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Leaving San Diego, I headed east on I8, taking about an hour to reach the TH for Sheephead Mtn, a short distance on a good dirt road off the Sunrise Highway. Leaving the car around 6a, it was just growing light - I needed my headlamp to read my map, but not to navigate the eroding dirt road that serves as a trail for most of the way. I had no trouble finding my way to Kitchen Creek according to the HPS directions, and just after sunrise I found myself atop the peak around 7a. The early morning light provided some of the more dramatic views of the day. The summit blocks are easy to climb (class 2), and in some descriptions they are supposed to look like a sheep's head (giving rise to the name). They looked like a couple of large boulders to my unimaginative mind. I was back to the TH before 8a.
Next up was Cuyapaipe, a few miles further up the Sunrise Hwy, then down another excellent dirt road to the TH. The route description includes mention of 'gnarly bushwhacking' for a short distance to avoid some private property which is encountered in the first half mile from the TH. Finding the property boundary along the road I hiked, I left the road to investigate the bushwhack. Gnarly seemed an appropriate description and I balked, heading back to the road. If you read the route description carefully, you find mention of "Although it bypasses the gnarly brush push, do not go past the 'No Trespassing' sign and continue about 70 yards to a fence crossing on the left: we do not have permission to transit this private property." Therein lies the key to this whole hike - 70 yards of illegal hiking will save much thrashing. So of course I did just what I was warned not to do. No snipers picked me off during the transit and no crazed landowner jumped out of the brush to prosecute me (or worse). Once back on the other side of the fence, I wandered cross-country until I found signs of a use trail leading to the peak, a ducked trail marking the climb up a semi-steep gully. I found the summit crowned with a small communications tower powered by solar cells. Evidence of an earlier solar installation that had been blown down still littered the summit rocks. I found no summit register neither at the highpoint or at the pile of rocks to the south that the HPS description indicates holds the register. I left the summit area shortly after 9a and headed back the same way.
Continuing up the Sunrise Hwy, I stopped at Stephenson Peak (a delisted peak) for a brief visit. An air traffic installation now crowns the summit, but a host of other abandoned buildings and a large tower gave evidence of overdevelopment well into the past. After breaching the perimeter fence (ok, I stepped across the locked gate), I climbed around inside the tower, now littered with graffiti and debris, looked elsewhere around the summit area, then headed back to the car.
Around 10:15a I headed out from the highway for a short hike to Monument Peak. I passed by a couple of scary-looking (but friendly enough) bow hunters dressed head to toe in camoflage. At the summit a half hour later, I found to no great surprise - more telecommunication installations. But there was also a register and a fine view down the escarpment to the Anza-Borrego Desert below. The Santa Rosas and even San Jacinto could be seen to the north and northeast.
The next two peaks were similarly short, Garnet Peak and Garnet Mtn. I was atop the first around noon and took in the finest views of the day. This was a fine summit for a long lunch and nature appreciation moment (not that I did so myself, but I would recommend it to others!). In contrast, Garnet Mtn is a mere bump along the highway, and without the HPS directions it would not garner any attention at all. The most interesting feature was a memorial plaque near the TH to a Richard Zadorozny who had died almost six years earlier. The epitaph on the memorial and signs indication the area had been used in the past for hang gliding, led me to conclude the 55yr-old gentleman had met his demise in a hanggliding accident. I found nothing by googling him later.
Driving around to Cuyamaca State Park, I stopped at the general store at Lake Cuyamaca for a bag of chips and a soda - lunch for the day. I then drove south along the highway a short distance further where I parked to start my loop for the next three in the list, Middle, Cuyamaca, and Stonewall. My rough estimate (hope) was that I could get to the top of Middle in an hour, to Cuyamaca in another hour, Stonewall an hour after that, and then half an hour to return (I was about 45 minutes longer than the plan). I left the car at 1p, munching chips and sipping soda as I headed off to Middle Peak. This whole area had been badly burned in the devastating fires of 2003. Of course "badly" and "devastating" are words that people apply and aren't really applicable if you take people out of the equation. Like many areas of California, this one has evolved with burning as a regular part of the ecosystem, and from what I could see only two years later, the area was already recovering nicely. The dead, burned trees stood in stark contrast to the green brush developing beautifully on the ground. Though not yet widely dispersed, small pine trees could be found sprouting from the ashes that have enriched the soil. I think we find it "devastating" when a forest is lost that won't recover in our lifetime, but that is a very self-centered view. In the larger scheme, the land will recover quite nicely, even if we're not around to see it.
