Hold On Tightly – Hike of Lawson Peak

Description: Lawson Peak
Date: Mar. 11, 2012
Time: 3 hrs and 34 minutes
Distance: 8.4 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2000 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 3606 ft.
Trail Map: Unavailable
Google Earth: Download the KMZ file
Additional Resources: 100peaks.com; San Diego Union-Tribune.com; Peakbagging.com; www.sdctc.com



Lawson Peak – A Walk, A Scramble, and A Climb.

Even though I’ve been hiking around San Diego a lot (350 miles and over three days, so far), this gem escaped me until a couple of week ago. No one told me how awesome this hike is. It has immediately muscled its way into my top five hikes in the county which are, in no particular order, (1) Lawson Peak, (2) Oakzanita Peak, (3) Penasquitos Canyon, (4) Torrey Pines, and (5) Stonewall Peak. Although my hiking partner and I had meant to tackle nearby Gaskill Peak on the same trip, after summitting Lawson and whacking through some bush after a missed turn, we called it a day.

What makes this 5 mile hike so amazing is the variety of slopes to reach the top, resulting in three stages of three very different exercises. The hike includes a ‘leisurely’ two-mile walk to the base, followed by a half-mile of steep scrambling, capped by bouldering to the top. The first two miles are rather mundane, but a not insignificant slope (~13%) to get the heart pumping (great cardio workout). The next half-mile requires the use of your hands (mostly for balance) and some big steps (decent lower body workout). Finally, to actually make it all the up requires just enough actual rock climbing (a short but sweet upper body workout).

If it were simply a workout, it would still be fun, but the area (due south of Cuyamaca) is also beautiful. The views are above average, and after the exertion to reach the top, quite rewarding. This is a hike I’m looking forward to sharing with friends, as it’s mild enough for a beginner, but offers exposure to much of what hiking has to offer.

Walk – Looking back down part of first two miles of the ‘walk’ stage.

Scramble – Looking up the next half-mile of the ‘scramble’ stage.

Climb – Lookout over the boulders after the ‘climb’ stage.

Exiting the Cave – The climbing starts with two big leaps that put you in a cave. This is the view out.

Enjoying the Cave – Once you’re in the cave, you crawl out a tight (but not too tight) hole in the back which is glowing behind me.

Entering the Cave – That’s the hole I was talking about.

Cuyamaca – Also visible in San Diego, this view from the south puts Cuyamaca Peak in another wonderful perspective.

I Love Hiking

This is not the studio version of Hold On Tightly, which I thought appropriate because of the rock climbing aspect of this hike. Even as a John Denver fan, I didn’t hear this version until a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that I haven’t always been a fan of the studio version, but this version made me fall in love with the song. Although the studio version shows its date (off the 1983 album, It’s About Time), this version sounds timeless.

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Stonehaven Sunset – Hike of Oakzanita Peak

Description: Oakzanita Peak
Date: Dec. 5, 2011
Time: 2 hrs and 55 minutes
Distance: 7.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1100 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 5054 ft.
Trail Map: Available at Paso Picacho Campground for $2
Google Earth: Download the KMZ file
Additional Resources: 100peaks.com; SanDiegoHiker.com; Peakbagger.com



Oakzanita Peak – The sun sinks behind me in the west.

I spent a cold November weekend hiking up Stonewall Peak, camping at Paso Pichacho, and summiting the most prominent peak in San Diego county (Cuyamaca) the following morning. Originally, we had planned to summit Little Stonewall Peak in addition to Stonewall Peak and Japacha in addition to Cuyamaca, but the unexpected snow made us tone down our plans a smidge. I knew it was going to be cold. I knew it would be below freezing Saturday night. What I didn’t realize, in my San Diego native naivte was that it would be cold even when it wasn’t nighttime. As we made our way down from Stonewall Peak, I lamented that I didn’t bring a pair of gloves and ended up repurposing my spare socks into mittens. However, that night, I had a roaring fire, a hot shower, and a warm meal. My gear (sleeping bag, pad, and tent) easily passed their test of the freezing night. The following morning, I put on every piece of clothing I had brought (including my sock-mittens which actually worked quite well), and plowed through fresh snow up the fire road to the top of Cuyamaca. Then, the heater blasted the entire ride back and I spent a week with the sniffles.

