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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Hot Springs Mountain

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Date: January 9, 2021

Distance: 10.30 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 5h 47m

Total Moving Time: 4h 32m

Summit Elevation: 6,517 feet

Elevation Gain: 2,177 feet

Trailhead: Los Coyotes Campground

Previous Ascents:

  1. February 23, 2020

  2. August 21, 2020

Notes: Peak number 5 on the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge 2021

Panoramic Views from the Summit of Hot Springs Mountain

Solo Perks

I complete the majority of my hikes as solo excursions, it's not that I don't like hiking with others, I do enjoy company on the trail, but the logistics of going by myself are just easier.

One of the most significant perks of hiking solo is I am in total control of the start time. Some call it COMS (Cranky Old Man Syndrome) 🤣 but at my stage in life, I prefer to think of it as doing things on my terms. Sometimes I'm totally fine with an "0-Dark-30" departure (especially on desert hikes in order to beat the heat), other times showing up at the trailhead for a late morning or an early afternoon hike works best, it just all depends on how I feel.

Today was one of those lazy days. I don't particularly buy into the "morning person" or "night owl" labels, as I've lived at both of those extremes and handle each about the same. However, I tend to gravitate towards being an early riser. This morning I was up by 0500 and I took my time, "putzing" around getting my gear organized and going through my typical morning rituals.

Popular trails on the weekends are a challenge due to the crowds and I usually try to push these trips off to a weekday. However, since I missed my self-imposed goal of six peaks in six days, I really wanted to finish up the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks as quickly as I could. Today's trip was peak number five on that list. I eventually rolled out of the driveway a little before nine.

This hike is located on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and it's a good idea to check their website before heading out as they sometimes close the trail or have specific restrictions in place.

When I stopped at the guard shack to sign in and pay my daily use fee ($10 cash), the Ranger told me I may have a hard time finding parking as he showed me the list of all the other people that had arrived. I knew from prior trips that the parking was in the campground area and that there should be plenty of space, even given the number of cars that had checked in ahead of me. I parked, geared up, and was on the trail by 1000.

On the Trail

Looking East to San Ysidro Mountain and The Thimble

The weather was cool at the start and that prompted me to maintain a good pace on the ascent. The first couple miles of the trail up Sukat Road was mostly snow-free, except those areas not in direct sunlight.

It was a beautiful clear day and the views were amazing, the first time I did this hike last year, most of my ascent was in fog, rain, and clouds! It was cool to pick out other peaks in the distance that I'd climbed as part of my San Diego 100 Peak Challenge last year.

I paused along the way to look for a couple of Section Corners that were close to the trail, but I didn’t see any witness posts and without them, the snow made it virtually impossible to locate the marks.

Once on Hot Springs Mountain Road, the snow and ice on the road became more prevalent and it was time to break out my microspikes. As I continued toward the summit, I saw fresh snowshoe tracks, from the 'drag' marks in the snow the closer I came to the tower, I could tell whoever it was, they were getting tired. I haven't had the opportunity to use my snowshoes yet, so I was happy to stop and chat briefly with the woman who had made the tracks. She was trying hers out for the first time and her overall opinion was she liked them, but snowshoeing was more work than she expected and a lot slower. Good to know.

Not Quite the Summit...

Often, the Fire Lookout Towers are at the high point on a mountain to afford the best views, however, that has to be balanced with having the right space to build it and accessibility once it's done. Many people begin to celebrate when they see the remains of the Hot Springs Tower, only to find out they still have a little further to go to the actual summit block.

The tower is the marker, named “Hot Springs Lot” in the datasheet, it’s described as marker type ‘57’ which is a lookout tower. The actual survey point is (was?) a rod on the top of the tower. Due to safety reasons, you are not permitted to climb the tower but it does make an awesome backdrop for some cool photos 📸😊

Probably because Hot Springs Mountain is the highest peak in San Diego County, it is the oldest lookout tower site in the Cleveland National Forest. There were a total of three different Lookout Towers built on this site, the remaining structure is from the last tower that was constructed in 1942. Check out the Forest Fire Lookout Association (San Diego-Riverside County Chapter) page for the history and more pictures of the Hot Springs Lookout Tower.

After a brief stop at the tower, I continued on to the summit, crossing a dirt lot to a narrow trail that heads over some rocks and into the trees. There is a signpost at the top of the fire road, not too far from the tower, that directs you across the dirt lot towards the summit. It's a cool trail that is marked with small pieces of ribbon to show the way.

Two Routes to the Summit Block

"Ropes" Route

In order to find all three survey markers for Hot Springs Mountain, you'll need to do a little bouldering. The primary station disc is located on top of the largest boulder.

The good news is there are generally two routes, one with climbing straps that are anchored near the top of the boulder, and one that has you scrambling up between two large boulders.

There is a section of an aluminum extension ladder nearby, sometimes the ladder is on the side by the climbing straps as shown in the first photo. Going up this way you'll pass Reference Mark 2 (RM 2) on your way up to the top of the boulder.

"Twin Boulder" Route

Other times the ladder is around the back, in a crevasse between the two boulders, the boulder on the left is where you'll find Reference Mark 1 (RM 1).

If you choose this route (ladder or not), you still have to jump over to the main boulder and scramble up to the top platform to reach the high point. Here you will find a rectangular hole that holds the primary Benchmark stamped VA 6533 T (Vertical Altitude 6,533 feet above Sea Level, Datum "T").

To locate RM 2 from here, descend towards the boulder towards the climbing straps and you'll see the mark on the side of the rock.

Hot Springs Mountain Summit Survey Marks

The views from the summit block are worth the scramble to the top, and they were perfect today with beautifully clear skies. Looking back to the SW was a great view of the tower and as I spun around clicking off pictures, I mentally checked off a long list of peaks that I climbed last year and others on my list for this year.

Once back at the truck, I set up my Jetboil MightyMo and whipped up a quick cup of hot coffee before heading home. It was a great day and I only one more peak to go to finish the San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks - Palomar Mountain High Point, but that'll be later this week. 😉

Relive® 3D Video of Today's Journey

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