The Secret Hike

The alarm for 4 AM went off way too early, but we needed to meet our escort to the start of our hike at 6 AM. As I drove past the Iron Mountain parking lot, I remembered a time when that was where I would meet Susie Kara and then carpool off to conquer another peak on our list. Instead, we will have to rendevous at the escort point. Today’s adventure was a special gift. We were allowed to hike out to some peaks that are normally only accessible from Anza-Borrego. I parked under a large oak tree while I waited for our escort and Susie to arrive. Unfortunately, the person who had arranged this adventure tweaked their neck and was under orders not to hike, but they still allowed us the opportunity to venture into the wildness. 

Once Susie arrived, she tossed her gear into the Outback and off we went, past the locked gate and down the dirt roads. Just past the old cemetery, we found a nice spot to pull off and begin our journey. We bid farewell to our escort, thanking them for probably the 100th time… 

Our journey first took us down an old road until it reached a broad collection of oak trees. From here, we would enter a nice sandy wash and begin the climb up to the saddle near the peaks we were aiming for. The air was still a bit cool and we had some shade for a while. The temperatures were predicted in the high 70s to low 80s, hence the early start for this hike. A few small dry falls were quickly climbed as we kept heading east. Susie had summitted these peaks back in March but from the much harder route from the west.  As we neared the saddle, the brush did become thicker and took some effort to pick our way through it. If the satellite imagery was to be trusted, we should only have to deal with it for a short time.

Thankfully, the imagery was correct and the brush did become less dense. Once we reached the saddle, our route would now form the head of a lollipop. The first of the listed peaks we were aiming for was off toward the north-east. I took the lead in the route finding. Very quickly, I spotted a faint animal trail through the grass. Unfortunately, neither one of us thought to bring our gaiters, and we would be plucking thistle out of shoes and socks several times during this hike.

Looking north

Our route took us to a nice ridge before turning east and over the first of three peaks for the day. But on this ridge, we had some sweeping views of the mountains to the north of us. Squaretop stood very clearly amongst its neighbors. San Jacinto was far off in the distance. Now, back to why we were out here, we climbed the slopes of the peak. While this peak is higher than its named cousin to the east, it is NOT on the Sierra Club 100 list. We took a small break here, signed the register, and took our photos before heading on to the next peak.

Now from here, the views of Anza-Borrego became even more impressive: Palm Mesa and Indianhead was clearly visible to the east. That was my 89th peak on the Sierra Club 100. After signing the register, letting Susie go first as she was also the most recent one to have signed it, we took our photos and surveyed our descent and ascent route for the third peak we were hoping to climb.

We carefully worked our way down the steep and sandy slope. Susie noted that they had descended from the other peak, and this was an easier route. As we neared the end of the descent, we discussed possible paths we could take up the steep slope that stood before us. We had a couple of tracks loaded, and we compared our options. One thing about open country peak bagging is you have to synthesize all your data: the paper topo map, routes from previous hikers, and what your eyes and gut tell you. Settling on a general path, we began climbing. 

It was steep and at times the footing a bit troublesome. We would stop for a moment, scan ahead, and continue on. In about .4 miles we would be gaining almost 700 feet of elevation. With one last push, we reached the summit! Again, the views were incredible, with the San Ysidros rising to the south. I found a nice spot to sit and enjoy my orange and some Gatorade. Susie stretched out and had a nice nap in the sun. About .5 miles to the west stood two more benchmarks. I had considered adding them on to the day’s attempt, but since our escort could not join us, I wanted to save them and summit them together. Plus,  Susie did have to be back in town for her niece’s 4th birthday party. We bid farewell to my 90th peak and headed down. 

We slowly and carefully made our way down the steep slope. This time following the gully to the west rather than the route we took on the way up. Unfortunately, I slipped at least twice, and the bruise on my hand is evidence of my grace. Back in the wash, we began following it to the west. As we near the saddle, the wash narrowed, so we popped out of it and continued cross-country. Crossing the saddle and back toward the first wash, it was clear that if we ever get to explore here again, stick to the south side as you approach the saddle, as the route is easier.

We made quick time back along the first wash, which was good as the day was heating up and the bugs were coming out. Soon, the Subaru came into view and the hike at an end. We drove back down the dirt road, taking care to properly close the gates. Once we had cell coverage, I let our escort know that we were back and it was a successful expedition. Susie said a quick good-bye and headed back into town. Yes, I have been vague on the peaks that we summitted, at the request of our escort. But if you do some detective work, I am sure you can figure it out.

Hot Springs Mountain

Today’s plan included finally having a chance to hike with Gina Norte and cross Hot Springs Mountain off my 6POP list. For those who don’t know Gina, she might be the “queen” of Hot Springs Mountain. She was the driving force in allowing for Hot Springs Mountain to be included on the challenge. We have been Facebook friends for some time, but have never been able to have our schedules sync up.

When I woke up, a mist/light rain was falling, I figured it was nothing more than some coastal drizzle, & I did not give it much attention. As I kept driving out toward Warner Springs, I began to fear that the forecast I looked at the night before was off. I really hadn’t planned for a wet hike… Luckily, as I neared the guard shack at the reservation to drop off my $10 entry fee, the skies became clear.