The weekend was an adventure, costly and worth the cost (barely). I was pleased to confirm that my gear worked, but I learned that needed to carry more layers of clothing. Hiking in the snow was new and a treat. Unfortunately, frozen water tends to be cold and unfrozen water tends to seep through non-waterproof sneakers (and is still cold). A month later, I returned to the scene of the ill-fated … learning experience. Oakzanita is one of the few named peaks in the Cuyamaca Mountains and it lacks some of the characteristics of the more well-known peaks in the area. It’s not high, prominent, instantly recognizable, or viewable from almost any spot in the county like, say, Stonewall or Cuyamaca. However, the hike on the east side of the 79 is varied and beautiful. Whereas, the switchbacks of Stonewall’s main trail make it feel like running through the line at Disneyland and the paved fire road up Cuyamaca makes it feel like a … slowly walking up a road, Oakzanita feely like a hike, like an ambulance* through nature.

*Despite what my writing instincts believe, ambulance does not have an alternate definition of “walk”, as derived from Latin ambulare, where we also get the word ambulatory and ambulance, a vehicle for delivering people to a hospital. Whatever, it’s my blog. Update: Apparently, the word I was looking for was “amble”, but I like mine better.

In a bit of a repeat from my earlier Cuyamaca visit a month earlier, I knew it was going to be cold. But it was colder. This time, I forgot that as it gets later and the sun starts to set, it gets colder. Also, as you gain 1000 feet in elevation, it gets colder. So, I wore my new gloves for the whole trip, but still thought about putting my sock-mittens over them. In short, though, it was a awesome hike with fantastic views in every direction over creeks and horseprints, through chapparal and plains. I recommend it and can’t wait to do it again. Well, maybe I can wait until spring.

Descanso Creek – A trickle of water lies hidden below.

Oakzanita Peak – From the East Mesa Fire Road.

Cuyamaca Peak – So used to seeing it from the west, seeing Cuyamaca (as a peak instead of a trail) from this side was like looking at the dark side of the moon.

Plains – At one point, I saw a deer far off in distance that didn’t see me. Too far away for a picture, but an amazing moment to just see a deer, in its natural habitat, not fleeing like you’re a hungry mountain lion.

Waterstumble – A very small waterfall of Descanso Creek.

The Mountains of Rancho Cuyamaca – As seen from Oakzanita Peak, left to right: Japacha, Cuyamaca, Middle, North, Stonewall, and Little Stonewall.

The Rocky Top of Oakzanita – A welcome sight, because it means the top is close, and a temporary, but ultimately ineffective, shelter from the chilling wind.

The View East – Peeking beyond my hiking ken and into my hiking future.

The View West – The sun glimmers off the ocean, glowing the waters around the Coronado Islands in contrast to the pointed lights of the tiny town Descanso. San Miguel just breaches the horizon in the far midground, midright.

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Eagles and Horses

Much of the joy I get from hiking comes from the escape. I know that I’m not just trying to leave the cities behind, out of sight out of mind, but to leave school, work, responsibility, and negative emotions. The scenery can be beautiful, but a house on the hill or a power line mars the moment in a palpable way. Certain hikes grant the feeling of nowhereness, even in the middle of everything, and I enjoy those particularly. I’ve also discovered that wildlife enhances my feeling of escape. Somewhere deep inside I believe that seeing a deer means I’m far away from home, even if it’s not true. I find a hike so much more enjoyable upon seeing a bobcat or even an alligator lizard.

