Palomar High Point

Having checked the Palomar Divide Road was listed as open, we decided to once again drive up toward Palomar High Point. Both Ted and I hiked this peak via Oak Grove last year and honestly did not feel the desire to do it again. So, as we had also done in the past, we drove to a much closer starting point.

The road was in ok shape, with a few potholes to watch out for, but nothing more. As we passed the Barker Valley Trailhead, there were four cars parked off to the side. We reached our usual stopping point, but neither of us felt like hiking from here, so we decided to drive on. We passed a few hikers making their way up, and one returning from the summit. Parking at the locked gate, we grabbed a bottle of water and walked up to the tower. A volunteer was working on replacing the toilet used by the tower staff. We chatted a bit, then set off to snap a few photos before heading back to the car and the hour drive back to the main road. 

Volcan Mountain

Having just finished the Six-Pack of Peaks Arizona Winter Challenge figured I should pick up working on my hometown set of peaks. Since Ted Markus had never done Volcan Mountain, it seemed like the perfect choice. When we got to the trailhead, there was only one car and a CalFire engine. 

Just after the entrance, the three CalFire firefighters were finishing their morning workout. After about a 1/2 mile, we hopped onto the 5 Oaks trail. While this adds a little extra distance to the hike, it was a nicer option.

Once back on the main road, we cruised up toward the summit, stopping to look at the ruins of where an early exploration of placing an observatory here (Spoiler, it went to Palomar). Upon reaching the summit we spent a little time exploring, learning about the directional beacon, finding a couple of reference marks, and heading out to one of the benches. A few poppies were scattered along the ground, but they had not open for the day yet.

We took a nice view to the east, naming off so many peaks we have climbed. Up to this point, we have had the mountain to ourselves. But we were soon joined by other hikers out enjoying the trail. We headed back down along the main road, passing more folks, many with their dogs. This peak was a nice change of pace for both of us. Since it was still early we decided to drive up Palomar Divide Road and cross another peak off this year’s San Diego Challenge, Palomar High Point.

Santiago & Modjeska Peaks

Since I had the day off, I decided to put it to good use and go hiking. I figured, why not get one of my least favorite hikes on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge out of the way? This would be Santiago Peak. I decided to follow the same basic plan as I did last year, to drive up from Silverado Canyon to just before the trailhead to Modjeska Peak, park, and hike on to Santiago. The road up the canyon was in good shape, with a few crossings still had water flowing slightly over them. At the junction with the Main Divide Road, I took a short break. I remembered this next section of the road was a bit rocky, but as I drove up it, I found that it was much nicer than expected. It was still rocky, but not nearly as worrisome as it was last time. I parked in the same spot, grabbed my gear, and set off down the road.

Once I reached the small saddle between Modjeska and Santiago, I looked for a side trail that would take a more direct route toward the summit, rather than the winding road. While it looks like it might have been an old road at one point, this was a nicely maintained trail. The biggest surprise was the old truck off to the side. While the trail was comfortably wide, I had trouble seeing a truck drive it. The trail eventually reconnects with the Main Divide Road, which I then followed on up to the summit. Along the way, I spotted one last patch of snow.

There was no one at the summit, just the hum of the towers and a slight breeze. The sign was gone, but that is not why I climb. I wandered around the summit a bit, taking in the sights. Peakbagger was misbehaving, so I did not have a reference map to locate any secondary marks. Oh well. The last time I climbed Santiago, my knee was in no shape to try to summit Modjeska.

Today it was feeling just fine, so once I had reached that small saddle again, I took another side trail that would climb partway to the summit. This trail was a bit overgrown but still very passable — it connects with a road that works its way to the summit of Modjeska. I reached a fork and could either take the .6 mile road or the shorter but steeper direct route up what I assume was a fire break created during the Holy Jim Fire. I opted to take the short-but-steep route up and the long way back. As I neared the summit, I heard my first car of the day.

Two trucks were making their way up to the summit. I snapped a few photos and waited for the first truck to climb up the last bit. I chatted with the spotter a bit while she guided the truck over some rocks. I waved at the second truck and made my way back down. When they passed me again, we chatted about a side trail that I was near. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about it and when I checked GaiaGPS, and it had nothing, I wished them safe driving and they drove off. Soon after I was back in my car and ready to head back down the mountain. I kept my windows down and the radio off to listen for any oncoming traffic. I encountered several more cars, a couple of motorcycles, and some bikes all working their way up. All told I logged 5.4 miles with just over 1,300 feet of gain in 2:30. This was my first peak on the 2021 Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge.

