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.

Cuyamaca Peak

With the desert too warm to continue working on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak List, I decided to start working on the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Opted to climb Cuyamaca Peak with a friend. The Los Vaqueros Trailhead was almost packed, as there was a training run for the SD100 Trail Race. We made our way along the Milk Ranch Road, along the way we spotted a herd of deer wandering by. Once at the turn, we began looking for the mountain lion prints that the training director had told us about. Sure enough, we could see a nice collection of the lion’s travels.

We linked up with the Conejos Trail and began working our way up. The trail becomes a bit rocky so we needed to be mindful of our steps. Partway up we heard the sounds of running water, the Conejos Spring was flowing, and in fact, some of the trail itself had running water on it.

As we neared the paved fire road, we noted quite a few trees had been snapped due to the high winds a few weeks back.

Once at the summit, more evidence of this as a mast on some equipment had been taken down and smashed its solar panels. We soaked in the views and enjoyed a well-earned snack before heading down.

Instead of taking the Conejos Trail again, we continued to the Azalea Springs Fire Road. That way we could skip the rocky section. Once back on the Milk Ranch Road, we spotted some wild turkeys. The entire hike took us 4:03 (including the break at the summit) and covered 8.6 miles.

Eagle Peak

Today’s adventure had Susie Kara and I heading out to hike Eagle Peak. After some navigational errors on my part during the drive (that I atoned for by buying a flight at Calico Cidery), we pulled into the parking lot. There were a couple of cars already there, including a ranger. After grabbing our gear, we set off down the trail, stopping to chat with the ranger for a bit. He informed us that they are hoping to make some major improvements to this trailhead, pave the parking lot (which is very rutted), add a pit toilet, and some picnic tables. If the budget is approved, work might start in 2022. 

For those unfamiliar with this trail, it shares the same trailhead as Three Sisters Falls, hence why there is a need for the improvements. After about 6/10 of a mile, the trail comes to the junction — to the left is the descent down to the VERY DRY waterfalls and straight onto Eagle Peak. In fact, there is a sign near the start of the trail with a photo of the state of the falls.

Initially, it felt a bit warm and we were glad this hike was just over 4 miles in length. Luckily, a nice breeze picked up and kept things pleasant. The trail is a little overgrown, but not too bad. We quickly worked our way up toward the summit, passing over the minor false summits. We signed the register and stood out on a boulder for some nice photos. We did not linger too long, as we really wanted to sample those ciders back in Wynola. Once back at the car, we estimated it was now in the mid-80s. A few more cars had arrived since we had left. Never can understand hiking in the heat to see a dry waterfall. We did the 4.2 miles in 2:04, including the time on the summit. My tracker reported just over 1,000 feet of gain. 

Our post-hike stop this time was the Calico Cidery in Wynola. This is a really cute tasting room. We each had a flight of the three ciders that were available, and enjoyed them on some nice shaded benches. I filled my growler with “The Granny” and Susie opted for “Fieldblend”. With a little luck, we might be able to do one of my remaining peaks next weekend.

Viejas Mountain

Peak Name: Viejas Mountain
Distance: 2.93 miles
Date: December 15, 2019
Summit: 4,158 feet

Well, the original plan for today was to drive out to Anza-Borrego and summit Indianhead. However, one of my hiking buddies had to back out and the weather was forecasting 20+ mile/hr. winds with gusts up to 35 mph. Not exactly the best conditions to travel across a ridgeline to the summit. Ted and I still held out hope that the forecast might turn, so we kept to the original plan and would make a final decision in the morning.

Well, the forecast held, so we went for plan B, Viejas Mountain. This was one of the other remaining peaks I needed to do. It is a short but steep peak. It appeared we got a little bit of rain overnight—another present from the system. As we drove out to Alpine, it was evident that this was going to be a cloudy hike.

Bundling up against the cold and the wind, we set off in the dark up the rocky trail. It is only about 1.5 miles to the summit, but you do gain about 1,500 feet, so it will give you a workout.

Once we reached the ridge, the wind picked up and our pants were damp from the brush along the trail. The summit was about a quarter-mile to the north. Given the conditions, we knew that we were not going to be staying long.

The register was full, so I did not attempt to sign it. Poking around the wind shelters, I found a reference mark. Pulling up Peakbagger, it denoted one more reference mark and the benchmark itself. Using its map, I first found the other reference mark. Using the arrows on them, I focused on locating the benchmark. There, partially covered by the rocks that make up the wind shelter was the actual benchmark!

Both Ted and I were getting chilled, so we began our descent. We took our care as we made our way through the mist—no need to slip and turn an ankle. We soon found ourselves back at the car and changed into some dry clothes. Since we made great time up and back, we decided to go grab a hot breakfast in Alpine. That was peak #98 of my #100PeakChallenge!

