Location, Location, Location...
Updated: Mar 15
My plan for the day was to go snowshoeing around Middle Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (CRSP). Based on my GAIA GPS Snow Depth layer, Middle Peak had 9.8-20 inches of snow. According to the CalTrans QuickMap Travel Alert page, there were a few Chain Control locations set up on SR 78 and 79 but I carry chains so I wasn't too worried about that. (note: the roads were clear and dry and no chains were required.)
Part I: PCT Sunrise Trailhead
Staging Area One - The PCT Sunrise Trailhead
Date: March 14, 2021
Distance: 1.95 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 1h 52m
Total Moving Time: 1h 21m
Summit Elevation: 5,079 feet
Elevation Gain: 218 feet *
Trailhead: PCT Sunrise Trailhead
Previous Ascents: N/A
Peakbagger Peaks - 1, Survey Marks - 1
Elevation gain from Parking Lot to Gar BM, 27' feet
When I reached the intersection of Sunrise Highway (S1) I decided to make a quick side-trip over to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Sunrise Trailhead, to look for a few survey markers. Within less than a half-mile radius, I had the potential for two Benchmarks and CRSP Boundary Marker number 14. GAIA showed that it had snow but when I arrived at the parking area, it was spotty. I saw a few families with little kids building snowmen and sliding down a small slope and a couple of PCT Thru-hikers who had jumped off the trail to use the restroom. Benchmark 5015 noted on the topo map appeared to be at the east end of the parking area near a hitching post for horses. There was enough snow on the ground in this area that spotting a disc mounted in concrete at ground level was impossible, I moved to place myself in the center of the 'X' based on my GPS reading, kicked around in the snow for a minute or two, but didn't find anything. I'll check for this one next time I'm out this way and there's no snow on the ground.
CRSP Boundary Mark 14
This seemed like an easy boundary marker to locate, the route from the parking lot was under a half-mile and was mostly flat until I dropped down about 100 feet to the area where the corner was. I had put my microspikes on just in case, but I really didn't need them, after 300 yards, I was completely out of the snow and slush.
As I followed a short unnamed use trail from the parking area, I passed by a small tower and this funky buoy-looking thing, it was oddly out of place here, I've only seen one other similar object and that was on a beach where it seemed to belong.
I continued on and turned off the trail to head to the end of the rise above the corner. I took a direct route down the slope working my way between the scrub-brush, with previous snow and rain, the steep hillside was loose and tricky to maintain a solid footing, fortunately, I didn't have to go far.
Just as with the earlier sections of this boundary I found, this was marked with an old barbed-wire fence so it was very easy to spot where the corner was, I could even see an old surveyor's stake near the corner post of the fence, a potential witness stake! I was dialed into finding a 2 ¾" pipe cap marker similar to the other thirty marks I've already located on this boundary, but I came up empty.
When I reached the corner, I saw what appeared to be a metal cover, thinking that it was pretty cool that they covered the mark, I went to lift the cover and discovered that it was actually an old canteen! Odd that it was EXACTLY where the corner was, but without a copy of the original survey and accompanying notes, I can't be sure if it was intended to mark the corner, or if it's a more current artifact. I walked along the fence line in each direction looking around for the pipe cap, but I never did find it.
On my way back up the hill, I ran into a tangle of the ubiquitous mylar balloons 😡, five knotted together in a 'Happy Birthday' bunch. I untangled them from the brush and stuffed them in my hip belt to put in a proper trash can when I got back to the parking area.
Gar Triangulation Station - DC1976
Sometimes you just need to have a ridiculously easy Peak to summit and survey mark to locate. Gar Station...Done and Done.
Noted on the topo map as GAR BM 5063, and one-third of a mile from my truck to the summit, with a whopping 27-feet of elevation gain, this was a super easy walk to 'bag' a peak.
After scrambling up the embankment from the road, there's a faint use trail to follow about 400 feet until you hit the PCT, turn right and, and continue over to the cairn and witness stake at the peak. It's funny, there's probably a register can in the rocks, but I didn't look for it. The witness stake is visible from the road, and the disc is right next to the stake.
I've encountered these US Army Corps of Engineers brass survey discs on other peaks, but I never really paid much mind to the size of them. Depending on the type of disc, they will generally range from two to three inches in diameter, this one was four inches! It was in pretty good shape as it was, but I wanted to pull out all the stamped info so I hit it with the liquid chalk. Naturally, George got his summit pic! 🙈🙉🙊
Whoever set this disk got a little "stamp happy" 😂 Most of the Corp of Engineer discs I've found don't have ANY stamping on them, not even the station name! It has the basics, the station name, date, and "Tri" to indicate a Triangulation Station (although the NGS doesn't list and reference marks, nor did I look for any) I thought it was interesting that it's stamped "SD CO 1970" near the bottom, under the Harriman Index No. box, perhaps that's when this disc was set? As is the case with most survey marks, the only way to know for sure is to find the actual survey notes from when the mark was originally set.
The Harriman Index Number refers back to The Harriman Geographic Index System (1927) developed and used by the US Army as a means to find locations. The system uses the South Pole as the origin point and the International Date Line as the meridian. It successively divides up the Earth into smaller and smaller rectangles based on latitude and longitude. Each of these rectangles gets an index number in the Harriman unit system that, when combined, permit locating features to within about half an acre. The system was cumbersome for the average soldier to use in the field and was ultimately dropped in the 1930s in favor of a system that was not only consistent and accurate but easy to teach to the troops, what would eventually become the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS). [paraphrased from ref: Northing & Eastings Blog, accessed 2021.03.15]
The other oddity about this mark is that it's stamped with "3201" above the pre-stamped Elevation tag. This peak's elevation is noted at 5,063 feet on the topo map, 5,005 based on my GAIA reading standing over the mark. It is not metric, as 3,201 meters is 10,501 feet so I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent, or if it was just a mistake.
