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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Julian Hiking Challenge - 2021

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Editorial Note 12/02/2021:


I completed the five hikes on this challenge over 3 days: September 4th, 19th, and October 2nd. Rather than prepare three different trip reports, I've consolidated them into this single report with each trip recounted from the perspective as if I had just walked off the trail that day (despite not sitting down to compile this report almost two months later!) 🤣🤷🏻‍♂️


5 Hikes - 1 Day...It Could Work, Right?

After a successful ascent of Hot Springs Mountain a couple of weeks ago, I am feeling more confident getting back to "regular" hiking after my ACL Debacle in the Desert on Memorial Day. So when I saw that Phil was planning to complete all five hikes on the Julian Hiking Challenge in a single day, I opted in. After all, I'd hiked most of the trails before and I felt pretty good about the schedule.

Alberto was going to meet us at the Farmer Road trailhead for the Kanaka Loop at 4:00 a.m., The order of the day was to do the stage one vehicle there, go back to hike Volcan, carpool to Stonewall Peak, come back to Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve (SYOSP), and complete the remaining three trails (Santa Ysabel Loop Trail, the Nature Center Loop, and then bridge over to the Kanaka Loop Trail via the Coast to Crest Trail) finishing at the staged vehicle on Farmer Road. Wrapping up the last three hikes in one combined trek would make it the longest part of the day mileage-wise, but all of us had certainly hiked longer days. My game plan was to assess the status of my knee after each hike and bail if it looked like I was going to have problems.

"Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth"

While on Active Duty in the USAF, we had a saying that "Flexibility is the Key to Airpower", a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that plans were made to be broken and the only thing you could really count on was that stuff was going to change...regularly, and continuously. I've adopted Mike Tyson's quote as a suitable substitute 🤣

The first wrinkle in today's plan was a locked gate at the SYOSP East parking area on Farmer Road, it didn't open up until 8:00 a.m. and there was no street parking in the vicinity of the trailhead. No biggie, Phil and I headed back to the Volcan Mountain trailhead (about a mile down the Farmer Road) and waited for Alberto to arrive. We'd hike Volcan and Stonewall as planned, come back and do the remaining trails, staging a vehicle as needed.

Notice I said our "FIRST" wrinkle, there was another SNAFU that involved an incorrect link on the Challenge website and some confusion over trail names, but that came after we finished Stonewall Peak and headed back to Santa Ysabel...more on that later.

Volcan Benchmark

Date: September 4, 2021

Distance: 4.91 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 17m

Total Moving Time: 1h 57m

Summit Elevation: 5,325 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,173 feet

Trailhead: Farmer's Road

Previous Ascents:

  1. February 8, 2020

  2. August 9, 2020

  3. January 4, 2021

  4. March 9, 2021

Notes: Pre-dawn start, today's hike was faster than my January trip!

By the time we had gathered our gear and set out for Volcan Benchmark, it was a little past 4:30 a.m., the temps were mild in the upper 60's and the stars were amazing. We were mindful not to make any noise as we passed by the few homes that are just before the official trailhead and we only encountered one other hiker during our ascent.

We reached the summit just as the sun was coming up and I took a few minutes to show the guys where all the survey marks were located on the summit. Everyone finds the Norman Glover Volcan No. 1 because it's just off the trail mounted in a cylindrical concrete monument about 18" high. There are however several other survey marks around the summit, including the original U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey reference marks, San Diego GPS 14 (with two reference marks), and the obvious Airway Beacon Tower.

The original USC&GS Triangulation Station disc was lost some time ago, but I did point out the drill hole in the rock where it had been mounted. You can see my other two posts about Daily Double: Volcan Benchmark and Return to Volcan Benchmark to see more detail on my recovery of all those marks.

Knowing that we had a full day ahead of us, we quickly headed back down the trail so we could move on to Stonewall Peak. We did pass a large group of firefighters who appeared to be doing a training hike up the mountain.

We snapped a few selfies back at the trailhead for social proof, then piled in Phil's car for the trip to Rancho Cuyamaca State Park.

Relive® 3D Video of Volcan Benchmark Hike

Stonewall Peak

Date: September 4, 2021

Distance: 3.77 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 8m

Total Moving Time: 1h 49m

Summit Elevation: 5,699 feet

Elevation Gain: 803 feet

Trailhead: Stonewall Peak

Previous Ascents:

  1. May 28, 2020

  2. February 16, 2021

Notes: 6 mins faster than February's Total Elapsed Time and, 9 mins slower than February's Total Moving Time 20 min rest at summit pics/snack

We arrived at the Paso Picacho Campground Parking at 7:15 a.m. and the lot was already filling up with people hiking any of the many trails that start there, the most popular being Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak. We hit the trail at 7:30 and were focused on maintaining a consistent pace up the trail. At this hour of the morning, we passed lots of people on the trail, but the temps were mild and we made good time to the summit. My knee was holding up well, but I still lagged behind Phil and Alberto the entire way up, so this was my view most of the morning 🤣 (Yeah, they had been at the summit for a while before I got to the stairs leading up to the lookout point)

Still, my knee was holding up fine and my total elapsed time for the hike (including summit breaks) was faster than my February Solo Ascent and my moving time was only slightly off my February time (pre-ACL injury).

