A Fab Four Day

Piedras Grande
: 3.42
Elevation Gain: 761ft
Gaia track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 Peak #10

Indian Hill
Miles: 2.2
Elevation Gain: 327ft
Gaia track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 Peak #11

Mine Peak
Miles: 1.23
Elevation Gain: 475ft
Gaia track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 Peak #12
Afoot & Afield #275

Red Hill
: 3.19
Elevation Gain: 631ft
Gaia track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 Peak #13

Today’s original hike plan was to tackle two challenging desert peaks: The Sombreros (Sombrero Peak and False Sombrero Peak). We had routes all mapped out and were ready to go. But at the last minute, due to a San Diego “winter storm,” we decided to change our plans. The trail head for these hikes is above 2000 ft, and the peaks themselves are around 4000. With rain in the forecast, and snow predicted above 4000 feet, we decided it would be prudent to refocus on the “low desert.”

In the Ocotillo/Jacumba area there are a set of four peaks on the 100 Peaks list that are less ambitious, and avoid the higher elevations. We figured they’d be a good option to possibly avoid the cold and wet weather. It’s a 1.5hr drive to get out there, and given how close these peaks are to each other, we decided to amp the ambition level back up to 11 and try to hit all four of them in one day. Could we do it??? Yes we could!!

We met up at the Mortero Wash turnout, off the S2, at 7:30am, and hit Piedras Grande first. This is where Tara & I first met, at the Land Nav (navigation) weekend back in 2016 when we both took the Sierra Club Wilderness Basics Class. We decided to take a slightly longer route on the way up, to check out some Native American petrogylphs. This was the longest hike of the day, which is why we did it first. The pitch to the summit was steep and scrambly, with a few fun boulders at the top. One down!

Back at the road, we took Tara’s Jeep a bit north alongside the railroad tracks, until we got to the wash leading to our next peak, Indian Hill. This is a spot I’ll need to return to; there are more petroglyphs and some caves here, along with some ruins from the railroad building days. We did not see any of this, as we were on a schedule! We climbed up the face of the peak to get to the top, and a slightly less steep – but more boulder-y – route back down. Number two in the bag.

Next we drove back to the S2 and through the border checkpoint, taking a hairpin turn onto Dolomite Mine Road to the abandoned mine that the road and the peak were named after. Tara’s Jeep skills gave us a great head start up the trail. Beyond the deteriorated Jeep track, there were a few options for getting to the top of Mine Peak, and we opted for the middle route. The going was not too hard; steep in a few bits but with good footing. The summit view was different from the others, as this peak is on the east side of the ranges, and the view out to the Salton Sea was expansive. Three peaks done, one to go!

Our final peak was Red Hill, a volcanic mountain right across the S2 from the Mine Peak access road. This was a tough one to save for last, as it was the second longest; but we wanted to get Mine Peak over with as the access road would get tricky if the rain really started coming down (which it did not…). The route up Red Hill involved hiking overland to a ridge that wound its way around toward the summit. It was a bit indirect which was frustrating so late in the day, but we finally arrived at the top, an expansive flat area. We wandered about for a bit until we found the right pile of rocks with the trail register, and then headed back down, feeling incredibly accomplished. We did it! Four desert peaks in one day!

Throughout the day, dramatic clouds filled the sky. In all directions we could see rain pouring down in some areas, dark storm clouds in others. But wherever we hiked, the sun shone. It was windy but never cold, and the most rain we had were just a few sprinkles. At the very end of the last hike there was even a faint rainbow off in the distance. Everywhere else in the county it was either pouring rain, or snowing – driving home over the Laguna summit the snow was blanketing the hills on both sides of the freeway. I think we found the only dry spot in the county! We were charmed today, for sure.

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North Van Dam Peak
: 1.46
Elevation: 369ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 Peak #9

Today was calendar Tetris day! Every six months I visit my oncologist (ahem). Since Covid, I’ve been mostly going to the clinic in Rancho Bernardo – it’s either that or Torrey Pines, which is close to work; but from home they both are inconvenient. RB is slightly less so.