Woodson on a weekday

Since I have a hiking trip coming up in Arizona, I wanted to get a few harder miles in and see how my right knee felt. When descending San Ysidro East Peak, it had become painful. I figured Woodson Mountain would be a good candidate for this. I debated between taking the Fry-Kogel route or the Lake Poway Route. I opted to take the Lake Poway route, just so I could compare my time from my last summit. The parking lot was fuller than I expected, but I could see some families scattered about, and several folks trying their luck fishing.

I cruised up the trail, a few hikers passed me returning from their summits. The knees were doing fine on the ascent. I took a short break just past where the Fry-Kogel trail joins the main trail. That is still one thing I need to be mindful of when hiking solo, I tend to not take proper breaks.

As I neared the Potato Chip, there were just a few people milling around. I thought about climbing out, but did not feel the need, so I continued to the summit. I also decided to skip scrambling up the actual summit block. After a short rest for a quick snack, I headed back down. 

Making my way down, I passed a few groups heading up. The parking lot closes at 7pm, so I hope they pay attention to the time. My left knee did grumble a bit on descent, but nothing unusual and thankfully the right knee seemed fine. After a round trip time of 3:30 over 7.3 miles, I was back at the car. Got a light hike planned out in Anza-Borrego on Sunday, then off to Arizona to try to summit some of their Six Pack of Peaks,

El Cajon

I needed a good hard hike to keep training for upcoming my Red Top/Sawtooth attempt. I considered some of the harder desert hikes as an option, but Ted needs most of those peaks and he was going to be unavailable on Sunday. I was able to convince my friend Dave to tag along for some company. Initially, I wanted to hike Agua Tibia again, but Dave’s time constraints were tighter than mine, so that was not an option. Since I signed up for the San Diego Edition of the Six-Pack of Peaks and am doing the Tour Our Trails challenge as well, I figured why not just do “The Hardest Hike in San Diego™”, aka El Cajon mountain.

We wanted an early start as we both wanted to be home to watch the game. As we drove out to the trailhead, I snapped a photo of the morning sky for Ted, one of his favorite parts of our adventures. The parking lot was not open yet, and a modest amount of cars lined the road. We quickly geared up and set off. The fruit stand was open and looked tempting.

We shed our jackets after about a mile. I was all set to stuff into the sleeping bag compartment in my pack, only to discover I never took out the windbreaker from last weekend. So into the main part of the pack it went. The miles ticked off fairly well as we made our way up and down the trail. A few folks passed us returning to the car from probably being at the summit for sunrise.

Stopping for a quick snack just before the old jeep, we hear the sounds of someone sharing their music. This behavior annoys me to no end. I came out here to enjoy nature, not your favorite jam. We let them pass, along with their unleashed dog, then waited a bit before resuming. Finally the summit came into view and we began the last bit.

Once at the summit, there were a few people scattered about. I found a spot off the side and enjoyed my PB&J and a few orange slices, while Dave had to take care of some work-related issues. The summit sign was no longer in the ground, but it was still attached to the pole. I snapped a few photos and was ready to head out. Since folks were hanging out where the marks are located, I skipped them this time.

As we headed back down, we encountered more folks making their way up. Also the day was warming up a touch. I had to think some of the folks are not going to like their hike back to the car. El Cajon is known as a hike that is “uphill, both ways”. I did regret not wearing a lighter shirt and pants, as I was starting to feel a tad warm. We plodded our way back to the car without any real issue. All told our active hiking time was 6:15, not too bad. I think if we had stayed longer at the summit, and I had some more recovery time before setting off our time could have been under 6 hours.

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.

Two Pack of Peaks!

