1 Order of Woodson, Hold the Chip
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
Date: January 1, 2021
Distance: 11.11 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 7h 29m
Total Moving Time: 4h 53m
Summit Elevation: 2,894 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,372 feet
Trailhead: Blue Sky Ecological Reserve
Previous Ascents: January 5, 2020 (SR 67 Trailhead)
It's hard for some to believe that in the 20+ years that I've lived in Ramona (just miles from Woodson), that today was only the second time I've ascended this popular peak. Actually, it's the popularity and accompanying crowds that have made me pass on it over the years. Trailhead parking and the related traffic has long been a serious safety issue along that section of the SR 67 corridor and I prefer solitude on my hikes.
When I shared my plans of doing Woodson on January 1st, everyone told me I was crazy, a holiday AND nice weather, TOO many people would be swarming to Woodson to get their picture on 'Potato Chip Rock' (which, by the way, is NOT at the summit!) Since I had completed this hike last year from the SR 67 side, today I planned to take the longer and more scenic route beginning in the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve (BSER) in Poway. I'd hoped that the longer route would deter the majority of the 'Chip' seekers and I could enjoy a quiet trail to the summit. It didn't quite work out that way, but I suppose it could have been worse. As I was leaving Ramona to head down the hill, I drove past the parking for Woodson...yeah, this is actually pretty normal.
The route from the Ramona side, just off SR 67, is simple: follow the road to the top, 1.9 miles to the summit (a couple of tenths of a mile further to Potato Chip rock), it's short, steep, and paved all the way up. The trail from the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve in Poway is 5.4 miles to the summit (there is also an option to begin at Lake Poway which is about 3.8 miles to the summit.)
Since it was a holiday and I had no other plans, I took my time getting ready and heading out, I hit the trail around 9:30 am. This worked out well as I missed all the 'early risers' and those hoping to 'beat the crowds'. I really enjoyed the entire trail and I am convinced that unless I was pressed for time, I'd always opt for this route. There are really three distinct sections to this hike: BSER, Poway Lake, and the Woodson Trail.
Blue Sky Ecological Reserve Section (~1.3 miles)
The first mile takes you along a wide graded dirt road (Green Valley Truck Trail) before turning right to head towards Lake Poway.
The trail has many interpretive signs along the way and there is an option to leave the main road and follow the Creekside Trail for a little over a quarter-mile before popping back out on the main road.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, that narrow trail is one-way (eastbound only) so if you want to follow it, be sure to obey the signage and do it as you head out at the beginning of the trip. I encountered many families and local residents walking their dogs along this first mile.
At about 1.3 miles you'll encounter a gate and signs indicating you're leaving the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and entering the City of Poway.
Lake Poway Section (~1.2 miles)
As you follow the trail you'll see the Lake Poway Dam in front of you, the trail splits, stay left and begin to climb up above the lake (the right fork will take you to the west side of the lake). Follow the Lake Poway Trail around the east side of the lake for just under a mile.
Approaching the south end of the lake, the trail pitches up steeply and offers a great vantage point before turning left onto the Woodson Trail.
My timing for this section of trail, both coming and going, couldn't have been better, the views were fantastic and as you can see from this picture, the sky was as blue as the lake!
Mt Woodson Trail (~2.9 miles)
This is where the climbing begins. Up to this point, you will have picked up about 400 feet of elevation gain, you still have 1,894 feet to go to the summit!
This is really a fun trail, it's well-traveled so super easy to follow, and it has lots of places where rocks have been set as stairs which makes the climbing a little more tolerable.
The hillside is dotted with tons of boulders offering lots of unique views as you wind your way upwards. As you near the summit you'll encounter a sign announcing the end of the City Maintained Trail, from there it's about 0.3-miles further to Potato Chip Rock and 0.6-miles to the summit.
I was surprised that I didn't run into more people coming down from the summit, I did overtake several small groups on my way up, but most of those were on the BSER and Poway Lake Trails which were wide enough to easily allow 6-foot passing distance. I only had a couple of trail runners pass me on the way up the Woodson Trail. I reached the summit right around noon.
To Chip or Not to Chip, That is the Question
Thankfully I was not interested in taking a photo on the rock. As I came up the trail from the west, I encountered the gaggle of people waiting for their turn, and it was simply nuts.
There was a guy flying a drone flying above the crowd and lots of folks in close quarters without masks. As I moved past, there was a line extending back towards the summit of the people that came up the road from the Ramona side.
My goal for the day was two-fold: Bag my first peak in the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge and recover as many of the Mt. Woodson Survey Markers as I could. When I completed this peak last year, I didn't know anything at all about Survey Marks, my "Social Proof" for completing the hike was a selfie with Potato Chip Rock in the background that I timed perfectly, capturing the rock empty, I hit it just right between the one group leaving the rock and another climbing out to get their pictures.
Generally speaking, Survey Marks (if any) will be located at the highest point on a peak (but not all peaks have them). The primary mark for a peak is usually a Triangulation Station Disc, or simply the 'Station'. Other marks are intentionally placed at varying distances from the Station and can be of one or more different types.
The high point on Woodson Mountain is a 15-foot boulder with a concrete cistern on the top of it, the boulder sits next to the Lookout Tower.
I had read a previous trip report that said there was a ladder behind the boulder which made it possible to get up there and locate the marks mounted in the rock, YAY!
When I got there, the ladder had been removed, oh well. I shucked my backpack off and walked around the boulder looking for the easiest way to get to the top of the rock.
Settling on my best route, and calling upon my inner monkey (with a little help from George 🙃), I was able to pull myself up enough to get a reliable foothold and work my way to the top. I recovered the Station disc and two reference marks, and hung out for a few minutes taking in the amazing views of Poway and Ramona before snapping a few pictures and scrambling back down.
Check out my companion post, Mt. Woodson Station for pictures and details of ALL the survey marks that I recovered for the Mt. Woodson Station.
On my way down, I made a quick pass by the Lookout Tower on the off chance I would find another survey mark or something of interest. I ended up running into Philip and Sierra, two fellow Six-Pack challengers who were getting ready to take their summit selfie, it's always great when I get the chance to meet other challengers in person! 🙂
Woodson was their third peak for the day on the San Diego Six! They had completed Cuyamaca and Volcan earlier in the day, SIMPLY. AMAZING. half their challenge was done in a day! We chatted for quite a while and I learned that Philip is also taking on the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge, that's the same one I completed last October, I'm sure he'll crush it! About 3:00 pm I headed back down the trail, mindful that I needed to be back to the parking lot before sunset to avoid being locked in. It was a great day, I avoided the craziness surrounding Potato Chip rock, bagged my first peak on the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, found a bunch of survey marks, and met some new friends. Not a bad way to kick off the New Year!