Kathy’s California Pacific Coast Trail Challenge…and 52 Peaks in 2021!

This blog continues the blogging journey (my late husband) Alex started back in 2014 to update family and friends on his status while living with pancreatic cancer. As many of you know, he lived only 3 years after being diagnosed, before the cancer overwhelmed his body and he went on to his next journey in December 2016.

Instead of creating a new and separate blog, I decided to add on to his existing one. The original add on was to document my Virtual PCT journey in 2020-2021. Now I am adding on my newest challenge, 52 Peaks in 52 Weeks. Skip forward in time to see my newest posts…or remind yourself where I started this journey…and now, before I so rudely interrupted myself, here is the original Virtual PCT introduction…

The virtual challenge I am beginning is to honor the fact that I CAN do this, while Alex was robbed of that opportunity. More on that later. Its also because I am not a new person or starting a new life without Alex by my side, I am simply layering new experiences on my previous ones, and hopefully growing from that woman I used to be, using my past success (and failure) to inform future possibilities and adventures. So Alex’s past posts remain a part of this blog, and we continue the journey from there. I hope it enriches you to read his words (or re-read as the case may be) from a time that seems both recent AND a long time past.

SO, on to the new journey. First, some background. The Pacific Crest Trail, also known as the ‘PCT’, stretches 2,650 miles along the peaks of the western mountains of the United States of America, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Hundreds of people hike the entire trail each year, some as ‘through’ hikers, hiking it in one continuous effort, usually taking five to seven months (or more) to do it. Many more hikers hike in sections over a long period of time or complete a major section of the trail, though not all of it; one of the most famous of these section hikers is Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a book called Wild about her journey. The book was later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, and for many people this book/movie was their introduction to the PCT.  

My home is about 50 miles from the southern terminus of the PCT. There are books and signs about the trail in local hiking stores; if you tell people, “I like to hike” they often ask you, “Are you going to hike the PCT?”  The simple answer is NO. I am no backpacker. And most serious hiking on the PCT means a significant backpacking experience.  I love to walk and day hike, but I am happily in novice range, with most of my walks/hikes between 3 and 7 miles long. Even the most difficult hikes I’ve completed do not include either the elevation gain, or the mileage, that most PCT hikers see in a single day.   

SOOO, get on with it you say? If I don’t intend to hike the PCT, at least not really hike it, why the intro? What is the “Virtual CA PCT Journey?”

My 2020 birthday anniversary brings me to the ripe old age of 57. My mom Karen was 56 when she died of complications of rheumatoid arthritis, and had been disabled since her mid 20’s. So turning 57 had special significance for me…I am now older than my mom. Alex also did not get to see 57; he was 54 when pancreatic cancer took him from us. My sister in law Olivia did not get to experience a 57th birthday; my father in law had the experience of feeling young/old in his late 50’s stolen from him as well. As I write on the the first day of August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has also taken away hundreds of thousands of birthdays people were expecting to celebrate as 2019 turned into 2020. So I am feeling blessed on this birthday to be “old”, but not feeling all that old. And blessed to be in a physical state that allows me to walk several miles at a time. 

You are finally here: THIS IS MY CHALLENGE: To walk 1,699 miles, or the length of the PCT in California by July 30, 2021. I started on my birthday, July 30th, with 9 miles. Most miles will be done in neighborhoods and parks here in San Diego county, though I do plan to hike accessible portions of the PCT for some of the mileage. I will track each day’s mileage, take photos of my walks, and do a brief update here on my progress at least once a week, or maybe more often. I hope to learn more about my home town and county, exploring new places on foot that I have only driven past, as well as walking and hiking in some of my most beloved places, like Mission Trails Regional Park, Lake Murray and other nearby trails and parks. I have already been accompanied by loved ones on the inaugural day; if any of you want to join me, let me know. Maybe at some point in all of this we will even be able to hike without masks!

I will need to average 4.6 miles per day, 32.7 miles a week, and about 143 miles a month. I am a bit daunted, but also determined. I sense that lack of technical knowledge about blogging will be my biggest challenge, and if that’s true, that’s a GOOD thing. As I make my milestones each month, I plan to donate to charities in Alex’s and my mom’s names; honoring them, as well as the fact that I am privileged to be able to do this, when they could not. So here we go…

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52 Peaks Challenge: Peaks 60-65

May 7-June 10, 2022

Well, the peaks are coming fast and furious now…NOT. The photo above seemed kind of appropriate for this post as lack of new (to me) trails in San Diego County, warmer weather and a bunch of other roadblocks have STOPPED, well just slowed/impacted hiking new peaks. But its all good in my hood…as the world seems to be falling apart at the seams (see what I did there?), I just keep hitting the trails, even if I have hiked them before. Its not that I don’t care that hundreds are dying in mass shootings, or that women may not have choice when it comes to their bodies, or that COVID keeps raging on…its more that I feel completely powerless about those things. I did vote of course, and that felt positive, but otherwise, one of the main things that keeps me sane is to HIKE. So let’s talk about that.

Peak 60: Palomar Observatory and Fry Creek Trails; May 7, 2022. 7.5 miles, 890 ft elevation gain.

This was a nice pair of trails on the east side of the Palomar Mountains; Peak 42 was a trail loop on the west side. While the east was pretty, the west holds the trophy for one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done, so this hike paled a bit in comparison. But the trees and shade were lovely on this somewhat warm spring day, and while there were some wildflowers on the trail (see above), the best wildflower clusters were to be seen on the ride up, on you guessed it, the western side of the mountains. The Observatory trail was a single track most of the way and a fairly gentle incline; without adding the Fry Creek campground trail, we would not have made the required elevation for a peak. I liked the Fry Creek trail more…it had more interesting trees and was shadier, but it was only 2.5 miles long. These days I like a longer hike. Would be happy to come up here and explore more on a cooler day…but my recommendation would be to stick to the west side with the Boucher Hill, Cedar and other trails. A great day out regardless, with the San Diego hiking ladies…and I didn’t lead this one…so I had a relaxing hike, trailing along in the back, reveling in trees and good company.

Peak 61: Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, Idyllwild; May 14, 2022. 7.5 miles, 1769 ft elevation gain.

Not gonna lie, this was a hard one! The distance and elevation gain are pretty typical of many of the hikes that we have been doing, but I think the overall elevation (from about 5600 to 7500 feet) and the heat made this one tougher? It wasn’t just me, most of the ladies agreed this was a moderately tough hike. But WOW! SO worth the effort. Idyllwild is in southern Riverside County, and while I have visited often as my Aunt Karen has lived in Idyllwild for decades, I haven’t done any serious hiking there. And there is serious hiking to be had. I always intended to have at least one peak in the challenge be in Idyllwild; so I organized a SDLH&M trip and we got two. One easy, one hard. This one was hard. Its called Suicide Rock because there is an American Indian Romeo and Juliet story associated with the hike, not because you want to commit suicide while doing it.

There is lots more hiking to be had in Idyllwild, as you can see from the sign above…and I want to come back and do more. But I’ll do some additional training first. Its also tricky to time these hikes, as snow and ice can linger thru May; our luck was to have an especially warm weekend. No snow and ice for us! But there wasn’t anything about this hike (and weekend) that wasn’t glorious. I was even awarded a trophy! I’ll let the pictures tell the story…

The evening after the hike, we went to town for ice cream, shopping, then dinner. On the way to dinner, we saw a gathering in the center of town; there was a march in support of reproductive rights for women. We decided to join it. I wasn’t sure how my friends would feel about it; but regardless of their thoughts on abortion, all of the ladies felt strongly that CHOICE was important. We bonded even more and marching together was a highlight of the trip. ‘My body, my choice. We will not go back.’

Peak 62: Ernie Maxwell Trail, Idyllwild; May 15, 2022. 5 miles, 861 ft elevation gain.

This lovely trail was a walk in the woods compared with the hot and strenuous hike of the day before. We started fairly early, about 8:00am and that really made a difference; the trail was shaded almost the entire way. It was also good to move our legs to limber up from the day before; the gentle incline and smooth dirt path made that movement a pleasure. The fact that we could see Suicide Rock, where we had hiked the day before, was such a bonus…it just kept getting bigger in front of us as we climbed. A perfect way to end our hiking for the weekend, though we had other delights awaiting us as I’ll describe. And bonus, Auntie Karen joined us for the last half of this hike! Though I don’t have her in any pictures on the trail, rats.

After the hike, Leslie mentioned Alpenglow Lilac Garden which she had visited the day before; it also turned out that my aunt knew the owner! We had a luscious, scented visit, along with personal attention from Gary Parton, the owner. Beth even bought a lilac bush to plant at home in San Diego, fortified with special hints from Gary on lilac care.

After the garden, Auntie Karen then took up to some petroglyphs, known only to locals. We had such an amazing tour of the beautiful town. Then a delicious lunch before heading home. What an amazing weekend of fun, delightful friends (and family), trees, and yes, hiking!!

Peak 63: Mary Jane Falls, Mt Charleston, Nevada; May 28, 2022. 4.5 miles, 1135 ft elevation gain.

From one epic trip to another, just two weeks later. Didn’t mean for this blog to become a travelogue…but will share a few highlights of the surrounding events of this hike as I did for the Idyllwild peaks.

This time I traveled with Nicky; our main destination was Las Vegas, to see Jack White, guitar god. Most people know Jack as one half of the White Stripes, of ‘7 Nation Army’ fame. Nick has been a devotee for some time, and I accompanied Nick to a Jack concert years ago…and was a convert ever since. The man ROCKS! With new peaks being so hard to find in San Diego, I proposed a hike in an area near Las Vegas which I had read about, but never visited: the Mount Charleston wilderness. I will never spend time in Las Vegas again without visiting this wonderful area, just 45 easy minutes from the Las Vegas strip.

The trail was a mix of wide trail with broken granite pieces and then narrow, rocky switch backs. There were wildflowers and green mountainsides. The weather was cool, but sunny and bright, with a slight breeze. It was a steady climb and with the elevation at 6000+ feet at the trailhead, we definitely were breathing hard. We had lots of company on the way, a mix of tourists like ourselves and locals with their dogs. As we climbed the scenery became grander and grander, with the trees getting bigger and the slopes with their icy patches in the ravines; it was very dramatic. So different than the desert floor just 30 miles away.

After a little more than an hour of hiking (about 2 miles up), we found ourselves at the falls. The falls were unusual, not a steady flow or a trickle, but something in between, a cascade that sparkled in the sun as it fell over the rocks in front of the large caves. It was quite beautiful and I’ve not seen anything like it before. Nick climbed up to wet his head in the falling water and was refreshed.

After taking numerous photos at the falls and watching folks revel in the water, we continued on to a second cave area and spent some time looking out over the mountain vista. Such a peaceful and beautiful place.

Though we loved it there, we realized we had to make our way to Las Vegas; we had left San Diego at 4:45am and it was now about 1pm and we hadn’t really had a meal. We made our way back down the mountain in about 40 minutes and by 3:00pm we were at our hotel. What a difference! Luckily our first night was off the strip, so the contrast wasn’t quite so stark between the serenity of the mountain and the madness of the Vegas strip. We were served lunch by a robot though…so clearly things were in a different realm. Over the next few days we were treated to the full Vegas experience: hoardes of people; a $45 win at a slot machine outside the Beatles Love store in the Mirage (maybe the best part of Vegas besides Jack and the hike); an hour check in experience at Caesar’s Palace; a $35 slushie drink at the Caesar’s Palace pool (goodbye winnings); AND a truly GREAT Jack White concert where we were up front and Nick got to go on stage. WOW! We had a really good time, and Jack’s concert was worth the drive (we got ‘7 Nation Army’ and LA did NOT) the madness of Vegas is something I don’t need again for a while. In fact, next time I’m in the area, I will likely skip the Vegas scene all together and just hike!

Peak 64: Guatay Mountain, Descanso. June 4, 2022. 6.2 miles, 1560 ft elevation gain.