Hiked: October 31, 2020
Distance: 16.9 miles
Summit Elevations: Cucamonga (8,959 feet), Ontario (8,693 feet)
Elevation Gain: 5,501 feet
Round Trip Time: 11:02 hours

I decided to try to summit two of my remaining Six-Pack of Peaks this weekend. Given that wildfires have closed three of the peaks for at least a year and we were starting to enter into that time of year when the weather can play a factor, I want to try to climb both Cucamonga and Ontario Peaks, since they share the same trailhead. Somehow I convinced Ted Markus to wake up at some ungodly hour and make the two-hour drive to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. Part of the very early start was to secure parking. Because of the closures, the remaining open peaks are a bit more crowded. A bright full moon shone above as we headed off up the canyon. We had already secured permits for Cucamonga but needed to stop at the self-service kiosk and fill out forms for the initial portion of the hike.

We could hear the creek flowing nearby as we worked our way up the canyon. While the trail is usually pretty well defined, I did get us slightly off course. It turns out I took a path past one of the cabins, which dropped us down below the actual trail. We scrambled up a sandy steep section and were back on track. The rest of the route up to Icehouse Saddle was uneventful. That bright full moon certainly helped. Upon reaching the saddle, we took a short break. After grabbing a quick bite, we set off. Icehouse Saddle is a nexus of several trails, but each is well signed. 

We knew that we were not going to be at the summit for sunrise, but we were greeted with a lovely pre-dawn glow over Apple Valley. After passing the old mine, we reached the saddle between Cucamonga and the ridge up to Bighorn Peak. That ridge was an option as an alternate route to Ontario, but that was a decision for later.

To reach the summit of Cucamonga, the trail follows the northern side of the peak. From the saddle, we still had over 1,000 feet of elevation to gain. We got some beautiful glow upon the Ontario ridge to our west as we worked our way up the switchbacks. Suddenly, a Bighorn sheep stood foraging for its breakfast, and I froze. It looked at us for a bit and returned to looking for food. 

We kept pushing upward, crossing over some rocky avalanche fields. I was glad to be crossing these in the light. Finally, we reached the wooden post that makes the turn off to the summit, and had just .2 miles to go!

Once at the summit, we soaked in the views. The skies were pretty clear, so a lot of LA spread out below us. We found some rocks to shelter us from the breeze while we took a well-earned break. With some energy in our bellies, we took our photos. Ted was able to work his way out onto the overhang for the standard Cucamonga photo. Since it was a bit brisk with the breeze, we did not linger too long, plus we still had a lot of miles to cover.

Looking across at Ontario Peak

Making our way back down, we started to encounter more hikers working their way up. Back at the saddle, we looked over the map and decided that we did not want to attempt the ridge. Ted did need to be back in San Diego by 6-ish, so the trail route seemed more sensible. 

Heading back down from Cucamonga Peak

Once back at Icehouse Saddle, there were a few more people there than when we first passed through. We took another break and looked over the remaining miles, difficulty, and pace to see if it made sense to attempt Ontario. In the end, we felt we had enough time and energy to make the attempt, so off we went.

We reached Kelly’s Camp at a decent pace, so we trekked on. I knew from the trip reports that we would have a number of downed trees to navigate. Our first one was quite significant. I clambered over it, while Ted bushwhacked instead. Once we were over it, we discovered the trail turned back and we had to climb back the other way. Arrgh!

With that misadventure behind us, we continued climbing. All told there were 10 downed trees that required us to climb. The trail hugs the side of the ridge, keeping a decent steady grade. Every once in awhile it intersects with a small saddle, and you are rewarded with a great view of the LA basin. Soon, the actual summit came into view, with the top of its famous tree poking out behind the rocks.

At the summit, four hikers were taking turns posing for pictures on the tree. We shed our packs and waited for our turn. I grabbed some food and some Gatorade. We knew that we did not have time to linger, as we had over 6 miles back to the car. 

We headed back down the trail, which did not have much traffic on it. Not that I am complaining. My hips were starting to feel all the miles and climbing, so I had some extra “Vitamin I” to help. Once back at Icehouse Saddle, we took another break before we set off down Icehouse Canyon. Just a mere 3.6 miles back to the car…

Icehouse Canyon

We cruised down the trail, seeing all the sights that we missed in the darkness upon our ascent. I can see just the hike up to Icehouse Saddle would be a fun excursion. As we got within a mile of the car, the sound of the creek returned. We also noted the trail was a bit rocky, slowing us slightly. I commented to Ted, “We came up this in the dark? What were we thinking?”

Soon, the cabins began to appear. We also kept an eye out for the slope we scrambled up, as well as trying to figure out where I veered off. 

