Ok, all the “V” peaks are done

Volcan Mountain
February 27, 2021
Miles: 4.6
Elevation Gain: 1,121 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #30
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #154

Villager Peak
February 28, 2021
Miles: 13.6
Elevation Gain: 4,826 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #31

(And the third “V” peak, Viejas, I did last month!)

This weekend’s main event, Villager Peak, is one I’ve been anticipating for years. I first heard of this challenging hike during the Wilderness Basics Course which I took in 2016. Villager is the first peak arrived at when heading north/northwest along the main Santa Rosa Mountains ridge, and is often mentioned together with the next peak up, Rabbit Peak. The two peaks together form a long, waterless backpacking challenge that is infamous within the San Diego hiking community. We discussed attempting the full two-peak overnight challenge but decided against it. Rabbit is not on the 100 Peaks list (it’s technically in Riverside County – not San Diego County), and we decided we needed to stay focused.

Doing Rabbit & Villager together as a one-night backpack is a challenge, but there are much crazier people out there. In researching this hike, Casey shared a Youtube video with us of a couple not backpacking the route over two days, but doing it as a one-day trail run. Holy crap. This led me to discover a Villager-Rabbit ultra-run called Fear the Rabbit (cancelled last year, of course), with a “Bad Ass Division” requiring women participants to carry a 30lb pack, and the men to carry a 50lb pack. WTF!?

But the truly craziest adventure on this ridge that I learned about once I fell down this internet rabbit hole (HA!) was of a 2015 point-to-point traverse of the entire Santa Rosa ridge in one shot – 20 hours over 41.8 miles and 14,755 feet climbed. The traverse crossed Villager, Rabbit, Dawn’s, Toro, and Santa Rosa Peaks, starting at highway S2 in Anza Borrego all the way to highway 74 in Riverside County. Ho. Ly. Shite.

This all put our cute little walk up Villager into perspective, I suppose. We’ve been building up to this hike for several weeks now, and felt prepared. We decided we had enough in our legs to do a pre-hike, and Volcan Mountain in Julian, en route to the desert, fit the bill nicely. On Saturday afternoon we met at the trailhead and started up this lovely hike. There were a few other people there, including a local Meetup group with some acquaintances – always fun to see people we know out on the trail. We made our way up the main trail, enjoying the oak tree lined switchbacks, amused by a woodpecker and other lovely birds. At the top we bushwhacked our way to the benchmark amongst some trees and explored the broad summit. This peak is clearly well loved by its local caretakers. We made a beeline back down the mountain, again staying on the main trail, and were done with the hike in less than two hours, including our break at the summit. We had places to go!

From there we drove down the Banner Grade into Borrego Springs. Stopped again at Los Jilbertos to pick up dinner (don’t forget, it’s cash only!), and then continued along to the Arroyo Salado primitive campground. It was a gorgeous evening under a full moon, without a breath of wind. We were too hungry to wait so we dove into our burritos before bothering to set up our tents.

The wind did arrive however. A couple of hours after hitting the sack it picked up and it was not kidding around. When I set up my tent I did not know which direction it would be coming from, so of course that meant it was broadside to the wind. The smart thing to do would have been to get up and guy it out, but I didn’t wanna… So I did not sleep much. But with the excitement of the looming challenge, I still felt plenty rested the next morning.

We arose early and packed up under the bright moonlight. My right knee pain has been flaring up, having bothered me on Volcan Mountain despite the tape job my PT had done on Friday, and another layer that I’d added on Saturday. After adding yet a third layer of tape, we made the short drive to the trailhead and started our hike at 5:50am.

The first 1.5 miles of the hike are flat and fast. We were slowed down a bit by soft sand and an evil stealth cactus attack (ouch, poor Tara’s foot) but soon arrived at the base of the ridge. The hike up Villager is not technically difficult. Unlike other desert hikes we’ve done during this challenge, little navigation was required thanks to a clear use trail and a solitary ridge meandering its way up, up, up to the peak. It was steep and rocky in sections, but with very little scrambling. In places the ridge was exposed, with a cliff dropping straight down on the west side – this was beautiful on the way back down, but on the way up the wind had not yet died down and I found it a bit terrifying. But the real challenge for this hike is its length. You seem to go up steadily forever. In no time we were eye-level across the dry Clark lakebed with Coyote Mountain, which we’d hiked only two weeks ago – it had not seemed that low when we were on it, but from here it looked like this peak’s kid sister – and we weren’t even halfway to the top.