Another peak where the mileage and the elevation gain do not tell the whole story. I found this hike in my San Diego hiking bible ‘Afoot and Afield in San Diego’. I had not heard of anyone who had done the hike when I scheduled it; from the description it didn’t sound SO hard, though descriptions on AllTrails did talk about very rocky and steep summit approaches, as well as false summits and overgrown trail areas. We found all of that, plus a goodly amount of bugs which didn’t really care about my spray. But this was still a great hike. Sadly, I had left my phone at home, so all photo credits are for LuAnn, Valentina, Galia and Jean.

I hiked with the ladies of SDHL&M: Galia, my co-leader (and digital map reader extraordinaire, thank goodness), Jean, Valentina, LuAnn, Lori, Gail, Joanna, and me. We were the only ones out there. It was a warm and sunny day. Thankfully, a few days before the hike, another SD hiking lady told me she had hiked the trail and helped me find the trail head, which was not at all obvious or marked. About 400 yards in, we lost the trail all together, and through Galia’s excellent AllTrails map following skills were we able to find it again. After that, the trail was pretty easy to follow, though it became a mini ravine after a bit, with erosion taking a major toll on the trail. We did have many wildflowers, many of which were new to us, as well as shady oaks, for about the first mile or so of the trail. It was quite beautiful. But buggy.

At a mile and a half, we the trail made a sharp east/left turn and we left the trees behind and emerged into shrub land. The flowers changed as well. We even saw a beautiful catepillar, destined to become a beautiful butterfly.

The trail also got much steeper and rockier and we embarked on climbing two false summits (along with the decline that goes along with it, only to climb again). This is how a trail that sounds moderate based on mileage and elevation gain can turn into a difficult or strenuous hike. When you are sliding, and climbing up and over rocks and having to slowly sidestep down loose dirt only to climb back up, its hard. That was this trail. At the same time, the views were tremendous in every direction: east to the Lagunas, west to the coast, south to Lyon’s Peak and Corte Madera, north to Cuyamaca Peak.

We made it to the very rocky top and had a nice break and snack, signed the peak register, and continued to enjoy the views. We also had a giggle over Valentina’s collection of coyote poop; she had heard it deterred gophers and had collected a pretty full ziplock bag of the stuff. I’ll report back if it works.

Our way back was the way out, so we had the same steep ascents and descents as before. But about 1/4 mile from the trailhead, we saw what every hiker dreads (well me and my friends at least), a snake laying across the trail. At this point, LuAnn realized she left her trek poles at our last rest stop, so we waited for the snake to move and LuAnn to retrieve her poles…it worked out.

Peak 65: Boulder Trail, Daley Ranch. June 10, 2022. 4.4 miles, 830 ft elevation gain.

This is a trail I had heard about quite a lot and never had the chance to try. Gail had mentioned it when we were trying to think of new peak trails to try…and it turned out to be SO nice! This was another SDLH&M hike, led by me. Half of the ladies had done it before, for half the trail was new. I had been a bit worried about heat, but it wasn’t too hot (yet, we stared at 8am), and we had a nice breeze, plus at least a third of the hike was in the shade of lovely big oaks. And most of the surrounding hillsides were still green! A lovely bonus.

The trail is pretty straightforward, you start up a paved road and then turn off to dirt trails. There are quite a few different trails at the Daley Ranch preserve and they are well marked. Cynthia helped me navigate via her AllTrails app, and other ladies who had hiked the trail before also provided input. It was a steady but modest incline, with a nicely maintained dirt trail. No sliding, few rocks, no snakes. Hooray! We reached the top in pretty short order, in about 45 minutes. We took a good rest, water and food break at the shelter and took several photos.

In explanation of the photo below, my friend and fellow SD hiking lady Jeana (pictured middle, below) donated a kidney to her husband about a year and half ago; it is a real success story. He was very ill, and no matches in sight, when Jeana decided she would see if she was a match to donate (their children amazingly were not) and she was. A year and half later they are both thriving. She joined a transplant support group called Transplant Trekkers, and each year they have an event; this year it is a virtual trek across the United States, starting in New Jersey and ending in San Diego. I joined Jeana’s team, Time is Now, (along with Jean) and we are contributing our hiking miles to her team’s mile total. As of today her team is ‘in’ West Virgina; I have every confidence we will make it to San Diego by the end of July, which is her deadline, and conveniently, the end of the 52 Peak Challenge!

After reaching the summit, coming down was a piece of cake. There were many side trails I would love to try, including one to Stanley Peak (which we hiked from a different start point in December last year); that will be for another, cooler day. This was just a perfect 2 hour hike for a warm, late spring morning, with a great cause thrown in to make the miles count even more. Great way to end the week and get my peak number 65.

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52 Peaks Challenge: Peaks 53-59

April 2 though April 30, 2022

The middle fall at Three Sisters Falls in the Cuyamaca Mountains

The main themes for this month of hikes: water and flowers. Precious and fleeting: these words describe both of those things as well. At the beginning of April, water and flowers were plentiful on the trail; by the end of the month, water was scarce and flowers in many locales were drying up, though higher in the mountains the flowers were reaching their glory point. This month of hikes brought some of the most inspiring hikes I have done in San Diego County…who knew we had spectacular water falls? I do now, and when the water returns next year (hopefully), I will return as well, again so grateful to be in these wonderous places.

Peak 53: East Mesa Peak, Cuyamaca Mountains, April 2, 2022. 10 miles, 1000 ft elevation gain.

(some of) The wonderful ladies of San Diego Ladies Hiking and More!

This hike was a looping exploration of the south eastern area of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which circled a promontory named “East Mesa Peak”. I would not put this in the same category as other peaks in this park, like Oakzanita, or Middle Peak, but it was a nice hike all the same, with some good, moderate climbs.

This was an entirely new trail to me, but the trails in this state park are very well marked and easy to follow, so no problems. It was a cool, sunny morning, and surrounding hillsides/peaks were very green. The ceanothus was blooming, but it was the white variety, which I hadn’t really seen before. It was very fragrant, kind of a honey and herb scent mixed. There were some other small wildflowers as well, but spring comes later to the mountains, so I wasn’t that surprised that most of the flowers were not yet in bloom. It was enough to have the all the hillsides so green instead of the usual brown with which we are familiar all the other seasons of the year.

The highlight of the hike for me was not the peak, but a visit to a hike-in campground I had always wanted to visit; its called Granite Spring. There IS a spring, but it has been turned into a well with a faucet, and now serves mostly horses; the water from it isn’t potable. But on a hot day, I think a dousing from the faucet would be most welcome!

I liked this long hike quite a lot, even if it didn’t have a dramatic peak. I would like to come back again, either in the fall when the trees would be turning colors, or later in spring when more flowers would be blooming. Would also be a nice late afternoon summer hike, with a dousing from said faucet!

Peaks 54 and 55: Three Sisters Falls and Eagle Peak, Cuyamaca Mountains, April 5, 2022. Three Sisters: 4 miles, 1010 ft elevation gain; Eagle Peak: 4.2 miles, 1002 ft elevation gain.

The very long and winding (dirt) road to the Three Sisters Falls trailhead: with brave Mylinh driving.

What a spectacular day! This is another of those hikes that hikers in San Diego are repeatedly asked about, “Have you hiked Three Sisters Falls?” The hike itself isn’t that tough; its 4 miles and about 1000 feet of gain. But it does get very hot out on the trail, similar to the Cedar Creek Falls Trail. There have been deaths on this trail due to heat stroke and/or lack of water; as such, the County closes the trail when temps are forecast for 85 degrees and above. Which happened 2 days after we hiked the trail! On the day we hiked it was mid to high 70’s, plenty warm, but do-able. We (Jean, Beth, Mylinh, Valentina, Carolyn and I) also decided to hike the Eagle Peak trail, which starts from the same trail head/parking area, on the same day. We hiked Three Sisters first and then Eagle Peak. It seemed a better idea to go down to the falls, then up to the split, up again to Eagle Peak, then back down to the trailhead. So this really was a 2000 foot gain hike…and it did feel like it.

About 1/4 of the way down the falls trail, one can actually see AND hear the waterfall! I felt like I was in the Sierra, not San Diego County. And wildflowers were everywhere! A rainbow of orange and golden poppy, red monkeyflower, purple flowers, golden flowers, against green grasses and bushes, so lovely. Made the lack of shade less of a burden. My photos are not capturing what is in my memory of the plethora of colors on the hillsides as we wound our way down to the falls.

Once at the falls you have to traverse large granite boulders that have been worn smooth from the rushing water. They were somewhat slippery, but fine in dry spots with our good grippy boots. I would not want to be on these rocks if they were wet. This is another hazard you hear about all the time, the slips and falls, and expensive life flight helicopters. Fortunately for us, no slips and besides one other (very happy and sweet) couple, we had the falls to ourselves. Ha ha.

The falls are a series of water drops of Boulder Creek (imaginative name) over huge granite boulders, four drops and three pools. The pools are deep enough to swim in, though the water is extremely cold. I settled for putting one foot in, and then laying the sole of my foot on the bare granite. Listening to the rushing water with my foot on the bare rock, I felt the peaceful and at the same time energizing essence of the place and soaked it in. We stayed for about 20 minutes; I could have stayed all day. Shoe and sock back on, some pictures and then we had to get back up the mountainside to climb to Eagle Peak.

I won’t lie, the hike back up was tough. It was HOT. I think the creek canyon must intensify the sunlight/air temps…luckily I dunked my bandana into the falls pool and put it in a plastic bag. Half way up the Eagle Peak trail I put that cold, wet bandana around my neck and oooh boy that felt good. As we approached the summit of Eagle Peak, it got very rocky and the trail became hard to follow; I was all for declaring victory over the peak and stopping for our snack break/turnaround point. The other ladies were with me, except for Valentina, who sweetly and encouragingly kept saying, ‘Come on ladies, don’t you want to get to the top, to the peak?’ About 100 yards short of the peak we found some nice flat boulders for sitting and that was it for us. She kept going and made it to the summit, waving down at us as we munched our snacks.

After a nice rest, it was time to head back down the trail. Wow! What a view! Sometimes a trail can look very different on the way up versus the way back down…this was the most extreme example of this I have experienced. Quite beautiful, you just had to be sure to stop to take in the views; if you didn’t keep looking at your feet, you ran the risk of tumbling down the mountain.

Although it was only about 2 miles down, we were plenty tired when we made it back to the car. That said, if you go I do encourage you to hike both trails. Its a long and hard ride to the trailhead(s), so the long hike, with two very different experiences, justifies that difficult drive. Just take your time and make sure to check the weather before you head out.

Peak 56: Monument and Hayes Peaks, Laguna Mountains, April 9, 2022. 6 miles, 1138 ft elevation gain.

Some days things are just easier. That was the case with this delightful hike in the Laguna Mountains. Most of the hike is on the PCT leaving northbound from Desert View campground. In late Spring and Summer, this is a shady hike, through oak and pine forest, not typical for the PCT in this region. On our hike, most of the black oak trees were still pretty bare, with their pinkish-red leaves just starting to pop.

The PCT gently climbed the ridge of the eastern side of the Laguna Mountains, and in this area, you are well away from the sheer drop to the Anza Borrego desert which characterizes much of the PCT in the Lagunas. The walk through the forest was a contrast; we were pretty sure we would have some pretty spectacular views later on in the hike anyway. About 2 miles north on the PCT from Desert View there is a turn off to Monument Peak. Its not super visible, just a narrow, slightly overgrown dirt track between two PCT markers that are easy to miss. No problem staying ON the PCT here, but you have to be super vigilant to find the peak access trail. This trail was bordered on both sides by tall manzanita that were a bit overgrown…doesn’t appear that this trail is well used. Its also possible to walk up to the peak on a paved access road for the antenna up there and my guess is that most people choose that. But we like things more natural, and I’m glad we chose that way. The manzanita were beautiful and very artistic with their twisting limbs reaching to the sky.

The access trail dead ended at an open spot near the access road and we did the last 100 yards or so on this. We were out of the forest now and views into the desert below were wonderful.

We also met a new friend at the top, a husky called Sierra Sasha, and she was quite calm and friendly. With permission from her human, she went to each of us in turn to greet and accept pets. We also had some snacks, so that could have been a draw, but she wasn’t begging.

