Manza Benchmark

Peak Name: Manza Benchmark
Distance: 3.94 miles
Date: October 12, 2019
Summit: 5,525 feet

After summiting Sheephead Mountain, I drove a short way back down Sunrise Highway to the trailhead. I actually grabbed a spot right next to it. Both the Sunset and Big Laguna trails start from here, so it is a popular spot. I grabbed my gear and set out again. The Sunset Trail is a hiking-only trail so I did not worry about being run over by a mountain bike since the Big Laguna Loop is a very popular trail for them.

As I cruised along the trail, I spotted patches of poison oak to either side. I had a feeling that this was going to be an issue on this summit attempt. Soon I reached the meadow that I needed to cross to join up with the use trail that would take me down the ravine then back up to Manza Benchmark. As I set off across it, poison oak was scattered about. This was going to be a challenge.

I never found the use trail in the actual meadow, but on the other side, I spotted it and began my descent. The trail through this section was fairly easy to follow and only slightly overgrown, but tons of poison oak to attempt to avoid. After losing about 300 feet of elevation, it was time to make the steep climb out of the ravine. The bugs had started to come out, so on went the bug net.

The trail became fairly well marked with cairns as it quickly rose to the ridgeline. Poison oak continued to grow everywhere, I only hoped my contact would not become an issue later.

So I reached the crest of the mountain and turned northward. Here I would meander through the manzanita and over boulders toward the summit. The trail here was a bit more overgrown and I had a few spots that took a moment to resolve which way to go.

Finally, from atop the false summit, the Manza Benchmark stood before me. As I scrambled over the rocks, the same incredible view was presented to me. I sat on a rock and enjoyed a snack. I took my photos and again signed the register and began the trek down.

The return back to the Sunset Trail went by quickly, again hoping that the poison oak not going to leave a ‘gift’ for later. Soon, I was back at my car and my 74th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge completed.

Sheephead Mountain

Peak Name: Sheephead Mountain
Distance: 3.56 miles
Date: October 12, 2019
Summit: 5,838 feet

The plan for today was to summit two nearby peaks, Sheephead Mountain and Manza Benchmark both in the Lagunas. The first peak of this two-fer was going to be Sheephead. With the weather beginning to become fall-like, I did not need to be at the trailhead at sunrise. I drove down the semi-paved Kitchen Creek Road off of Sunrise Highway.

The trail seemed very familiar as the pine needles crunched under my boots. When I reached the other Kitchen Creek road, I made sure to leave a mark to find the use trail back up the ravine. I missed it the first time I summited.

As I cruised down the road, a few cows were hanging around and scampered off as I approached. Ignoring the locked gate and its warning, I continued down the road. Double-checking my original GPS route, I spotted a faint use trail and headed hopefully toward the summit.

I spotted the boundary sign and knew the entrance to the use trail. Now the real effort would begin, the trail would climb some 600 feet in about .3 miles. The trail was overgrown, in fact, I lost a bandanna somewhere in that mess. Maybe after the challenge is over I might return and do some maintenance.

Finally, the summit revealed itself before me. Conditions were much nicer this time, so I enjoyed the views without feeling I was going to be blown away…

I signed the register and took my photos before heading back down. I kept an eye out for my missing red bandanna, figuring it would be easy to spot, but alas I never found it. But I did find a pair of sunglasses. Too bad I need prescription ones.

The trail deposited me back on the road and I headed back up the road. The cows were still hanging around as I neared the turnoff to the trail to make my way up the ravine. I was pleased about getting another peak out of the way. That was peak #73 of my #100PeakChallenge. Now for the short drive to the trailhead for Manza Benchmark.

Wooded Hill

Peak Name: Wooded Hill
Distance: 1.49 miles
Date: September 14, 2019
Summit: 6,216 feet

Since it was still early after finishing Oakzantia, I decided to drive up to the Lagunas and quickly so Wooded Hill. I had planned to do this when I did Manza Benchmark and Sheephead Mountain but I thought why not just get it out of the way. I drove down the short spur road the trailhead. Another car was parked under the shade of the trees. While it was still warming up, I knew this trail was short and shaded.

I hustled along the trail toward the summit. The trees certainly made for a pleasant canopy to walk under. The summit is nondescript with no register nor benchmark.

I decided to make the loop again. Two mountain bikers were making their way up, which I politely informed them at this was a hiking-only trail. A bit later I passed a family enjoying the trail as well. Back at the car, it was nice to mark this peak off the list. That was peak 62 of my 100 Peak Challenge.

Garnet Mountain

Peak Name: Garnet Mountain
Distance: 0.75 miles
Date: April 21, 2019
Summit: 5,700 feet

The final peak of the day was Garnet Mountain, just around the corner from Pioneer Mall Campground. The Pacific Crest Trail runs right past the peak, but the short trail to this summit is just to the west. Ducking under a metal gate, the rocky trail heads up, and the wind continued to blow.

Once the trail ends, a hint of a use trail could be seen, up through the brush, I went. Atop the summit, I found the register and carefully signed in to prevent it from blowing away.

From the summit, Anza-Borrego was spread out before me. So many familiar peaks dotted the view. Then it was back down to the car, covering a mere 0.8 miles for the entire trip.

Granite Mountain in the distance

Pine Mountain

Peak Name: Pine Mountain
Distance: 4.1 miles
Date: April 21, 2019
Summit: 5,660 feet

As part of my 100 Peaks Challenge Reboot, I am hiking these peaks again. Since my planned peak had a forecast of 25-35 mph winds, with possible gusts to 50 mph, it decided to look for other options. So, a set of peaks in the Laguna Mountains fit the bill. In gathering my route information, I looked a bit closer at what Ben and I hiked. Now that I am a bit more seasoned in map reading, I realized that while we had hiked a loop along the Pine Mountain Trail, we actually did not approach the actual mountain.

