Distance: 4.3 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5556'
Elevation Gain: 1048'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.83
Round trip time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Manza Benchmark is another SDC peak that starts on Sunrise Highway. The Sunset Trailhead is only a few miles from Wooded Hill. There was ample parking on the side of the road and a few other cars were parked there, though I didn't see anyone during the trip. While it is a short hike, Manza had a reputation for giving people route finding fits, so I gave it plenty of respect. When I started, the temp was 37F with a light mist falling. Clouds hid everything more than a couple hundred feet away so it became a GPS navigation exercise. I didn't want to risk my camera in the mist, so I took most photos with my allegedly water resistant phone. The phone survived the water just fine.
The sunset trail goes left at the first split, which comes quickly. I went right and had to make a course correction. Enticing boulder piles appeared not far from the trail but I stayed focused on Manza. Multiple vague use trails branched off in several directions. I knew there was supposed to be a short cross country section down a drainage to find the clipped use trail up to Manza. I also knew that finding that trail was paramount. The trail started dropping and I looked for signs of a path into the drainage. I found what looked good enough and left the trail. When I thought I was close to the bottom of the drainage, I started poking around in the brush, not finding the cut use trail. I continued further down the drainage over a large fallen tree and the path appeared under my feet.
The use trail followed the drainage a little more before turning uphill near a barbed wire fence. A cool rock feature marked the first false summit. More use trails branched away from the main trail. I could see how navigation might be a problem, but the GPS kept me on the right path. The bushwhacking was light, but even light bushwhacking through the wet brush drenched me. Water ran down my pants into my socks. So much for the water proof boots. There was a large boulder at a second false summit and I stopped to climb it. I had a lot of trouble with a simple class 2 boulder simply because there was no traction. Everything was slippery and my boots would not hold imperfections on the rock. I finally stepped on a bush to reach a crack with both hands and pulled myself up. Of course, the clouds meant there was nothing to see. A waste of time. I got back on the trail and scrambled over a few more boulders on the way to the summit. The true summit was an easy walk up. Instead of a USGS mark, there was an Army Corps of Engineers benchmark. I signed the register and added a second plastic bag for protection. On the way back, I took a better angle to the trail from the drainage. The scenery was amazingly lush and green for San Diego county.