Friday, November 29, 2013

Sunny Jim's Sea Cave at La Jolla

Hiked: 11/29/2013
Distance: 0 miles round trip
Summit Elevation: 0'
Elevation Gain: 150' (on return)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.12
Round trip time: 10 minutes
Recommended water: 0 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Coast Blvd
Difficulty: Easy

A tourist destination, Sunny Jim's Cave in La Jolla is an easy walk down a tunnel from the "Cave Store". We were spending Thanksgiving in La Jolla and I convinced my family to make the short side trip with me. The cave opening makes an interesting head shaped silhouette. According to Wikipedia,
...the cave was given the name "Sunny Jim" by Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz. Mr. Baum gave the cave this unique name due to the shape of the cave's opening. Looking outward from the inside of the cave opening resembles a cartoon mascot for British Force Wheat Cereal in the 1920's.

Waves crashing into the cliffs in La Jolla

Sea lions in La Jolla cove

Descending the tunnel to the sea cave

Looking out from Sunny Jim's Cave

Clam's Cave

Sunday, November 24, 2013

El Cajon Mountain and Silverdome

Hiked: 11/24/2013
Distance: 11.8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3675' (El Cajon), 2388' (Silverdome)
Prominence: 1955' (El Cajon), 488' (Silverdome)
Elevation Gain: 4073' (combined, 588' for Silverdome)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.25
Round trip time: 5 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 104 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free in parking lot or on Wildcat Canyon Road
Difficulty: Strenuous

El Cajon Mountain is sometimes called the most difficult hike in San Diego County. I don't think that's true, since some of the desert peaks are beasts. Regardless, El Cajon is formidable with roller coaster hills and significant gain on the return with no water anywhere. I planned to do this in late August, but a ranger stopped me at the trailhead. Turns out the entire trail is closed during the month of August due to the heat, or so I was told. This was my second attempt. My main goal was El Cajon, but I was also interested in exploring Silverdome, a mysterious, granitic dome, rumored to be the largest granite monolith in San Diego County. I could find very little useful beta on Silverdome and no trip reports. Silverdome, just off the trail, would be a bonus if I had the time and energy left on return. In addition to the regular trail to El Cajon, there is a class 3 route and several class 5 routes.

San Diego County operates the El Capitan Open Space Preserve, and they want you start this hike early. The parking lot opens at 7 AM and closes at 4:30 PM. They want you out by 4:30 PM and have signs on the trail reminding you of that. In fact, based on the signs, it seems they would rather you not be on the trail at all. The hike starts with a moderate gain up a road until the trail starts. This hike has a unique elevation profile. It has almost no level areas. You are always going up or down. Back to the crazy signs. Every mile or so, there is an elevation profile with a "you are here" marker so you can see your progress. However, I got the impression the signs were really saying, "You can't do this, loser, go back home and eat twinkies on your couch". That was reinforced with a special stop sign and warning that if the time was already 12:30 PM, you should stop and go back. I've never seen signs like this on any trail. Maybe they've had to do a lot of rescues. Who knows? It was bizarre.

El Capitan Open Space Preserve

Informative or discouraging? I saw one of these about every mile or so.

First view of Silverdome

Stop sign on the trail warning hikers to turn back if they started late

Shortly before the summit trail junction, there is a burned out vehicle on the side of the trail. As you approach the El Cajon summit, the trail comes to a 4-way junction. To the right is a short climb to peaklet 3370', straight ahead goes to the south cliffs overlooking El Capitan Reservoir, and left is the use trail to the summit. There are well marked signs for the summit trail. The final ascent requires some light scrambling and the official benchmark is on an easy to climb 10' boulder. I ate some snacks on the summit boulder and rested a bit. I found a summit register between two rocks near the summit boulder. It was filled with small slips of paper, one of which I signed, some trail snacks, and a thoughtful tube of sunscreen. Other hikers made it to top while I was on the boulder, but they chose not come up. Perhaps it was my gentle aroma of Saturday night party, sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray that kept them away. I took the requisite photos and started down.

The class 3 south arete of El Cajon, the summit is off screen more than a mile to the left

Burned out Jeep?

