Half a Six-Pack in a Day
Updated: Jan 23
Six-Pack of Peaks That is...😂
After my aborted attempt to complete all six hikes in the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks 2022 Challenge last weekend, today I teamed up with fellow challenger Sierra Clarke, and we tackled the next three hikes on the list. If you haven't read the trip report from my New Year's adventure to the Lookout High Point on Palomar Mountain (Happy Hiking New Year), you may want to pause here and go check it out, as it sets the stage for today's hiking activities.
Our plan for the day was simple, we'd pick up where Sierra left off after completing Hot Springs Mountain and do the next three peaks on our original schedule: Volcan Benchmark, Cuyamaca Peak, and Corte Madera Mountain. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give another shoutout to Phil Yoho and Kayla Witcik for being total rockstars and completing all six hikes in under 36 hours!
Individually, these three hikes each have the lowest mileage and elevation gain of all six hikes on the list which make them perfect to string together in a day-long adventure. We agreed to meet at the trailhead for Volcan and start hiking at 5:00 a.m. Everything was going according to plan and despite a problem with a sticky garage door at home, I pulled up at the trailhead right behind Sierra, a few minutes before our appointed meet time. I left the truck running so I could listen to music and take advantage of the interior lights as I prepped my gear. Once ready to sling my pack on, I went to turn the truck off when I noticed my keys were not in the ignition! Frantically, I searched the cab of the truck, my gear, and my pockets, but no keys. 😳
Keys: Don't Leave Home Without Them 🤦🏻♂️
So this is a thing. I can remove the keys from the ignition while the truck is running, I've done it before while warming it up on cold mornings. This morning I had started it while I was loading my gear and making trips in and out of the house. When I was finally ready to leave, I hit the garage door closer and the door didn't budge. 🙄It's an oldish garage door opener and periodically gets stuck, so I hopped out to fix it, apparently setting my keys on my workbench as I grabbed a screwdriver to make the necessary adjustments. I tested the door a couple of times, satisfied that all was in good working order, I tossed the screwdriver back on the workbench, got into my running truck, and headed out.
Fast forward back to the trailhead, it's 5:15 a.m. and I can't turn my truck off. I explained my dilemma to Sierra and given the circumstances, we decided that she'd wait for me to drive home, pick up my keys and return (a one-hour round trip). My keys were exactly where I left them on the workbench 🙄. I made it back in record time and we hit the trail just as the sun was coming up...about an hour behind our planned start time.
Traveling Uncharacteristically Light
Since all of today's hikes were short (between 5-7 miles each) I opted to use my small REI Flash 22 day pack with a scaled-back gear list and my Recon Kit Bag. I have hiked all three trails before and knew they were well established, so I opted to leave my maps and compass at home. There was no rain in the forecast so I left the rain gear behind, as well as my extra cold-weather gear and snowshoes. I wore a pair of Mava Reflexology Knee Sleeves instead of my big knee brace, they helped keep my knees warm and provided a good measure of support. As luck would have it, I didn't experience any knee issues all day. 👍🏻 I carried 2L of water with me, but honestly, I drank less than1L total on all three trails combined. I hydrated and refueled during the transitions between trailheads.
Date: January 9, 2022
Distance: 4.86 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 2h 17m
Total Moving Time: 2h 13m
Summit Elevation: 5,325 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,172 feet
Trailhead: Farmers Road
September 4, 2021
March 9, 2021
January 4, 2021
August 9, 2020
February 8, 2020
Since this was my sixth trip up Volcan, I didn't stop to take a lot of pictures along the way, however, I am a sucker for sunrise/sunset pictures and this was just an awesome view.
This was the shortest hike of the day and not surprisingly, the coldest and windiest! As we worked our way up the road towards the summit, I stopped to check the weather conditions. I clocked the winds at 22 mph and the wind chill temperature was 31º 🥶 Fortunately, there was no snow on the ground and we didn't need microspikes. However, as anyone who has hiked this on a windy day knows, when it blows up here, it can be CRAZY!