This appointment was scheduled well before I decided to do the 100 Peaks Challenge, but when I saw it on my calendar, on a Friday even, I decided it would be a great chance to squeeze in one of the many bite-sized peaks on the list that are off the 15 freeway, en route to RB. I picked North Van Dam since of them all it seemed short and accessible, so more easily Tetris’d into a workday calendar. (The name keeps reminding me of the Three Jolly Fishermen song from Girl Scout camp. “North Van, North Van DAM DAM DAM!”)

Then the day got really nuts. I decided to squeeze in a morning PT session, which is only 15 minutes from the trailhead. I’d have a time gap, so I squeezed in a conference call to take from my car. Then, why not, I decided I’d pick my kid up from high school – so that Tad could be home for our new pod school we’re doing with the other kid. Oh and also guess what: every-other Friday our housecleaners come over – and this is the week. (Oh and also? I have my book club tonight – which is late enough that it doesn’t matter but just thought I’d mention it.) On top of all that my afternoon is chock-full of back-to-back 30-minute meetings.

Let’s DO this!!!

Of course once I arrived at the trailhead my oncology office called to reschedule. I was doing FINE with my game of Tetris, thank you very much; but it was still nice to take the pressure off. At this point though, I was HERE already. Time to hike!

Turns out I definitely picked a hike I could easily Tetris into my busy day. I had never done this peak before and in fact had not heard of it prior to the 100 Peaks Challenge. It peeks up from amidst an open space area in a suburb of Poway, with many little use trails throughout. I have learned that it’s popular with mountain bikers. Technically there are three peaks up there, and of course the checklister in me was tempted to check them all out… but not today.

I selected the Middle Terrace trailhead – one of several to choose from – and parked just below the cul-de-sac in a happy little neighborhood. I ditched my poles thinking it might be a good trail to run on – which was a mistake; yes, running along the ridge was nice, but the poles would have been handy on the initial steep section.

I attained the summit in 20 minutes flat. At the top is a concrete slab whose original purpose is a mystery, but now serves as a canvas for locals’ artwork. Views were lovely – I could see the Fortunas, and Woodson, and Black; all peaks on my to-do list. I also had a good view of highway 15 cutting through the subdivisions from this urban oasis.

I lingered at the summit for only five minutes. I did take photos, but literally forgot to look around for a peak register, or any benchmarks – completely escaped my mind. On my way back down I realized and regretted this. I have thought that for these peaks – especially those that I bag solo – I must come up with some kind of ritual. Take photos; find the register; find the benchmark; and maybe … meditate for a few minutes? Or do yoga? It’s only peak #9, and still January – I’m sure I’ll have this figured out before I’m done.

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Weekdays at the Casinos

Viejas Mountain
Miles: 2.9
Elevation Gain: 1402ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #8
Afoot & Afield #109

Last week’s weekday hike was Sycuan Peak. This week’s was Viejas Mountain. Seems I have a thing for casino hikes – if only they ended with an all-you-can-eat buffet! Wah-wahhhh!!! (Sorry, bad joke only locals will get!)

I have Tuesday mornings pencilled in for my weekday peak bagging but once again that did not work with my schedule; this past Tuesday we had a painter coming over and I knew Tad would not appreciate me skipping out for that. So, I replanned for today. Somewhat last minute, the night before, I texted Kali and she was in! We arrived at the trailhead at 6am sharp, along with a random guy who passed us, running up with his beautiful dogs. We chose 6am because we both needed to get to work, of course; but the side benefit was that the sun was just rising as we got to the peak.

The trail to the peak is very rocky but not rutted. No navigation issues – it is easy to follow. Near the top you arrive at a false peak but quickly the true peak comes into view and it’s an easy traverse to get to it. A flagpole of some kind was bolted to a boulder – it had no flag, and was not there the previous times I’ve been up there. Lots of effort to be an asshole, apparently. The summit itself has a well-built rock windbreak with a can for the peak logs tucked away. We looked at the logs but did not sign – they were messy and mostly full. I would have liked to linger on the summit a bit longer, but work beckoned, and we turned around pretty quickly. On the way down we passed two friendly young men heading up, and that was it – a lovely morning on a quiet trail.

