Cowles Mountain & Pyles Peak
Elevation Gain: 1600 ft
100 Peaks Challenge #42 & 43
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trips #79 & #82
This morning for my weekday hike I had planned to do Long Valley Peak. Next week we’ll be out of town for spring break. My hiking companions plan to do this one, and we are trying to stay somewhat in sync. But when I started figuring out the logistics, I realized it wasn’t going to work. The hike is only four miles, but a 30-minute drive (each way). To be done in time I’d have needed to start well before dawn. For a somewhat remote hike that I have never done before, and that may require some off-trail navigation, I was not comfortable doing it solo in the dark. Oh, and there was rain in the forecast. That’s a nope.
So I changed my plans and hit literally the most popular hike in San Diego County: Cowles Mountain. And Pyles Peak, of course – the trail to Pyles first passes by Cowles, so they are a two-fer. Cowles Mountain is in Mission Trails Regional Park, and as the highest peak in the city of San Diego, it gets a LOT of visitors. I have also done these peaks several times. The main trail up Cowles is fairly rocky, but well-marked and even though I was hiking solo I knew I would not be alone. The out-and-back was longer than Long Valley, but with no qualms about starting well before sunrise, it was a perfect choice for a dark, damp morning.
I arrived at the main trailhead parking lot at 5:45am and it was already nearly full. I pulled into a spot and started the climb. I have done Cowles many times but usually from Big Rock Park, so it was actually nice to hit the main trailhead. At this early hour on a weekday I did see other hikers but not too many. In just a little over a half hour I was at the summit.
I barely paused to take a blurry photo of the summit marker in the dark and kept going straight to the Pyles trail. In fact I meant to avoid the summit so that I could say I did Pyles before Cowles, but it was dark and the trail naturally led me to the summit. The trail to Pyles starts with a gradual downhill to the saddle between the two peaks. It’s less rocky than the Cowles trail, and was a perfect time to pick up the pace. I jogged on the flats and the downhills, and hiked briskly on the uphills, over a few intermediate peaks on the way to my destination.
I arrived at Pyles within just a little over an hour – I was pretty proud of that! The day was dawning to fog and dampness, but no rain, and not cold at all – in fact I was a bit warm. I saw a few other people on the Pyles trail but had it mostly to myself. I first hiked Pyles in April of 2017 and vividly remember feeling like I was inside an issue of Sunset Magazine – the flowers were in full bloom, like they had been landscaped. Today, some flowers were blooming, but I know there are more to come in the next few weeks.
Heading back I jogged my way across the saddle and back up to Cowles. Now that it was light out, it was worth stopping for my summit selfie. Back down the rocky main trail, with lots more people coming up. I got to the parking lot in just a little over two hours. Perfect timing. With these two peaks I am done with the five peaks on the list that are in MTRP.