We looped around the summit, stopping to get a selfie in front of the old Airway Beacon tower (a survey mark! PID: DX4994) and I quickly pointed out all the survey marks at the summit to Sierra, giving her the abbreviated history of each (little did she know she was going to be a captive audience for my survey mark lessons!🤣)
We snapped a quick "Shoe-fie" with the Norman Glover Volcan No. 1 survey mark (the most recognized and photographed of all the marks at this summit), grabbed another summit selfie then headed down. I thought I had broken a personal record with the least amount of time at a summit last weekend on Palomar, but this morning I only had 4 minutes of "non-moving time" on Volcan! With summit number 1 for the day completed, we headed back down the mountain, stopping briefly to take the obligatory pictures by the main sign 😊
We had passed a lot of people on our way down, and when we got back to the cars, the roadside parking was full with all the "late riser" vehicles 🤣. No biggie for us, we stowed our gear and were soon on our way to Cuyamaca Peak!
Relive® 3D Video of Volcan Benchmark Hike
Date: January 9, 2022
Distance: 5.46 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 3h 3m
Total Moving Time: 2h 36m
Summit Elevation: 6,500 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,622 feet
Trailhead: Paso Pichaco Campground
April 4, 2021
January 4, 2021
March 8, 2020
We arrived at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park a little bit after 9:00 a.m. and considering that it was a beautiful Sunday morning, I was really surprised that the parking lot wasn't more full. I took a little time to switch out some of the items in my pack, leaving my wind shell, headlamp, and extra batteries in the truck while clipping my microspikes to the outside of my pack.
I had taken advantage of the drive from Julian to eat the snack that I had planned to have at the summit of Volcan, I also fixed a liter of electrolytes and downed that during the short drive.
Don't Be Surprised
Trail Beta, or simply Beta, in hiking lingo, is "fresh or recent news about a trail, usually provided by someone who just completed the hike." Seeking out reliable Beta is an important part of pre-trip planning. For instance, yesterday I scanned my IG and FB to see who had hiked all these trails in the last day. From all of the varied posts I'd read, I knew that Volcan was snow-free, Cuyamaca had a short stretch of road that was icy, and Corte Madera Mountain had some stretches where the trail was overgrown and long pants/long sleeves were recommended. I also found out that a friend rolled and sprained her ankle in the last mile of the Corte Madera trail, so I was hyper-alert for potential hazards on that stretch of trail.
There's also a lot of information that, while not necessarily new or specific to current weather conditions, it's good to know. Most of us learn through trial and error, making mistakes, or getting surprised when the things we assumed were true, really weren't. That's okay, it's part of the hiking life, but paying attention to the details can make your outing a lot more enjoyable. For instance, here's some "Potty Beta" that you may not know unless you've hiked these trails before.
Volcan Benchmark: Porta-Potties at the trailhead and my experience has been that they are well maintained.
Cuyamaca Peak: Legit restroom facilities at the Paso Pichaco campground parking area (there are also some in the campground itself) Complete with flush toilets, running water (cold), and an electric hand dryer.
Corte Madera Mountain: No facilities (bring a trowel and TP. If you use cloth wipes, bring a Ziplock bag to pack them out)
Part of my "Essential items" are my trowel and tissues no matter where I am hiking, so the lack of restroom facilities really doesn't bother me. However, depending on the terrain and popularity of a particular trail, you may not always have a convenient or private location to make your potty stop. I knew that Cuyamaca had full restrooms, so I made sure to take full advantage of them when we arrived and before we left. The bonus at the end of the hike was that I used the electric hand dryer to dry out my base layer shirt!
Road Walk vs. The Scenic Trail
Today we opted for the shortest, most direct route to the summit going up Lookout Fire Road. It's about ⅓-mile from the parking lot, through the campground, to the road. From there, it's exactly 2.5 miles up the paved road to its terminus just below the summit (the spot where I took the above panoramic picture from). At the 2-mile point, the Conejos Trail spills out on the road. I was a little surprised to see the road was still clear at this point as I had seen some pictures of the ice and snow from yesterday and had anticipated it to start near the Conejos trail junction.