This is the third time I’ve hiked Viejas Mountain. The first time was in 2018 when I was not in great shape; my moving time stats indicate that it took me nearly three hours! The second time was this past summer, when I was in the same condition I’m in now; but it was a JMT training hike and I was hauling a 30lb pack. It took me 2 hours and 13 minutes. Today Kali & I practically ran up and back down the hill and clocked in at under two hours, FTW!

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I have the BEST hiking buddies ever!

Grapevine Mountain & Bitter Creek
: 6.6
Elevation Gain: 2,081 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #5
Afoot & Afield #235

Sentenac Mountain
: 2.2
Elevation Gain: 804 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #6

Eagle Peak
: 4.85 (including bushwhack)
Elevation Gain: 1,007 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #7
Afoot & Afield #151

Lots has happened in the last three days to talk about! I thought about breaking this into two posts but decided not to – sorry if it’s TL;DR!


More uses for leukotape!

Last Tuesday I took my lunch break up on Sycuan Peak for Peak #4 – and on the way down this very short climb, my troublesome knee started complaining. That was all I needed mere days before our planned upcoming big hiking weekend! On Friday I was supposed to do a follow-up to my running gait analysis (which I did not blog about yet but probably should – it was pretty cool). So, I contacted the PT to cancel – running on a treadmill was clearly not a good idea right now – but instead he suggested I come in anyway and we can focus on getting the knee ready for the weekend. Duh, of course that’s what we should do. And OMG was that the right call!

The PT (Dr. Arsen from Prehab) first assessed the problem (simple – kneecap not tracking straight). He then deeply massaged the area, applied cups, and orchestrated various other torture techniques I mean therapies. I’m sure all this helped but what I think helped the most was that once he was done he taped the shit out of it – in fact he did both knees, why not. My knees look like they’ve been through some kind of weird Battle Of The Knees. Thank goodness I don’t wear shorts when I hike.


Yesterday was the test of the tape. My plan for January in general is to hit the desert one day of the weekend, and then a “non-weekday,” non-desert hike on the other day. Saturday was desert day, and I’d penciled in Grapevine and Sentenac Mountains. So, early on Saturday, four of us badass gals headed out to Scissors Crossing to get started.

Grapevine Mountain has two main options for getting to the top. Both are about six miles, give or take. The more common route follows the Pacific Crest Trail for two-ish miles, then heads uphill cross country to tag the peak. There is another route described in Afoot & Afield (trip #235) that is a bit longer and with an extra ~500 feet of elevation gain, but quite honestly it looked more interesting: it did not use the PCT (which I’ve hiked already); it’s a loop (always better!); and it included more varied terrain (the dry wash of Bitter Creek). All of this sounded more interesting, and possibly more challenging, to me. And, in the first of many “I have the BEST hiking buddies ever!” moments this weekend, of course all four of us were like, yeah, let’s do the harder route!

So we piled into Tara’s Jeep and headed up Grapevine Canyon – which only has one tricky bit requiring high clearance, where the road crosses San Felipe Creek shortly after leaving the S2. The loop hike started at a parking area a little over a mile up the road, and heads up into the hills to the west. The route wasted no time in climbing – we covered the first 2000 feet of elevation gain in the first ~2.5 miles! It was mostly steep climbing on slopes and along ridges with relatively little bouldering. The terrain was not hard except that many of the rocks were loose, requiring a bit of caution before using them as footholds. After a false summit or two (the new bane of my existence, apparently) we finally arrived at the wide top of Grapevine Mountain where we enjoyed the view, had a snack, and took the obligatory photos.