On our way up we met another gal named Torrey who’d spent the night only about halfway up to Villager. She had been berated the day before by another hiker who was on her way back down the mountain, telling her she was nuts to camp atop Villager; that she’d die in the wind. She was intimidated enough to stop early, setting up camp in a rock shelter that had been erected by past hikers. But this morning she was irritated, realizing that she certainly could have made it. She was young and strong and flew past us in no time. Near the summit there were plenty of places to camp – windy, sure; but we were wind-blown on the desert floor too. Hike your own hike, people.

We finally arrived at the summit. We were famished, so after retrieving the peak register (I added a new notebook to it) we settled in for our lunches. By the time we were done with all our summit chores – eating snacks, signing the register, taking photos, peeing – it was time to head back down.

My knee only hurts on the descent, so I was nervous; for me, the hard part was about to begin. I decided to add to my summit chores and redo the tape job from scratch. I ripped all the old layers off, and started afresh with my last two strips of sport tape. This turned out to be an excellent decision: once we got going and my muscles warmed up, there was almost no pain. Thank goodness!

We made good time getting back down. In fact maybe we went down too fast – by the time we neared the bottom, all eight of our feet were screaming at us to slow down. At the base of the mountain is a geological feature called the Lute Ridge, the largest fault scarp in North America. Of course we passed it on the way up, but now it took center stage as we descended. Somewhat demoralizing was our bird’s eye view, from over two miles away, of the cars reflecting at us in the trailhead parking lot. Cruel, to be so close yet so far!

In the end the hike took us about 10.5 hours, including a little over a half hour at the summit. It was long (did I mention it was long??) but we kicked butt. Ready to come back next week. What? Yes, it’s true – next weekend’s plan is to hit Mile High Mountain, on the ridge just east. We are ready!

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This weekend was backwards!

El Cajon Mountain
February 20, 2021
Miles: 11.1
Elevation Gain: 3210ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #28
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #102

Peak 3339
February 21, 2021
Miles: 5.8
Elevation Gain: 1083ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #29

Saturday

I’m sorry to report that we only completed two peaks this weekend (she says, hanging her head in shame…). This was an inverted weekend – usually the “hard” hike is in the desert, but this weekend the harder hike was in-town. We kicked things off with my first ascent (believe it or not) of infamous El Cajon Mountain. It is often referred to as the “hardest hike in San Diego County.” That is simply not true, if you consider the many challenging hikes in San Diego’s desert. In fact I don’t even think it’s the hardest non-desert hike on the 100 Peaks Challenge list – we have not done them yet, but I am expecting Agua Tibia and/or Eagle Crag to claim those titles when the time comes.

All that said, it’s still pretty damn hard. The hike begins along a driveway heading up from Wildcat Canyon Road, passing some private properties, until the “official” trail starting point. From there until the “saddle” I found it to be a very long version of Sycuan or McGinty Mountain – steep in sections, occasionally rutted and rocky. However it also had some tree-lined sections, and there was even water trickling across the trail in places. Beautiful views at every turn.

The trail reached the saddle, with El Capitan to the right, an overlook (now closed, due to nesting Eagles) straight ahead, and a well-marked (some might say excessively so…) but steep rock scramble to the left heading to the El Cajon peak. We turned left and made our way up through the rocks to the summit. Took our photos, found the three benchmarks, chatted with others up there already, snacked… the usual summit activities. Then we headed back down.

It had been relatively quiet on the way up, since we started at 6am; but on the way down we passed lots of people making their way up – this trail has become ever-popular since it was included on the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. We even encountered some friends making their way up, including our friend David hitting the peak for his 110th time!!! (That is NOT a typo!)

I had some issues heading down. I have a knee problem that flares up every once in a while that is probably a bone rub of some kind, as it is a sudden sharp pain that responds extremely well to sports tape… which I had not applied, and did not have with me. This caused me to slow down significantly. Every steep section I descended by hunching forward and limiting the range of motion my knee had to go through. Finally we got to the bottom and to our cars. It was noontime, so I swung by Panchos to pick up some Mexican for lunch. At home I was much more sore than I should have been – hunching forward to descend had taken its toll.