We made it about 400 yards further before we hit the ice and decided to put our spikes on. Sitting down on the dry pavement to pull on microspikes without fumbling with mittens or gloves is certainly the way to go! 😂 There wasn't much ice, but there's no way I would have wanted to cover that little bit without my spikes on.
It was kind of crazy, there were three blowdowns in the span of about a few hundred feet! None of them were particularly difficult to get around, but it gives you some insight into the winds at elevation.
If you're in a hurry and just need to bag the peak, take the road, you still get some amazing views and it's steep enough to get your heart rate up. However, if you're doing this as a day-hike or it's your first time hiking to Cuyamaca Peak, I strongly recommend taking the Azalea Glen Loop Trail, it's a beautiful hike and you have a few different trail options that will dump you out on the road at different places. Check out a good trail map of the Park before you go and plan the route that you want to take. The first time I did this hike for the 2020 6POP, I went up the Azalea Glen route, it was foggy, rainy, windy, and cold, but I was dressed for it and had a great time!
The End of the Road
As I mentioned earlier, it's 2.5 miles to the end of the Fire Lookout Road, the view looking north-northwest from here is spectacular, the picture above was taken right before I did the panoramic shot that starts this section. Middle Peak is in the immediate foreground, the range beyond Middle Peak and slightly to the left is Palomar Mountain, the snow-cap peak beyond Palomar is Mt. Baldy. Moving toward the right of Middle Peak, and with the most obvious snow is San Gorgonio, and then slightly left (and front) of San G is San Jacinto. Three of the eleven peaks on the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks list (you only need to do six to finish the challenge, but I always do all of them 🤷🏻♂️) I am looking forward to hiking those ones in the snow!
Naturally, the FIRST thing I saw when I got to the end of the road and was getting into position to take my panoramic shot, was a survey marker! 🤣 A simple plastic cap, likely on a piece of rebar driven into the ground; it won't go into my database, but it was fun to spot. If I had to guess it may have been related to the Cleveland National Forest Power Line Replacement Project where SDG&E replaced Circuit 79 a couple of years ago. After getting all the cool scenery pictures, it was a simple 180º turn to see the route up to the summit.
Two down, one to go! 👍🏻 Naturally, I gave Sierra a quick tour of all the survey marks at the summit and suggested we get our "Shoe-fie" with the NASA marker. To find the NASA marker, you just have to look for the (now) busted and twisted small antenna on the orange RIDGID box, the disc is on the south side of it. I thought I already had a good "eye-level" picture of the NASA mark, but when I checked my database, apparently not 🤷🏻♂️ I'll have to get one the next time I go up there. Here are some pics of the damage to the antenna and its solar panel.
As with Mount Woodson and Volcan Benchmark, it took me several trips to Cuyamaca Peak to recover ALL of the survey marks, the original mark was set in 1898, then reset in 1936, but all that remains of that marker now is the stem with a chiseled cross in the top. To view that, the arrow on RM 3 points to a boulder, climb up on top and you should see the stem in the rock. You can also check out my other articles about Cuyamaca Survey Marks (just use the search bar above).
It was crazy windy at the summit, but given the wind direction, we were mostly protected by the boulders just to the north of us. The wind was singing through the towers though and it was kind of eerie sounding. Most people document their summit with a picture of Cuyamaca RM 3 (PID: CE9238) as it's probably the easiest to find, set in one of the footings for the original fire lookout tower. George has had a couple of photos on this summit now, he's a natural!
