Tour of a Fire Tower!

Mother Miguel
June 5, 2021
Miles: 3.86
Elevation Gain: 822ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #70
Afoot & Afield, 5th ed., Trip #118

Corte Madera & Los Pinos
June 6, 2021
Miles: 10.8
Elevation Gain: 2,205ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #71 & 72
Afoot & Afield, 5th ed., Trip #196 (plus!)

Our first hike of last weekend was Mother Miguel – it’s short and easy, and since not all of our crew could join it made sense – easy for the others to make it up later. Also it was a bit warm on Saturday so getting something done early was in order. It was my third time hiking this peak, and definitely my fastest. Andrew was in the lead, and he was on fire! He set a crazy pace, and we were at the summit in less than 45 minutes – go Andrew!!! I was home from this short and nearby hike by 9am. #70, yeah!

The next day was the big hike of the weekend, with a bigger group, including our whole peak bagging crew plus a few regular extras. Corte Madera is a popular hike that I have never done. I first heard of it when I took the WBC in 2016, and signed up to hike it as a backpacking trip. Turned out I was the only one who signed up! The trip was cancelled and instead I joined Rachel Rench in Sheep Canyon… which was an amazing trip and I’m very glad it worked out that way. But until now, I still had not gotten around to hiking it.

Its neighboring peak, Los Pinos, is also on the 100 Peaks Challenge list. This peak is accessible via a fire road and is not as popular of a hike. Atop Los Pinos is an active fire tower, one of three in San Diego County – the others being Boucher Hill and High Point (Palomar). We had heard that the road leading to the peak was been closed to vehicles due to last year’s Valley Fire. On Sunday, we headed out in Tara’s Jeep just to check. And, yup, it is still closed. We’d have to hike it.

We drove back to the Corte Madera trailhead and parked. It was a good day for wildlife – we passed a juvenile wild turkey on the drive in, and now at the beginning of the trail we paused to let a skunk clear out of the way. The trail was shady in parts, with some steep and sandy sections. It was a lovely hike. We arrived at the summit and had some snacks, did a bit of bouldering to get to the photo op, and headed back down. Peak #71!

Back at the saddle, we turned right and headed up the road toward Los Pinos. Many consider this road walk to be boring, but I kind of liked it. It was not too steep, and it was easy to get into a meditative state. It was definitely in the blazing sun, but I had my hiking umbrella out. True to its name, it was flanked with pine trees – los pinos – unexpected in this part of San Diego, and actually quite lovely.

We arrived at the summit, came up to the base of the fire tower – and were greeted enthusiastically by the tower keeper. He invited us up, and we happily ascended to tour his domain. His name was Dave, and we spent the next hour immersed in his world. He showed us his hummingbird feeders – one on each side, and when a male hummingbird gets too territorial, he swaps out the sugar for plain water. All the other birds flock to the opposite side, and eventually the aggressive male figures it out and everyone gets along again. Inside the 12 x 12 foot interior, Dave’s explanations were interrupted – he was called over his radio by a fire crew somewhere off to the east, asking him to give the coordinates for the signal mirror they were flashing at him. We became quiet as he spoke to the fire crew – they were on a training exercise, and we got to see it first hand! Dave then explained his Osborne device to us, showed us his maps and tools, and explained his various responsibilities. He showed us photos of ringtail cats, rattlesnakes, birds of prey, and other regular visitors to his domain. It was an amazing experience and we learned so much. Peak #72!

Mother Miguel Mountain

Corte Madrea & Los Pinos

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.
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