We enjoyed the summit for at least half hour, taking photos, petting Sasha, eating snacks. I had read that Hayes Peak was accessible from this area, and we could see people a short ways away seemingly on that peak, so after discussion we decided to try it out. This trail was not the easiest to follow, but we slalomed our way around the short stubby plants, and even met a PCT thru hiker packing up his campsite, getting ready for the 2600 additional miles he had to go to meet his goal. Ours was much easier! I actually posted a photo of the second peak, Hayes, at the beginning of this post. It was VERY windy up there, so many of the photos I took didn’t really come out. I was being blown around too much and the photos were pretty blurry! I did get a nice video…but I don’t appear to be able to post a video on the blog! Its probably possible, I’m just not sure how. You’ll have to ask to see it someday, ha ha. This was an out and back hike and we made our way back to Desert View pretty quickly and were quite surprised that we had traveled 6 miles with over a 1000 feet of gain. Love this hike, will do it many times I’m sure.

Peak 57: Hot Springs Mountain, April 16, 2022. 10.2 miles, 2417 ft elevation gain.

This is the highest peak in San Diego County and it is within the Los Coyotes Reservation near Warner Springs. The tribal council allows visitors to obtain a permit to hike and camp on their land and it was a privilege to be in that beautiful place. Galia joined me on this new to both of us hike; next time we will post for the group…will be a nice hike/challenge for our SDLH&M companions.

The mountain peak is 6533 feet, just a few feet higher than Cuyamaca Peak, about 40 miles (driving) to the south. The Hot Springs Mtn trailhead is at about 4000 feet though, so there is a bit of a head start on climbing the peak. The first two miles of the hike are exposed and pretty steep, on a wide, really well maintained trail/DG service road. The feel is high desert, with lots of foliage bordering the trail. The ceanothus was tall and in full bloom; there were also lots of poppies and other colorful wildflowers, as well as views of green hillsides all around. A very pretty and great workout.

We had a sunny but pretty cool day, and it was very windy, which lowered the temp even more. At about 2.5 miles you reach a cedar and pine forest, which shades the trail significantly. By the time we got to the forest, I was slightly sweaty and thankful for the protection of the trees, as much as from the wind as from the sun. I was almost cold and wishing I had brought more clothes! That rarely happens. At 4 miles we took a long snack break in a sunny part of the forest before continuing to the summit. It was just us, quiet except for much bird song and the wind through the trees, surefire antidotes to anxiety. Forest bathing for healing is a real thing.

The path narrowed a bit for the next mile, and got kind of steep again, then we came out to a clearing where the remains of a fire lookout were visible. We passed that by for now, took a few photos of the wonderful open views toward San Jacinto and the Santa Rosa Mountains before taking the single track spur trail to the top.

The single track trail weaves through various types of trees, with glimpses of the surrounding ravines to the north and south. Its only about a 1/4 mile or so to the top, but it feels like a walk through an enchanted wood. Its quiet and fully protected from the almost howling wind of the open area near the fire tower. The actual summit is reached by climbing a ladder and some ropes up to the top of a rock where the summit marker is kept. We were happy to watch others do that climb from a nice shaded rock, and we signed the summit register, which was also kept at the foot of the ladder to the summit.

Took my traditional warrior pose photo and a star pose for Galia and had our second snack to fortify us for the 5 mile trek back down the mountain. We took a long and happy break to soak up the wonderful feeling of this special peak. The protection of the trees from the cold wind with sunlight streaming through gave us a perfect balance and we felt refreshed for our walk back down. It only took us about 2 hours to do the descent, even with bio breaks along the way. This did not feel like a 10 mile hike with almost 2500 foot climb. Love this trail, another favorite in the peak challenge. Thank you Los Coyotes people, we will definitely come back to enjoy your hospitality.

Peak 58: Kitchen Creek Falls, April 23, 2022. 5.9 miles, 980 ft elevation gain.

At the trailhead with (some of) the SD Hiking Ladies

Back to the PCT for this hike, this time about 15 (20?) miles south of the Desert View trailhead on the PCT we had visited just a few weeks before. Another lovely waterfall as well in the peak challenge. March and April are the best months to visit these, unless San Diego has had a really good water year. We did have a bit of rain the week before, which helped with Kitchen Creek’s flow in this fairly dry 2022, as well as feeding the wildflowers which were plentiful and enchanting all along the trail.

This is a moderate climb up the backside of the Laguna Mountains and while the trail was not crowded, there were plenty of PCT through hikers to keep us company. Its so exciting to see them at the start of their journey and we wondered how many of them would make it all the way to Canada. They had our good wishes to spur them along the way. At about 2 miles, a very steep spur trail takes you away from the PCT and down to Kitchen Creek. I’m not ashamed to say that I went on my rear end a couple of times where it was the steepest, just so I wouldn’t pitch forward and summersault my way down to the creek.

This waterfall is very gentle and consists of the creek gently sliding down wide boulders into several shallow pools. It was sunny, but windy again and definitely not hot, so we didn’t wade. We did enjoy just sitting and listening to the creek bubble along. Again, so peaceful…and we had the place mostly to ourselves, though we could see many PCT hikers above us on the trail.

Instead of going back up the way we came, we traveled upstream a ways to explore the creek. It was just lovely. There were lots of cactus around though and clumsy me, I somehow got a short spine into my knee at some point. The hazards of hiking; its also crazy how such a small spike can cause so much discomfort. All was well a week later though when it finally came out. But I digress. Since we had traveled so far along the creek and could see the PCT above us, we decided to try to find an alternate spur trail up to the PCT; Kathy McKenzie, another leader with our group spied one and lead us up the very steep hill. There is no way I would have found it, as evidenced by the fact that when I hiked here with Nick on Mother’s day a few weeks later, I led us directly into a manzanita (and other shrub) patch. I digress again.

We reached the PCT fairly easily (on that day, ha ha) and started walking back south on the PCT to make the loop to our starting place. On the way we passed what I call “Pride Rock” a rocky promontory that juts out over Kitchen Creek from the PCT. Several photos and some choruses of “The Circle of Life” later, we were on our way again.

As we made our way back we talked about the wonders of wildflowers, what you can and can’t eat of those said flowers (Axia tried some); who would and wouldn’t not be comfortable hiking weeks and weeks on the PCT (most wouldn’t); and the glories of being able to easily day hike in this wonderous place. A day perfectly spent with dear friends.

Peak 59: Historic Flume Trail, Lakeside, CA, April 29, 2022. 7.6 miles, 700 ft elevation gain.

I have to admit, this is a bit of a cheat peak, in fact its not a peak at all. But this is such a lovely and unique trail and it just meets the elevation criteria, so since there is a bit of a struggle to find unique peaks that are accessible to most people, I added it to the 52 peaks list. This trail follows the route of a wooden flume which brought water from the mountains of San Diego to the valleys below, specifically Lakeside and El Cajon. It only lasted about 20-30 years. The trail sits above a lovely, almost hidden valley and we (SD hiking ladies and I) discovered it in late 2020; it has felt special to us ever since. I have hiked it multiple times and it is always a hit with newcomers as its so unique. One of the main attractions is seeing El Cajon Mountain throughout the hike, scenically looming above you. There is a nice rock we have dubbed ‘pyramid rock’, which sits in front of the El Cajon Mountain rock face and is a perfect photo spot. We took advantage.

Hiking this trail with Nick on New Year’s Day 2021, he discovered a bailout from the flume trail that brought us into an equestrian neighborhood above the trail and which eventually linked back down to the trail, so it can be more of a loop instead of out and back. Its a steep climb on that bailout and really the only thing which allows this to be considered a peak hike. Its a fun diversion from the trail to be in a neighborhood with horses, huge houses of varying types, and homemade ballfields. The main thing is for me to remember the street names to get us back to the flume trail. Here they are for posterity: Quail, Sleepy, Fern. I really need to write it down and bring it with me though…I think I would be much happier during the hike if I did. Nice hike and another ‘peak’ on the books.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 50-52 (Yes 52!! I made it!!!)

March 19 through March 30, 2022

I have been stuck writing this post for almost a month. The good news is that I’ve been busy: volunteering and reading and meeting friends and planning travel, etc., etc. (and yes hiking!). But that’s not really the reason I’m stuck. I’m sort of stuck trying to figure out “who” or “what” I am. Almost four years into retirement, five years since Alex passed away, seven years since Nick moved into his own place: what is my role, where do I fit? When you first meet someone, the first question often asked is “What do you do?” For me that’s a bit of a challenge…the typical answers no longer apply. I don’t think I’m special necessarily; many people face changes as time marches on…but with me it all seems to have converged at once.

I obviously hike quite a lot, but ‘hiker’ seems like an odd thing to say when someone asks, “What do you do?” ‘Volunteer’? That seems kinda braggy somehow, though I am proud of the volunteer work I do and want to expand my volunteer roles. I’m a ukulele player? Well, not really if I’m honest…not yet anyway. I do know the trail is an escape from these questions. I don’t hike TO escape…the cycling in my head just kind of stops. The pressure valve releases; questions and fears recede into the background as nature envelops me and my self-preoccupation melts away. No wonder I’m addicted to hiking. I’m so grateful to have found it…or it found me just when I needed it.

Peak 50: Cedar Creek Falls, March 19, 2022. 6 miles, 1100ft elevation gain.

This is one of the most beautiful spots in San Diego County. Its also extremely popular as you might imagine, so much so that a permit is required to hike here; the permits are limited to 75 for any given day and no more than 5 people per permit. We were quite fortunate that it had been raining in the weeks preceding our hike, so the falls were really flowing. Even with all the people gathered at the falls, it was quite peaceful…but I am getting ahead of myself…let me describe the hike.

This is what I have called an inverted peak: we start up high and hike down to the low point, often a water source or canyon. Cedar Creek, the source of the falls, flows from the Cuyamaca mountains just to the north of this area into foothills and then into the San Diego River gorge. The mountains and the gorge below them are visible in the photos above. We had a beautiful, party cloudy day, which made for lovely plays of sunlight on the mountains and trail. My companions Galia, Jeana, Valentina and Beth kept exclaiming over the wildflowers that were everywhere (me too, I exclaimed plenty).

The hike going down to the falls is steep, but its a very well cared for trail, so its pretty easy going. We made it down the 2.5 miles of hill side quickly, in a little more than half hour. The half mile path to the falls (once in the river gorge) crosses Cedar Creek a couple times and is shaded by oaks and cottonwoods. Birds were singing and the sound of the water was delightful. So different from when I had been here last year. The creek was barely moving then and the falls at that time were more like a trickle; this time it was fully running water. Glorious.

When you are at the falls, you don’t want to leave…but sadly, all good things must come to an end. Or do they? I actually came back just a few weeks later (April 10th), with another group of ladies…and it was just as beautiful. The falls are a limited sight…by late April/May the falls are often dried up and the pool starts stagnating. The trip back up, all 1100 feet of climb in about 2.5 miles, also gets REALLY hot. So hot that the trail closes all of August and sometimes rangers will also close the trail other times if the weather is 85 degrees and above. Sadly, people have perished on the trail due to heat stroke and dehydration. We made it out just fine, both visits. This hike is in my top 10 hikes (anyplace); I plan to come back every year. Maybe more than once.

Peak 51: Mount Gower, March 26, 2022. 9.5 miles, 2100ft elevation gain.

Best picture of the hike. Best time of the hike. ‘My’ summit.

From the sublime to the not so great. This hike has been called a mini El Cajon Mountain. There is nothing mini about it. This is a longer hike than I typically do and a greater elevation gain, but that isn’t really what’s tough about it (or a big ol’ drag as I like to say). Its that you are constantly going up and down and (steeply) up and (more steeply on little ball bearing like decomposed granite) down…with little or no shade. The trail seems unnecessarily long, winding here and there, without rhyme or reason, not following a ridgeline or straight line. Frustrating. And a bit scary as you feel your footing slide again and again, poles or no poles, great boots notwithstanding.

There were some nice flowers and the first mile of the trail was in decent shape. The summit (as far as I got) was really nice. Then I was told I wasn’t on the right trail for the summit and was on a false summit and I really didn’t care because I wasn’t going to climb up all those rocks anyway…are you getting the message I didn’t care for this trail? Good, I’m making myself clear.