Overall, I was pleased with how the day was shaping up, the weather was cooperating (it was still cool), and even though I wasn't running up the trails, I was maintaining a reasonable pace. We grabbed our summit selfie and George made an appearance for his summit picture with Cuyamaca Peak in the background 😊

Relive® 3D Video of Stonewall Peak Hike

Two peaks down, three to go! We loaded up into the car and headed back to Santa Ysabel.

Upper Creek Trail

Date: September 4, 2021

Distance: 5.67 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 51m

Total Moving Time: 2h 39m

Summit Elevation: 3,179 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,020 feet

Trailhead: Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve West

Previous Ascents: N/A

Oops! Which Hike Are We Doing?

Our third hike was the Upper Creek Trail, a lollipop loop in the SYOSP - West. As we headed back from Stonewall Peak, we began discussing the next hike, Upper Creek Trail. As we talked Phil was under the impression the hike was part of the network of trails in the East Preserve and that we'd be able to string them together, exiting on Farmer Road after doing the Kanaka Loop.

The more they talked, the more I was scratching my head; I let them know that the Upper Creek Trail was in the West Preserve - just off the 78 as you head up the hill out of the valley, not in the East Preserve. We pulled over when we had cell coverage and called up the Challenge website, sure enough, they listed the correct name for the trail, but the link to the AllTrails map was for the Santa Ysabel Loop Trail in the East Preserve! (I did email the Chamber when I got home and they fixed the link👍🏻) In the grand scheme of things this was not a huge issue, we'd collect the other vehicles on Farmer Road and head over to the West Preserve.

By the time we had all this sorted out and were ready to step off on the trail, it was about 10:30 a.m. and the temperature was already 89º. I'd not hiked this trail before, but I had it in my mind that it was a pretty easy route and I was optimistic that we'd still be able to go over and knock out the Nature Center Loop once we completed this one.

The route was almost completely exposed (little or no shade), and with temperatures continuing to rise, this made the 1,000 feet of elevation gain feel more intense than it should have. At the midway point on the trail, I checked the temp and it was 95º, by the time we got back to the parking lot it was 99º.

For me, this was a perfect storm of conditions, I already had two good hikes under my belt, but after the first real descent on this trail, I was feeling it.

I'd only recently started hiking again after my ACL injury so I didn't have my customary tolerance for the heat and I was tentative on the loose dirt and steep grades of this trail. The climbing never really posed a problem (I was just slow) but descending made me nervous, even with my new brace.

I was constantly looking for options where I could get off the trail and into the weeds to avoid the potential of slipping on loose dirt.

Phil and Alberto were great, they'd drop back to make sure I was doing alright or they'd find some shade and wait for me to catch up, even though I told them not to worry about me. At the midway point, I let them know that I was done for the day when we finished this one up.

Back at the parking lot with temps hovering right at 100º, we opted to call it a day and we headed over to the Farmhouse 78 Restaurant for lunch. The two remaining hikes also had a lot of exposure so we made the smart decision to stop despite still having the entire afternoon to finish the last two trails. Phil planned to come back out in the morning and do another pre-dawn start in order to wrap them up before it got hot. I planned a day off for Sunday to rest my knee and figured I'd come back out in a week or two to finish the last two trails.

Overall, it had been a good day, 3 hikes, 14.3 miles with just under 3,000 feet of combined elevation gain, my knee held up pretty well until I hit the steep descents on the Upper Creek Trail, and then it was more an issue of just getting tired, than a "pain" issue.

Relive® 3D Video of Upper Creek Trail Hike

Kanaka Loop Trail and Coast-to-Crest Trail

Date: September 19, 2021

Distance: 13.4 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 7h 30m

Total Moving Time: 5h 11m

Summit Elevation: 4,262 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,741 feet

Trailhead: Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve East (Farmer Road)

Previous Ascents: N/A

And now I Return you to My Previous Hiking Challenge...

Two weeks ago I started the Julian Hiking Challenge with my friend and hiking partner Phil Yoho, he had planned to hike all 5 hikes in one day, a very doable plan, but obviously, if you've read this far in the trip report, you know that I was only able to complete the first three hikes on that Saturday. Phil did go on to finish the Kanaka Loop and Nature Center Loop the following day👍🏻👏🏻, but I needed to take a day off and recover.

Since then, my weekend activities have been more centered around Survey Mark recoveries than hiking. I decided that I'd head out and wrap up the challenge today by starting with the Kanaka Loop then shooting over to do the Nature Center Loop. [SPOILER ALERT] I was drawn in by the prospect of looking for a couple of Section Corners on this trail and once I committed to finding those, I had extended what began as a 7-mile hike into a 13.5 expedition! I probably could have still managed the Nature Center Loop, but I would have had to park out on the 79 to avoid getting locked in the Nature Center Lot and I'd already had a good day so I figured I'd just come back next weekend 🤷🏻‍♂️

The basic Kanaka Loop is a nice little trail easily accessible from the Farmer Road trailhead to the East Preserve, it can also be reached from the other side (SR 79 trailhead) but it's a longer hike. As you can see from my Relive® video below, I hiked all the way over to the lunch spot on the Santa Ysabel Loop trail via the Coast-to-Crest trail.