Peak 1546

Peak Name: Peak 1546
Distance: 3.57 miles
Date: November 10, 2019
Summit: 1,546 feet

Today was going to be an attempt at summiting 3 peaks; P1546, Cemetery Hill and Oak Benchmark. All three are located off Eagle Peak road, just west of Julian. Given the forecast, I got an early start to the day. I arrived just after sunrise at the trailhead. P1546 sits just before Cedar Creek Falls.

I would be following the old road down to the junction to the falls. Technically a permit is needed to summit this peak. I decided to be a good citizen and pay my $6.

By starting early, much of the hike is in shade. After about 1.5 miles or so, I reached the base of the peak. I then followed a slightly overgrown trail to the summit.

There is no register nor benchmark, but some nice views are the reward.

I made my way back up to car having bagged my 81st peak.

Oak Benchmark

Peak Name: Oak Benchmark
Distance: 0.88 miles
Date: November 10, 2019
Summit: 3,942 feet

After returning from Cemetery Hill, I took a break at the trailhead and chatted with a couple of hunters who were packing up to try their luck elsewhere. Oak Benchmark was going to be my final peak of the day. While it should only be about a mile round trip, it is steep and without any trail to follow. I remember some of my previous route from last time but knew it was going to be one of the route-finding skills treks. Just south of where I parked, is a nice meadow that serves as the best starting point for the peak.

From there it is up, any way you can. There was some poison oak to avoid, as I eventually found my way to the summit.

This time a register was waiting to be signed, but also two marks to photograph. While the hike gains about 500 feet in .5 miles, there were some fantastic views to be had as a reward.

It was getting warmer, so I made my careful descent. Back at my car, I was now done with all my non-desert peaks for my 100 Peak Challenge, just 17 to go!

Cemetery Hill

Peak Name: Cemetery Hill
Distance: 3.8 miles
Date: November 10, 2019
Summit: 3,450 feet

After summiting P1546, I drove back up Eagle Peak Road to the shared trailhead for Cemetery Hill and Oak Benchmark. Along the way, I pasted a modest amount of hunters parked along the side of the road. I knew I would need to be alert for the next two hikes. I had swapped my normal hat for my red ball cap. Cemetery Hill is another inverted peak, like P1546, so down another old road, I went.

Once at the base of the descent, I had about 1.5 miles to cover over some easy rolling terrain. As I neared the peak, I would have to go cross-country to the summit.

I soon found myself passing the wooden posts that mark the cemetery. There are no other markers to be found. At the true summit, I had a nice rest under the shade of oak before heading back.

That was peak #82 of my #100PeakChallenge.

Lawson & Gaskill Peaks

Peak Name: Lawson & Gaskill Peak
Distance: 8.75 miles
Date: September 28, 2019
Summit: 3,610 feet / 3,838 feet

NOTE: Gaskill peak is closed due the recovery from the Bobcat fire. Lawson appears to outside the closure are. The closure order is set to expire December 2021.

Driving out to the trailhead, Dave and I were questioning our decision as rain would periodically come down. Once we reached the turnout, that is when we would make our choice. I pulled up several radar maps on my phone and it looked like nothing was headed our way, so we geared up and set out past the gate. The skies were grey and the air moist as we followed the road up toward Lawson and Gaskill. The clouds hid the summits when they should have been within view. The upside of doing this hike twice before was I was familiar with it.

Lawson and Gaskill Peaks

I had debated which peak to do first–Lawson, which was the first but also harder, or Gaskill. In the end, we opted to summit Lawson first. Following the trail upward, the damp brush slowly made our pants and shirts wet. We navigated up the steep slope with no real issues, except for me banging my finger on a rock and needing some band-aids. I slipped on my gloves for some extra protection for the rest of the ascent.

Once at the chimney, Dave scaled it first. As I made my way up, I needed a little help to get past the last rock. We passed through the cave, and since I had gloves on, I moved some broken glass off to the side. We saw the plastic register box off to the side, but we continued working our way up the rocks to the actual summit. No views today, but I was glad to stand atop it again. We did not stay long in case the weather would turn on us. We made our way down the chimney again, then finally to the road and onto Gaskill. The clouds had lifted some, so I could point out the actual summit to Dave.

As we cruised along the road, I spotted an arrow and a use trail that appeared to be the south trail I had read about in some trip reports, but I decided to stick to the trail I knew.

We finally came to the use trail I remembered and set off. We were enjoying the coolness, the quiet and the smells of the plants as we worked our way closer to the peak. This trail was far less traveled than the Lawson trail, so we had to push through the brush as we climbed ever higher. The trail did vanish at one point, but we did find it again and continued our scramble across the rocks, taking extra care due to the dampness.

Finally, we reached the summit region. When I did Gaskill back in 2018, I was still recovering from my neck injury so I did not attempt the true summit. But this time I was going to make it! 