Now that I have a waterproof (and, thank goodness, dropproof) camera, taking a picture makes it even better. So, I’ve added a Wildlife page to the site with some of the pictures I’ve managed to take and I plan to keep it updated as I see (and capture) more. The camera isn’t quite professional, but, then again, neither am I.

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Ripplin’ Waters – Hike of Los Penasquitos Canyon

Description: Los Penasquitos Canyon
Date: Oct. 16, 2011
Time: 4 hrs and 45 minutes
Distance: 12.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 300 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 315 ft.
Trail Map: Available at Sandiego.gov[MAP]
Google Earth: Download the KMZ file
Additional Resources: SanDiegoHikers.com; Penasquitos.org; Trails.com



Los Penasquitos Creek – Lazily wending its way to the ocean.

My first hike (since I started hiking seriously) was to Los Penasquitos Canyon. Because it’s only a few miles from home, I’ve started to consider it my backyard. Even though the canyon is nestled between Sorrento Valley and Del Mar, it’s surprisingly pleasant. Indeed, it’s still one of my favorite hikes. I’ve hiked in Cuyamaca and Garden on the Gods and rank this “suburban nature walk” in the same tier. The scenery is a diverse mix of greenery and grasslands, rocks and streams, sun and shade. The wildlife is also quite diverse as attested to by the pictures below from a single trip! Also, of importance to me at least, descending into the canyon quickly makes you forget that you’re just off the I-5 freeway. This is not true for some other conveniently locating hikes such as those in Missions Trails.

Because PQ Canyon, as I’ve taken to calling it for the same reason that Rancho Penasquitos is PQ instead of RP, is the closest hike to home, and wonderful, I’ve hiked it a number of times. From the western entrance, it’s a little more than a five mile round-trip to the waterfalls and back. From the eastern entrace, it’s about six miles there and back. Having done both trips a couple of times, I decided to combine them to push myself (and Leo, my hiking partner) to a new personal, long-distance record. I’d hiked an 8 mile loop, straight up Cuyamaca Peak and winding back down, and figured I could handle ten miles without such a climb.

After a wrong turn (which leads up to the park at the end of Camino Ruiz), we ended up with just under 13 miles. Although I was a little sore the next day, I was fine the day after that. This was Leo’s first trip to PQ, so I hoped the hike was impressive enough to justify my love for the area. It was. It was a beautiful day. The falls were strong after some rains a couple days before. The diversity of fauna was practically a trip to the zoo. Everything seemed to fall into place and the 13 miles flew by.

Amber waves and verdent hills – Exemplary of the stunning vistas somehow located between Qualcomm HQ and the Del Mar Racetrack

Waterfalls – Located dead center of the canyon, but worth the trip. However, this picture is taken from the one spot, a rock requiring a little scrambling to get to, where you can actually see the falls in all their glory. Otherwise, you might think “that’s it?” as I did the first three time I went.

Great Basin Fence Lizard (Adult Male) – Sceloporus occidentalis longipes
http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/s.o.longipes.html

Palette – Fall is coming. Or rather, fall is here; winter is coming.

Mule Deer (Young Buck) – Odocoileus hemionus
http://www.sdnhm.org/fieldguide/mammals/odoc-hem.html

Fountain at Ranchhouse – The eastern entrance passes this lovely visitor’s center. Easy to miss, but worth a stop, is the shed a little to south of the house with an old well.

San Diego Gopher Snake (Sub-adult) – Pituophis catenifer annectens
http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/p.c.annectens.html

Engulf – Shade. On a trail in San Diego. Real shade.

Silver Garden Spider – Argiope argentata
http://www.sdnhm.org/field​guide/inverts/argi-arg.html

Pond – This pond doesn’t appear to have a name, so I suggest Amy Pond for my own nerdy reasons.

San Diego Alligator Lizard – Elgaria multicarinata webbii
http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/e.m.webbii.html

Grassy hills – I’m expecting this to be all flowers come spring.