Oh, and it was hot…about 85 degrees when we finished. Bleh and BLEH! I should add that we had some really nice views from a plateau area just before the rocks to the ‘summit’ I didn’t climb. We got some really nice photos, including a really nice warrior for me and star for Galia. So all was not lost. But no hurry back to this one, that’s for sure.

Peak 52: Santa Ysabel Preserve, March 30, 2022. 5.2 miles, 1252ft elevation gain.

Back to the sublime! Nick’s spring break hit just at the time I was ready for Peak 52. We had an epic day of hiking on Wednesday, March 30, starting in the Santa Ysabel Preserve where we achieved the mileage and elevation needed for the 52nd peak. We then moved on to Warner Springs and the PCT to Eagle Rock. Our total for the day was 11.2 miles and about 2000 feet of gain. Not much different in stats than the Gower hike I just described. But what a different feel, oh my!

Sharing hikes with my son in these beautiful places is pure joy. Its kind of ironic; when Nick was a kid, hiking was not a chosen pass time. Now we both look forward to these special days…for birthdays, Mother’s day, etc, I ask for the gift of a hike. The hike, the scenery, the feeling of well being and strength one gets on the trail, as well as the wonderful conversations we have, from the silly to the serious and sublime: all of it combines to an enriching experience.

Santa Ysabel is a special place, perfect for my milestone hike. Not quite in the mountains, but with a mountain feel, Santa Ysabel sits at the foot of the Cuyamaca Mountains at about 3700 feet. It had rained a few days before, and everything had a washed clean feel. We walked up the main trail into the preserve and gained about 700 feet in less than a mile. But it never felt too hard, just at a point where you need a break, the trail levels out, then climbs again. We had shade for most of the climb to the top of the ridge. Then there were decisions to make…one trail would lead north into the mountains, about 10 miles and another 1500 feet of gain. Another trail loops back to the start point in about 4 miles and about 300 feet of gain. We decided to explore a bit on the longer trail before looping back and were rewarded with the sight of golden eagles and the sound of turkeys.

Nick gobbled at the turkeys and of course they gobbled back. It was hilarious. They finally crossed in front of us. Why does the turkey cross the road? To talk to Nick. Hahahahahaha!! You had to be there.

The trail turned sharply downhill after turkey crossing, so we decided to retrace our steps and start looping back. We got to the top of the ridge and took some photos, but then came out to an area with some really nice views of the Santa Ysabel Valley about 1000 feet below. It was so nice.

Once we completed the Santa Ysabel loop, Nick was ready to hike to Eagle Rock on the PCT; the trail head for this PCT section was only 20 minutes down the road. I had hiked this trail multiple times, but never in spring time. I had hoped for green fields and flowers…what we found was exceptional. As always, the photos don’t do the real thing justice.

On the way back we could see in the distance that there were ‘cows’ close to the trail. As we got closer those ‘cows’ clearly had horns and also seemed none to pleased that we were approaching on their trail.

As we continued walking, the one closest to the trail stopped grazing and stared at us. Then he lowered his head a bit and wagged it gently back and forth. Nick said, “Mom, we are getting off the trail and going around.” He pointed out our route and started leading. No question, Nick sized up the situation and determined our path. He became the adult and leader; I didn’t argue, I followed. And sure enough, once we were a ways off, the bull started eating again. Bull message conveyed.

After we were out of cattle territory, Nick said, “When I was talking to the turkeys I felt superior. When the bull stopped eating and was staring at us, I definitely felt inferior.” We both saw our place in the universe at that moment and we were NOT in the driver’s seat, that’s for sure! Regardless of where that bull will end up, he was alpha at that moment. It was exciting, and funny and frightening all at once. Maybe the best part of the whole day. Its important to know when to push and when to give way…on the trail and off.

For my 52 peaks chaIlenge, I will keep pushing…more peaks, more lessons, more bonding experiences with my hiking companions as well as beloved family and friends (they are becoming one and the same). This is a challenge and journey that keeps on giving the more I push forward.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 46-49

February 24-March 12, 2022

These last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions. The horror and frustration of the war in Ukraine contrasted with achieving hikes I really didn’t think I could complete and a wonderful visit to the desert with amazing friends. The ups and downs/issues aren’t equal of course; my efforts in completing a difficult hike can’t compare with the suffering of the Ukrainian people who are being invaded by a homicidal madman, or the ongoing racially motivated violence/injustice in our country or the continuing lives lost due to COVID…there are times I want to shut myself off from all media as I just feel I will explode. But if I get outside…especially with those who also love the outdoors, or spend time playing ukulele and singing with Nick…even just listening to music, whether its Mozart, the Beatles or a new favorite, I am diverted, there is a respite. And I continue to be grateful for those respites and my admittedly very privileged life.

The peaks are coming in spurts now…one a week or less. I have completed the ‘easy to get to peaks’; the rest are pretty remote and I’m trying to do them on the weekends so that all who want to get these peaks, but may work during the week, can go. I’m repeating peaks for folks as well, as they may not have been able to go the first time it was offered. Keeps me in shape. Weather has also been a factor, canceling one peak hike. There is also the happy fact that I am volunteering now at Mission Trails Visitor Center (a long hoped for appointment) as well as back at the San Carlos Library (and a few other places), which impacts my availability to hike. Lastly, I’m trying to provide easier hikes for my hiking group as not all of the ladies are doing the peak challenge, but they still want to get out and hike/walk. I still have 70 peaks in my sights, but it won’t be easy-peasy.

That said, in this group of peaks is the hardest peak in San Diego, at least for me: El Cajon Mountain. So THAT is an accomplishment and a high point in the rollercoaster of life.

Peak 46: Sycamore Canyon, Poway, February 24, 2022. 6.7 miles, 994 ft. elevation gain.

As I have finished with the easily accessible peaks, I increasingly turn to canyons to provide the needed elevation gain to meet the ‘peak’ criteria. As such, many of these hikes are kind of inverted, where you hike up a bit, then way back down into a canyon, then way up to your starting point. Often with lots of hills and ridgelines in between. That was true for this hike as well. This preserve is a favorite for one of the leaders in our group, and she used to offer a hike here on a weekly basis, but I somehow just never went. It is a bit of a drive from my house into outer Poway, a good 45 minutes. I could almost be in the mountains by then! Another reason why I would skip this preserve in favor of mountains. But, given that the mountains were covered in snow on this day, and not really hike-able, at least for me, this was a good option.

Recent rains brought green hillsides and a few spring flowers. Its also always nice to visit a new trail. Given the rains, the trails were in decent shape; not too eroded, and not too wet/muddy, though there were some really big puddles we had to avoid. All in all a really nice hike on a lovely day with the ladies. All I can ask for.

Peak 47: El Cajon Mountain, Poway, February 26, 2022. 12 miles, 4000 ft. elevation gain.

The BIG MOMMA. If you hike in San Diego, the topic of El Cajon Mountain will inevitably come up…have you done it yet? Now I can say yes. I really didn’t think I ever would complete this hike…one crazy stat is that the elevation gain on this hike is actually MORE than the height of the mountain itself. Yes, you read that right. When doing this hike, because of the terrain, you end up going up and down and up and down over ridgelines and down through ravines. Its a bit of a heartbreak as you reach the top of a particularly difficult climb (a few are 40% grade), only to see the trail dip down into a ravine and then come up on the other side for another tough rocky climb.

So this is not only a long and hard hike, but you must be sure you have at least as much energy for the return trip as a good portion of the return will be uphill. I had done half of this hike last year and thought I would NOT do it again…but as I am gaining strength in the peak challenge and am hearing about my fellow hikers completing the hike, I was inspired to try. It was just Galia and me; it was perfect. We hiked at a very comfortable pace, stopping for photos of flowers and whatnot, also at key waypoints for food and rest. The entire hike took us about 8 hours, but at least an hour and a half was resting at and enjoying those waypoints…at the top and half way (on the way up and back down). Views from those places are AMAZING.

There was still snow on the mountains from storms earlier in the week and we had the perfect hiking day…sunny and breezy, temps in the 60’s. Many flowers were out; in fact one of the biggest surprises about the trail was how pretty it was. We had heard it was ugly and barren, but that certainly wasn’t our experience.

I felt surprisingly good on the ascent until the last third to half mile…that was the killer. There is a saddle between two peak areas and you have to choose which you want to do (you can do both, more on that later). We chose the main peak, ‘El Cajon’. The trail to that peak looks like a short stretch and starts off fairly gradual, and then you look up and realize you are stair stepping REALLY big rocks all the way to the top. That was tough. As was the realization that you have to come back down the same way. But finally you ARE at the top and wow, the sense of accomplishment is just awesome. There were quite a few people up there, but Galia and I were able to find a big flat rock area just below the summit to relax, eat, take off shoes and cool the feet (a band-aid was needed, but nothing serious) and revel in the summit of El Cajon Mountain.

The return trip…well, it was hard. That first half mile of ‘down’ was kinda jarring and so when we got back to the saddle, I decided to take a break (and some Ibuprofen) while Galia went to the ‘El Capitan’ peak. It was reassuring to know that the second peak was not all that exciting. Then we started on the return journey in earnest. The down seemed to go on and on, as did the uphills that were heartbreakers on the ascent, almost doubling heartbreaking on the return journey. But the trail was very quiet, most folks had either finished their hike having passed us, or went someplace else (where???) and the sun was mellowing on the horizon, so it was very peaceful. Golden sunshine shown though the plants, birds were singing and some of the flowers even seemed more open than they were on the way up. We were tired, but feeling mellow and great and like super strong warrior hiker women. When we finally got back to the car, we felt really great! And I wasn’t even really sore the next day…which was so cool. So gratifying to know how much stronger I am than even a year ago. Being strong in body helps me to feel I can face what I need to face, handle what comes at me. Or at least think of that when I don’t feel strong enough. I climbed El Cajon Mountain!

Peak 48: March 12, 2022. Hellhole Canyon to Maidenhair Falls, Anza Borrego Desert. 6 miles, 1000 ft. elevation gain.

Galia, Kim and I had been scheduled to hike East Mesa Peak on March 5th in the Cuyamaca Mountains, but a rain/snow storm put the kibosh on that plan. So it was almost two weeks since my last peak hike. I had been hiking other peaks in between El Cajon Mountain and this hike, so I was still feeling in shape, but they were all repeats. My challenge is to have 70 distinct peaks.

Hellhole Canyon was a completely new trail for everyone. I had planned a desert weekend for my hiking group; two hikes on Saturday, two on Sunday. Our first hike Saturday morning was a peak hike and the others were to be gradually easier. As is often the case, no matter how much you prepare, there are always surprises.

For this first hike, Hellhole Canyon to Maidenhair Falls, my trail book had said that the route was basically straightforward and easy to follow, which was true for the first 2 miles or so. We were enchanted by the multiple kinds of wildflowers and desert plants which seemed to change every 100 yards as we worked our way up the stream bed/canyon from the desert floor.

It became clear from the plant life that there was a water source along the trail (even if we couldn’t see it) and also that we had to make our way up on the side of the stream bed as it was covered in plants. Palm trees and Cottonwoods began to appear, as well as boulders we had to climb over, around and sometimes through.

The path became many paths and there were many different ways to go. We hit a dead end more than once, but the ladies were never discouraged. Someone would take a new path, and we would hear a victory cry and we were on our way again. When we finally heard the sound of trickling water, we knew were were at the ‘falls’.

The falls area is really a grotto, and only in very wet years are there any falls to speak of. But the sound of the running water was delightful; all of the ladies kept exclaiming about the beauty and specialness of this place. We took a long break, many photos and then reluctantly started our way back to the desert floor, where more adventure was awaiting us.

Peak 49: March 12, 2022. Calcite Mine Trail and Palm Wash Slot Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert. 5.5 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

We had lunch and a nice shady rest at the Anza Borrego Visitor’s Center and then drove 20 miles out of town toward the Salton Sea to the Calcite Mine trailhead. This was supposed to be the ‘easier’ trail. The descriptions I read of the trail ranged from 4 miles and 500ft of elevation to 4.5 miles and 600ft elevation, on a jeep road, which was supposed to be not very driveble, with gradual slope. That wasn’t exactly what we found. The jeep road, which was actually in pretty good shape, not too rutted, and fairly wide (good thing as there were 4×4 vehicles passing us both ways) was pretty steep all the way up. There was only one sign along the way, so for part of the trail were weren’t even sure if we were in the right place. But again, the ladies were undaunted and ready for adventure. They also loved how different this trail was from our previous hike.