Now for the downhill, the test of the tape – and it was fine! A few twinges, but the knee held up, thank goodness. Buy stock in Rock Tape now! The descent began by continuing down the west side of Grapevine for a bit until it reached a saddle, then headed north/northwest down a steep ridge until we finally arrived at the sandy floor of Bitter Creek. The map shows a dotted line trail that heads slightly more northerly, and I’d marked this on my map as a possible track, but we opted to follow a slightly longer and less steep route that another peakbagger had recorded. Once on the floor of the wash we made good time. The only remaining obstacles were thick thorny brush as we neared the spring itself. At the spring an animal had overturned a rock to reveal some greasy (bitter?) water beneath.

We arrived back at the Jeep around 2pm. It was getting late, but Sentenac Mountain was tantalizingly close – just across the S2! Could we safely squeeze it in before it got too late? The Best Hiking Buddies Ever kicked in again and we all agreed – let’s go for it! The Jeep whisked us quickly up Plum Canyon to the California Riding & Hiking Trail trailhead. We wasted no time in getting started.

Sentenac Mountain is a straightforward hike that begins at the CRHT, following that lovely trail for about a quarter mile, before the route turns offtrail up a wash. The bouldering up the wash was lots of fun and we made quick work of it, until it was time to abandon the wash and head up the steep hillside. It was hard but short, and we soon arrived at the summit. Logged our names in the register and took some photos, but we did not linger. We headed down via a steeper and more direct route back to the wash, and got to the car before 4pm. Just as we were arriving at the car I sucked the last of my water out of my 3L bladder – I have literally never done that before on a hike! (Have no fear: I do carry extra emergency water in my pack.) It was a GREAT day and we felt very accomplished.


The plan for today was to hit three peaks near the Three Sisters trail: Eagle Peak, Sunshine Mountain, and Ant Benchmark. Welp, we only managed one of them, Eagle Peak. The reason I was hoping to bag all three of them in one go was that the trailhead is a bitch to get to – it’s a 1:10 drive on a windy road through San Diego’s backcountry. It is an area that cannot be hiked in the summer because it gets way too hot. Finally, this is an annoying area to hike because of the ridiculous popularity of the Three Sisters Waterfall trail – the place is always packed, even on a day like today when the waterfalls are not flowing. (People are dumb.)

The hike started out fine. The Eagle Peak trail initially follows the Three Sisters trail but keeps going straight, instead of turning down the hillside to get to the falls. The trail was clear and navigation was not an issue. We neared the summit and guess what? You guessed it; plenty of false summits to mess with your head! We overcame the psychological damage and finally arrived at the real thing. It was actually a beautiful hike, with lovely oak trees and plenty of views, with some challenging bits to keep it interesting. We even took a wrong turn on the way down that helped to keep it sporty.

Here’s where things went awry. In an effort to avoid excess miles by going all the way back to the trail head, I planned for us to follow a trail that was on the map, and appeared to go through, but would cut off those extra miles. We started down the faint trail, which required some bushwhacking, but was not awful. Down the slope we could see a rusted out wrecked car ahead, at the base of a cliff. It looked like the route would take us right by it, so that was neat. Soon enough we arrived at the car … but that meant we also arrived at the darn cliff! So much for cutting off some miles. This was going to be brutal. Going back up the slope we’d just bushwhacked down was not appealing; but going up the soft sand cliff would be dangerous. We scouted around for a while (and checked out the car – it had no engine, and there were a few other household items, so we concluded it was dumped there) until Scott managed to find a possible route up the cliff. Our party of five slowly started up, digging our trekking poles deeply into the soft sand, and pulling carefully on shallow-rooted shrubs that could barely hold us. With only one casualty of a single trekking pole, we finally got to the top and emerged onto Cedar Creek Road.

It was this moment when I felt the most gratitude for my amazing hiking companions. I know that this 100 Peaks Challenge is going to come with ups and downs, literally and figuratively. I am going to make some mistakes. Today was a big mistake. We were clearly done for the day – no one (myself included) wanted to keep trudging through the now-warm sunny day for any more peaks, especially after yesterday’s long day. But instead of being grumpy and irritated at me for leading us through a poorly-planned bushwhack, everyone was excited to have conquered the cliff, and gotten in a bit of bushwhacking – only a little blood here and there! Yay adrenaline! You guys are the best. Sunshine Mountain and Ant Benchmark can wait for another day. Three peaks (including one hard one) in a weekend is good enough for me!