Rockclimber (Adult Male) – Leo R(em)oca escaladorus
http://www.remoca.com

Squash? – These grow in the canyon, and I still haven’t figured out what they are or if they’re edible.

Trees – It’s easy to keep track of how close to the creek you are by how green it is around you.

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Friends With You – Hike of Mt. Woodson

Description: Mount Woodson via Lake Poway
Date: Oct. 9, 2011
Time: 3 hrs and 32 minutes
Distance: 7.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2000 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 2894 ft.
Trail Map: Available at Poway.org[MAP][LEGEND]
Google Earth: Download the KMZ file
Additional Resources: SanDiegoHikers.com; Bchambes; Peakbagger.com



Shadows – How men take a “self-portrait”.

Due to a research paper that took much, much longer than I thought it would, I was unable to hike last Wednesday. However, my brother-in-law and I made up for it with a 13 mile trek through Los Penasquitos Canyon last Sunday. It was the third of what promises to be many rewarding treks. This post details our second outing which had us climbing Mt. Woodson from Lake Poway. After a surprisingly easy 8 miles exploring Elfin Forest the week before, we wanted to push ourselves with something a bit more strenuous. This hike fit that description: “a bit more strenuous.” We gratefully stopped once on the way up to catch our breath. Honestly, it’s not grueling, but you get more bang for your exertion buck elsewhere.

The trailhead from Lake Poway gives some nice views of the lake which almost makes the $5 entrance fee worth it. The climb provides a few nice views to the north and one good look at Iron Mountain to the southeast. The peak is rather uninspiring, but a minute or so from the peak is Chip Rock as featured in numerous Facebook profile pictures which also has a nice view to the west. On the Sunday we went, the course was well-traveled; we passed (or were passed by) at least twenty other hiking groups. It may have been the people, but this hike seemed to lack the “getting away” moments that other hikes have. I could never forget that I was surrounded by civilization.

This was my second trip to the peak as I made the trip from the east off Highway 67 a month before. From the 67, I walked up the access road to the top and walked back down the north side (via the Fry-Koegle trial). The uphill part is as interesting as you’d expect walking up an access road, but the downhill part of the trail was very pretty and included some secluded and shaded parts which are unlike most of the hikes in the area. Coming from Lake Poway, the uphill part is a bit longer, steeper, and more rewarding, but the downhill part is just the same in reverse. As I would rate both hikes at only three stars, its difficult to pick one over the other.

Lake Poway – $5 View

Mt. Woodson – The first and only view of the top until you get there

Peeking – The view from our pit stop (one of a handful of shady spots) was of boulders from beneath a boulder

The View West – Overlooking Chip Rock

Iron Mountain – My obsession with mountains as seen from other mountains continues. Been there …

Black Mountain – …. done that!

The View NorthEast – Suburbia, plains, and mountains

Another Friend – Unidentified lizard

The View North – Rock and tree dotted hills

Yet Another Friend – A recently-fed, juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

The View Southwest – Grass to the ocean

Hangin’ Out – My Facebook profile pic until the next hike :)

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Rocky Mountain High – Hike of Iron Mountain

Description: Iron Mountain via Ellie Lane
Date: Sept. 30, 2011
Time: 2 hrs and 59 minutes
Distance: 7.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1600 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 2696 ft.
Trail Map: Available at Poway.org[MAP][LEGEND]
Google Earth: Download the KMZ file
Additional Resources: 100peaks.com; Alltrails.com; GreeneAdventures.com; Peakbagger.com



The Iron Mountain Trailhead – Unsurprisingly, that’s Iron Mountain in the background.

Last Friday, after missing my normal Wednesday hike due to a out-of-town trip, I returned to Iron Mountain for the first time in over a month. The first time that I climbed the rocky road to the top when I had first started hiking, I had to stop to catch my breath a couple (a few?) times near the top. The second time I took the trip about a month ago, I triumphantly made it without stopping, but out of breath and counting down the ten final switchbacks. This time, my third summit, I took a side trip to a pond and the Ramona overlook, tacking on an extra two miles before the march to the top, and I hardly noticed the incline. I’m amazed at how quickly (and a bit proud of how) my endurance has built-up.