Final approach to El Cajon

View from El Cajon summit

El Cajon benchmark

Intrepid explorer ponders the next challenge from El Cajon summit

Panorama from El Cajon summit

On the way up and back, I searched for a way up Silverdome as I passed it. FYI, Google Earth has the wrong peak marked as Silverdome, confirmed by Peakbagger, Trimble, and my GPS. Google Earth also has Potato Mountain wrong in the San Gabriels, but I'm not sure who to inform. Silverdome is just about 3/10s of a mile off trail, but has no use trail that I could find. Just before the 2 mile marker, I took a few minutes to estimate my chances, then forged ahead at the least dense section of brush. The moss and lichens covering sections of granite were very soft and I sank in a couple of inches whenever I stepped on it. I quickly got to the first clear slab of granite and climbed 100' vertical or so before hitting more brush. It was a class 2/3 bushwhack from there, but all class 3 sections could be easily bypassed. In 30 minutes, I was on top where I found a cairn, but no benchmark or register. There were some interesting boulders on top and steeper drops on the other side. I made no attempt to follow the same route down that I used coming up. I followed animal trails where possible, then rocks or slabs if possible, otherwise bushwhack city. I hit the trail in a different spot from where I started for about a one hour side trip.

Start of the Silverdome cross country adventure

Cool boulder near Silverdome summit

Cairn on Silverdome summit

View down the steep side of Silverdome to the trail

Last look back at Silverdome

Animated GPS track

See Also:
El Cajon South Arete

Friday, November 22, 2013

Niguel Hill and Aliso Peak

Hiked: 11/22/2013 (x7)
Distance: 1.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 936' (Niguel Hill), 623' (Aliso Peak)
Prominence: 626' (Niguel Hill), 83' (Aliso Peak)
Elevation Gain: 530'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.42
Round trip time: 40 minutes
Recommended water: 8 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Seaview Park
Difficulty: Easy

I had much bigger plans for the day, but the weather vetoed those plans. The prior day brought in wide ranging storms that dumped rain in pretty much every direction and driving distance. Hiking for hours in the rain is not my preference, so I delayed any kind of long distance trip. Instead, I settled on a very short, very close, family friendly stroll to Aliso Peak overlooking the ocean. I didn't bother taking a backpack. I drank half a bottle of water in the car and took only my phone and GPS.

Parking is free at Seaview Park in Laguna Niguel on the right side of Talavera Drive. The dirt trail starts just before the gated Laguna Sur subdivision on the right. You start on Niguel Hill, then drop down to the saddle between Niguel Hill and Aliso Peak. In a few minutes, you ascend up to Aliso Peak where there is a bench if you have broken a sweat or just want to gaze at the ocean. It is not much of a work out, but at least there is a little gain on the return trip to wake up your blood. The 360 degree views on Aliso Peak are very nice, or would have been on a day with better weather. Because of the rain, it was muddy most of way. I saw three other people out walking their dogs, but none seemed interested in climbing to the peak.

Descending from Niguel Hill to Aliso Peak

Aliso Peak benchmark 1975

Aliso Peak benchmark 1977

Looking back into Aliso Canyon

Aliso Creek Beach and the ocean from Aliso Peak

Looking up at Niguel Hill on the return

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wild Horse Peak

Hiked: 11/15/2013
Distance: 10.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3279'
Elevation Gain: 2121'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.69
Round trip time: 5 hours
Recommended water: 104 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Wild Horse Peak is in the Agua Tibia Wilderness Area about 10 miles east of Temecula, CA. Researching this hike, I discovered how infrequently it is visited. There were only three entries on over the last 11 years, zero on, and you won't find any casual hikers bragging about it on Yelp. It is on the Lower Peaks list and is one of the few that has no summit use trail or other direct approach. The Wild Horse Trail winds around the peak, leaving the climber to find a way through about a half mile of brush to the top. This poses a route finding challenge and some extra hazards. In other words, fun!

