below us and said “just follow that to Palm Mesa High Point”. 

I returned back to Gina, and we set off for our primary peaks, Phil and Norte Benchmarks. I had spotted what appeared to be a descent route up earlier, so took it up the slope. In hardly any time at all, we found ourselves next to the summit of Phil. I spotted the register in a glass jar sitting high up on the summit block. Below it was some of the guidewires for the survey post. Gina carefully scrambled up the rocks and signed us in. Meanwhile, I poked around and found a passage under the summit block that gave us a nice route toward our next peak, Norte. We relaxed and chatted for a while, and also surveyed the surrounding terrain for how we might visit the other nearby peaks. We were in no hurry, so we just sauntered toward Norte.

Jim Wick had done Phil and Norte a number of years back, and in his trip report, he mentioned that the approach to Norte was almost a walk up from the south side. So we looped around and his report was spot on. This was a special summit for Gina, as this peak was named in honor of her husband’s family. In fact, the benchmark is different from the regular USGS ones. We proudly signed the register and again took in the views. Since we both were feeling great, we decided to keep on exploring. Almost directly to our south stood Cody Benchmark. Gina had also wanted to climb it, so off we went. I had summited it with Susie Kara back in June of 2020, but we tackled it from the north up a steep and rocky route. This time, Gina and I worked our way along the ridgeline, staying on its northern side. Soon, we found ourselves at the saddle just below the summit and the short climb up.

We relaxed on the summit for a good while, soaking in the view, having a snack, and enjoying a little bit of cell coverage. I showed Gina the route Susie had taken down from Pike and up to Cody. Then looking back west toward Phil and Norte, we could see the difference between the south and north sides of the ridge. While Phil Benchmark was just a mere .7 miles to our north, I had no desire to take the direct route, especially having done the reverse. So, we roughly retraced our route to the saddle.

Along the way, I spied a string running from plant to plant. I suspected it was probably a weather balloon of some kind. We located the beacon, then followed the string to see if any remains of the balloon could be found. We only found the plastic hook, so we gathered up the items and stowed them in our pack. 

Still feeling good, we set off for our fourth peak of the day, Army Benchmark. This provisional peak sits just north of the saddle. We followed the main ridgeline up toward it. There were two possible bumps that it could be. Once we reached the first one, we did not see any signs that this was it, so we moved on to the next bump, a mere 300 feet away. Here, we did find some remnants of the surveying post. We found a nice spot for our lunch. From my spot, I could see Collins and Knob off to our north. We once again had some cell coverage and got a message that Dale and Alberto had reached Palm Mesa High Point. This let us begin to estimate when they might return. We debated if we should head west and summit Dry Benchmark, or push on and try for the Pikes. Still feeling adventurous, we set off for Pike Benchmark Summit and Pike Benchmark. Since we were on the ridge, we opted to stay on it as we worked our way over. Just to the west of Pike Benchmark Summit is a nice saddle. We walked over to its northern edge and had a sweeping view. Cougar Canyon was below us, SquareTop, Collins, Knob, Palm, and Elder were spread out before us. The final push up to Pike Benchmark Summit was a bit bouldery, so I continued my route finding and weaved our way up it without issue. 

Once on the summit, we could see Pike Benchmark just a stone’s throw away to the east. We again took in the views and signed the register. Rather than taking the direct approach to Pike Benchmark, we went north a bit, then across the minor saddle and up to the summit. If memory serves, Susie and I just charged straight across. 

As I stood atop my sixth summit of the day, I had to chuckle to myself. Initially, I thought I might just do two peaks, but here I was on #6 of the day. As an added bonus, I was a little closer to finishing the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peaks list again. We scanned the wash below us to see if we might spot Dale or Alberto, but no luck. Gina and I discussed our route back, one option was to drop down from Pike all the way to the wash and climb back to the saddle, which was probably about 500 feet of gain once we dropped down. Or, we could follow the contour lines and sidehill it back to the saddle. That was the option we decided on, as it was getting a bit warmer in the mid-afternoon sun. I picked various landmarks to work our way toward, adjusting as the terrain revealed itself to us. After about 45 minutes or so, we found ourselves back at the saddle. When I was at the saddle in the morning, there was a cactus that was in full bloom, so I had to find it again since that is something that Gina loves to find.