We frequently commented how much like a moonscape it was, though there were subtle colors in the badlands throughout. Subtle beauty. Also signs of life that show how stubborn life can be in the face of adversity. Gives me strength to see it.

We finally reached the top and the mine area, where a number of large 4×4 vehicles were parked. We waved hello, and passed them, and when we were out of earshot, we said to each other, ‘Lazy’. HA! At the top there were many different trails, so we took off in different directions to explore. Views were amazing: east, to the Salton Sea shimmering blue; and west, the rest of the desert expanse. Just wow.

Again, we were reluctant to leave, but it was about 3:15pm and we still had the slot canyon to explore. Our only issue is that we had not seen the promised cairns for the entrance to the canyon on the way up. I thought I knew where the entrance might be…but no promises. One good thing is that it was nice and shady on the way down…and lo and behold, right where our map said it should be, looked like the entrance to the slot canyon. Off we went. The slot canyon was AMAZING. Yes, I know I am subject to hyperbole…and the pictures don’t do it justice. You will just have to take my word for it.

The bonding we felt from our experiences so far really served us as we encountered some steep drops and tricky places in the canyon. The ladies were so supportive of each other…and at one place that we didn’t feel we could negotiate, and were considering if we would have to re-trace our steps, we again heard a cry of victory. Jeana, one of the smallest in our group at 5 feet nothing, had made her way down an 8 to 10 foot drop. While we were pondering, she was studying, and put her former Army boot camp training into play, found good footholds and made her way fairly easily down. She and Carrie then talked all of the rest of us down. What bad-a$$ hiker women.

So that was my 49th peak. From the top of the desert seemingly, to the bottom of a slot canyon, an unforgettable experience. Not the least of which was the amazing spirit of friendship, generosity and kindness of these women who were with me. They each have gifts which contribute to our whole. And they are never stingy with those gifts. These women support me, thank me, accompany me on my peak journey. I used to kind of scoff at people who did these personal challenge things…I didn’t understand it. Now I have an understanding. There are still some things I don’t understand…climbing Everest with the trash, death and destruction that seems to entail. My group and I try very hard to leave little impact: we carpool and of course haul out everything we haul in. I follow the Stephen Mather (founder of the National Park Service) idea that the more you can get people to love parks and natural places, the more they will support them and prevent their destruction or development into other things. This journey-challenge is not only personal, it has become a way to create experiences for other people too. To provide a respite from the strife and anxiety of our lives; we all have burdens to bear. Even if the burdens are not heavy, one can find joy in these spaces and experiences and that is a wonder, a blessing. I hope you find your joy and your respite. If you aren’t finding it, come along with me.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 40-45

January 25-February 12, 2022

I love the feeling of being on a trail on my own two feet, able to achieve things that in my younger days (even 5 years ago) I would not have believed. I was not an outdoorsy kid (or adult really); my best and happiest times were inside reading. Escaping into worlds distant from my reality, I didn’t find escape and solace outdoors or even with other people so much…I stayed in my room with my books. My mom would tell me to go outside and play with my brother and sister and kids in the neighborhood, but I didn’t find happiness or fulfilment there. How ironic that my solace in the face of Alex’s death and my having to reimagine a new life for myself would come outdoors and with many people I didn’t even know 3 or 4 years ago.

As I approach the 52nd peak, I am thinking about what this challenge has meant to me so far, in addition to having purpose and focus…and I’m feeling slightly sheepish about how easy it has been to get this far a little more than half way through the time frame. What I SHOULD feel is privileged. I have the time, resources and health to be able to hike 5-6 times a week…as well as having the freedom to basically do whatever I want. When I was a kid or even a young adult, I never would have believed any of it. So my focus for now is to really hold on to gratitude…I don’t always think that way and am sometimes trapped in feelings of loss, dislocation and searching. (STILL! Ugh %$#&)

However, I can rely on the trail. Its solid, right there in front of me and if I pay attention and keep my head, the trail will take me where I want to go. Like a trail, my path is often uphill, and hard, but then comes the summit and the WOW of the views and feeling of accomplishment and connection and the camaraderie of the wonderful people sharing the experience with me. It’s tangible…we can touch the earth and be grateful for its beauty and the energy it sends into us. I sometimes don’t feel very creative, but I had a thought that I am creating experiences, not just for me, but for others too, who have found joy and solace and meaning in these hikes. This blog helps me relive that feeling and those moments. I need to remember those things when I am feeling low, or unworthy or unfocused or unproductive or unprotected or whatever UN feeling there is that day. My thanks to those who share these experiences with me and that read these words. I hope they inspire you to find the energy which sustains you in moments of pain and difficulty. I’m GRATEFUL.

Peak 40: Monserate Mountain, Fallbrook, January 25, 2022. 3.5 miles, 1400 ft elevation gain.

And here are some of the wonderful companions I wrote about above. Our hiking group now has about 200 people in it, but there is a core group of about 50 ladies who hike with me with regularly, on a rotating basis of course. They are a diverse group of women in age, background, employment, physical ability, etc, etc, but they have a few things in common: intelligence, generosity and being supportive. No one gets left behind. We hold each other up, on the way up or the way down (which can be just as scary as going up).

This is a short and steep hike; the mountain is right next to the 15 freeway just past Hwy 76 and I have passed it thousands of times over my life (literally). Its also a very popular trail, even on this weekday, there were lots of people there. The trail was pretty eroded and rocky, so you had to pick your way up and down it, but thankfully it was stable soil, so that was nice. Great views from the top out to the mountains: San Gregornio, San Jacinto, Mt. Baldy. Snow covered too, while we experienced January sunshine and 70 degree temps. Pretty idyllic. Lunch at Nessy burger (a famous place I just became aware of) capped a great morning: Turkey burger and fries (YUM Fries!) for me thank you.

Peak 41: Morena Butte, January 29, 2022. 9.6 miles, 1900 ft elevation gain

I know I write it all the time, but truly, this is one of my absolute favorite hikes in San Diego County. If you read my PCT portion of the blog, this may look familiar; I hiked it last spring as well. This trail/hike has so much diversity: red rocks, scrambling (but not too hard), its on the PCT, manzanita groves, soaring views. Even bald eagles, though we have yet to see one here. This is a long hike, 9 miles, though it can be shorter if you take a loop route. That option wasn’t open to us because of the breeding season of said eagles along a portion of the loop trail. We had a cloudy and cool day. Rain threatened, but held off.

The PCT meandered up and down ridges as it does for most of its length, but the trail was never too steep or hard to follow til you reach the butte turn off, then it got very steep, brushy and rocky. Once on that turn off, the trail also became a bit unclear, with cairns placed to show the way, but they can be hard to spot. You just had to climb over the rocks and then look for the next one. But it was really fun and exhilarating.

Once you reach the butte itself, its REALLY windy and you propel yourself up the rock rocks to the top. But once there, WOWSA! You don’t feel you are in San Diego County…I get a more Sierra vibe. We found a sheltered spot and settled down to a snack and feeling of awe and victory for our climb. For some of the ladies, they had never done any such hike before, so the feeling of accomplishment was even more sweet.

Peak 41a: Sycuan Peak, January 30, 2022. 2 miles, 1000 ft elevation gain

Which terrible route to choose?

This doesn’t count as a peak as the mileage doesn’t make the cut. But what a climb! Galia and I came to scout the trail as we are kind of running out of actual peaks to climb. Since this is called ‘ Sycuan Peak’ (for good reason), and its not too far away (about 30 minute drive from my house), it seemed like we could tack on mileage someplace, make it count and offer it as a new hike. No dice. The trail sits between parcels of private property, so there is no additional place to walk/hike except the trail (busy, narrow road did not seem like a good option), to add additional mileage, unless you wanted to climb the peak trail twice. Which we didn’t. The trail was fully exposed, extremely eroded and rocky, also quite steep. It was a challenge and we had fun, as well as a great work out (1000 feet in a mile is tough, and especially tough on a surface like this), but it was warm and we found what we sought. So this is 41a, not 42. But WoW, the views from the top. Just beautiful.

Peak 42: Palomar Mountain, Boucher-Cedar-Thunder Spring-Chimney Trails Feb 5, 2022. 7.6 miles, 1500 ft elevation gain

What is the the meaning of life, the universe and everything? According to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is 42. That may just be right. What a magical, magical day. Bright blue skies, temps in the 50’s, spring in the forest coming to life; too early of course, but we were grateful nonetheless. If you haven’t hiked on Palomar Mountain and you like to hike, come here. I have come many times in the past: for the observatory, for picnics, for snow play, but didn’t see what I did on these trails for Peak hike # 42.

There is such a wealth of different trees: cedar, oak, and cottonwood to name but a few, as well as different vistas. I think we were especially lucky in our timing as we had a crystal clear day and could see so much of the ocean from the beginning of the trail. It felt like we could see hundreds of miles out to sea. Catalina and San Clemente Island were both clear on the ocean and you could see beyond; we could also see downtown San Diego and the Coronados and everything in between. Pictures, as always, can’t do it justice.

The trails were well marked, so it was very easy to follow our loop route. There were some steep parts, but our biggest hurdle was the altitude; we did find ourselves huffing and puffing going up hill. We saw tons of birds, and even deer! I could gush and gush, but won’t. We will come back. I hope you come too.

Peak 43: Orosco Ridge and Boden Canyon, Ramona, February 8, 2022. 10 miles, 1300 ft elevation gain

The first hike in a three peak week and this was definitely the toughest. Beautiful scenery in a remote part of Ramona, this trail is varied and traverses two different preserves. Kim of our SDLH&M group lead this hike with a group of fast and experienced hiking ladies. We hiked at about 3 miles an hour, quite a feat, at least for me on a trail like this. We started with a climb to the top of the ridge, about 800 feet in a mile and a half. Not too bad, just a steady climb, though the trail was a bit washed out, so footing was carefully planned. From the top we dropped into an oak filled glen and finally to a river bed, dry at this time.

From the river bed we climbed back up to a ridge overlooking the river course. It was pretty, but would be magical in the fall with the cottonwood trees changing colors. It was these last 3 miles that had my feet in a tizzy and gave my first blisters of the 52 peaks challenge; I think its time for some new shoes.

Peak 44: Elfin Forest, Lake Hodges Overlook, February 10, 2022. 7.6 miles, 1500 ft elevation gain

During this week, we had been having summer-like-Santa Ana-winds weather, with temps in the high 80’s. This hike is mostly exposed except for the ‘Way Up’ trail, which is in shade most of the way up. How nice! Especially on this day. Because of the heat, we took the trail moderately and with lots of breathers in shade to ensure we were fine, and we were. It was warm, but we had lots of water and a good breeze was blowing over us. The best part of the weather was the crystal clear air; sky and water bright blue, contrasting with green hills and orange-brown trail. The reservoirs which were the highlight of the hike were full of sparkling diamonds of light, and beyond each, the ocean on one side, and mountains in the other gleamed in the sun. A few ladies even spotted a bald eagle at the top! A wonderful day full of good feelings/things: accomplishment, natural beauty, good friends sharing thoughts and appreciation for each other and the trail.

Peak 45: Twin Peaks, Poway, February 12, 2022. 3.2 miles, 1001 ft elevation gain

This hike as described in All Trails, a hiking app that everybody uses, is only two miles and about 690 ft in elevation gain. But many of the ladies in my hiking group have lobbied to make it a ‘peak’, climbing the hills twice, looping etc…and since I have done that with other hikes on my sanctioned list, I gave in and made it a part of the list as well. This was my second time on this trail and I had some ideas on how we could make it fit the criteria.

The trail climbs quickly, and it very rocky. The weather forecast for this day was again to be about 90, so we needed to be careful; one of the ladies even had a hiking umbrella, which seemed to work quite well. Something to think about. We reached the first peak in about .9 miles. We took a long break before to refuel water and food wise and then headed to peak two.