The trip down was uneventful, once we were off the ice, we stopped to remove our spikes then it was just a road walk back to the parking lot. As is usually the case, we passed quite a few people going up who were totally unprepared. Granted, it was sunny and mild at the bottom, but I expect the few women I saw going up the road in leggings and sports bras were probably going to regret not bringing something warmer. Too, the amount of snow and ice wasn't huge, but having traction would definitely make it less sketchy and prevent unnecessary slips and spills.
At the parking lot, I changed into a dry shirt and hung my Smartwool baselayer out to dry while I ate lunch on the truck's tailgate. After lunch, we packed up and headed to the trailhead for Corte Madera Mountain, about a 45-minute drive from the Park.
Relive® 3D Video of Cuyamaca Peak Hike
Corte Madera Mountain
Date: January 9, 2022
Distance: 6.79 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 3h 48m
Total Moving Time: 3h 31m
Summit Elevation: 4,641 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,414 feet
Trailhead: Corral Canyon Road
Previous Ascents: May 18, 2020
Sunrise to Sunset, and Everything Inbetween
We started the day in the shadowy pre-dawn on Volcan mountain that quickly transition to a beautiful sunrise. It was only fitting that we would end our day with an equally impressive sunset framing our final peak, Corte Madera Mountain, as we headed back down the trail after our summit.
This was the perfect trail to end our day on, it was so different from our previous two hikes, from trail conditions and the weather to the amazing views at every turn of the trail. But I am getting ahead of myself, let me back up and take you through this one as we experienced it.
I had hiked Corte Madera Mountain in 2020 as part of the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge, it was number 56 for me when I summited on May 18th. I still have that GPS track saved in my GAIA GPS App, so I called up the trip, clicked on the [...] (More), and selected "Driving Directions" 💥BAM 💥 Apple maps opened up with turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead parking lot.
Parking Lot GPS Coordinates: 32° 44' 8.24" N, 116° 33' 26.33" W
Approaching from the 8 Freeway, take the Buckman Springs exit, and head south on Buckman Springs Road (County Road S1) for 3.25 miles, then turn onto Corral Canyon Road. When Apple Maps called up my route, it gave me a warning that a portion of my trip was on an unpaved road, Corral Canyon Road is mostly dirt road, but it's definitely manageable in a passenger vehicle with normal suspension. Follow Corral Canyon Road (the road sign says Corral Canyon Trail) for 4.75 miles to the parking area.
The trailhead is pretty obvious, as you approach the parking area you will see a locked gate just before you reach the small dirt lot, there's a well-worn bypass next to the gate. The first half mile is on Kernan Road, a pleasant, mostly shaded walk. When you reach the hairpin turn in the road, you'll see an old metal trash can with a sign "Espinosa" on it, turn off the road here and continue on the Espinosa Trail.
Follow this trail for about a mile where you'll reach the intersection of Los Pinos Road and Espinosa Trail (large dirt road area). From this clearing, you should have a great view of the southern cliffside of Corte Madera Mountain as shown below. Follow Los Pinos Road to your right for about 4/10ths of a mile.
On the left side of the road is the beginning of the Corte Madera Mountain Trail, you will hike this all the way to the summit. There are some signs marking the entrance to the trail, so it shouldn't be that difficult to locate. This is really the coolest part of the trek as you hike up and around to approach the summit from the north.
Corte Madera Mountain Trail
Over the next mile and a half, you will work your way northwest up the ridgeline and deal with a bit of a rollercoaster trail as you move across some small hilltops and saddles that will ultimately bring you just north of your destination, then it's down through one final saddle and on to the summit.
A great deal of this section of trail cuts through thick Manzanita, and there are places where it seems ridiculously narrow, but the trail is well-defined and totally passable.
I recommend long pants and a long sleeve shirt just to avoid unnecessary scratches from the underbrush, but to be clear, if you stay on the trail, this is not "bushwhacking".