Although we had not seen nor heard Dale and Alberto, we felt that we should probably head back, just in case they had slipped past us. We cruised back down the wash and back to our cars. We arrived about 4:30 and neither of them was there. We did some calculations of when they might arrive, and we loosely estimated they had at least another hour or more of hiking, depending on if they tried for eighth Cody or Pike on their return. I followed Gina back to the locked gate, and she let me through. I said my goodbyes and headed home. Gina returned to wait for them. She told me they arrived around 6:15 or so. I will let them tell their own adventures. But for us, it was an absolutely fantastic day; six peaks, 6.87 miles, and 1,780 feet of gain! 


WIth my recent summit of Hot Springs Mountain, I was down to only one more peak to complete the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge — Cuyamaca Peak. Initially I had planned to save doing it until a nice fall day, but we still had some nice spring weather so I decided just to go knock it off the list. The past few times I have summited this mountain I had been working on the 100 Peak Challenge, so getting Airplane Ridge and Japacha Peak had been on the agenda. This time I did not need to revisit those summits, so I looked at some of the other possible routes. For many, they simply take the newly re-paved fire road to the summit from the campground. This was the route I did the first time years ago. While it is the shortest route, it is steep and all on a paved road. I had no desire to take this route again. Instead, I opted to use some of the trails on the north side of the mountain.

Cuyamaca in the distance

I pulled into the parking lot near the Trout Pond trail, just a bit north of the Paso Picacho Campground. This the same starting point you would use if you were going to hike up Middle Peak. There were a few cars here as I gathered my gear. It was still a bit nippy, so I pulled on a fleece. The forecasted high on the summit was in the low 50s, so I was probably going to want it later even if I warmed up while I was hiking.

After carefully crossing the highway, I headed down Milk Ranch Road. The grade was nice and gentle and had some lovely views. I passed the turn off that would take you up toward Middle Peak. After about 1.4 miles I came to the junction of the Black Oak Trail to my north and the Azala Springs Fire Road to my south. Walking around the gate, I continued on for about a quarter of a mile until I reached the Conejo Trail. My route now turned from nice wide roads to a more traditional trail. I continued to have a nice view of Cush-Pi (Stonewall) to my east. Over the next 1.5 miles, I would gain almost 900 feet of elevation. I could occasionally hear some voices ahead of me, and since I was making good time, I figured I would probably catch up to them. As I turned the corner of one of the switchbacks, I recognized Amber Haslerud from the San Diego Hiking Society. She and her boyfriend were also climbing Cuyamaca today. I stopped and chatted a bit. I loved following Amber’s hiking journeys, so it was a treat to finally meet her face to face. I wished them a good hike and continued on. The trail still had some nice wildflowers along it, so I seemed to be grabbing my phone to snap a photo quite often.

The Conejo Trail meets up with the Lookout Fire Road about .4 miles from the summit. However, I still had over 300 feet of gain until I summited. As I made my way to the top from the road, I spied two teeny tiny patches of snow tucked in the shade. The summit sign was still there, so I took my summit selfie then wandered over to take a few more photos of some of the interesting landmarks, the NASA benchmark, the Forest Service carving, and of course the view. I had a quick snack and was just about ready to leave when Amber and John arrived. Since this was their first time at the summit, I showed them how to get to the top. Once there, I gave them a quick tour of the summit. We chatted some more, and then I let them enjoy their accomplishment by themselves.

Since I found much of the Conejo Trail a tad rocky, I opted to take a slightly different route back to the car.