The top photo is peak 1, the second is the end of the road at peak 2. There was a major cleft to get out to the flat surface and some of the ladies were happy to stay back. We made it down the mountain pretty quickly, in about half an hour, but we still needed at least a mile to make our peak requirement. The map showed a trail going west along a low ridge-line, so we took that, thinking we could just double back when it ended. But it ended in a neighborhood and rather than retracing our steps, google maps showed us a way to loop back through the neighborhood and back onto a trail which would take us to our start point. It was fun! We saw flowers, deer crossing signs and even a sign that said we were in a national park reserve? Who knows. I liked the worm hole feeling of it. Best of all we got another 300 ft. of elevation gain and made our miles, making this a solid peak. What a great morning.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 30-39

December 18, 2021-January 22, 2022: Half Way through!

It is January 22, 2022 as I write this post, at the end of week 26 in the 52 week, 52 peak challenge. I’m pretty happy with my progress, and ready to announce my personal goal of 70 distinct peaks at the end of 52 weeks. If I can keep on my current pace, I should have no problem…but with the world as unsteady and the future as cloudy as ever, who knows. But goals are good, right?

Omicron rages on…and numbers of positive tests are extremely high. But I am out hiking as much as I can as the science I have read shows its fairly safe to be outside and I believe in science! I have realized through this whole miserable 2 years that while I am a shy person, or at least not as confident as I wish I could be, I need to be with people…being alone is not my optimal place. And the loss of live music for these last 2 years…its huge!

To compensate for the losses Omicron/Covid has dealt, I am moving forward with as many positive actions as I can. For 2022, in addition to the 52 peak (70 peak!) goal, this is what I see ahead: I have acquired a ukulele and am learning to play it (baby steps with many falls); I have set a goal to walk 2022 miles this year, to go along with the peak challenge; I hope to travel to Chicago with Nicky in July and explore Harry Dresden sights and scenes (Harry is a wizard; Google him, you will be entertained); and I hope to sing and play publicly (at my house probably) by the end of the year, with Nicky and/or solo. If you are interested in contributing your talents, let me know. My backyard, October or November 2022. Music, comedy, poetry reading, dance, any contribution will be welcome. You can also just be in the audience! Something to reach for. Like my peak challenge. Onward to peaks 30-39.

Peak 30: Stanley Peak, December 18, 2021. 8.5 miles, 1550 ft. elevation gain.

I really can see out of this hat; the upside is that I don’t need sunglasses, ha, ha. This is a lovely trail/hike in the northeast of Escondido on the way to Valley Center. Unbeknownst to me was that a 200 person charity run was scheduled on the trail for the day we were there. So we shared the trail with some runners; just about 50 or so, finishing the race; they were coming down the trail as we were going up. It was rather exciting and we stood aside and cheered them on as they ran past. One poor guy was bloody on his forehead and cheek…trail running is obviously hazardous.

After the runners, the trail was pretty uneventful; its about 3.5 miles to the top through scrub and then an oak mesa, with a nice meadow and flat area, before the final 1/2 mile steepish climb to the summit on a rutted trail. Bikes and horses also use this trail, so you have to be on alert.

At the top we could see both the ocean, almost 20 miles away, and snow covered peaks in the distance, all the while enjoying mid 60’s temps and clear, sunny sky. The glory of San Diego hiking in the winter.

Peak 31: Ellie Lane Preserve, Poway. December 19, 2021. 7.4 miles, 1900 ft. elevation gain.

My second peak in as many days. Ellie Lane is hard, but wonderful. Rocky climbs up and down, shaded areas, pink granite, sweeping views of ocean and mountains in opposite directions. There are so many trails and so many options. Even though I was leading, I let the ladies take the lead on choosing our route. We hit Table Rock, the Ramona Overlook (though the highest part was closed due to raptor breeding), and the Iron Mountain turn off. But the time we got there, none of the ladies was ready for that extra summit. Maybe another day.

We even saw (female) Santa and an elf. Ho Ho Ho!

Peak 32: Eagle Rock, PCT, from Barrel Spring. December 20, 2021. 10 miles, 1029 ft. elevation gain.

Third peak in three days and the longest hike yet. Don’t get me wrong, this is a GREAT hike. But I was dragging by the end. I have heard so many people praise this route, versus the shorter route from the Warner Springs Fire station (10 miles versus 6 miles). Having done both, I would stick with 6 miles, and in the spring time. Still, there were some lovely stretches, particularly along the creek, where fall color was still in evidence.

It’s ALWAYS windy out here, but on this day, the wind seemed particularly harsh, cold and strong. I definitely felt like I was Gimli on the fields of Rohan (3 days, no food, no rest; again, Google if you don’t know the reference) on the return hike. This is an out and back route…and it just seemed like forever on the way back. The drive home was LONG too…about an hour and 20 minutes. Boy did I nap when I got home. Little did I know that this would be the last peak hike for 2021. Christmas was coming, so I didn’t schedule too many hikes before that time, and unfortunately, or fortunately, rain and stormy weather would cancel all the hikes I had planned between Christmas and New Year’s Day. So it was good to go out on with a bang!

Peak 33: Crestridge Reserve. January 1, 2022. 6.4 miles, 896 ft. elevation gain.

Nick and I traditionally do a New year’s day hike. Just a good way to start the year. I wanted to scout the trails out in the Reserve, so it was a perfect match. After two weeks of cold rain almost every day, as is often the case in Southern California, New Year’s Day dawned bright and sunny. Not hot though. We had a lovely hike, but sadly never found the trail we were looking for. But my tracking showed we had nearly 900 feet of elevation gain, and after nearly two weeks of no peaks (and many canceled hikes) I took it.

Peak 34: Big Rock-Mesa Trail. January 2, 2022. 5.2 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

I have always wanted to do a kind of loop-de-loop hike on the back/Santee side of Cowles Mtn. In case you want to do it, this is how we went: We left from Big Rock Park, took the Big Rock trail to the Barker Way Service road, hiked up toward the Cowles Summit, cut across the Barker Way West spur, down the Barker Way trail, took the Barker East spur back to the service road, back down the Big Rock trail to the Mesa Trail, and then hiked the Mesa Trail looping back to Big Rock Park. Got it??

This is kind of a cheat, as I have hiked Cowles already for the peak hike…though we didn’t summit on this day, just hiked on the shoulder along the Barker Way Spur. We got enough elevation and miles and its on my list, so it counts. (my challenge, my rules) Fun little hike. Will do it again for sure.

Peak 35: Mother Miguel. January 8, 2022. 5 miles, 1000 ft. elevation gain.

This was my first time on this trail and it is as nice as everyone says. Well, the trail itself isn’t so nice; its rutted, dusty and rocky and on this Saturday morning, rather crowded. But the views are amazing. You start getting views very quickly: Mount Miguel behind you, the rolling hills of Jamul and the Otay Valley to the south and east and to the west, downtown, the bay, Coronado and the Pacific Ocean rolling away in to the west. Its a rocky, steady climb to the top in about 2.5 miles. We had a cloudy day, but still could see forever. Lovely. Won’t be the last time on this trail; next time a late afternoon hike might just be the ticket.

Peak 36: Oak and Spring Canyons, Mission Trails Park. January 10, 2022. 8 miles, 700 ft. elevation gain.

One of my favorite hikes in Mission Trails. Oak Canyon is always beautiful, but especially so when there is water in the canyon, as there was on the day we hiked. No waterfalls, but still so pretty. I had a small group of SDHL&M folks with me, and this trail was new to all of them. Its so fun to show people new trails. We took it nice and steady. Not slow, but not fast, just enjoying this lovely Monday in January, with the trail almost to ourselves.

About half mile into Spring Canyon, it is so quiet. We stopped and just listened to the birds and the wind. At the top of Spring Canyon, the view is wonderful, you can see El Cajon Mtn. and the Cuyamaca’s to the east, and north to Mount Woodson and beyond. We traveled along the crest of the canyon area and then dropped back down into the Mission Trails grasslands to close our loop. A wonderful, relaxed pace, but still challenging, hike.

Peak 37: Hellhole Canyon on Paradise Mountain Trail, Valley Center. January 17, 2022. 9.5 miles, 2022 ft. elevation gain.

This peak was not a relaxed pace hike. My friend Kim is a wonderful woman and great hiker, but slow to moderate in hiking she is not. I offered to be the sweep for this SDLH&M hike she led and I never had to make sure I was last…I was last. This was a pretty place, despite its name, and green from recent rains. I imagine in the summer time, it can be kind of a hellish place. On this day, the clouds were quite low on the horizon and at times as we climbed the steep, rocky and rain rutted trails, we were in the clouds, with mist and light rain swirling around us. Given the strenuous nature of the climb, the cool mist and cool temps were welcome.

There was a 10% chance of drizzle in the forecast, so I had brought a rain resistant jacket, but no other rain gear. As we got to the top elevation of the hike, we sat to have a snack, and could actually SEE the light rain. We all put our layers back on and just as I started to eat my A(lmond)B&J (best trail food, yum), it started to actually rain. Ugh. Kim was worried about us getting fully wet and too cold, so up we got and hurried down the rain slicked, slippery trail. Fast. No time to enjoy the views, just go. It only rained for about 20 minutes, but enough to get my hat sopping wet and dripping in my face. My pants dried in about 15 minutes after the rain stopped (good old Eddie Bauer) and my rain jacket worked well, so it was just my gloves and hat which kept me a bit damp for the rest of the hike. We completed the hike in a little less than 4 hours, pretty fast for a 9.5 mile hike with 2200 elevation gain. Given that it started pouring about 30 minutes after we finished the hike, she was right to hurry us along. I’d like to come here again, and take a bit more time.

Peak 38: South Clevenger, San Pascual Valley. January 20, 2022. 5.6 miles, 1167 ft. elevation gain.

What a difference a few days can make. Back to spring time in two days. This was a marvelous, moderate hike in the San Pascual Valley, about 4 miles east of the Safari Animal Park. I led a group of SDHL&M ladies, most of whom, like me, had never hiked this trail. It was a big hit with everyone. After the rocky and rutted trail in Hellhole Canyon, this was mostly smooth, and had a gradual incline to the summit. The hillsides were green all around us and we soon had lovely views of the valley to the west and the mountains to the east.

Near the end of the trail there is a boulder group and some enterprising person brought cement, rebar and two metal rocking chairs, bolting and cementing the chairs into the rock. I’m sure it wasn’t sanctioned, and its not very environmentally friendly but its oh so fun. I actually got up there, as you can see from the opening photos. Past the chairs is the actual summit, where there is a wooden bench to contemplate the view. Another hike I will definitely do again.

Peak 39: McGinty Mountain, Jamul. January 22, 2022. 5 miles, 1400 ft. elevation gain.

A three peak week! Another tough and rocky climb, but definitely not as tough as Hellhole Canyon. And so close to home, only about 20 minutes to the trailhead! But yet I had never done this hike. Two of my companions had done the trail before, so that was a plus. As is often the case, we split into two groups, a fast group and a moderate group. Guess which one I was in, ha ha. I won’t say we were the slow group, because we climbed 2.5 miles and 1400 feet in about an hour. Not too shabby! As we climbed, the views were most impressive: rolling green hills and distant rocky peaks, as well as our beloved Pacific Ocean. I get so excited to see the ocean from all of these trails/peaks!

The views made the steep, rocky climb worthwhile. There was quite a bit of erosion on the trail, making it a bit tough to navigate; I was very glad to have my poles with me.

Galia again co-lead this hike with me; she is such a trusted hiking companion and friend; I am so fortunate to have her with me on these adventures!

As I complete the half way mark in the 52 week, 52 peak challenge, the experience truly is checking off so many boxes: improving fitness and endurance, experiencing new places, giving me a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I feel grateful for good health to be able to do these hikes…grateful for living in such a beautiful place where preserving open spaces/access is a priority…grateful for the family and friends who share these experiences with me. If you haven’t come on a peak hike yet, will you join me? You would be most welcome.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 20-29

November 7, 2021-December 16, 2021

This set of peaks went pretty fast, for the reason that some of the hikes in this timeframe included 2 peaks in 1 hike. Good trick, huh? This section also included 2 National Parks and quite a few new-to-me hikes as well. November and early December were happy and sometimes magical times, before we knew the full force of Omicron. Without further ado…hikes 20-29.