Sunday

During this challenge, our Sunday hikes have normally been more mellow, in-town hikes. Following our backwards theme for this weekend we instead went out to the desert today, for a hike that was just a wee bit too long to combine it with others in the area, but perfect for a less-strenuous day. What really made this a backwards hike, though, was the fact that it is “inverted” – the downhill portion is at the beginning of the hike, with only a modest ascent to the summit. As far as I know it’s the only inverted hike on the list.

The trail started in McCain Valley, at the Carrizo overlook. We arrived after an hour drive at about 7:30am. It was windy! But that was not a bad thing – it was chilly to start but we warmed up, and the breeze kept us nice and cool. Most of the hike – unlike nearly all our desert hikes so far – started on a clear and well-defined trail. In this case the trail is used by dirt bikers, and had lots of bumps – are these just natural features enhanced by the dirt bikes? I don’t know, but for a hiker, they are pretty annoying. We undulated our way across the desert, enjoying the peacefulness provided by the steady breeze, and – unlike yesterday – the lack of literally anyone else out there. All day we saw not a single soul besides us four. Finally the route departed from the dirt bike trail and we began bouldering our way to the summit.

There are a few rock piles in this area, and we had to keep an eye on the GPX tracks we’d downloaded to figure out exactly which one was Peak 3339. To get near the summit, we crawled through a rock tunnel. Locating the highest point on the summit – a large boulder with some small rocks placed on top – we decided this would be good enough. We probably could rock climb up it, but it was exposed and windy. Not worth the risk! We found the register (two, actually) and selected our photo shoot spots. Back below the windy summit we enjoyed the view and a snack, then headed back … UP! … to Tara’s waiting Jeep.

We arrived back at the Carrizo overlook around 11:30am, and I had a hankerin’ for a cheeseburger – and no one argued with me. We were really in the middle of nowhere, so hopes were not high; but on Google maps, in the town of Boulevard, I found a place called Matthew’s Live Oaks Restaurant. It turned out to be a fully-stocked convenience store with a built-in restaurant. We ordered from the cashier, and his wife cooked our food. They had a small, empty seating area that they let us use. It took awhile but the food was good, and the service was friendly. It hit the spot.

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Holiday Fun in Poway

Goat Peak
Miles
: 2.9
Elevation Gain: 947ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #26

Tooth Rock
Miles
: 4.0
Elevation Gain: 469ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #27
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #60 (Rattlesnake Canyon)

It’s been a strenuous weekend but Tara & I just could not pass up a Monday holiday (Happy President’s Day!) to check off a couple more peaks. Both of these Poway peaks we had pencilled in for a weekday morning, but they are so close to each other, that knocking them off together made sense.

We hit Goat Peak first, because it was harder – only three miles, but it took us two hours. It was both more enjoyable and more difficult than expected, with some incredibly steep, rutted sections, a few dry waterfall scrambles, and a bit of bouldering at the summit. The trail starts out well-maintained in a lovely neighborhood, wending its way along Poway Creek. Soon it starts to climb up a steep dirt slope. The footing was tricky but the soil was damp, making it stickier and more stable underfoot. Eventually the trail dropped down to a saddle and we started seeing mountain bike jumps and obstacles – amazing that folks can ride their bikes back here! Some more scrambling and steep bits up a dry stream, then we finally arrived at the summit. We picked our way to the top, signed the register, and took our photos.

We hurried back down – we were supposed to meet Scott for our next hike, and we were behind schedule. Scott did not mind, though – it was our first time hiking with him in three weeks! (You might notice on our track that we missed the turnoff to the trail head. Duh.) Finally back at the cars we had a quick drive to the trail head for Tooth Rock at Rattlesnake Canyon. Our friend Casey hiked this last week and encountered a friendly landowner erecting fencing to block access to a portion of this trail that allows hikers to make this a loop hike – the very steep section that is described in Afoot & Afield as the descending portion of the loop. We were ok with that and took the longer way around for both directions – in fact, avoiding a steep slope was probably better for all three of us.

This trail was gradual all the way, following dry Rattlesnake Creek for much of the hike, with only one eroded portion where we had to cross the creek (in A&A, and in Scott’s recollection, there used to be a log bridge here which is no more). On the summit is the eponymous Tooth Rock, adorned with graffiti. Then back to our cars. It was a pleasant ending to our five-peak weekend.