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Lunch Break at Sycuan Peak

Miles: 2.1
Elevation Gain: 764ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #4
Afoot & Afield #113

There are several hikes on the 100 Peaks list that are low-hanging fruit, that I can do on weekdays throughout the year. Hikes that are not too long, and not too far from home or other places I go sometimes – for example, for Red Butte at Torrey Pines, I will probably do that one day that I have a doctor’s appointment nearby.

The lowest of the low-hanging fruit near my house is Sycuan Peak. It’s about 20 minutes from home, and only two miles round trip. Sounds like a weekday hike to me! I have Tuesday mornings pencilled in for my weekday hikes, but today I had an 8:30am meeting, so I couldn’t do it then. I did, however, have a few hours free at midday. The outside temperature at 11am was 59 degrees in the shade – as cool as it’ll ever be in East County on a clear day. Time to hike!

I had done this hike once before and recalled that it’s steep, rutted, and exposed. All of those things are still true. I also remembered that the trailhead rises abruptly off the side of a winding road, with no parking or signage – also true. I got there a little before noon and started climbing, avoiding the gaping canyons that comprised this trail as much as possible.

The summit itself was through some bushes and up a boulder. I found the survey marker, and a glass jar containing what passed for a trail register. The inside of the jar was wet, with a few sheets of saturated paper. I had grabbed my running Camelbak instead of my usual daypack, since the hike was so short, so I did not have a replacement logbook with me – and the paper was too wet to write in, so, oh well.

On my way back down the rutted trail my bad knee was screaming at me. This makes me nervous as I still have 96 mountains to descend for this challenge. I am babying it as much as I can – icing it now as I type. Hopefully it’ll be less grumpy this weekend. Despite this I was still home and showered with plenty of time before my 2pm meeting. Peak #4 done!

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Guatay Mountain

Miles: 5.8
Elevation Gain: 1394ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge 2021 peak #3

First sunlight

Yesterday was a long day, but today is still a weekend, and I wanted to get in a decent hike that I was comfortable doing solo but not one that I could do on a weekday. Also one that did not require tons of planning. Since I’d hiked Guatay before, I decided it would be a good choice.

I hiked Guatay the first time in January 2019. I remember the bathrooms at the trailhead being locked because of the government shutdown – remember that?? It was a Sierra Club hike, and I was the slowest in the group – this was before I’d discovered OrangeTheory, and was not as fit as I am now. Still, usually the Sierra Club hikes are not super fast, so I remember being frustrated at my comparatively slow pace. I sort of thought today I’d blow it out of the water, and I was definitely faster by about 20 minutes, but would have been even faster if not for a few diversions that I’ll describe below.

Rutted trail.

I got to the trailhead a little after 7am and it was pretty cold – below freezing. After yesterday’s surprise snow on Granite Mountain, I clipped some Yaktrax to my pack and headed up. The trailhead is actually a bit hard to find – you have to backtrack down the road from the parking area and pass through a cattle gate that you actually can’t really see from the road. My track from January 2019 came in handy as a refresher. The trail begins by paralleling the road alongside a gully for nearly a mile. It’s a pretty walk, with riparian flora all around. Just before one mile the trail turns left (it’s well-marked) and begins an extremely rutted climb. At the turnoff I took off a layer, and also noticed some cat prints in the mud. They were smaller than the ones we saw yesterday, so I figured they were those of a bobcat – but all the same, whenever I went through thicker brush, I was loudly serenading the forests with whatever song came into my head!

Eventually the trail smooths out and opens up and the views begin. In my head I nicknamed this trail “the Falsies” – it is riddled with false summit after false summit. The early ones are obviously not the summit – too soon – but I think the damn mountain fooled me three times as I approached the true summit. In Appalachian Trail culture they call these “PUDs” – pointless ups & downs. But I suppose it’s a good workout, right?