...And the Cows!

This could easily be called the Bovine Loop as there were cows EVERYWHERE! 🤣 They were really nonplussed by my presence as you can probably figure out by the pictures.

Today's Trail

Typical when I hike solo, I take a lot more pictures and this hike was no different. Much of this trail is exposed and the views are spectacular in their own way, looking across the valley and tracing the trail off into the distance is just a different kind of hike than winding through the woods, trekking across the desert floor, or climbing to the summit of a prominent peak. All of these options are amazing and it's great to be able to have access to all of them in San Diego County within a reasonable drive from home.

Peak Spotting

Of course, it's always fun to look around and say "I've hiked that one...and that one...and that one..." 🤣 I use the PeakVisor App to add the data labels to my pictures, and unfortunately PeakVisor doesn't necessarily pick up ALL the peaks, but it is cool to spin around and identify previous summits.

The REAL Reason this became a 13.5-Mile Trek

My newest hobby has been "collecting" survey marks, and when I say collecting, I mean locating, photographing, and documenting their location and condition. The full-on process of searching for survey marks is a little more beyond the scope of this trip report, however, I do use the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) Grid overlay on my USGS Topo Map to help identify where property corners should be. Not every single section corner has a formal mark, but there are far more of them out there than people realize.

When I was looking at the path of the Coast-to-Crest trail just beyond the Kanaka Loop, I spotted what might be a corner mark, since it wasn't terribly far past the loop turnoff, I decided to check it out. Once I got there and recovered the marker (Corner 17) I decided to extend my hike to the connection point with the Santa Ysabel Loop Trail, then retrace my steps and take the Kanaka Loop to satisfy the requirements for the challenge.

On the backside of the Kanaka Loop, I noticed that I wasn't too far away from another potential corner, so I went a little off trail to check it out and was rewarded with another recovery (Corner 15). It's cool that C15 marks a point that could be considered a Township Corner because it is between Township 12S Range 3E and Township 12S Range 4E and it also marks the southeasterly corner of Ranch Santa Ysabel. You may notice that I identified and labeled these based on how they were stamped, which is not necessarily their full legal descriptions. Nowadays when I recovery a property corner, I catalog them based on the legal description of the corner they mark.

Both of these corner marks were set by the same Land Surveyor in 1948, Land Surveyor Czerny Anderson, License Number 2129 (available in a public database of licensed surveyors). These marks designate two corners of the Rancho Santa Ysabel. I would entirely expect to find similar corner monuments/marks at each primary corner of the Rancho.

Relive® 3D Video of The Kanaka Loop Trail and Bonus Coast-to-Crest Trail

Santa Ysabel Nature Center Loop Trail

Date: October 2, 2021

Distance: 5.38 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 43m

Total Moving Time: 2h 15m

Summit Elevation: 3,662 feet

Elevation Gain: 782 feet

Trailhead: Santa Ysabel Nature Center

Previous Ascents: N/A

Completing the Challenge!

This was the easiest of the hikes to complete, and I probably could have just added the mileage when I was out here to do the Kanaka Loop a couple of weeks ago, as it would have only added about 4 miles on to my 13.5-mile day, but that's alright as it was a relaxing walk today.

I started out by visiting the Nature Center and looking around, it's actually a very cool place. From there I headed out back and up the trail towards the junction of the Coast-to-Crest trail where I had stopped for lunch on my hike last month, I stopped to grab the requisite selfie for the challenge then headed back along the Santa Ysabel Loop trail. I had done a segment of this as part of another hiking challenge last year, so it was familiar territory, after taking a little side trip to recover a nearby survey marker, I descended down the hill to pick up the trail that returned across the meadow to the Nature Center. This last segment was an easy trek as it was all pretty much at the same elevation contour.

This was a great little challenge, I'd hike most of the trails previously, but it was fun to do the Coast-to-Crest connector between Kanaka Loop and the Santa Ysabel Loop Trail, which wasn't specifically part of the challenge, but it was a cool "add-on". The Upper Creek Trail turned out to be much more of a hike than I anticipated, partly due to the weather and my personal condition in recovery mode from my ACL tear.

I think under normal conditions, we certainly could have knocked this out in a single day, but I also think I enjoyed the last two hikes more because I did my own thing, on my schedule. If I had been pressed to finish and move on to the next trail, I wouldn't have stopped to make the survey mark recoveries that I did. I'm also very likely to go back to the West Preserve and look for a few marks that I was very close to and didn't realize. I will save space at the end of this trip report to post my finisher certificate from the Julian Chamber of Commerce when I finally submit all my photos and complete the paperwork part of the challenge! 😉

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