Oakzanita Peak HPS / SDC

Fri, Dec 22, 2006

With: Ryan Burd

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Another holiday season found me and the family in San Diego to visit my in-laws. My 10yr-old son Ryan was eager to go hiking with me, and rather than choose something long and brutal that he (and I, by association) would regret, I looked for something easy - about five miles and a thousand feet of gain would be right. Oakzanita fit the bill nicely. An HPS peak that I had somehow failed on in my first attempt (possibly the first ever to fail on this peak), I was curious to find out how I could have blown it. True, I didn't get to the trailhead until after dark, having spent all the daylight available climbing eight or nine peaks beforehand, but it was supposed to be an easy peak.

When I woke up around 7a in San Diego, I looked outside to see all the ground wet from rain. The weather did not look like it was cooperating. I went back to bed for another hour. When I finally got up and we had breakfasted, it was 9a and the weather looked gloomy. Our plan was disintegrating before it began. I decided we might as well drive out to the peak to see if the weather was better further inland. Afterall, it was desert in the eastern half of the county and that's supposed to mean less rain, right? As we sped along Interstate 8 past El Cajon, the skies started to unload their liquid content, at first just a drizzle, but soon with surprising fury. It didn't seem to get any better the further we drove. On and off the rain came down during the whole drive. I'd never seen so much crummy weather in San Diego before. When we got to Pine Valley and the turnoff to SR79 it was no better, so I continued east. It would be no fun to hike in the rain, so I thought maybe further east we could see how it looked for Blue Angels Peak, the Imperial County highpoint. That peak would be past the Pacific Crest, and hopefully drier.

It wasn't. It was drizzly and very cold when we pulled off the highway at the trailhead. Miserably windy, to boot. We got out of the car for all of about 20 seconds before jumping back in. Our outing was a dud. On the drive back towards San Diego I noticed the weather improving, holes in the cloud layer revealing blue sky above. Then there were larger patches and I could see that the cloud layer was moving south and blue sky taking its place to the north. Maybe we had a chance still. I decided to give Oakzanita another chance and pulled off at Pine Valley. Ryan had been resigned to our returning to San Diego and was no longer eager for a hike. He moped. I offered to let him choose the place for lunch afterwards if he went on the hike. This immediately brightened him up.

When we got to the trailhead at 11a the summit of Oakzanita was still buried in the clouds, but things were improving. I predicted sunny skies before we got to the summit, and as luck would have it - I was right. Within the first half mile of the trailhead we came to the trail junction with the Lower Descanso Trail, where I had previously had trouble finding the route. Rereading the HPS directions, it was immediately clear what I had done wrong. The instructions say to go past this trail junction, which I had previously interpretted to mean take it for a short distance. Thus I had wallowed around looking for a non-existent trail across the creek. This time, we went past the junction, found the next one for the Upper Descanso Trail, and took that one. From there, all was easy. The HPS directions mention another unsigned junction near the creek, but there's only one maintained trail and it simply makes its way to the summit without confusion.

We had some muddy places on the trail that we danced around, but most of it was in pretty good condition considering the very recent rain. There were very tiny drifts of snow in the shadier places along the trail, which for the most part follows along the northside of the peak. We hoped we might have enough higher up near the summit for a snowball, but that wasn't to be - there was no snow at all in the upper 300ft of the summit. A last trail junction was encounted at a saddle east of the summit, where the two HPS routes converge to the summit.

It was breezy and cold atop, so after tagging the highpoint we found a sunny nook out of the wind just below the summit. There was a summit register, but the plastic container was well on its way to disintegration and was no longer doing a good job of keeping the register from the elements. Ryan signed our names and added a holiday snowman for good measure. I pulled out some typical trail snacks. Ryan's eyes lit up with the Chocolate Brownie Clif Bar, but after a taste, he made a face and said, "This doesn't taste right." Being young and naive he couldn't have known better, so I informed him Clif Bars always taste like crap. Lesson learned, though he still finished the bar. I found another bar deep in the recesses of my pack, a cookies 'n cream flavored one of another brand. Ryan was happy to find it tasted much better.

On our way back down the trail we came across two guys making their way to the top. We were surprised to see anyone else since the weather had been so crummy earlier in the day. The whole outing was done in 3 1/2 hours, a good workout for Ryan without being painful. Who would have thought that hiking could be fun?


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