Following a use trail around the south side of the summit, I began looking for a ‘tunnel’ that would lead us up closer to the summit. And there, on the west side, it revealed itself!

We easily clambered our way up, the true summit so very close. The final push required some careful hand and footwork, but I was now atop Gaskill! I proudly signed the register, that was tucked between two rocks. We did not stay long on the summit again, as we did still have a hard descent and several miles of hiking back to the car.

These peaks were #69 and #70 of my #100PeakChallenge!

East Mesa High Point

Peak Name: East Mesa High Point
Distance: 9.29 miles
Date: September 22, 2019
Summit: 5,175 feet

The sun was just illuminating the top of Cuyamaca peak as I pulled into the Sweetwater River parking lot. The air was crisp as I gathered my gear and set off counter-clockwise along the Harvey Moore Trail, which was named after the first superintendent of the park, with the goal of summiting the East Mesa High Point.

The trail works its way upward for a bit before reaching the mesa. Oakzanita stood to the south, and soon it’s summit was lit by the morning sun. Soon the mesa spread out before me, its golden grasses waving gently in the breeze as I made my way toward Granite Springs campground.

I passed through the empty campground, pausing for a bit on the bench beneath a grand oak tree. As the trail continued north, some movement to the left of me caught my eye. It was a deer walking through the grassland. I stopped and watched as it looked back at me, then it began leaping away. I turned back to the trail, and some 10-15 wild turkeys were just off to the side of the trail about 25 yards away.

As I crested the rise, I began to get my first glimpses again of the East Mesa High Point. There is no trail to this summit, so I spent some time scouting the possible route up. I had my GPS track from before but with the rains last year, who know about the growth…

I turned on the Deer Park Trail for a little bit before beginning the cross-country portion. I spotted a faint use trail that headed up the hillside, so I decided to follow it up. The basic route I was going to follow was to stay to the left of the heavy brush in the forested section up to or near the ridgeline, then begin the bushwhacking to the summit. This use trail led me to a small flat area that I remembered from before. Crossing through the knee-high grass, ever thankful for my gaiters, I reached the final rise to the summit. Again, I spotted a faint trail and began working my way up.

Soon, this trail reached the brush and the hard part was about to begin. I scanned the thicket and saw what seemed to be a route into it. I pushed through and would slowly find my way through, it actually turned out to be not as difficult as I had feared. As I neared the summit, I spied the metal pole denoting the summit. Weaving my way through the last of the brush, I had reached the peak again. I signed the register and enjoyed the views. I set back down the mountain, hoping that I would be able to pick up my route again. This is why it is so important to stop and survey the route you have taken.

Back on Deer Park Trail, I paused to address some burrs that slipped past my gaiters. A lone mountain biker passed by. We chatted some before we both continued northward. He turned south back along the East Mesa Fire Road/Harvey Moore Trail, and I decided to do the full loop. Last time I did this summit, I did it as an Out-and-Back. But this time I wanted to explore the rest of the trail. My legs were feeling great, even after summiting Hot Springs Mountain the day before. The trail continued through the mesa for a but before making its steep descent toward Harper Creek. While the scenery was fine, I did have some shade to enjoy.

Once I crossed the dry creek, the terrain was almost desert-like in the canyon. Quite the contrast from the golden meadows a few hours earlier. I hustled down the trail. I could imagine when the creek is flowing, how one might enjoy this section, but for me it was meh. Finally, I reached the East Side Trail and begin heading south again back to the car, where the orange I meant to bring sat in the cooler… I kept up the pace, in part as it was getting a tad warmer and I had a farewell party to attend. The trail was gentle and shaded at times as it followed the dry Sweetwater River. After about two miles or so, I found myself back at the car. I quickly shed some of my hiking gear, enjoyed that orange and headed back into town. That was my 68th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge

Ant Benchmark

Peak Name: Ant Benchmark
Distance: 1.69 miles
Date: September 7, 2019
Summit: 3,209 feet

The second peak, Ant Benchmark, was just a short drive north from the Three Sisters trailhead. I pulled into the turnout just before the boundary of the Inaja Indian Reservation. I grabbed my gear and headed back down Boulder Creek Road.

The trail was in the same shape as Sunshine Mountain, passable but with a lot of growth. After about .5 miles, the descent ends, and I head out across the golden meadow.

From there I began working my way up the summit. I remembered the actual summit was set back, so I knew I had more climbing than what I initially saw.

I never found a real path up. Mostly I tried to use the rocks and stay to the northeast side. Apart from the initial effort to bushwhack on to the slope, it went fairly well.


Once at the true summit, I sat and flipped through the register, recognizing many fellow peak baggers.

There were three marks on the summit as well. It was getting warm, so made my way back down the mountain.

So I was crossing back across the meadow and back up the old Jeep road. That was my 60th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge!