Distance: 4.4 miles round trip on dirt roads
Summit Elevation: 1643' (Welk West), 1754' (Merriam)
Elevation Gain: 1350'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.08
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Lawrence Welk Ct
Difficulty: Moderate (class 5 summit)
The Merriam Mountains lie just west of I-15 in Escondido. At one time, it was slated for a large housing development, but those plans have either fallen through or been postponed. For now, most of it is rugged and boulder filled, laced with confusing dirt roads. To get there, break out your favorite mapping program to find Lawrence Welk Ct in Escondido. At the end of the road is a turnaround. Park there and head past the gate up the dirt road. I recommend using a GPS or satellite map to navigate.
My first goal was Welk West. Many of the large boulders just off the trail were marred with graffiti. Before reaching Welk West, I spotted a pile of spent shotgun and 223 Remington rifle shells and an abandoned car. All part of the charm. The wide roads lead right to the top, no bushwhacking required. The summit area was surrounded with striking monoliths and spires. The summit boulder itself is about 25' high, the lowest access point is a near vertical 15' class 5 face. There is a double rope fixed to a climbing anchor on that side. I tested the rope with my body weight and it seemed solid, though it is probably a few years old. I could not find any climbing techniques to use, so I pulled myself up batman-style, hand over hand. Above the lip is a broad summit that slopes up another 10' to a rounded top. The anchor looked OK, but there was a lot of clutter from many old ropes either cut or decayed. There were great 360 views of the Merriam Mountains and nearby I-15. I sat down and enjoyed it for awhile before descending via arm rappel.
I referred to my GPS to find the best combination of twists and turns to get to the Merriam Mountains High Point. Along the way, I passed a makeshift shooting gallery of cans and bottles. It felt like the wild west, but the only the people I saw were a couple of dirt bike riders flying up and down the rough, rutted roads. The summit boulder of the High Point is about 15' and can be climbed using an adjacent class 3 boulder. The High Point has the best views of the entire range and a good look at the San Marcos Mountains, another small range across a valley. I carefully made the move to get the first foothold on the adjacent boulder on the way down, then followed a different road back. It was a fun couple of hours in north San Diego County.