Happy 2021! Kicking off the 100 Peak Challenge

False Gower
Miles: 5.6
Elevation Gain: 1561ft
Gaia Track

Ramona Benchmark
Miles: 3.55
Elevation Gain: 672ft
Gaia Track

It’s been a while since I logged a hike and I figured today would be a good day to re-start. I find hiking blogs the most useful when they are organized by trail, but I’m not going to do that, at least not yet. I’m blogging for my own enjoyment, and using a more narrative style is more fun for me. Sorry not sorry.

As everyone who has been within earshot of me in the last three months surely now knows, I have decided to attempt the 100 Peaks Challenge in 2021! For a while now I’d been planning on kicking off the challenge, on January 1 & 2, in the Anza-Borrego desert’s Blair Valley. On day one I was going to do Whale Peak and Pinyon Mountain in the morning, followed by Ghost Mountain with the family in the afternoon. We’d camp, and on day two I would climb Granite Mountain, which is a tough one. Well, day one had to be cancelled. First of all, camping in the state park is currently not allowed due to Covid, and Blair Valley over a holiday weekend would surely attract rangers to kick us out. Secondly, the Whale Peak & Pinyon Mountain trailhead requires high clearance. If my family were to join me later in the day, they’d have our high clearance vehicle, so I’d be without one. (Ok it’s more complicated that that but I won’t bore you with the details.)

So I decided to do something else on Jan. 1 (today) and just do Granite tomorrow. Today’s plan was to bag the “true” Mount Gower summit, and then a quick jog over to the Ramona Benchmark.

I did Mount Gower only a few weeks ago, with my hiking bubble. We did the traditional route, starting from the Mount Gower County Preserve at the end of Gunn Stage Road, and summited the first peak on the ridge. However, this first peak is technically not Mount Gower, and is known as “False Gower.” My plan today was to take the shortcut up to False Gower and then follow the ridge, first to Middle Gower, then to “true” Mount Gower.

Clear path around the fence to the right

I did this hike solo simply for logistical reasons. I hit the road a little before 6am, arriving at the cul-de-sac on Sarda Court, starting my hike around 6:30. This “shortcut” follows a paved road that starts in this posh neighborhood and leads to a water tank. The start of the road initially appears to be someone’s driveway. The road soon leads to a “no trespassing” sign but it’s clear that people frequently disregard this, and it’s easy to walk around the fence. A few more minutes of climbing and I arrived at a second fence, encompassing the water tank property itself. This time the fence meant business, and initially my heart sank when I saw the barbed wire – but then realized that hikers clearly just walk around the fenced area and it was not an issue.

Shortly after that I arrived at the main trail. I put it in high gear and within just a little over an hour I was at the base of False Gower. I climbed the rocky “trail” to the summit and did not even pause – I kept on along an obvious use trail eastward along the ridge toward Middle Gower.

My fast pace and optimism were short-lived. I knew there would be bushwhacking, and had prepared by donning my shin guards meant for orienteering, and these did help. But quickly the use trail petered out and I was left in thick brush with lots more to go. I scrambled up onto a large granite slab and surveyed the work ahead. This would take all day, and it would be miserable.

I will be honest, I had not realized this would be so tricky. The ridgeline is very clear on the topo map and I had simply assumed I’d be able to follow it. I had not bothered to study other hikers’ GPX files. What a mistake. I had good coverage so I did download one, but it seemed to go generally the way I was going and was not helpful. I was so demoralized – to fail to attain a summit on my first peak, on January 1! How depressing.

But the truth was clear, and I was on a bit of a schedule – I had another peak to bag, and had promised Tad I’d be home by around noon. I needed to get going. About 2/3 of the way back down, my bum knee started hurting and my pace slowed way down. What a drag it is getting old.

Back in the car I wasted no time and drove the short distance over to Simon County Preserve. I parked at the Bassett Way trail head and began the much simpler, shorter hike toward the Ramona Benchmark. I had switched from my daypack to my jogging vest, and considered actually doing this as a trail run, but I was tired and my knees were sore. In hindsight there were some steep bits so I was glad to have my poles with me. The hike was basically all fire road. The views from the benchmark were quite impressive, but aside from that I don’t think this is a trail I’d do again unless I lived in the neighborhood. The good news is that at least I got one peak done today, LOL!

Back home I did the research on getting to Gower that I should have done. Yes, it seems that some people must simply be better bushwhackers than I am. But a much more sensible route seems to be not to get onto the ridge in the first place, skirting below False and Middle Gowers, and ascend up onto Mount Gower further east. I am tempted to try again immediately but think the prudent thing to do is to wait on this one a bit and continue to gather more info.

Ramona Benchmark

About Erika Lawson

Blogging from El Cajon, CA, just east of San Diego. I mostly blog about hiking, but also traveling and family life as a working mom. I also have blogged about my experience dealing with (curable) breast cancer with as much humor and disdain as possible.
This entry was posted in Mountains Are Calling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Happy 2021! Kicking off the 100 Peak Challenge

  1. Pingback: Granite Mountain South Approach | laughter & sleep

  2. Pingback: Wait, where am I? | laughter & sleep

  3. Pingback: Top Ten! Maybe Top 5! | laughter & sleep

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s