So, I stayed on the fire road until it met up with Azala Springs Fire Road. I followed it for about .6 miles until I reached the spring. Now if I had parked at the campground, there is another trail that would take me there, but I continued north back toward Milk Ranch Road, and eventually my car. My entire hike clocked in at 8.73 miles with 1,880 feet of gain in 4:02 (including all the chatting).

Wooded Hill

Since I was the hiking consultant for my synagogue’s Stepping Into Israel hiking challenge, I figured I should hike some of my recommendations. One of the hikes I recommended was the Wooded Hill Nature Trail. I have hiked this 1.5-mile loop twice before but decided to do it once again. As I drove out to the trailhead, the marine layer was so thick that it was actually raining during my drive out. Just past Alpine, I broke through the clouds into a wonderfully sunny day. I pulled into the trailhead, grabbed my gear, and set off. Some remaining wildflowers still lined the edges of the trail. It was nice to hike this trail on fresh legs. The previous times I had done this hike was after a full day of hiking. As I made my way up the hill, I heard the sounds of a woodpecker. I was able to video of it pecking. After cresting the summit, I once again encountered mountain bikers on this trail. Wish they would enforce the rules sometimes. Once back at my car I headed back into town for my second hike of the day.

Roost Benchmark

It is hard to comprehend that this summit would mark my completion of the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak List. For this milestone hike, I invited several of my hiking companions to accompany me. We met at the Pacific Crest Trail – Sunrise Trailhead at 8am to condense down to fewer cars, as the actual parking area at the Lucky S Ranch is limited. After driving the couple of miles down the road, a group of mountain bikers had taken most of the available spots, but we were able to squeeze our cars into the area and still allow access to the ranch. We gathered in front of the gate to the old road that we would follow for a while. We discussed if we were going to add Oriflamme Mountain to the hike, and the consensus was to skip it. With that, Ted Markus, Greg Gerlach, Gina Norte, Matt Hanan, Larry Edmonds, Leslie Williams, Susie Kara, and Susie’s friend Jackie set off down the road.

This was an inverted (aka canyon) hike, so we dropped down from our start just off Sunrise Highway. Some lovely wildflowers dotted the sides of the trail as we cruised along. We chatted about recent hikes, and I reflected on what was next on my hiking agenda. Soon we found ourselves at the end of the road and began the cross-country portion of the hike. 

Roost Benchmark was the further of the two bumps. Since some of our group had hiked them before we followed their lead to loop around the first bump then approach the summit from the north/northwest. We could see Larry and Leslie on the summit already. They had taken a different route that we had avoided in part to reports of it being overgrown and tick infested. As we crossed over the saddle, the winds picked up. Just as I was thinking I needed to tighten the strap on my hat, Greg’s hat went sailing. Thankfully it did not go far and he was able to retrieve it.

Soon we found ourselves atop the summit. I had done it! I plan to write a proper reflection on this journey, but a tremendous sense of accomplishment filled my heart. We sat around the summit enjoying some snacks, soaking in the views, and proudly signing the register. After a nice break we began our descent. Along the way, we spotted a nice horn head lizard hanging out under some brush, and Ted got a great shot of it.

Since Larry said the overgrowth wasn’t too bad, we took the more direct route back up to the trailhead. Again, more wildflowers brightened our climb. While this road was a bit more overgrown, it was not too bad. We would stop to do a periodic tick check. Some of the group found some “hitchhikers” that were dealt with accordingly. As we waited next to where the PCT crosses the old jeep road, a thru-hiker passed by. Once we had regrouped, we climbed the last bit and back to the cars. Once back at the Sunrise Trailhead, my wife and daughter arrived with pies from Betty’s Pies in Encinitas to share. Susie had started this tradition with her completion of several summits, and I was happy to continue it. Since the summit did not lend itself to a group shot (plus the wind), we took a group shot there. After consuming our pies and enjoying a can of Peakbagger IPA from Kern River Brewery that I had been saving, we bid our farewells. Now on to the next adventure…

Gina, Ted, Me, Susie, Matt, Greg

The stats for the hike were 8.82 miles in 4:45 with a elevation gain of 1,764 feet.