As a side-note, when I hiked this trail in May of 2020, I passed by a rattlesnake that was coiled in the Manzanita just off the trail, I never saw it, but I heard it as I passed by. That same day I met a family coming down from the summit and they had encountered two rattlesnakes at different places along the trail. Given the nature of the terrain, you need to be extra vigilant, especially during warmer weather. Rattlesnakes don't bother me when I can see and avoid them, it's a totally different story when I can't see them 😳
Sometimes you just have to let the pictures do the talking 😉 here are some of the views along the trail as we headed to the summit.
(note: there are 21 pictures in the slider, use the arrows on either side to navigate through them, clicking on an image will expand it to full size)
When people mention the "rock scramble" on this trail, they may be referring to the section where you drop down a narrow chute alongside a large boulder, I've tagged those pictures from the view as we were going down (on our way to the summit) and the view looking up as we returned. It's much cooler in person, the photos really don't give the full effect of the section. It's not that it's uber difficult, it's just a neat section of the trail 😉
We reached the summit just before 4:30 p.m., perfect timing to catch the late afternoon sun as we took in the amazing views in all directions. When we first arrived there was virtually no wind, a pleasant change from the very windy summits we'd experienced earlier. However, it did begin to pick up a bit once we were there (you can hear it in the accompanying video and get a sense of it from Sierra's summit picture), but it was never quite strong enough for me to tether my hat or worry about putting on my jacket.
It was awesome to look north and see Cuyamaca Peak, where had just come from. As we hit the mass of boulders at the summit, I started looking for a route to one of the highest rocks (just to make sure there weren't any survey marks here!)
The true high point would have been on a boulder that looked like it required a bit more technical skills and equipment than I had, so I was scouting out lesser boulders that would have been good candidates for reference marks. I didn't locate any survey marks, but that didn't surprise me too much as I hadn't found any when I was here before.
Upon further research in the National Geodetic Survey database, I DID find a mark CORTE (PID: DC1984) with two Reference marks and an Azimuth mark, but it's located on a different peak about a mile and a half NNE of this summit! Curious, I will definitely have to go back to search for that one, why it wasn't set here is hard to say as its location is a little over 200 hundred feet lower than this peak 🤷🏻♂️
At first, I couldn't find the register or a summit sign, I originally thought they'd be located somewhere in the mass of boulders where I recorded my video from. However, in exploring the rock outcropping closer to the edge of the cliff, I found the ammo can in plain sight (albeit without a register inside!). I didn't see a summit sign nearby, but to be honest, I didn't look real hard. We needed to get our summit pics and get started back down the trail. We were prepared with lights but wanted to get back to Los Pinos Road before we had to use them.
Sunset On Corte Madera Mountain
It really is difficult to pick a favorite sunset picture from this trip, but the one above ranks up there near the top of my list, here are the "best of the rest". For reference, the top of the cliff, at the highest plateau, is where the ammo box was located. The teeny-tiny pine tree you can see (also on that plateau) is the one that is growing out of the split rocks (see previous photos in the slider, numbers 16 and 17).
On the way down, we made it through the trickiest part of the Corte Madera Mountain trail in the waning sunlight. Tricky in the sense that there are enough loose rocks and obstacles that require attention and, in some cases, the use of hands, to navigate safely. My Nitecore headlamp is super bright and I knew that it'd be fine, but I prefer to see my descents in "the light of day".
Working under headlamps always seems to distort my sense of time and distance, I kept thinking the trash can that marks the intersection of the Espinosa Trail and Kernan Road was always just around the next corner. 🤣 When we finally did reach Kernan Road, it was a short walk to the vehicles and an easy finish to an amazing hike.
Relive® 3D Video of Corte Madera Mountain Hike
3-Pack or Half a 6-Pack?
A special thanks to my hiking partner Sierra, it was a fun day and I enjoyed the company as we tackled these three peaks. As an added bonus, we both completed the day's three hikes without any of the nagging injuries that stopped us short on our original quest of completing all 6 peaks in less than 48 hours.
Today brought my tally of peaks on the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge to four and Sierra to five. I still have to go back and do Hot Springs Mountain and we both have El Cajon Mountain left.