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The One Where We Were Attacked By Aliens and Scorpions

Borrego Mountain – West Butte (via Hawk Canyon)
February 13, 2021
Miles: 2.0
Elevation Gain: 544ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #23

Borrego Mountain – East Butte (via west approach)
February 13, 2021
Miles: 1.2
Elevation Gain: 390ft
Gaia Track*
100 Peaks Challenge #24
*If you copy my track, I recommend taking the northernmost track (that we took downhill) both ways.

Coyote Mountain
February 14, 2021
Miles: 5.1
Elevation Gain: 2603ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #25
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #215

This weekend’s main event was Coyote Mountain. It is just west of the Santa Rosa range, where next weekend we will tackle Villager Peak, and Mile High Peak the weekend after that, continuing our FEBRUARY OF PAIN. Coyote’s terrain is similar to Villager’s – both are a ridge walk – so it should be a good warm-up to the much longer Villager.

Compared to last weekend at Indianhead, and our plans for the next two weekends, though, Coyote is relatively tame. So we wanted to combine this hike with something else – gluttons for punishment, obviously. We decided to start our weekend with The Buttes, a pair of short hikes that are sort of in the middle of nowhere – hard to justify the two-hour drive to get there just to do them. This worked out perfectly.

On Saturday at 1pm the four of us met at the turnoff to Buttes Pass. The normal route up to West Butte (aka Borrego Mountain West) starts at “The Slot.” Recently The Slot has become so popular that they’ve installed a bathroom, and have started charging $10 to park there. We decided to avoid all that and drive around further east to Hawk Canyon. We piled into Tara’s capable Jeep and drove down the sandy road to the somewhat crowded canyon, and parked for our hike. We started up via the canyon bottom, clamoring over up dry waterfalls and ascending one steep-ish slope to eventually merge with the main trail. The rest of the hike to West Butte was straightforward, with some attention needed to stay on the right track and not accidentally wander onto one of many viewpoint side trails here and there.

The summit was windy, and had no trail register that we could find. To the northwest we could see tomorrow’s goal, Coyote Mountain, and looking eastward, we could see our next stop: East Butte.

We began the hike back down toward Hawk Canyon. On the way down we avoided the steep portion and instead found a use trail that stayed high on the northeast side of the canyon. This turned it into a loop hike of sorts with different terrain from the way up – fun! We soon were back at the bottom of the canyon, and piled into the Jeep to head out.

We drove back up the canyon and over Butte’s Pass proper, toward the East Butte of Borrego Mountain. We parked on the side of the road, avoiding the soft sand, and headed up the ridge. Arriving at a crux we studied the terrain: to the left, the path looked easier on the map (a more gradual ascent up the ridge). But to the right, the path looked easier in real life. We chose the path to the right. Wrong choice! We soon arrived at a rock climb that was not too difficult on its own, but it was exposed, steep, and nerve-wracking. We slowly maneuvered our way up, finally arriving, relieved, at the flat ridge. From there it was smooth sailing to the summit. And sailing is right – by now the wind was really howling, adding to the tension of the climb. There was a peak register that we hastily signed, took our summit snapshots, and started back down. This time we decided to try the northern route, which was absolutely the way to go. It’s subtle on the GPX track, but if anyone decides to copy our path, be sure to take that more northerly variation!

The northern track avoids some exposed rock climbing.

Our day’s work was done and it was taco time. We drove the twenty minutes to Borrego Springs and stopped at Los Jilbertos (cash only!), got our dinner, and headed to Palm Canyon Campground where friends in high places managed to snag us a last-minute site. It was still blowing hard, so dinner at the picnic table was an exercise in preventing our dinner from blowing away. This weekend I brought a proper tent, knowing that we’d have some weather tonight. Unlike last weekend, instead of simply plopping down in my bug bivy and gazing up at the stars, I tucked my four-season tent up against the concrete bathroom wall to protect myself from the wind (no, it did not smell bad). We went to bed very early mostly due to lack of anything else to do – sitting outside in the wind was no fun.

A few minutes after taking shelter, Kali sent out a text message – a scorpion had invaded her duffel bag in her tent’s vestibule! Excitement! We scrambled out to come and look. It was a little baby that had tucked itself into one of the zippered pockets. We helped Kali convince it to move along and find someplace else to spend the night.