Middle Peak has no business being on any peak list. It's rounded summit offers no views whatsoever, even with all the trees burnt to a crisp. The slopes on all sides are modest, and the trails are all old jeep roads. There is a tall summit cairn amidst the forest at the top. The PVC summit register, blistered and partially melted during the fire, is still in use. Leaving the top shortly after 2p, I headed south towards Cuyamaca. I came across a couple at the saddle between the two peaks, briefly greeting them as I continued up to Cuyamaca. I left the Azalea Spring road to take the Conejo Trail to the summit. The signs at the junction were burned badly, and it was easy to miss the turn off. The trail is more rugged than others found in the state park, and I enjoyed this hike up along the NE flanks of Cuyamaca. The summit, the highest in the combined Laguna/Cuyamaca ranges at just over 6,500ft, has good views westward towards San Diego and the coast. Line after line of lower ridges can be seen off to the horizon, growing hazier with distance and the influence of the marine layer. There were more installations at this summit as well, and along with the trees that were saved from the fire (looks like they saved some trees along with the installations via some key water/chemical drops), one has to walk around a bit to get any other views. On the jog back down I ran into the same couple again, as well as a few other groups heading back down for the day. The day was getting on and it looked like I would be using the headlamp before I was done.
It was just before 4p when I got back to the highway and started up the Stonewall Peak Trail. This was the deluxe trail of the park, evidently highly used, and highly maintained. Signs at the TH discouraged cutting switchbacks, and an elaborate array of wooden fencing was erected to help enforce it. Frankly, the clean wooden fence looked silly in contrast to the burned forest that the trail wound its way through. Stonewall Peak itself is probably the best looking peak in the whole area, crowned with a massive wall of granite that looks pretty good from most angles. The summit would make a nice, airy class 3 scramble if it weren't for the railing and blasting that were used in eons past to make it accessible to the masses. I learned afterwards that there are a number of technical routes established on the impressive SW Face for those disinclined to use the trail. I found myself alone at the railing-enclosed summit shortly before sunset around 4:30p. I snapped a few photos and headed down.
The sun set during the 45 minute descent, the evening sky aglow just before I returned to the TH. Back at the car, I came across the same couple for yet a third time as we ended our hikes at the same time. They had just returned from Cuyamaca and were as amused as I at our several meetings during the afternoon. I wasted no time heading south on the highway, finding the TH for the day's last peak, Oakzanita. It was dark now, and I had debated on the drive the wisdom of pursuing this last peak of the day. The route description had mention of "dense poison oak" and the thought of wading through such treachery by headlamp seemed a bit crazy to put it mildly. Knowing I would regret not trying later, I headed off down the road for the last 5 1/2 miles of the day. I didn't get far. After the first half mile, I found the turnoff for the Upper Descanso Trail, but could not locate the use trail that reportedly forks off it near the stream crossing. Back and forth I went several times, looking for foot prints, cairns, a path through the brush, anything that would indicate a faint trail. The alternative route would add 2 1/2 miles to the outing, and now that it was past 6p I decided to head back. Continuing would mean returning to San Diego sometime after 10p which might cause more worry for the family than was reasonable to allow. Back I went to the car - Oakzanita would have to wait for another day, when I was in a better position to navigate the route and battle the poison oak.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Sheephead Mountain - Cuyapaipe Mountain - Monument Peak - Garnet Peak - Garnet Mountain - Middle Peak - Cuyamaca Peak - Stonewall Peak
This page last updated: Tue Aug 23 12:14:54 2011
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