I parked in my usual spot, and Gina soon pulled up and parked under the shade of a nice oak tree. After some introductions in real life, we set off. If you have never hiked Hot Springs Mountain, the first two miles will get your blood pumping!  We took a relaxed pace as we worked our way up the dirt road. 

The clouds rolled in the valley below us, making for some dramatic views. Soon, it was time to slip on the bug nets as the flies began to swarm. Once past the steeper section, the grade eased. Gina was in full tour guide mode, filling me in on so much about the mountain and the tribe that lives there the Los Coyotes Tribe. I never knew that they did not have electricity until 2000!

Before we knew it, the abandoned fire tower came into view. We decided to go climb the actual summit block first. Following the well-marked use trail, we reached the summit in short order. We scaled the summit following the same route as I took on my last visit.

As we sat there, the clouds still swirled below us to the west, while so many familiar peaks stood clearly to the east. After grabbing a snack and photos, we carefully made our way down. Just around the north side, a ladder has been set up for an alternate route. I scrambled up to photograph another reference mark.

We next wandered over to the old fire tower. This is the “Potato Chip” for this peak. Normally, Palomar would be visible to the west, but today the clouds hid it from us. Speaking of clouds, they started to move in, so we set off back down the mountain.

The breeze had picked up, so the bugs were being kept at bay as we made our way down. Gina told me about some possible new trails that might be opening on the mountain. This would be so exciting. For a long time all access to this peak was closed, so to have the possibility of seeing more of this beautiful reservation was wonderful news. We talked about how to inform hikers to be respectful of not only the trail but the rest of the land and its heritage. 

Before we knew it, we were back at the cars. We chatted some more, but real life beckoned. We made some plans for some future adventures and said our goodbyes. Somewhere near Ramona, I realized I left my poles on the top of the car! I guess I will use my back up pair until I can pick my replacements from REI.

Hot Springs Mountain

Peak Name: Hot Springs Mountain
Distance: 10.1 miles
Date: September 21, 2019
Summit: 6,533 feet

Today’s peak was to be the highest point in San Diego County, Hot Springs Mountain at 6,533 feet. As I drove out to Warner Springs, a fog bank hung over the lake, and the thermometer read 41! Hoping it was not like that at the campground. I made my way onto the reservation and slipped my $10 into the slot. Parking near the chain that blocks driving up Sukat road, the temperature was a crisp 56°F, what I had expected. I gathered my gear and started up the road.

If you have never done this hike, the first two miles are steep! I was glad to have a cool morning and some shade as I made my way up. I was passed by 4 trail runners practicing for the Ragnor race in a few weeks.

Once the steep section is over, the hike is nice. However, about a mile in the bugs started to appear. I grabbed my bug net and tossed it on. Before leaving the car, I had applied bug spray so they avoid the arms. The road continued working its way upward. Portions were covered in acorns. Various animal tracks could be spotted in the dirt. Some nice signage pointed the way to the lookout tower.

I kept expecting to see the trail runners making their way back down, but I never did. I guess the headed down Hot Springs Road instead of going to the tower. After 5 miles of hiking and almost 2,500 feet of elevation gain, the abandoned tower came into view.

I took a break and enjoyed part of an orange and the views. A breeze had picked up so the bugs were held at bay. A register has been placed here, so I signed it. But the true summit is a just hike to the north.

Following an over flagged use trail, I found myself at the base of the summit block. The register is located at the base, as it does take a bit of effort to scale the summit. Two ropes are attached to the top and they seemed solid. But I decided to scout around to find a possible safer ascent for a solo climber. Around the north side, a nice crack in the rock allowed me to get past the halfway point. From there it was a class 3 move to the top, the ropes gave me just enough comfort to scale the final portion. There the reference mark was found and the actual benchmark down inside the concrete platform.

I took my photos and scale carefully back down. Grabbing my poles and pack I set off down the road. I was feeling great as the miles tick past. I drank some Gatorade and eat some, all while moving. The bugs were too annoying to really stop. After just over 4 hours of hiking time, I found myself back at the car having covered 10.1 miles. This was my 67th peak of my 100 Peak Challenge!

Hot Springs Mountain

Peak Name: Hot Springs Mountain
Distance: 10.1 miles
Date: November 26, 2017
Summit: 6,533 feet

I decided to tackle the tallest peak in San Diego, Hot Springs Mountain. Ted was able to tag along as we drove out past Warner Springs to the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. We drove toward the road that would lead us to the summit. As we pull up, the chain was down, some other hikers were gearing up to begin their trek up to the peak. We decided to continue up the road, bypassing some of the steeper sections. We found a nice turnout and parked. From here we simply followed the road to the abandoned fire lookout tower.

We had a fantastic view from the base of the tower. You can no longer access the tower, and it only a matter of time until it needs to be fully torn down.

We opted not to work our way to the formal summit block, as I was feeling the effects of my increased hiking cadence. We returned back down the road, enjoying the shade from the trees.

As we drove out, we once again looked for someplace to pay our entrance fee, but no luck. I had to chuckle to myself, the highest point in San Diego was still lower than my starting point for my recent summit of San Jacinto.