The wind howled for a few more hours but eventually died down. The sky was clear and starry when we woke up early. Tara said to me, “Erika, look up.” I glanced up and said, yes, the stars are lovely… and she said, “No, really, look up!!!” I stopped what I was doing and allowed my eyes to adjust on the sky. We were being attacked by aliens!!!! Really, that’s what it looked like!! There was a line of stars marching single-file across the middle of the sky! It was surreal. We had no idea what it was and watched it for several minutes. We learned later that it was Elon Musk’s STARLINK satellite train. Our iPhone cameras could not capture it, but here is a random YouTube video I found. We did not know that then, though, and just hoped that if we were being attacked it would be over quickly!

Ok back to the task at hand … we were off to our hike. Coyote Mountain’s trailhead is off Rockhouse Canyon Road, west of the dry Clark Lake bed. Again Tara’s Jeep got us there with no trouble, and we began by making our way across the desert floor toward the base of the ridge. Once we got on the ridge we found a use trail that generally made its way all along the ridge toward the summit. The hike was steep in places, but was otherwise a cruiser of a hike with sure footing and easy navigation. Hardly any of the plants tried to kill us, and the rocks underfoot generally stayed put. Unlike last weekend’s sufferfest, we all said we’d do this one again.

At the summit we had amazing views of our recent and future exploits – the Buttes to the southeast, jutting up alone from the desert floor; the hulking and imposing Indianhead looming over our southwestern shoulder; and the Santa Rosa crest, with Villager and Mile High peaks beckoning, due east. The wide open summit area had three benchmarks, a register (that I added a new notebook to), and a marker in a rock pile. Very satisfying. We lingered a bit and then headed down, well ahead of our self-imposed schedule.

Near the bottom we encountered a solo hiker on her way up, and shortly behind her, another solo hiker – this time someone we knew from our various hiking Facebook groups. That was neat, to meet him in person. We got back to our cars and headed home unexpectedly early – which is nice, since it was, after all, Valentine’s Day. ❤️

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Low Hanging Fruit

Kwaay Paay Peak
Miles: 2.81
Elevation Gain: 822ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #22
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #86

For our weekday hikes that we are squeezing in before work, I am focusing on the low-hanging fruit, knocking the closest, shortest hikes off the list first. (We are balancing these out by doing the hardest peaks on the list on the weekends this month.) Today’s hike, Kwaay Paay Peak in Mission Trails Regional Park, qualifies as some pretty darn low-hanging fruit.

I’ve done this short but steep climb a couple of times in the past – as pretty much all San Diego hikers have. It’s on the former Mission Trails Five Peaks Challenge, which I completed in 2017. Once, hiking it in 2018, near the bottom, I was passed by a pair of extremely fit young men who ran up by me, wearing weight vests. When I was about halfway up, they passed me heading down. When I was nearly at the top, they passed me again – heading up. I think they lapped me two times over before I was done. Once was enough for me, no extra weight needed!

Today’s hike was uneventful. We got started shortly before sunrise and made good time to the top, getting up there in about 40 minutes. We did not linger – took a couple of photos, admired the urban view – then headed back down. We saw several other people despite the early time on a weekday – interestingly, all were women. And that was it for peak #22.

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“This mountain does NOT want us on it…”

Title quote credit: Kali Madison

February 6, 2021

Indianhead
Miles
: 7.8
Elevation Gain: 3,075ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #21
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #206

We decided that February would be the month of the insanely difficult hikes. January was just a warm-up, and later in the year it would truly warm up – the time is now to take advantage of the coolest weather of the year. And the first of these hard hikes was to be Indianhead.

Contrary to popular belief, El Cajon Mountain is not the Hardest Hike in San Diego™️ (joke credit: Susie Kara). There are a few climbs that compete for that honor, and Indianhead is one of them. At least on our 100 Peaks Challenge list, it’s in the top-three – the other two being Villager and Mile High, which are both planned for later this month. So, as you can imagine, this is our Month Of Pain.

This “hike” – if you can call it that – starts at the Borrego Palm Canyon trail head. To facilitate an early start, we camped there Friday night. The campgrounds only recently reopened and I was able to snag the last site available. Four of us took two cars. It was a lovely night and I cowboy camped, gazing up at the stars until I fell asleep.

We met the fifth member of our hiking party at the trail head parking lot and got started a little after 6:30am. The hike begins in the beautiful and famous Palm Canyon, initially following a well-marked nature trail. We soon arrived at the first palm oasis, which was burned down by a juvenile arsonist in January 2020. It is making a rapid recovery with lots of new growth. Shortly past the oasis the nature trail ended and we continued, bouldering our way up alongside the flowing stream.

