Last Saturday, the Yank and I woke early for a quick hike in our semi-local mountains. Not exactly local, as they required a nearly 2-hour drive to reach the trail head, but not far-far away because the peaks were neither on the other side of San Jacinto, in the San Gorgonios or anywhere close to the Angeles (Endless) Crest Highway. Hence, they were closer.
Yes, I love living in Southern California, but, as my usual hiking partner C (running a half-marathon and hence, her absence) and I frequently remark, “Everything is two fucking hours away.”
Unless you’re heading anywhere onto the Endless Crest. Then it’s happily longer.
Anyway – as it was a La Jolla Symphony performance day, N and I planned to return to the jeep no later than 2 pm, in order to be home by 4, which would allow me plenty of time for last-minute rehearsing (i.e. learning the tricky passage in the Harrison), showering, and leaving by 6:15, in time for my 7:30 performance down in La Jolla. Obviously, there’s nothing about this that is scheduled at all. Honestly, I try to not stress about schedules and time and everything, but I’m just mortified of missing my stage call because of shit traffic or being chased by a random angry cow or any other what-have-you’s.
The alarm sounded annoyingly bright and early at 5 am, and we were bumping north along the 5 by 6. It’s always lovely to witness the scenery of early morning SoCal backroads outside of Temecula – and this morning didn’t disappoint.
The plan was to hit up two HPS (Hundred Peaks Section) Sierra Club Peaks for me that were also SOTA (Summits On The Air) Peaks for N. It takes a little bit of planning, but with his specific peaks that he activates with his radio work, I can usually find the same mountain top he needs on one of my peak-bagger lists. It’s fun to try and combine trails and routes – suddenly wham!! – you’ll find yourself with 9 summits in one day, or something crazy like that (I learned the craft from C – not that we’re OC or anything, but we just like to bag peaks. Whatever. Ok…. slightly OC…. if it’s there, regardless of being “on a list” or not – we’ll probably try and hike it). With N, we’ll usually hit up one or two, sometimes three (now that he’s got the hang of it, it usually takes between 10-60 minutes for him to get his radio contacts that he needs in order to score SOTA points). On tap for the day were Lookout #1 and Cahuilla, with elevations of 5590′ and 5635′ feet, respectively.
By 8 am, we were hiking south along the Pacific Crest Trail from the 74, and though we only spent about 10 minutes on the PCT until our turn-off – it was awesome. It’s just a beautiful trail, soft-underfoot and beautifully maintained in this section. It was clear that trail angels had clipped some of the intrusive manzanita and higher altitude scrub brush, and I enjoyed the serenity of an early morning jaunt. Within 10 or 15 minutes, we reached a low saddle and headed up an old firebreak, sadly leaving the PCT. The HPS website directed us to follow the firebreak up to a park bench (seriously?), rest at said bench, and then continue up a steeply pitched hill, where the top would be marked with a carin, register, and would be just over the crest of the climb to the right.
So we did.
The final pitch was steep, but not bad. As it had rained recently, the footing was firm and N and I didn’t have to worry about lots of sliding or loose rocks/sand. I hate loose and sliding sand. It sucks.
Once at the top, I signed the register and N did his SOTA work – and before we knew it we were heading the 1.2 miles back down to our car. An interesting thought flashed through my brain while hiking down – that the length back would be the same length of a 70.3 swim. Huh. Wonders never cease when my old world collides with my present.
Just before reaching the saddle and the PCT, N stopped and said Do you hear that?
As I could hear nothing, and he’s normally the more deaf one in the relationship, I responded with a very intelligent, Um….no?
What I couldn’t hear was our jeep alarm, blaring in the distance. It was very reassuring. I climbed to a high point, and could barely see it parked, just on the other side of the 74. My long camera lens was handy, as I was able to photograph the jeep and a) prove that it was still there and not being driven away and b) spot two other hikers heading north along the PCT towards Ken Point. N didn’t seem too distressed, and while I was perturbed, the alarm thankfully (or not?) stopped after a few minutes. Within 10 minutes, we were back to the trail head and noted the abnormally massive bird crap on the window – perhaps a well-timed shit would send our alarm into a frenzy? Who knows. Everything seemed fine, though.
With Lookout #1 being such a short hike, we had planned to nab Cahuilla Mountain as well. It’s one of those peaks that we always drive by en route to Idylwild or while heading to some other bigger higher peak. The trail itself was only reported as 6 miles round trip and with only one other peak nearby (Little Cahuilla), it never seemed epic enough as something C & I would do (per our litmus hike of 20 miles/5k feet of gain). After leaving the 74, passing the Paradise Valley Cafe (one day, I swear we’ll have breakfast or lunch or any sort of meal there), N and I headed back onto the 371 south, until reaching our turnoff for the Cahuilla trail head, as designated on the HPS website.
The Cahuilla Mountain trail was extremely straightforward and easy to follow, bullet-hole ridden sign and all. We just, um, stayed on the trail for the entire way. No bushwhacking or breaking through massive groves of dead manzanita and poison oak…. it was just a very nice, well maintained trail all the way to the top.
We started with the typical high desert scrub brush, but once above 4900 feet or so, transitioned into alpine meadows and what was undoubtedly once an old oak forrest, but was recently burned. I’m not sure when the fire came through – probably sometime in the past 10 or 20 years… so “recent” being relative. Not “recent” like last year’s Mountain Center Fire which closed the PCT north of where we hiked earlier. The Cahuilla fire had left a few Oak Tree skeletons along the trail – some trees remained upright while others had topped over, their charred remains the only testament of what once was. Instead, grassy plants had taken over, speckled with sage and a few other desert-y plants.
Once we hit the saddle, I commented that the peak was probably to our right, but given my luck, it would be the further away peak on the left. N came back with the snarky comment that the peak would be neither – it would be the peak behind the further peak on the left. He was correct – it was the farthest-away distance. But even then, the trail was well defined, and the area that was burned fell away and became a beautiful alpine oak forrest, complete with yellow leaves dappled with sunlight.
It was stunning and we agreed the hike was a success – a very pleasant surprise.
Cahuilla’s summit view was surrounded by trees – so the view itself wasn’t super spectacular, like the views on the trail had been. Once again, N set up his radio gear and set about making his SOTA contacts. I had fun looking through the register, doing some photography, and counting the bullet holes in the register box. One lucky shot even hit the register – true story.
Within half an hour we were quickly hiking down the trail, in order to make it home in time for my concert. As we were extra motivated, we made excellent time – which afforded us a quick Swift Half at Pizza Port Bressi Ranch. Okay – it was a Swift Full, but Swift Half is just what we say and makes it sound like we don’t have drinking problems. I figured that sitting at the bar with my Emboozelment Tripel by 3 pm, would be plenty of time before my stage time… it was.
Totals for the day (for those who are interested) – 2.4 miles and 661 feet of gain for Lookout #1. And Cahuilla Mountain checked in with 6.2 miles and 1,419 feet of gain. It was a solid day in the (local) mountains – another 12 SOTA points for N, and my 107th and 108th HPS peaks!