Soon the trailhead came into view and our epic adventure was complete. All told we hiked 16.9 miles in 11 hours and climbed some 5,505 feet of elevation! That was my 12th peak on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge! We quickly changed and headed back to San Diego. I am happy to say we got back in time for Ted to make his dinner with the In-Laws.

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.

Strawberry Peak

The alarm went off way too early, but we wanted to be at the trailhead around sunrise to once again beat the heat and the crowds. My partner in crime this time was Susie Kara. We met at a Park And Ride in Escondido and headed up the 15. We caught up on things–my kids starting their college classes remotely and Susie filling me in on her recent camping trip.

Today’s summit was going to be Strawberry Peak, in the front range of the San Gabriels. This was going to be my 10th peak in my Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. We followed the Angeles Crest Highway as it wound its way up. The sun was just beginning to rise as we pulled into the Red Box Picnic Area, and a couple of cars were already parked. We grabbed our gear and carefully crossed the highway to the trailhead.

The trail would follow the road for a bit before heading off to the north. The grade was gentle and we cruised right along. We knew this hike would be in two parts–this gentle section and the steep push up to the summit.

The morning sun was shining its glow across the peaks around us. After about 2,5 miles, the trail dropped steeply down toward the Lawlor Saddle. Thankfully, this section was relatively short. We reached the junction with the trail to Strawberry Meadow and took a short break. Staying on the trail up to Strawberry Peak, we began the real climb. 

While some might find this section technical, our countless hours exploring the peaks of Anza-Borrego made this section almost second nature. Reaching Strawberry Peak requires crossing several false summits, so remember that as not to be disappointed when cresting one, to only see another climb ahead of you. But, finally, the true summit was a short climb before us. Susie, of course, reached it first and was resting as I made my way up. 

Next to the summit post, four different wooden signs were available for our summit photo. I had unfortunately forgotten the strawberries in my fridge that we were going to enjoy. We were soon joined by three trail runners. We shared the summit respectfully and chatted a bit. After snapping our photos we began our descent.

The trail runners soon passed us as we carefully descended. Susie had forgotten her trekking poles, so she was a bit more cautious, and I paid attention to my knee as we traversed down the steep section. We would now start to encounter more hikers making their way to the summit. Everyone would don their mask as we passed.

The effects of the 2009 Station Fire

After climbing back up from Lawlor Saddle, we cruised the two or so miles back to the car. It was starting to warm up, and I was glad we were heading back down. We could hear folks enjoying the twists and turns of the highway as we got closer. 

After quickly crossing the road again, the parking lot was now almost completely full. We tossed our gear in the car and headed back home. I logged 7 miles with 1860 feet of elevation gain in 3:30 of active hiking time.

Mount Baden-Powell

The planned summit for today was Mount Baden-Powell, just west of Wrightwood. Given the heatwave that much of the state had been under and the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm, we knew that we needed to have an early start for this peak, and being a San Diego resident, this meant an even earlier start with the two-hour drive to the trailhead. Ted arrived just before 4 am and loaded his gear into the back of the car. We slipped on our masks and drove northward. As we climbed up toward the Cajon Pass, a small rain shower came down. This hike might have turned out to be a long drive for nothing if we felt the weather conditions weren’t favorable.

Trailhead

We pulled into the parking lot off the Angeles Crest Highway. About ten or so other cars were already there. We gathered our gear, used the (thankfully open) restroom, and headed onto the trail. 

The route was going to be a fairly constant climb along the Pacific Crest Trail. While we were going to be under the shade of the various evergreens for much of it, we still had some 40 switchbacks to count off as we worked our way ever upward toward the summit.

As we made our way up, a few light sprinkles began to fall. Since the temperature was pleasant, it did not bother us as we plodded upward. After about a mile in, we passed the bench, and since we were feeling good we did not stop. The sun was making itself visible from over the mountains, so we grabbed a few photos and continued on up the trail. We kept a fairly steady pace, as the gradient of the trail stayed mostly constant, although we slowly would feel the elevation in our lungs. We passed a few hikers along the way. The trail did make it hard to step out of the way, but everyone was wearing a mask as they passed. 

The trees began thinning out as we drew near the summit. Around 3 miles in, we started to get some nice views of Antelope Valley to the north. Finally, we reached the Mount Baden-Powell Saddle. It was there that we would leave the PCT for the final push to the summit.