A little after 2.5 miles up the canyon (which we overshot and had to backtrack a bit), the route departs from the canyon to ascend a shockingly steep bowl across a loose scree-covered slope. It was not far, but it took a long time to pick our way straight up, avoiding fuzzy cholla and evil agave. Between the steepness of the slope, the loose footing, and the cacti trying to kill us, Kali observed that this mountain really did not want to be climbed! Eventually we reached the ridge and the climbing became marginally easier – but we still had quite a ways to go.

At long last the ridge leveled out before finally arriving at the summit. The total distance from the trail head to the peak was only four miles, but it had taken us about five and a half hours to get there. We were exhilarated and hungry, and enjoyed our lunch while taking in the amazing views – to the east, overlooking all of Anza-Borrego, including our upcoming peaks; and to the west, toward the San Ysidro mountains. We did not linger – it was hard work getting there, but would be just as hard in a different way to get back down.

So, down we went. Down-climbing the ridge was tiring and stressful, made more so by the knowledge that the steep bowl was yet to come. Finally we reached the bowl. We took it slow, always making sure we had four points of contact (two feet, two trekking poles). Lots of deep breaths. It was warm, with no shade on the mountainside. We were running low on water despite bringing several liters. One step at a time; take a pause when needed… and finally, finally, we crossed into the late afternoon shade, and then a bit further to the canyon itself with its lovely running water and terra firma.

We now had 2.5 miles of bouldering to get to the car. We knew the last mile and a half was along the popular nature trail, which has little numbered signs for various points-of-interest. “Where’s the damn nature trail?” became a rallying cry. The canyon is beautiful, and lush, and shady, and wet … and we just wanted to get the hell out of there! Finally, finally, we were at the parking lot. We were done, and we are proud.

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Pumping Iron

Iron Mountain
Miles: 5.4
Elevation Gain: 998ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge Peak #20
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #59

I proposed Tuesdays for our weekday hike day, because my morning work calendar tends to be pretty quiet then. It seems to work ok for my hiking partners too, but today was a bit of an exception. There were five of us hitting the trail this morning, and everyone but me had a time constraint. We had decided on Iron Mountain, another classic San Diego hike that can get insanely crowded, so getting it over with on a weekday was key. I checked my track for the last time I hiked Iron via this shortest of routes, and saw that I’d clocked in at two hours and 15 minutes, not counting time spent at the top enjoying Tequila Sunrise cocktails. (Yes, it’s that kind of hike!)

With our time constraints in mind, we met at the trailhead at an ungodly 5:45am. We wasted no time hitting the trail with only a few other crazy early birds. It was surprisingly warm already and we quickly shed the few layers we’d brought. In just over an hour, us badass gals were at the top, just in time to enjoy a (tequila-free) sunrise, with dramatic clouds blanketing the sky.

We took our peak photos and wasted little time at the summit before speeding back down. We made quick work of the rocky trail, breaking into a jog at times. I may not have had been trying to beat the clock myself, but I joined in the race anyway, delighting in the adrenaline rush of our quick footwork. Arriving at our cars, I checked my tracker – our round trip moving time clocked in at one hour and 59 minutes, yeah!!! And that’s peak #20, in the bag!

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It’s a Snow Day!

Oakzanita
Miles: 5.8
Elevation Gain: 1103ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #19
Afoot & Afield Trip #166

For my #100PeaksChallenge, I have the peaks sorted roughly into four categories: Desert hikes, non-desert hikes that must be done in cool weather, non-desert hikes that can be done anytime, and weekday hikes. Currently we’re in prime desert season, so we’ve been doing a desert hike on Saturday (focusing on the hardest ones in this coolest of seasons) and a non-desert cool-weather-required hike on Sunday.

Of course all the hikes in the mountains are in the “anytime” category. I am expecting to do these hikes in the summer months, when other areas are off limits, so I’ve generally been ignoring the Cuyamaca & Laguna Mountains at the moment. But … it just snowed!!! After yesterday’s desert traverse triumph, we decided that today we’d mix it up a little and have some fun. List categories be damned; let’s go play in the snow!

We decided on Oakzanita Peak in the Cuyamaca Mountains because the trailhead is not too far up highway 79. After hearing nightmare stories of traffic caused by San Diegans going “to the snow,” this was a big selling point. We set a stupid early start time to try to avoid other humans and their cars, and arrived in a near-empty parking lot.