Part II - Middle Peak
Date: March 14, 2021
Distance: 8.07 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 4h 19m
Total Moving Time: 3h 50m
Summit Elevation: 5,794 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,282 feet
Trailhead: Milk Ranch Road
Previous Ascents: June 21, 2020 *
Notes: June 21, 2020 hike reached the summit
Plan A - Snowshoes, Plan B - Microspikes
My original plan when I left the house this morning was to make it a day snowshoeing on Middle Peak. As I drove over to the Trout Pond parking area from Sunrise Highway, it didn't look like there was much snow on Middle Peak. There were lots of people playing in the sparse snowfields below the trail, but what I could see of the dirt roads winding up the mountain, and the side of the peak itself, there just didn't seem to be enough snow to warrant my snowshoes. I opted for Plan B, left my snowshoes in the truck, clipped my microspikes onto my pack, and headed out.
I met a Park employee picking up trash around the parking area and stopped to talk with him about the trail conditions, he didn't think there was much snow on Middle Peak (doubting I'd even need microspikes) and recommend I go over to Cuyamaca Peak if I wanted to snowshoe. I explained I was committed to Middle Peak as I hoped to locate a few survey marks along my route, thanked him, then headed up the trail.
I completed this loop counterclockwise, heading up the switchbacks of Middle Peak Fire Road first. The road was mostly mud for the first mile, runoff from the snowmelt had made quite a mess of the road, I worked at staying in the centerline of the road where the ground was more firm, around 5,000 feet I started to encounter slushy snow and stopped to put my microspikes on. By the time I hit 5,400 feet (around the 2-mile point), it switched to all snow and as the snow got deeper, I resorted to following the footprints of another hiker.
Fortunately, the tracks I was following were the same stride length as mine and I could tell from the prints, the person had been wearing crampons. The snow along the trail would get as deep as 6-8" in places so I was thankful to be able to save a little energy and follow these tracks all the way around to meet up with Milk Ranch Road. Still, the snow was wet and was sticking to my boots and microspikes. I was beginning to regret not strapping my snowshoes onto my pack.
The views from the switchbacks, zigging, and zagging up the Southeast side of the mountain were pretty impressive, there were a few clouds rolling in on North Peak, and the views of Cuyamaca Lake and the Stonewalls were simply amazing.
As I neared the top I thought I'd try to reach the summit, I had my GPS route from when I bushwhacked it last June, and I knew it was only about 440 yards off the Fire Road, how hard could this be? Right?
I set off into the unbroken snow and found out very quickly that it was going to be a challenge, the snow was between 12-18" deep...the snowshoes would have helped in the deeper snow, but NOT the tight brush, fallen trees, and other hazards that made this a challenging bushwhack in good conditions! I made it to a large fallen tree that I remembered having to traverse last year, there was no way I could safely do that in microspikes, especially with the tree covered in snow and ice. I was 200 yards in, almost halfway to the summit, when I turned around and headed back to the road.
I did have three potential survey markers to locate on this route, two CRSP Boundary Markers (#3 and #5) and a standard Section Corner (Township 014S 004E, Sec 7, NE corner) so I didn't worry too much about the unsuccessful summit and headed towards my boundary marker #3 near the junction of the Middle Peak Loop Road and the Sugar Pine Trail. Given the depth of the snow, there was no way I was going to find this, even if it was a standard pipe cap.
I continued around the trail as the weather deteriorated, once I was on the west side of the mountain, the winds picked up dramatically and the clouds had completely rolled in, it was like a night-and-day difference from coming up the mountain.
The next mark on my map was the section corner, it didn't look like it should be too far off the trail and I noted a few possible trees that were likely candidates for a location poster. As I was looking around I saw a couple of "Posted - No Trespassing" signs which I thought odd as I knew this part of the Park bordered Cleveland National Forest (CNF) land. I checked the Private Lands overlay on my GAIA maps and sure enough, there are 6 private landowners in a mile-long stretch along this western border where the Milk Ranch Road runs.
The section corner appears to be on the property line between the CNF and one of the landowners. I didn't find any USFS location posters nailed to the trees, but now that I think about it, I was probably looking at the wrong side of the trees (I would expect them to be on the CNF side of the tree, not the CRSP side)
However, I did find this reinforced post in the exact location where I expected a section marker. Chances are this ISN'T the marker, (I've encountered this type of reinforced corner that's not tied to any other fencing, on a section corner in Ramona, but that one had an additional spike driven into the ground at the base of the post.) so I'll look again when there's no snow.
CRSP Boundary Marker #5 was just off the dirt road on the property now owned by the Cuyamaca LLC, IF it is still there, it would be in the center of a large group of trees, it was close enough to the road where I could make a cursory search for it, but between the snow and the trees, I wasn't seeing it.
Striking out on confirmed survey marks, I started the 2-mile trip down Milk Ranch Road towards the parking lot, as I descended, the weather shifted, the clouds were breaking up (I could almost see Cuyamaca Peak!) and I ran into a LOT of wild turkeys.