On the other hand, the Ellie Lane side trip I took was a bit more difficult than I expected. The Iron Mountain Trail is rated moderate, but the Ellie Lane Trail is rated difficult. I was oddly surprised that it was true and that I noticed a difference. There’s not much elevation on this part of the trail, but it comes in spurts, requiring tall and wide steps up stone “staircases”. On the whole, I think it was worth the extra miles, and not just to push myself a little physically. The views along the Ellie Lane Trail were much more Woodsonesque than the rest of the terrain in terms of having plenty of large granite boulders, but the area still had a flavor of its own which its different from both Iron Mountain and Mount Woodson. Also, I saw a pond, the Ramona overlook, and fawnprints. As another plus, on a Friday where I passed (or was passed) between five and ten times on the Iron Mountain Trail, I was completely alone for the Ellie Lane portion.

Obligatory Tree Tunnel Picture – Pretty much the only shade on the trail.

Red Rocks – Iron gives the mountain its name and these rocks their red color.

Climbing Opportunity – This is apparrently unofficially (and rather unpoetically) called Ramona Overlook Peak

The Ramona Overlook – Yup, that’s Ramona.

Forever Mountains – Like overlapping pieces of torn construction paper.

Dark Side of the Mountain – The trail quickly ducks behind the mountain, away from traffic, before ascending. This really adds a pleasant “away from it all” feeling to a hike just a few miles from a Carl’s Jr.

The View from the Top – That’s Cuyamaca Peak in the distance. I’m oddly excited about seeing peaks I’ve been to from other peaks.

Looking Back at Ellie Lane Trail – I you hadn’t just been there, wouldn’t you want to go?

Fawnprints – I’m starting to pick up tracking very slowly. It’s surprising what a track can tell you. It’s interesting enough to know “a dog passed through here,” but I’m learning that one can tell much more. For example, you could tell if a trail is much used by the ratio of animal prints to people prints. From this one double print, you can see a fawn following in its mother’s footsteps.

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Looking For Space

I quit my job a few months ago. I had been working more than fifty hours a week and maintaining a pretty decent grade-point average at law school in the part-time evening program. Every spare hour I had was spend working or studying. After I quit, I spend a week recovering and studying for summer finals. Once finals were over, I found myself with free time and no idea what to do with it. I had forgotten what I like, who I was. I didn’t know what to do with a day off. In retrospect, that is profoundly sad.

On a whim, I took out a hydration pack I’d purchased from CostCo for $20 because it seemed like a good deal. I filled it up and spend a few hours in Los Penasquito canyon to try it out. I casually and contently walked to the waterfalls in the middle. On the way back, a mule deer jumped out of the bushes two paces from me, stared me down for a heartbeat, and bounded off before I could react. Seconds later, a fawn followed its mother.

Before I got back to the car, I was hooked. The next Friday, I went back to the canyon and saw the waterfalls again (and another deer). The next week, I summited Iron Mountain and went back to the canyon. After a night hike of the canyon and another trip up Iron Mountain the following week, I started branching out to other hikes in the area. Cowles, Black Mountain, Stonewall Peak, Mount Woodson, Cuyamaca Peak.

As I’ve started to deposit grains of sand in my peakbag, I decided to start this blog to remember and reflect on my adventures. This blog is named after my favorite song. This post is named after another.

Alternate Post Titles: Readjustment Blues, Goodbye Again

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To The Wild Country

“This is a song that I love very much. I have a very strong feeling about the wilderness areas and the wildlife of the world. I think that that’s part of our natural heritage. Wherever it is in the world, it belongs to all of us. And this particular song, which I wrote up in Alaska, I think says what I feel about it better than anything else that I’ve ever written.” — John Denver

Alternate Post Titles: Welcome To My Morning, Let Us Begin

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