Peaks 20 and 21: South and North Fortuna, Mission Trails Regional Park, November 7, 2021. 8.5 miles, 2000 (ish) ft. total elevation gain.

Two peaks in one hike! One of the few I will count as 2 separate peaks…even with massive elevation gain, I typically count just one peak per hike (i.e. El Cajon Mtn. is not four peaks just because its 4000 feet elevation gain/loss). This was not a new hike for me, but it was for several of the ladies in the group. We had quite a large group that day, as many needed it for their own 52 peaks challenge. All the ladies were/are wonderful, and thankfully there were not that many people out on the trails on this Saturday (I do worry about impacting other’s ability to enjoy the trails when we have a large group), but I need to set my limit and stick to it (10-12 is a good number and its often down to 6-8 with last minute cancels/issues etc.).

In a large group you get such varying hiking speeds and it can be tough to track everyone when some are WAAYYY ahead and others are mozying (moseying? I have no idea how to spell that) along…and I tend to be more of a mosey type person, than a speedy person. We lost track of one of the ladies who offered to be the sweep, or last person of the group…she did not know the trail as well as she thought and took a wrong turn. Not hard to do in Mission Trails, especially on this hike which traverses almost the entire western side of the park. It all ended well as we found her with some other hikers after a nervous few minutes. Peaks 20 and 21 in the bag.

Peak 22: Mastodon Peak, Joshua Tree National Park, November 13, 2021. 3.5 miles, 700 ft. elevation gain.

I organized an overnight trip for the SDLH&M group to Joshua Tree NP. We traveled through the park from the southeast to the northwest, and did quite a few hikes in various places, as well as boulder climbing, scrambling etc. In all I think we walked about 10 to 12 miles? I actually didn’t keep track of all of it. But what a super day! Rather than doing a more traditional peak, like Ryan Mtn., I thought this hike was unique and fun and would work well for the varying abilities in the group. The hike also had the benefit that if you didn’t want to climb the big rock pile, which Mastodon Peak is really, you could stay at the bottom and soak in views of the Salton Sea, while the other ladies climbed. A few waited, most climbed…all were happy.

To get the 700 ft. of elevation gain needed, you had to clamber up the rocks twice, which nearly everyone did…no mean feat. As usual, coming back down was harder than going up. A great hike through the Cottonwood area of Joshua Tree NP, an area that many people miss. I highly recommend it.

Peak 23: Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, November 21, 2021. 10.5 miles, 2129 ft. elevation gain.

What a glorious November I had! Two national parks in less than three weeks!! Its good to look back and savor those days…were we foolish to travel? In hind sight no…but I digress. This was such a dream to share this hike, one of my favorites ever, with Nicky. When I did this trip/hike as a retirement reward in 2018 I made a promise to myself to hike the Mist Trail every year. I made it in 2019…but of course 2020 was a no-go. So all the more special to do the 2021 hike with Nicky.

Alex, Nicky and I did the Vernal Fall hike in 2004 on our only trip to Yosemite as a family. It was a bit crowded in June as you can imagine, and Alex was not keen on crowds. But I do recall how proud he was for Nicky to do this tough hike!

Alex and Nicky in 2004

For Nicky and I in November, on a very chilly morning (it was in the low 30’s when we started), there were no crowds. We still had fall color on the trees. We went to the top of the Mist Trail, but before visiting Nevada Fall, we turned left for about a mile on the John Muir Trail (JMT) and hiked to just above Little Yosemite Valley. We found a great rock, had a snack and a rest and sunbathed/soaked in the amazing beauty for about half hour before going down to Nevada Fall and soaking in the amazing views there. Then we hiked back down the JMT to Yosemite Valley. Boy were our bodies tired. But our spirits were renewed and lifted. Just glorious, one of the best days I can remember in a very long time.

Peak 24: Grizzly Giant Trail, Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Grove. 7 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

Typically you can take a tram to the Sequoia Trees in Yosemite, but Covid and a major 100 mile an hour wind storm in January 2021, which crushed the tram plaza and much of the trail in the Mariposa Grove, ended the tram service for the foreseeable future. I wish I had the words (like Mr. Muir does) to say what these trees mean to me. I’ll just say that in a world where the ground seems to shift below my feet on a regular basis, these 1000-2000 (and more) year old trees, in all of their glory, give me hope and peace. They feel almost like sentient beings…my Ents. So we walked the road to the grove (2 miles) and then another mile and a half on trail to the Grizzly Giant tree. Since we had an 800 foot elevation gain on this journey, I counted it as a peak. Cheating? Maybe. Report me to the challenge organizer.

Peaks 25: Kumeyaay Promontory/Steltzer Point, November 30, 2021. 3 miles, 1000 ft. elevation gain.

A new hike, one I would not repeat. The park where the trail started was nice, and the trail itself up a fairly barren hillside was okay. First stop, Kumeyaay Promontory, with a nice view of the El Monte Valley. Insert obligatory warrior here.

Then to get to Steltzer Point, you go up a nearly vertical fire road, all very slidey DG, that I knew was going to be major trouble even as we were going up. Ugh. Happily I didn’t fall on the way down, but it took me forever to pick my way down. Views at the top of the second point not that interesting, other than El Cajon Mtn. Can see it from much nicer places. I didn’t even take a photo of it. But its a peak, so there is that. And is there really a bad day hiking?

Peak 26: Ramona Dam and Lake Poway, December 2, 2021. 8 miles, 1400 ft. total elevation gain.

I like this hike, especially when doing the road to the dam from Blue Sky first, then coming down the road and hiking the Lake Poway loop trail. Have done it many times, but this was my first since the peak challenge started. We had a beautiful late fall day, sunny skies, Toy Story clouds, not too hot. Just lovely. Great group of SDHL&M ladies too.

Peak 27: Rollercoaster, San Clemente, December 5, 2021. 5.5 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

Another new trail, another I would not repeat. Basically service roads turned into trails that go up and down like, you guessed it, a rollercoaster. Not worth traveling to San Clemente…probably wouldn’t even do it again here in San Diego. On a clear day you could have seen the ocean just to the west of the trails….but it wasn’t a clear day. Oh well, good pre-Christmas shopping at the not at all crowded outlet mall nearby. That was a plus. Good company too. And another peak.

Peak 28: Volcan Mountain, December 11, 2021. 5.2 miles, 1300 ft. elevation gain.

From the bleh to the sublime. My first time on this trail and it won’t be the last. I again shared leading duties with my wonderful friend Galia and we took a fairly big group from the SDHL&M group on this hike. It was a windy and cold day, but it was December, so that seemed right. This trail was not too step, it winds up the mountain on a well maintained single track with long switchbacks. We had plenty of company on this fine day, but didn’t feel crowded.

Near the top there is a saddle and you can look west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Salton Sea. We could see both clearly. From sea to shining sea indeed. It was also REALLY windy and pretty cold; at one point I was having trouble talking as my lips were kind of frozen from the stiff wind and low 40’s temps. Our cores were basically warm, but I (and others who brought the same) was very glad for my hat and mittens and many layers.

At the top there is a nice bench and some great rocks for posing, of which we took full advantage. A quick snack and many photos later, we headed back down the mountain, this time on the wide fire road to make a loop. Naturally we needed to stop and get supplies (pie, strudel and bread) before we headed back home. Who knew Dudley’s was as old as me!

Peak 29: Mount Woodson, Fry-Koegel Trail, December 16, 2021. 7 miles, 1500 ft. elevation gain.

This trail is my favorite approach to the top of Mount Woodson, and the only one I will take now that I know about it. I have hiked the Lake Poway route several times; to me, that trail is just boring, hard and too crowded. Kind of like the Golfcrest approach to on Cowles Mtn. The F-K trail is wooded, shady, and though also quite rocky, the trail winds around the rocks in a much more interesting way, before hooking up with the main trail about 1.5 miles below the chip and summit.

On this trip we took a side trail to a beautiful viewpoint looking west. Really cool and will try to find it again next time I come. Then up to the summit and the famous ‘potato chip’. I’m actually kind of bugged when people call this hike ‘potato chip’; I’m just a crotchety old lady I guess and much prefer Mount Woodson. I have never climbed up the chip, and probably never will. I am slowly conquering my heights fear, but stepping out on to the ‘chip’ is just not appealing. Much more fun to watch others do it. Axia and others did some interesting climbing and such on the chip before we took our group photo and then went back down the mountain the way we came.

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52 Peak Challenge: Peaks 11-19

September 6, 2021-November 4, 2021

I am more than a month out from the last time I wrote a post; feels like its been a year! The photo from above is from the Rampage journey to South Dakota I took in September 2021 with Kristen and Jivan, which was amazing, though only contained one peak hike. That seems eons ago now, as I write this post about around Christmas 2021 though New Year’s 2022. I can’t decide if its a good or bad thing to write about these past experiences so much later; 3 months doesn’t seem like a long time when you talk about it, but when I look back, it FEELS long ago. Do I have better perspective or have I forgotten everything?

Part of this blog is to document stuff for posterity’s sake, so I will say (in hindsight) in September 2021 it felt like the pandemic was finally coming (slowly) to a manageable point. The Delta variant was not so deadly as first thought, more and more people were getting vaccinated (though not nearly enough to my way of thinking), infection rates were much less, and things were opening up. The South Dakota trip was a major travel adventure and I would be less than honest if I said I wasn’t somewhat worried about travel to begin with, but all was great: we wore our masks when it was appropriate, nobody got ill/got Covid, and I discovered and learned so many new things as I do whenever I travel.

Yet now in December (and beginning of January), we have taken (many) a step backwards. There is a new variant, Omicron, which is much more contagious than previous strains of the COVID-19 virus and the vaccines everyone got seem less effective against this strain than against others. Hospitalization and infection rates are increasing significantly. I got a booster in early December and feel pretty safe, but I have scaled back travel and other planning for 2022…back to living three to four weeks at a time. Masks are back on everywhere (though I hadn’t really stopped wearing them indoors) and I am contemplating hiking in a mask when around other people. Haven’t started yet, but…

We even had an exposure scare; Nick and I tested negative, thank goodness. But it canceled some of our Christmas plans and that was very sad. Maybe living just a few weeks at a time and more in the moment is the best way to live regardless…I’m fortunate enough that I CAN live that way and don’t have to accommodate a work schedule, or have children in school (though I do have a child or at least offspring in school come to think of it) and so on. ANYhoo, enough of that for now…let’s explore the peaks/hikes 11-19.

PEAK 11: Iron Mountain, September 6, 2021: 6 miles, 1530 ft. elevation gain.

This was a late afternoon/sunset hike, on a fairly warm late summer day…I am only wearing long sleeves for sun protection. My tank top actually says ’52 hikes, Nature is my therapy’ on it; its from the 52 Hikes Project which is available on line; separate from my effort, but compatible with it. If you are interested, you can look it up. (I talked about it in my initial 52 Peaks post.) I mention this because as we were starting the hike, a couple stopped me after seeing the shirt and said, “Hey, great shirt, we are the people who started the 52 hikes project. Can we take a photo of you in our shirt? We’ll post it on our social media.” My 15 minutes of fame, right there. I haven’t seen their picture by the way, but below is one of me (in the shirt) at the summit.

I decided to do this as a sunset hike to both beat the heat and crowds (this is one of the most popular trails in San Diego County). This was Labor Day weekend and I’m sure the trail was packed earlier, but when we started around 4pm there were few folks on the trail. We got to the top as the sun was sinking toward the ocean to the west of us…not a super clear day, but views are still great from the top any time you go. The sun set in a gorgeous red glow as we were half way down the trail after the summit, and after the rockiest portion of the trail thankfully. We hiked with our headlamps on in the inky, still warm dark, but I never felt afraid.

PEAK 12: Middle Peak, Cuyamaca Mountains, September 11, 2021: 6.8 miles, 1560 ft. elevation gain.