Palm Mesa High Point

It is hard to imagine that this journey to complete all 100 peaks on the San Diego Sierra Club list is almost done. I have two more peaks to summit; Palm Mesa High Point and Roost Benchmark. I knew my window to climb them was coming to an end, as the desert was warming up, so I needed to try to get them in as soon as possible. The more challenging of the two was going to be Palm Mesa High Point. This peak can be summited in a number of ways; you can climb up from Sheep Canyon, approach it from Henderson Canyon, or use the Borrego Palm Canyon North Fork route. The first two options are difficult routes, while the last one is easier but has access issues. Thankfully, Gina Norte was able to grant a small group of us permission to start from within the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. 

Our group met at 6 am at the guard shack at Los Coyotes, and waited for Gina to arrive and then escort us in. Once we were all there, we followed Gina up the road to the campground. Once there, we parked and got into two cars before continuing further back into the reservation. We parked near the cemetery and began our adventure. The hike is not extreme, but it is a canyon hike, so we have most of our elevation gain on our return from the summit. The seven of us (Susie Kara, Matt Bennett, Matt Hanan, Alberto Martinez, Laura Neuman, Gina and myself) continued down the road toward the wash that would take us up over the ridge. 

Passing under the tall oaks, we dropped down into a wide sandy wash and began working our way up toward a small saddle. Susie and I had hiked this portion last summer when we climbed Cody & Pike, so we knew the route (Gina also was very familiar with the region as well). The small fork that Susie and I missed last time got us again, but this time it was for just a brief moment. Once at the saddle our group split up. There are three Sierra Club peaks that can be accessed via this route; Cody, Pike and Palm Mesa High Point. Since I had climbed Cody & Pike already, I was only focused on Palm Mesa High Point. But Matt H. and Alberto were more interested in Cody & Pike, since it was much easier to get them via this route. Depending on their speed, they might try to catch us and also summit Palm Mesa High Point. Matt B. offered to go with them, so we said our goodbyes and down the North Fork we went. We knew from Greg Gerlach’s trip report that we should not have any major issues, sans a few dry waterfalls that we would need to bypass.

I realized that when we transferred cars, I forgot to grab my Gatorade and oranges from my cooler. Crud. I even told myself “Don’t forget to grab the stuff from the cooler”. I would just need to be a little cautious. I had 3 liters, plus my other food, so I should be ok. 

We passed Pike to our north and Cody to the south. There were some wildflowers scattered along the side of the wash, giving us some nice visuals. Finally, we started to encounter the first of our dry waterfalls. Susie had done some of this section when she, Matt B and Greg Gerlach had done this hike back in 2019 as a backpack trip. Some we were able to scale down, and a couple we bypassed. We took a short break and discovered we had several hitchhikers who had decided to attach themselves to our clothes. We picked off the ticks and checked each other, and would do so several more times during the hike.

Finally after about 4 miles, we reached the base of Palm Mesa High Point. Thankfully, the route up to the summit did not have any terrain challenges, other than gaining about 900 feet of elevation in about 0.6 miles. I took the climb at a steady and measured pace, taking a couple of mini-breaks along the way. Soon I had reached the summit! The four of us sat around soaking in the views. Familiar peaks surrounded us. To our north, we could see Collin, Palms, and Elder. To our south was the San Ysidro ridge. Off to the east, Anza-Borrego was spread out before us. We tried not looking to the west and our climb back up. I happily signed the register and took my photos. I enjoyed my PB&J and the Mandarin that Susie gave me. After a nice break, we set off back down. As we almost reached the base of the ridge, Matt B. was making his way up. He filled us in on the status of the rest of the group before heading up toward this summit. The four of us then began our climb back up toward the saddle.