In addition to climbing this peak, I wanted to scout the area for a much longer future hike to Agua Tibia and Eagle Crag. For now, I was focused on getting up to Wild Horse. I arrived at Dripping Springs Campground at 6:20 AM, just after sunrise. Parking is near the road and the trailhead is at the end of the campground. It was 48F, low clouds, and a 20% chance of rain. Thankfully, it didn't rain on me. I started off wearing Glider Gloves, special gloves that pass the electrical current from your hands to a smart phone. They worked great and I was able to operate my phone without removing them. Recommended! Shortly after starting up the Dripping Springs Trail, the Wild Horse Trail forks to the left, following the Arroyo Seco Creek. The creek was completely dry. The trail climbs gently as it follows the creek and canyon.

Wild Horse (art) on highway 79

Agua Tibia Wilderness

Wild Horse Trail junction

Heading up the trail

Fall color

When I got close to five miles in, I started looking for cairns to see where other people had left the trail and started bushwhacking. I considered following a gully up, which was listed as an alternate route in the Lower Peaks guide, but the first cairn I found looked good enough. I changed gloves to my leather bushwhacking gloves (belay gloves) and started picking my way through the brush. The ridge was loose and steep, making the ascent even slower. There were no other cairns on the way and no hints of a use trail. You just dodge and shove your way through the brush. It thinned out toward the top of the first ridge, but I still had another quarter mile or so to go and made a bad mistake by dropping down into a gully. The brush got over my head and so thick that I often uprooted and dragged some small bushes with me through the bigger ones. I was very glad to have a long shirt and long pants as well as the gloves. I eventually got to another ridge where the going was easier. I highly suggest staying on the ridge. There is plenty of intimate contact with the chaparral no matter how you ascend.

Switching from phone friendly Glider Gloves to bushwhacking leather gloves

Heading up the ridge straight into the brush

Boulders on the ridge

Approaching Wild Horse Peak, lots of bushwhacking to go

At the summit, I found a register but no benchmark. The register went back to 1999, but there were so few entries that I counted how many parties had made it each year. The average is less than three parties a year, with some years seeing only one. A lonely peak to be sure.

Year Visiting Parties
2013 4
2012 5
2011 3
2010 1
2009 4
2008 5
2007 8
2006 2
2005 1
2004 3
2003 2
2002 1
2001 2
2000 1
1999 2

After signing the register and taking a few photos, I finished my snacks and rested a little before heading back down into the jungle. It had warmed up to 65F and was quite pleasant in the sun. I stuck to the ridge on the way down and found the trail just slightly off from where I had started up. The return was uneventful. I didn't see another human all day. Still, it was a fun day and a memorable peak.

Wild Horse Peak summit register

Vail Lake

Hazy panorama looking north

Horses jumping over highway 79 on the way back

Not sure if Wild Horse Peak will come out of my clothes

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bernardo Mountain

Hiked: 11/10/2013
Distance: 7.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1152'
Prominence: 440'
Elevation Gain: 900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.72
Round trip time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Sunset Drive parking lot
Difficulty: Easy

I went back to Escondido to hike Bernardo Mountain next to Lake Hodges. Bernardo is the smallest mountain on the San Diego Hundred Peaks list, ranked by elevation at number 100 out of 100. It is close to Mt. Israel and I would have preferred to hike it in the same trip as Mt. Israel to minimize driving, but time is always the limiting factor. There are no restrooms at the trailhead, but there is a portable toilet about a mile down the trail near the Lake.

There are multiple trails that wind around the north and south sides of Bernardo. The approach from Sunset Drive parallels I-15 south, then cuts under it and parallels the other side going north until the trail breaks away and follows the Lake Hodges shoreline for a bit. It crosses Felicita Creek, then traces the base of the mountain completely around to the north side before ascending. It appears the trail may never head up, but eventually it does with some long switchbacks at a gentle grade.

Passing under I-15

Interesting cement suspension footbridge across the Lake (lots of light pollution in the photo)

Approaching Bernardo Mountain

Summit trail sign

There were many mountain bikers and hikers out on a sunny Sunday with temps hitting the high 80s. The north side of the mountain affords some shade and the bikers thinned out on the summit trail. I jogged the down hills and several flat areas. It wasn't much of a challenge, but the jogging got my heart rate up and the views got progressively better. For such a small mountain, there were impressive 360 views of the Lake and surrounding area. No register or benchmarks found.

Lake Hodges from Bernardo summit

Bernardo Mountain summit looking south