Finally at the summit I was surprised to see a couple already atop. They were very friendly, I think a dad and daughter (her name was Erica and she was 19). We chatted for a bit and Erica took my photo. As they started down, I started looking through the trail register ammo boxes. There were two, both inside of a larger case. One had a full notebook. The other had a messy crumple of papers. I had brought a new logbook with me so I wrote my name in it and placed it in the neater of the two boxes. I still wonder what to do with these messy caches. Erica said she looked through the mess and saw logs from 2006! My inclination is to clean out the box and bring the log papers home … but then what? I sure as hell don’t want to hang on to them, and certainly they should not be thrown away. I guess just taking the time to tidy up the box would have been good but it was cold up there and I did not want to take that on.

I had considered doing a second peak today – Long Valley Peak, just across the 8 and only a 4mi round-trip. But I decided I was pushing my luck with the family and should get home at a decent hour. But that meant that I could take my time with the current hike, so I decided to take the side trail down that goes by the groves of Tecate cypress. These are rare trees that are only found in a few places, including here. The side trail is steep, and is where I almost needed my Yaktrax, as it was snowy in places. However the snow was crunchy, not slippery; and it was easy to find dirt footholds around it. The unmarked use trail cuts steeply down around one of the Falsies, and then abruptly cuts to the right (south) back toward the main trail. It passes two larger groves of the trees but not close enough to observe, until it eventually comes right up to a few lovely specimens. I paused at one to take some photos and appreciate the tree … when I noticed several empty plastic water bottles of various types under the tree. WTF? Is this the “empty bottle” tree or something? As a hiker I passed later commented, how hard is it to hike your fucking empty water bottle out?? I usually hike with a trash bag but had forgotten to replace it recently so I was only able to carry out a few of them. So weird. (Messing around like this is why my time was not that much better than the first time I did this hike, following the same route.)

From there it was pretty much a straight shot back to the parking lot. I saw four more friendly hikers going up as I was going down, but otherwise I had the mountain to myself. Then I went to Starbucks. Peak #3 in the bag!

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Granite Mountain South Approach

Granite Mountain
Miles: 7.8
Elevation Gain: 2941ft
Gaia Track (thanks Tara!)

Today Tara & I hiked Granite Mountain via the south approach. En route to the trailhead we stopped at the Blair Valley bathrooms. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that my original plan for the first weekend in 2021 was to camp in Blair Valley to bag three peaks on Jan. 1, and one peak on Jan. 2 – today. One of the reasons I ditched this plan was because technically camping in Anza Borrego is not allowed due to Covid. Given that Blair Valley is a super popular place to camp, and that it is a holiday weekend, I thought that getting a ticket would be kinda likely.

Welp, Blair Valley was packed. I guess it’s possible that a ranger (we did see one, but as far as I can tell all they did was clean the bathroom – thank you!) drove through and wrote down everyone’s license plates, but that seems highly unlikely. People were everywhere! Oh well.

We continued along the S2 and turned off onto the Mason Valley Truck Trail, turning right down the Vallecito Wash Road due to a gate blocking a slightly more direct route, until we arrived at the Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail. To the left (southwest) was Oriflamme Canyon, another popular camping spot – it too had several vehicles but was not nearly the madhouse that Blair Valley was. The road was actually fine – sandy in spots, but doable in a regular car – until Rodriguez when it got a bit rougher. Still ok for high-clearance.

I chose to do the south approach for this climb as I had read that it was less arduous than the more common east approach. I think the main reason it’s less common is simply because the route does not appear in AllTrails. Additionally, it’s a bit harder to get to the trailhead. I’m very glad we chose to go this route. It was still a hard hike but nothing like the stories I’ve heard of the other route.

The hike starts by crossing the wash where we parked up to a fairly clear trail that cuts up the side of the slope. The trail continues for about 1.5 miles until it arrives at the remains of the Republic Mine. Above this point the clear trail is no more, and we followed a faint occasional use trail. I had found a public GPX track that was actually very helpful as well. Even without those aids the route was fairly obvious, as we were following a ridge line the entire way.