It turns out when the Pine Mountain Trail intersects with the dirt road, instead of going straight, you should hang a right onto the road.

The road had been recently graded, as there were no ruts to be found. The road headed north, then turn west as it gently climbed upward. Once I passed enough of the brush, I left the road and began heading south across the open forest floor.

The crunch of the leaves under my feet was a sound I had not heard in a while, as for the past few months I had been hiking in Anza-Borrego. I soon found myself at what looked at the top of this gentle summit, sat on a log and enjoyed a short snack. While the pine trees gave me some nice shade, there really is not any view. I knew this summit would be both benchmark and register free, so I retraced my steps and returned to the car.

Garnet Peak

Peak Name: Garnet Peak
Distance: 2.4 miles
Date: April 21, 2019
Summit: 5,909 feet

My second summit of the day was to be Garnet Peak (Monument Peak was first). Just a few minutes up the road from the Monument Peak Trailhead is the trailhead to Garnet Peak. If you are looking for a longer hiking day, you could hike between them along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trailhead is denoted by a metal pole, then heads off across a lovely forest meadow. I did have to nudge a small garter snake off the trail.

Once the trail intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail, the real climb began. I remembered this peak giving me a bit of difficulty the first time. The trail got a bit rocky as it climbed upward.

Once at the summit, you are rewarded with a sweeping view of Anza-Borrego. The wind was still making its presence felt. The summit was register-less and there is no benchmark. I did not stay long, 30 mph wind can be chilly.

Monument Peak

Peak Name: Monument Peak
Distance: 2.7 miles
Date: April 21, 2019
Summit: 6,271 feet

So, I had planned to try fully summiting The Thimble today, but the weather forecast was crazy windy, up to 50 mph gusts. So, instead, I decided to summit several peaks out in the Lagunas. First up was Monument Peak.

This was a 2.87-mile hike to the peak. It was windy! I knew I made the right choice not to attempt The Thimble. I did find the tiny benchmark and left a new register in the can.

Unlike the first time, I had no route-finding issues coming back. Coming back down I had a nice chat with two European PCT hikers. Another four hikers passed me on their NOBO journey. Soon I was back at the car and off to peak #2, Garnet Peak.

Manza Benchmark

Peak Name: Manza Benchmark
Distance: 3.94 miles
Date: November 19, 2017
Summit: 5,525 feet

Looking to summit another peak in the Lagunas before any weather hit, so I opted to hike out to Manza Benchmark.  This time I was joined by my good friend James. We parked just off Sunrise Highway, right near the Sunset trailhead. We followed the main trail for a bit before locating a use trail heading across the meadow.

The trees were still showing some bit of fall on them. We knew that the trail was going to descend into a drainage area, before climbing another ridge to the actual summit. Carefully check our maps and route, we navigated down through the brush. Bits of poison oak was spotted along the sides of the trail, so some extra care was taken as we began ascending.

Once we reached the ridge, we began passing through thickets of manzanita and over several false summits, until at the end of the ridge our goal was sighted.

With some minor rock scrambling, we found the benchmark and signed the register. As we rested, the views were surprisingly nice. After soaking up some sun and the quiet, we began our trek back to the trailhead. We again were careful as we worked our way down the drainage ravine, as it was a steep descent. Soon we found ourselves back at the car and off for a cold beer at Alpine Brewery and a tasty burrito.

A few months later, I was hiking with Derek up to Whale Peak, and our conversation turned to what my favorite peak has been so far. Although I had some really enjoyable summits out Anza-Borrego, the summit was my answer. It was a nice blend of scenery, a bit of challenge and adventure.

Sheephead Mountain

Peak Name: Sheephead Mountain
Distance: 3.56 miles
Date: November 18, 2017
Summit: 5,838 feet

On the advice from another 100 Peak Challenger, she suggested that I might want to attempt this peak in case the access road to the trailhead is closed by the Forest Service. So, with that Sheephead Mountain became my next peak to summit. The trailhead is about a mile down Kitchen Creek road just off Sunrise Highway. The first part of the trail gently headed west among the pines.

But before long, the trail turned south and down through a ravine. Once at the bottom, you will intersect a dirt road. I continued following this road southward through a small valley. The trail to the peak skirts very near some private property, so I was on high alert for the proper route. It was still hunting season, I did not want to cause an issue.

So I followed a small use trail to the north of the road that ran parallel to it. Checking my map and GPS, I found about where the trail should be to begin the ascent. It took some hunting, but I found the faint trail that quickly led up the mountain.

I pushed my way through the growth and eventually reached the summit. Although not as windy as Derek’s summit, there was a bit of a breeze. 

I found the benchmark, but no register. I work my way back down the mountain with little trouble. Funny, how it is so much easier to see the route on the descent…

I missed the turnoff from the road back to the trail up the ravine, so my GPS track has an extra leg on it. Soon, I found myself back at the car and heading home.

Wooded Hill

Peak Name: Wooded Hill
Distance: 1.49 miles
Date: November 11, 2017
Summit: 6,216 feet

My third summit of the day was the nature trail of Wooded Hill. I have been trying to tack this peak on to the end of my other hikes in the Lagunas, but time constraints always seemed to nix it. The trail is not too far off the 8 along Sunrise Highway.

As I pulled into the parking area, there was one family getting ready to hit the trail as well. If you are looking for a fun mountain hike with the kids, this one should be on your shortlist.

The trail is easy to follow, quite the change from the day’s first two hikes. Along the route, there are numbered markers that you can use the brochure to learn more about the plants and wildlife. Once at the high point, again you are rewarded with some lovely views.

I continued the loop and quickly found myself back at the car.