Middle Peak itself is not very inspiring to look at, which is probably why I don’t have any pictures of it! I lead this hike with a fairly large group of SDLH&M friends. Its a knob of mountain opposite Stonewall Peak and next to Cuyamaca Peak; its also covered in dead, burnt trees from the 2003 wildfire which decimated this area. Looks kinda like a porcupine really. While Cuyamaca Peak is recovering nicely, with help from multiple clearing and planting projects, Middle Peak is kind of going it on its own. There is also no specific trail to take you to the top of this peak, you would have to bushwhack to get to the highest point. Those facts contribute to this trail not being very crowded, all to the good in my mind. Other than us, we saw maybe three other groups (pairs) on this Saturday morning.

All of that said, my first time on this trail sold me…its now one of my favorites in Cuyamaca Rancho Park. Though really I haven’t met a trail I didn’t like in that park. For our hike, we had a lovely cool morning, there were still summer wildflowers along the trail, as well as much green, and the solitude and birdsong were intoxicating. I will definitely be back.

PEAK 13: Black Elk Peak, Black Elk Wilderness, South Dakota, September 21, 2021: 6.6 miles, 1562 ft. elevation gain.

This was a very special hike. First, I was there with Kristen and Jivan as part of our annual Rampage trip; how great to share one of the 52 Peaks with them! Second, the Black Elk Wilderness is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The spires of black rock (i.e. the Black Hills), the emerging fall colors against the evergreen pine forest, the bright blue sky and cottony clouds combine to make this a magical trail. This area is sacred to the Lakota people who were driven from the Black Hills in the 1870’s by US Calvary troops led by G. Custer (yes, that Custer) after gold was discovered. Its a more complicated history than that, but really is it? I felt exhilarated and honored to be able to hike on this trail; the sense of privilege I have as a white woman who can go where I want in this area without question because of actions 130 years ago did not escape me. But I was also filled with a feeling of reverence for this sacred place, as well as sorrow for the experience of the Lakota people; these feelings also lent a unique spiritual and thoughtful quality to the hike.

This is a very popular trail that leads to the highest point in South Dakota (7,244 ft) and there are 360 degree views from the top. There were families, solo hikers, horses and riders, older people, younger people, people who had no idea what they were getting into when they started the hike; you get the picture. But we did have lots of moments of solitude and time for thought…and I just kept exclaiming as we would round a corner, ‘Oh my’, or ‘Holy cow!’ and take another picture.

In recognition of the Lakota people, the peak was renamed in 2015 from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak or Hinhan Kaga, the original Lakota name for the mountain. Harney was the name of an army commander responsible for killing many Lakota women and children at the Battle of Blue Water Creek in the Black Hills, so it is fitting that his name no longer is officially part of the mountain. Though there are still many plaques bearing the Harney name on the trail, slowly but surely the name is being replaced.

The last half mile of the trail is rather steep, with stone and metal stairs leading you to the top where a fire lookout was constructed by the CCC. The lookout is no longer used, but it makes a nice landmark and shelter when the weather is not as kind as it was when we were there. We had a cold, hard rain most of the previous day, so we felt really blessed by the beautiful weather. The views from the top were spectacular and rivaled any view I have had in Yosemite or elsewhere. A miraculous and truly sacred place.

PEAK 14: Garnet Mountain, Laguna Mountains, October 2, 2021: 7 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

Sunrise in the Lagunas, Kwaaymii Point

I had been feeling rather sorry to leave behind the scenery of our Rampage…such spectacular beauty not only in South Dakota, but in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. But that isn’t this story. I scheduled a sunrise hike for the next SDLH&M 52 Peak hike and our Laguna Mountains greeted me (and all of us) with such open and beautiful arms. Carol snapped the photo above of me looking into that amazing and inspiring sunrise. I should not have doubted my welcome home.

This trail is along a portion of the PCT, at the eastern edge of the Laguna Mountains. The views of the Anza Borrego desert in the morning light are wonderful. The trail isn’t too tough, though the last 1/3 portion to the top of Garnet Peak is pretty rocky and requires a bit of scrambling near the top. Worth it, needless to say.

PEAK 15: Corte Madera Mountain, October 9, 2021: 8ish miles, 1750 ft. elevation gain.

This is a hike my hiking co-leader Galia and I had on our list for quite some time…and as her friend Vassi was in town and I hadn’t planned anything else (the SDLH&M group was doing hikes I had already done), we tackled this one. The stats don’t make it look that challenging, but it really was. To begin with, there is a very rutted 6 mile dirt road to get to the not-easy-to-find trail head. The trail itself was very rocky and steep, with scrambling in places, though also long stretches of mild inclines on narrow, sandy trails. Challenging, but we really liked it. I would not recommend for a group though. A combo of pine and manzanita and oak and scrub for trees. We had a beautiful, sunny, coolish day, perfect mountain hiking weather.

At the top it was windy and cold. We spent some time up there admiring the beautiful views and perfecting our poses.

PEAK 16: Mount Laguna Sunset Trail, October 16, 2021: 6 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain.

I love this trail, but can’t truly call it a peak. But because its hard to find accessible peak hikes in San Diego County (for us, we are MODERATE peak hikers), and it fits the challenge profile of 3 miles and 700ft of elevation gain, it counts. And its a great day out.

This trail hugs the western side of the Lagunas, and is a very moderate incline along that western slope. Its more of a walk in the woods than a peak hike. Wonderful in every season.

PEAK 17: Viejas Mountain, October 24, 2021: 3.8 miles, 1600 ft. elevation gain.

Short, rocky, steep and no cover. That pretty much sums up this trail. But I like it…its a challenge, but the views from the top are worth it. On a clear day you can see for ever, isn’t that how the song goes? We got a very nice sunset and had a fun, challenging hike. What more do you need?

PEAK 18: Oakzanita Peak, October 30, 2021: 6.6 miles, 1200 ft. elevation gain.

How many times can I write, “One of my favorite hikes/peaks”? Well, lots more times. I first did this hike with Galia and Axia right after Christmas in 2020. It had snowed a few days before and it wasn’t long before we hit snow and ice. Scary and exciting. Our hike in October 2021 was pretty different, but just as fun. Again with Galia and with a SDLH&M group. Its a very gradual incline to the rocky top with wonderful views of Cuyamaca Peak, and as you get further along the trail, east to the Lagunas. The oaks and scrub and manzanita give way to pines and some God’s Candle Cactus. Its just lovely. Quintessential San Diego Mountains: easily accessible, beautiful fall trees, golden meadows, climbs, but not too tough. One of my favorite hikes! (ha, ha)

PEAK 19: Bernardo Mountain, November 4, 2021: 6.5 miles, 1000 ft. elevation gain.

This peak is in Escondido and overlooks Lake Hodges. Ok, I’ll admit it, NOT one of my favorite hikes. Its nice and all…and easily accessible, good views at the top, and definitely a “peak” hike. Other folks LOVE it and that’s good. I’ve done this one a few times and think I will like it more each time I do it, because others like it so much…but, well not yet. Maybe next time…

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The 52 Peak Challenge…from the top (ha ha!)

Peaks 1-10: Weeks 1-6

The T shirt I designed for the 52 Peak Challenge

Well hello again! As I have been hiking peaks and taking pictures, it was becoming clear to me that posting my adventures on Facebook was just not satisfactory. As much as I do still value the connection of Facebook (yes, I know, FB can be an evil place, but thankfully my friends on it are still using the site for good and as for the rest…well its a WORLD out there and we just have to be Brave in it.) But the deeper connection I get thru this blog, and especially for friends and family who have chosen to opt out of Facebook, this is a way I can share what’s going on and my thoughts about that so to speak. I probably won’t post as much as I did previously (while on the virtual PCT challenge), once a month or so maybe, but I did find I rather missed sharing…so here I am.

As you may remember, I did complete the Virtual PCT, exceeded my goal in fact. And again, instead of starting over with a whole new blog, I have decided to add on to this one, as my life feels like a more continuous thread than one that stops and starts.

I started the 52 Peak Challenge in July, again on my birthday as I did the Virtual PCT. The goal is (as it says on the shirt) to hike 52 peaks in 52 weeks, week 1 ending on Saturday, July 31, 2021 (not my actual birthday, but close enough). I shared the challenge with my hiking group, San Diego Ladies Hiking & More!; 54 women from the group are participating in the challenge with me. There are some rules to the challenge: 1) I have a list of 52 peaks in San Diego County (1 is in Riverside County), but you can do any peak you like as long as it is at least 700 feet in elevation gain and the trail is at least 3 miles long. That’s pretty easy you might think, if you are a hiker…though finding 52 separate peaks in San Diego County was a bit of a challenge. You also have to hike at least half of the peaks with our group and you can only repeat 10 of the peaks for them to ‘count’. The real goal is to get people out hiking, and to experience new trails and new adventures. There have been lots of questions about “does this peak count” or ‘why doesn’t this peak count’, but so far management of the project hasn’t been a pain but a pleasure. It is clear that I need goals to inspire me…and this is working. I’m trying to offer (to my hiking group)/do at least one peak (from the list of 52) every week, and have repeated some hikes so that everyone gets a chance. I have some of my own internal goals beyond the minimum rules, but I’ll talk more about those as we go along. For now, here is a summary of the first 10 peaks, completed July 31, 2021- September 4, 2021. I’ll do another post soon chronicling peaks 11-19 (where I am in the challenge so far, as of today, November 4, 2021.)

Peak#1: Black Mountain: 4 miles, 800 ft elevation gain. July 31, 2021

This is a very popular hike in San Diego, with several trails that lead to the peak. This is a hike that my group has done many times and seemed like the perfect kick off. We started at Hilltop park with 36 women and 4 different leaders; I will definitely never hike with this many folks all at once again. It was fairly hot, even at 4pm, a bit chaotic with all the ladies and leaders and sadly one of the ladies did not do so well and fell behind one of the groups. Because there were so many of us, my group, last up the mountain to make sure all were accounted for, caught up to her and came to her assistance. I learned a lesson that day. After getting her safely down the mountain, I was determined to continue my own hike, solo; I had stayed behind with her while she was recovering. I was not going to fail to get to the top on the very first hike of the challenge! But my friends who had already reached the peak decided they would come with me as they saw me coming up the mountain, and so hiked to the peak twice (repeating about a half mile), just to be with me. I can’t tell you how much that meant, and still means to me. May not have been a big deal for them, but it was for me. Photos below are at the top. They are still smiling!

With the delay, we ended the hike around sunset and got some lovely photos. Even with our hiccup, it was a successful start to the 52 Peak Challenge.

Peak #2: Double Peak: 5.2 miles, 1000 ft. elevation gain. August 2, 2021

This was my first time on this trail; I wish I lived closer, I would certainly do it more often. The trailhead begins in a rather lovely park with a lakeside trail, climbs up a brushy hillside trail into a new and rather posh neighborhood, then finally winds around a street to the top, with another park at the top. The top park has picnic benches, interpretative signs pointing out the peaks in the 360 view and a spectacular view of the ocean. The breeze at the top was most welcome on the rather warm late afternoon. You can also drive to the top if you would rather; could also be fun to take 2 cars, leave one at the top, hike up, watch the sunset and then drive back down, so as not to hike back in the dark. This is also the hike where I decided a Warrior II pose was needed at the peaks (or someplace along the way if I forget!)

Peak #3: Kwaay Paay: 3 miles, 900 ft elevation gain. August 8, 2021

One of the 5 Peaks of Mission Trails Park and one I have done multiple times. 3 miles only because we did the long loop back. You actually climb the 900 very slippery, very steep feet in about three quarters of a mile. Not my favorite trail. No views on this foggy morning, but we were glad of the cooler temps on this tough climb. We are happy because its all down hill from here! Two 12ish year old boys took our photo…they had passed us on the way up and didn’t know quite what to make of all of these mom/grandmom type people on the trail (well most of us anyway.) Even so, the boys were so polite and sweet and ADORABLE. Another reason for the big smiles.

Peak #4: Cowles Mountain: 3 miles, 911 ft elevation gain. August 9, 2021

Before I go any further, let me just confirm, its COALes, not COWles. Yes I know how its spelled, and maybe that is why poor Mr. George Cowles died so young and Cowlesville is now called Santee. But that’s another story. This is my favorite sunset hike, hands down. Another of the 5 peaks of Mission Trails, this is also the highest point in the City of San Diego. One of the most popular trails in San Diego as well. I use a differen