The snow was patchy for the first mile, but as we ascended it became deeper and more consistent. Soon we strapped microspikes onto our boots – we could have done the hike without them as there were plenty of tracks in the snow, but it definitely made us faster and more sure-footed. We made quick work of it and arrived at the summit in about an hour and a half. The weather was cool and windy at the summit, and I was grateful for my wind breaker. In fact I went in and out of all the layers I’d brought today – probably a little unnecessary as it was not that cold, but it’s fun to test out all the gear we don’t get to use very often in San Diego.

We’d seen one other couple within the first mile of the hike (who did not make it to the summit), and then no one at all until nearly the end of our hike, when the hordes arrived. Cars were vying for our parking spot, and we were happy to let them have it as we drove away from our quick and lovely recovery hike. Peak #19, done!

A few words about gear, just because I got to use some gear today!

I own a pair of Yaktrax as well as microspikes. The microspikes I have are not the fancy Kahtoola ones, but are instead Chinese knockoffs from Amazon – Unigear brand, $30. I have only used them once before, and today’s hike certainly did not test them to any extent. I think for simple occasional hikes like this in SoCal they are a good option. I would probably not trust them for any kind of “real” hike. I regretted not thinking to bring snow baskets for my trekking poles – the poles kept digging into the snow, requiring me to pull them out at every step – and plan to slip them in the bag with the spikes for future use. The Yaktrax, on the other hand, I have used in challenging situations and they’re great for what they are (no spikes). I have decided to keep them clipped to my pack through the winter, since they are lightweight and there have now been two hikes where I wished I’d had them.

I have also made good use of my wind breaker on a couple of hikes. It’s featherweight and does not make me hot, and does its job (breaking wind!) better than much warmer and heavier layers would. It’s a hand-me-down from Tad, Drop brand, and so it fits very loosely, making it easy to toss on over any other layers I might have. Also, it’s orange. It’s similar to the Patagonia Houdini (not orange).

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Mexican Hat Prance

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Sombrero Peak
100 Peaks Challenge #17
Afoot & Afield Trip #264

False Sombrero Peak
100 Peaks Challenge #18

Totals for the full hike:
Miles: 5.2
Elevation Gain: 1988ft
Gaia Track (it’s not perfect – follow at your own risk!)

We are on a total roll with this challenge in terms of weather! Originally pencilled in for last weekend, we delayed hiking Sombrero & False Sombrero Peaks to this weekend because, at over 4000ft in elevation, these peaks were more likely to have snow or rain issues. We were still a bit concerned that it might be muddy or slippery after Friday’s drenching – I clipped Yaktrax to my pack just in case – but it ended up being absolutely perfect. A gorgeous, clear, and sunny day, but not too hot.

The Sombreros are deceptive. The mileage for hiking these peaks individually is low – 1.5mi (one way) for Sombrero, and less than a mile for False – but they are insanely steep and rugged, with constant navigation required. These are not beginner hikes.

As usual, I keep trying to find ways to combine hikes to save on driving time, and to get multiple peaks done in one day. As I looked at the topo map for these two neighboring peaks, it seemed entirely possible to traverse between them, avoiding climbing the steep western slope twice. This does not seem to be commonly done, and I was only able to find one GPX track to reference, created by a hiker I did not know. I studied his track, and it looked pretty good. The east side of both peaks was on a plateau, and the terrain between them looked reasonable, with False almost due north of Sombrero. We made a plan to hike up Sombrero, traverse north, climb up to the summit of False, and then straight down from there. We were a bit apprehensive because of the lack of trip reports following this route, but the map looked promising.

Early Saturday morning the four of us took two 4wd vehicles – Tara’s Jeep and my Sportsmobile – to the FS trailhead. Chris joined us as well, in his Subaru. Indian Gorge Road, off the S2, was rocky and a bit sandy, but not too bad. We left the Jeep and the Subaru there, and drove the Sportsmobile back up the wash and then down the southern fork to the Sombrero trailhead. We started hiking at 8:30am.

The climb up Sombrero was no joke. It began by following a steep wash up to a low saddle. We angled our way up the steep slope until we attained a ridge northeast of the peak. The peak itself required some minor class 3 scrambles, scouting around to find the best route. Finally we arrived at the summit boulders. Peak #17, yeah!

