Merriam Mountains HP Fail P500 CS
San Marcos Mountains HP P500
Owens Peak P300

Feb 19, 2013
Merriam Mountains HP
San Marcos Mountains HP
Owens Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4
Merriam Mountains HP later attempted Dec 23, 2015

I was in San Diego for a short week with the family to visit the in-laws. I had originally planned to do a long hike with Tom Becht to Lorenzens (or Dawns) Peak in the Santa Rosas, but a cold storm system was due through the area at the same time I was going to be in the area. We decided that 6-12 inches of fresh snow with 6,000ft+ of gain was not such a great idea, and scrapped the plan for the time being. I still managed to have an enjoyable three days with a mix of rain, sunshine and snow. The peaks were almost all short, less than two miles one-way. Below is a synopsis of the day's peaks and their attributes, good or bad.

Tuesday was drizzly most of the day, with low-hanging clouds, poor views and muddy trails. Great fun. I stayed close to home in case the rain started in earnest and cut my outing short ("great fun" is quickly hindered by significant precipitation). I didn't get started until after noon, but the weather held off until I was done around sunset. The evening commuter traffic on SR78 kinda sucked, making me remember one of the reasons I don't have a job anymore.

Merriam Mountains HP

The Merriam Mountains and San Marcos Mountains are two small ranges tucked between Interstate 15, SR78 and SR76. North Twin Oaks Valley Road runs between the two ranges, providing convenient access to the highpoints of both ranges without much driving. I parked at a small turnout just north of the junction with unsigned Camino Mayor, a dirt road heading steeply up the west side of the Merriam Mountains near the highpoint. The road is signed as Private Property, but it appears to be widely ignored, as evidenced by the abundant trash, graffiti and occasional car bodies upturned, stripped and abandoned. The road itself has not been maintained in years but still sees considerable traffic. Only the most serious of 4WD vehicles will have any chance of making it up the badly rutted road, particularly in muddy conditions as I found today. There were two trucks driving up on my way down, one having significantly more trouble than the other. The young occupants matched the expected male teenage / early 20s image that I had for this apparently popular OHV party locale. I waved to the first truck as it drove by and spoke briefly with those of the second who were struggling to get up the hill. They'd done it many times before, so presumably knew what they were doing. Of course that might be what the owners of those overturned and abandoned trucks were thinking at the time, too.

It took about 30 minutes to cover the 750ft of gain and one mile to the highpoint. There are two summit rocks found just off the road. One is a straightforward class 3 affair, about 18ft in height. I climbed this one but was disappointed to find the other block a few feet higher. It is a smooth-sided obelisk with no cracks and no apparent holds. Climbing it would be for the very skilled or the very determined. A ladder would work nicely. So might a rope thrown over the top and a couple of ascenders or loops. It might possibly rank as the most technically difficult summit block of any range highpoint, at least in California. I might be tempted to come back with a rope to give it another try. Unfortunately the drizzle had convinced me to leave my camera in the car so I got no pictures of the summit blocks or the non-existent views to be had from the summit.

San Marcos Mountains HP

Almost directly across from the Merriam Mountains HP is the highpoint for the San Marcos Mountains. The route I hiked was barely 400ft over 3/4 mile, but the driving proved a bit inventive, getting me to a saddle along the crest of the range on portions of road that are probably private. The pavement leads north to a private home perched 100ft higher. From the saddle, an old dirt road leads around the west side of the home and up to a lower point a quarter of a mile south of the highpoint. From there, a clipped use trail leads to the highpoint further north. An elaborate flagpole is errected here, complete with solar-powered lamp for nighttime viewing. A note at the base explains the flag, almost pleading to be left alone as a non-political statement. An ammo box holds a register. Both have been there less than two months - it will be interesting to see how long they last in this tough environment. A badly battered benchmark suggests the local teens are hard on their landmark summits.

The views were only slightly better than on the previous summit. The highpoint had been obscured by clouds when I first viewed it from the lower point to the south, but these had cleared somewhat upon my return. I tried to get a good view of the Merriam Mtns highpoint during the return, to limited success.

Owens Peak

This is a small, isolated summit just north of San Marcos and SR78, featuring nearly 500ft of prominence. There is a network of trails running around this island of open space with suburbia encroaching on all sides. I could find no signs anywhere indicating whether this is private or public lands. My best guess is that it is undeveloped open space waiting for someone to find a reason and a way to spend money and make a civic project out of it. The route I picked was neither the shortest, easiest, or best, but it worked. I was trying to access a dirt road from the south along West Borden Rd, but they have both sides of the road heavily signed for No Parking and I haven't yet recovered from my last parking ticket less than a month ago. I ended up parking off Via Barquero, next to a small neighborhood park, but rather than hike down W Borden Rd to the intended dirt road, I started up a paved road immediately behind the park. This led to a locked gate, with an equestrian trail starting to the left. I went right, on a use trail around the gate and eventually to a fence surrounding a water tank. A use trail led right and uphill, soon intersecting the wider dirt road I had planned to use.

The brushy summit took all of 25 minutes to reach. The brush wasn't high enough to obstruct the views, though those were still lacking on this overcast day. Though not as trashy as the Merriam highpoint, this summit had a partial truck body off in the brush to one side of the road. The OHV drivers don't seem to be particularly skilled in these parts, or perhaps they're just pushing the envelope more than in most places.

Cerro de las Posas

I hadn't researched this one ahead of time, finding it as a place name on my GPS when I had time for another short peak. It is located across SR78 and south of San Marcos, a medium-sized radio tower crowning its summit. I drove around the streets north of the summit until I found an access road off La Plaza Drive that leads through some avocado groves. I found lots of such trees in the northern part of San Diego County - this appears to be a prime avocado growing region. They even have a section of I-15 labeled the Avocado Highway. One can buy them in bulk at many locations, 25 for $5. A quarter mile in, a gate blocks further access by vehicle, but there is a convenient turnout at a bend in the road where I parked out of the way. A short hike up the road leads to a fenced-in lighted cross. A sign here indicates the San Marcos Lake Trail, part of a network of trails that include these small hills between Lake San Marcos to the north and the community of San Elijo Hills to the south. I followed the Double Peak Ridge Trail up to the fenced-in tower, breached the perimeter and stood upon the highest rock found inside. There's a good view of the north county area and the Pacific Ocean from the top. Later I found that the highpoint is really further southwest about half a mile, though the tower location matched the point indicated in my GPS. (I'm told [see comment below] this is locally known as San Marcos Peak) I don't mind coming back as it looks like a pleasant hike between the tower and Double Peak another mile east of Cerro de las Posas.


Mark comments on 02/25/13:
Bob, Peak 1302 is known as Owens Peak, and Peak 1220 on the west end of Cerro de las Pas has been called San Marcos Peak, at least on
Dan Saxton comments on 03/22/13:
Just climbed Merriam and San Marcos today, thanks to your report! I concur about the Merriam summit block - it'd be a true bouldering testpiece.

The flag is still up on top of San Marcos. But it is a replacement, for someone apparently took the first flag away to use as a "sleeping bag" (?) Saw your entry, and those of several others too - the peak is frequently climbed, and people are generally happy to see the flag.

I appreciate your trip reports, they have much valuable info!
Anonymous comments on 11/12/16:
Can you give directions on how to get there?
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