Corte Madera Mountain P500 SDC
Los Pinos Mountain P750 SDC

Sun, Dec 26, 2010
Corte Madera Mountain
Los Pinos Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Having just returned with the family from a 7-day Mexican Cruise, I had a few days in the San Diego area before heading home to San Jose. The short hiking excursions in Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan had not been enough to cure my restlessness, and so I did not waste time in getting out. In fact I had just helped unload the luggage back at my mother-in-laws when I announced I was heading out for a hike. Neither of my kids felt like joining me, so I was on my own.

I had a couple of SDC peaks in mind, Corte Madera and Los Pinos Mtn, located in the south-central part of the county within a few miles of each other. The weather was decidedly poor for San Diego, overcast with a slight chance of rain. The rain would hold off, but the clouds were low and hung about the summits during the outing - not much for views today.

It took about an hour to drive out to Buckman Springs Rd off Interstate 8 and then to the TH at the start of the Espinosa Trail as described in Schad's book. It was already afternoon, nearly 12:40p before I got started, but it did not promise to be a difficult day and I figured there would be plenty of daylight.

It was easy enough to find the Espinosa Trail at the sharp bend in the road, just past a locked gate. The first half mile appears to be part of an easement along a dirt road that accesses several private properties. They've nicely put a makeshift sign at the key junction to keep you on the trail and off the private property. Once off the road, the trail is quite nice, meandering up a grassy, oak-studded canyon and then up to a saddle between Los Pinos and Corte Madera in about a mile.

One passes through a gate to reach the saddle. On the west side, OHVs are allowed, part of the Corral Canyon off-roading area. I turned right and headed up to a second saddle, this one east of Corte Madera. Though unsigned, it was not difficult to figure out which of several options was the trail to Corte Madera. The trail was in very good shape and easy to follow. It goes up towards Pt. 4,588ft, contouring around the north side, past some impressive boulders found here, then further west towards Corte Madera.

Corte Madera has a large summit 'plateau', really more of a rolling, brushy slope with two or three possible highpoints. The topo map showed the southernmost point to be highest, so it was in that direction I went via a fork of the trail than branched off in that direction. The southern side is probably the most interesting, as the sheer cliff faces of interest to rock climbers are found in that area. Unfortunately the summit and I were both surrounded by slowly swirling clouds that did not give a respite in which to gain any sort of view. The highest point I found here was a 25-foot high summit block set amongst the chaparral. The only possible route I could see up it involved a lower block on the east side, but that held no hope for me without the aid of rope and belay. Just getting onto the subsidiary block was going to take some class 5 scrambling, but even then I wouldn't have been able to scale the uppermost point. Perhaps another time...

I went back north along the use trail to see about the other points. What I call the middle point was a collection of rocks with a tree on its north side. This was an easy class 3 scramble. The view looking north was better than the other direction, and it seemed that the far northern point was lower than where I stood. Looking south, the clouds blocked the background and there was insufficient evidence through other cues as to which point might be higher. Overall, it was a very unsatisfying summit effort.

I retraced my route back from the summit of Corte Madera to the main saddle with Los Pinos Mtn. During the descent I had a fairly clear view to Los Pinos, but the summit was stubbornly buried in the cloud layer, looking even less inviting than Corte Madera. When I reached the saddle I imagined that the cloud layer had lifted some, giving me some hope, but this may have only been a wishful illusion. I hiked up the steep firebreak going up the north ridge, connecting with the dirt Los Pinos Road just below Pt. 4,474ft. The OHV road was muddy and slick with the recent rains. Just north of the summit the road connects with a paved road coming from Four Corners, east of the mountain. This was somewhat of a surprise. The topo map shows only a dirt road where this pavement is located and I was beginning to realize I was climbing a drive-up. I was enveloped in fog by this time with the air considerably moister and colder and I paused to put on my fleece. A locked gate just below the summit marks the furthest point one can drive. About a quarter mile is left for the hike up to the summit.

There is a lookout tower at the summit surrounded by an uninviting chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed-wire. Normally I would have breached the fence anyway in order to get a better view from the lookout (or the top of the stairs where the hatchway is locked), but that seemed to be a lot of work for no gain today. I walked around the enclosure to look for the highest point and possibly a register, but came up empty. Two strikes on the day as far as summits go.

Though it hadn't been part of the plan, I decided to take the paved road down to Four Corners to make a loop of it. Because of the fog I wasn't really sure this was the same road shown as dirt on my topo map, but it seemed logical. Once I got below the cloud layer I got a reassuring view of the landscape looking east as the road spirals down from the summit. Four Corners is the staging point for the Corral Canyon OHV area, but it was not very busy on a gloomy weekday. There was one truck parked in the large gravel lot when I arrived at 3:45p and I could hear the sound of a motorcycle or two off in the distance to the south. Four Corners is located at the end of Corral Canyon Rd and with a bit of jogging I was back down the road to my car by 4p. Overall it was a non-plus day, probably the least enjoyable in the last several months. But that's ok - it helps me appreciate the better days all the more.

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