From the top we could see False Sombrero Peak, and it sure did look far away. After a rest, snacks, and photos, we climbed back down the opposite side of the peak, initially following the other main route up this peak via McCain Valley. In a short while, after passing some boulder piles, we diverged northward. The three-mile traverse between the two peaks was indeed relatively flat. We had a lot of route finding to do, mostly to get around brushy areas (bushwhacking through cactus and catclaw is NOT fun), but for much of the hike we could see our destination, and the GPX track we’d found was reliable.

Soon we arrived at the quick boulder scramble up to the triangular summit, and voila! Peak #18! Paging through the register for this less well-known peak was fun – the oldest note we saw, waxing poetic, was from 1989. We also saw page after page of familiar names, from other peak bagging forums, the Sierra Club, and others in the San Diego hiking community.

Finally we headed down. The route down from False requires no navigation… because it’s straight down. For about a third of the descent, we skidded on loose gravelly sand, which was fun – sand glissading? The rest of the descent involved making our way around and over boulders while avoiding getting stabbed by pokey plants. Our knees were not happy with us, but soon the cars came into view and we got to the bottom in one piece.

The hike was a success, and the risky traverse paid off. In fact it was a lot of fun to study the map and find the best route between the two peaks – makes up a bit for the absence of orienteering events since Covid disrupted all of our lives. Traverse FTW!

There were some interesting moments on this hike too – I found a deflated weather balloon (not a roadside bomb!). Driving Indian Gorge Road was an exercise in avoiding turning big wild jackrabbits into roadkill. I saw a desert-colored hummingbird flitting among the ocotillo. And most excitingly, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep as we were driving out – so cool!

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Beautiful, but Dumb.

Mount Woodson
Miles: 3.72
Elevation Gain: 1165ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #16 (provisional)
San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks #1 (provisional)

Climbing Mount Woodson this morning was like that fling you had in your early 20s. He was beautiful, but he was dumb. You have a great time, and you’re glad you did it, but it doesn’t actually get you anywhere.

We are having “weather” right now – rain, and snow in the low elevations. (Obviously, our normal near-room-temperature climate does not normally have “weather.”) We wanted to avoid muddy trails, so for our week-day hike, we decided to hit Woodson, since it can be approached via a paved road. No mud, no problem, right?

Well, dumb #1: I started keeping Yaktrax in my trunk at the beginning of winter. About five minutes into this hike I realized I should have brought them with me. We expected snow near the top, at 2800 feet; but there was snow along the road en route to the trail head! Crunchy snow and ice was covering the paved route basically all the way along the road up to the summit. It made for slow and slippery hiking.

But, oh my goodness, was it beautiful! If you are reading this blog post from another part of the country, you might be thinking, “Yeah, and… ?” Well, snow at lower elevations in San Diego is a rarity. Yes, we get snow a few times every winter up in the higher mountains, but snow down to this level – below 2000 feet – is nearly unheard of! Even though our hike was slow-going, it was worth it. Glorious!

This brings us to dumb #2 (dumb & dumber?). Woodson is an extremely popular climb; famous for “Potato Chip Rock.” It’s an iconic local hike, and on any given weekend, hundreds of people are climbing. But the peak itself – the highest point on the climb – is obscure. It’s atop a granite boulder tucked behind an ugly antenna array. I’ve been up Woodson many times, and have never checked out the summit. Since peak bagging was the point of this hike, the proper summit was our only goal today. We carefully made our way through the snow to the summit boulder and surveyed the challenge facing us. Climbing to the top would be tricky under the best of circumstances; today, the rock was wet, and with snow or ice on any vaguely horizontal surface.

The lower portion of the rock was the hardest part. I figured if I could get up to that part, the rest would be doable. With some help from my hiking buddies I scrambled to that point, and began moving up to the next section. From here I had a better view – and I saw that it was covered in snow. I called it at that point; it was just not worth it. We had come this far, but we were not going to make it these last few feet to the official summit.

So yeah, like I said – dumb #2.

I’ve decided to consider this a “provisionally” bagged peak. I’ll count it as #16 for now, under the assumption that – since it’s still only January, for heaven’s sake – there will be another chance for me to climb this most popular of local peaks. Preferably on a dry day.

So although this is not a bagged peak, it was a beautiful, glorious, and interesting hike, and I’m still glad I did it. Just like that boy, on that night so long ago…

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