Navigation was not challenging but I do enjoy the meditative nature of following a more clear trail. The first part of the trail above the mine was fairly steep, with tricky footing. As we ascended, the cacti started to become just a little bit insane. At times it felt like we’d been taken prisoner by the prickly pear and cholla. Fucking cactus were everywhere! I wish I’d taken a photo of that section of the hike – it was ridiculous.

Eventually we got to the ridge and the hike became a bit easier. There were a few small rock scrambles here and there, but all minor except for one bit near the “shoulder” of the ridge that required some climbing (but on the way down we got past this section without even realizing it, so there were probably easier ways up that we’d missed).

From there we were at the true ridge and made our way toward the summit. There was significant snow up there, which took us entirely by surprise! Thank goodness for our trekking poles. We also contended with some false summits – we’d navigate around some boulders thinking we were near the top and, surprise! Another rock pile awaited. The summit itself turned out to be a big rock scramble that was sketchy in places – I would not have liked to do this solo, that’s for sure. Finally on the top, we took some obligatory photos and quickly descended back to terra firma for our lunch.

The hike back down was pretty quick. In the snow near the top on the way down we crossed paths with some paw prints that I’m pretty sure were mountain lion (no claw marks, and big) – very cool. More encounters with cacti on the way down, probably because we were more tired and also moving more quickly. We were back at the car at 3pm, making for a 7hr hike including a ~30min break at the top.

We both agreed that we enjoyed this hike more than we thought we would, and we’d be willing to go back and do it again!

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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
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Shepherd Canyon Loop, #92

With today’s trail run I have completed all of chapter 12 of Afoot & Afield – well, except for hike number 91, a 15-mile suffer-fest climbing all of the Five Peaks Challenge in one day. That’s scheduled for next spring. Today’s A&A hike is a fantastic example of the absolutely wonderful neighborhood canyons that are hidden throughout San Diego.

October 17, 2020
Miles: 6.5
Elevation Gain: Flat!
Gaia Track

The hike described in Afoot & Afield only covers East Shepherd Canyon, and is less than three miles as an out-and-back. I wanted to get in at least six miles today, so I Gaia’d together a loop that toured all fingers of this open space, including a sliver of the far western edge of Mission Trails Park.

The main canyon, East Shepherd

I know I’m a broken record but I just love these neighborhood canyons throughout the city. Obviously this one was no exception – it made it into Jerry Schad’s book, after all. My favorite part is always seeing the little side trails that join from the nearby houses and communities, weaving a little bit of nature into everyone’s daily lives.

The East Canyon, which I hit first, was definitely the crown jewel and hence its inclusion in the book. It was the primary goal of the morning which is why I did it first – no matter what happened next I could check of hike #92 from my list. A girl’s got priorities. This part of the trail passes Dishwasher Pond, which was unsurprisingly dry here in mid-October. Near the end of the path little signs had been posted for a “Tierrasanta Plant Identification” trail that I learned later was set up by a Girl Scout troop.

Coming to the end of this first section I arrived at Santo Rd and crossed over to West Shepherd Canyon. At the entrances to all the canyon fingers there are signs warning the public that this area was formerly Camp Elliott, which was a military camp of various types from the 1930s to the 1960s or so. If you see something that looks like a bomb, don’t pick it up.

This leg of my outing cut diagonally down to Clairemont Mesa Blvd. I saw on the map that there is a trail extending further south, nearly down to the 15, and I gave this a try. It started at a gate near the intersection of the two wide roads and headed steeply uphill on a fire road. I followed this until the trail petered out, about halfway as far as the map had indicated. I continued back northward along the bottom of the canyon until that ended in some brush. This was a road maintained for some kind of water/sewage access so it was easy going, but I would definitely recommend skipping this part of the trail as being pretty un-interesting. I bushwhacked a bit to try to get back to the road without backtracking but failed. I think it was doable but I did not want to do that much bushwhacking.

Back on Santo Rd, I crossed back to the east side turned down Antigua Blvd to access Lower North Shepherd Canyon. My favorite part of the whole run was when the trail turned up to Villarrica Way, and the space opened up under old shady oaks, just begging a local family to have a little picnic. What a sweet spot. Of course I suck and did not take a photo of that area, but did get a little footbridge.

Onward to Upper North Shepherd Canyon (really creative with the names here), which curved eastward, south of Highway 52, which I could hear but could not see. This led me to the Mission Trails Portobello Entrance, where I headed southward to another great little neighborhood pathway that was unnamed as far as I can tell and finally over to the main road, Via Valarta. To close my loop I had about a quarter mile jog on the road. Via Valarta has bike paths on both sides so there is no parking. I had parked on a side road, Via Dominique, across from the trailhead. This worked out just fine.

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Stelzer County Park – #103

My second trail run (sort of – lots of walking!) today, after the Lakeside Linkage Trail, was at the Louis A. Stelzer County Park. I had been to this park a couple of times when the kids were younger – once with the Cub Scouts, and once with a kids-in-nature Meetup group. I remember on one of the trips doing a ranger-led hike along the lovely Riparian Trail. The trail went uphill a bit and there was a lot of whining.

October 10, 2020
Miles: 3.8
Elevation Gain: 639′
Gaia track

Afoot & Afield trip #103

Today my plan was to do the whole park – not hard to do. I arrived at the parking lot at around 7:45am, and the ranger station was not yet open. Parking cost $3, and I only had a $20 bill (I have since stashed some small bills in my glove box!), so I made a donation to the parks department, apparently. My route was straightforward as there are not a lot of options. I started across from the kitschy but cute koi pond and headed to the right (west) along the aforementioned Riparian Trail. It was lovely and, well, riparian – perfect for a little jog. Eventually the trail made a left turn onto the Wooten Loop Trail, and thus began the easy climb that I remembered. A few switchbacks later and the trail intersected with a fire road.

This park has two peaks to be bagged. One, toward the west, is the Kumeyaay Promontory, which decided to hit first. There is a huge powerline tower near the top, and it was easy going. I could see that the actual high point was a bit further up, and I spotted the use trail heading that way. I was not prepared for bushwhacking, wearing capris and a tank top, but it did not look too bad and I gave it a go. A tiny bit of scrambling and I arrived at a large boulder that appeared to be the highest point. I did not climb up it; it was fairly sheer and not worth it – I was close enough.

Trying to be artsy
At the end of the road to Kumeyaay Promontory
Pretty close to the actual highest point of Kumeyaay Promontory

I headed back down – saying hello to two guys and a beautiful husky, the only folks I’d see on this trail today – passing the turnoff to get back to the trailhead, and toward the second and highest point in the park, Stelzer Peak. Soon the trail became very steep, with just enough loose gravel to keep me focused. At least it wasn’t rutted or rocky.

Approaching Stelzer Peak

The road flattened out and a trail branched off to the right, shortly arriving at the peak. The top was wide open with lots of huge boulders, and opening out to a cave with a view of Lakeside. Again the highest point was atop a boulder, but I again decided to skip it. It looked to be a much easier climb but it would really suck to get injured while alone.

The view from inside the “cave”

This was the end of my plan… but as mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t think to check Peakfinder before heading out. I need to remember to do that from now on. There was a third peak known only as Peak 1372 (unnamed peaks like this are known by their elevation). There were actually a few visible peaklets, so I made good use of my Gaia app to make sure I got to the right one. A fire road went to the base of it … but then it was a pure bushwhack, and a nasty one at that. I poked around trying to find a use trail but no such luck. Considering my lack of protective clothing, this peak was not in the cards for today. Oh well, someday I’ll have to come back!

On my easy downhill jog back to the car, I took a right turn inside the park to hit the Stelzer Trail, making a bit of a loop and “officially” covering all the trails within the park.

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