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Posts Tagged ‘Hiking San Diego County’

“Hiking El Cajon Mountain is brutal and strenuous,” said Devin, who has spent more time on mountains and trails in the last year alone than most people do in a whole lifetime.

All the reviews say it’s “uphill both ways.” How can that be? Let’s look at the elevation profile:

El Cajon Elevation

While, on most mountains, you walk uphill on the way up, and downhill on the way down, that is not the case here. Every time we gained some elevation, we had to go downhill again, just to get forward. That’s a welcome break on the way up. Coming home, however, having to climb back uphill just to get back, is most unwelcome.

We uttered many four letter words on this hike.

Altogether, it took 6.5 hours to cover the eleven miles of this brutal trail. Devin could have gone much faster, I am sure, if he had not had to wait for the old man.

We also had issues with the trail itself.

El Cajon Map

It does not have many switchbacks. The trail itself appears to be an ancient logging or fire road that was originally bulldozed into the mountain, straight up and down. Now it is terribly eroded in most places, but the grade is very steep, making for very strenuous hiking uphill, with much huffing and puffing and resting, and knee-crushing, slow downhill slipping. It even took us a bit longer to return from the peak than it took going up.

Here is an example of the dreadful trail.

El Cajon Trail

This is looking down about a 30% grade, very steep. There is nothing special about this section. This is what most of this trail looked like, up, down, up, down, up and down.

At one point, fairly high up, we found this old mining truck, that must have been sitting here since the 1940ies.

El Cajon Truck

There is a reward for every climb, even the most ugly one, the most brutal one. The last half mile was a real, light trial, straight up the western flank of El Cajon Mountain. Even a little  scrambling around boulders was necessary. Here are father and son at the top:

El Cajon Peak

The downtown of San Diego is in the very distance on the left side of the picture, not really visible in this photograph. Devin hopped over to the actual peak to get a picture taken:

El Cajon Real Top

Here is a look back at our trail. The red arrow marks the furthest point from whence we came, after we had ascended the first major ridge from the road:

El Cajon From Whence

No matter how brutal the hike, how much we complain, it’s always rewarding to get down and look back up to where we just were. The red arrow points to the peak:

El Cajon Looking Back

The trailhead for this hike is off Wildcat Canyon Road, as you drive north, a mile or so past the entrance of Stelzer County Park. The parking lot for the trail is clean, maintained and well-marked with a brown sign for El Cajon Mountain Trail, right next to the road. There are even bathrooms at the beginning of the trail proper, about a third of a mile up from the parking lot.

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Last Sunday Trisha and I hiked Black Mountain, the prominent dark cone just east of Rancho Penasquitos with all the antennas on top. This was my first time hiking Black Mountain. On a good day, you can see the ocean, Point Loma, the islands off  the coast, downtown San Diego, Cuyamaca Mountain in the east, Palomar Mountain to the north and all of North County.

Sunday was fogged in completely. When we started, we could see no further than a few hundred feet. The mountain, we knew, was there, but we could not see anything. So we started hiking up the trail from the Hilltop Community Park (red arrow) at 735 feet elevation. It was 2.05 miles and took 48 minutes to get to the top (blue arrow) at 1552 feet.

Here is our trail:

From a distance, Black Mountain looks like a smooth cone with “grass” cover. Hiking up, here is Trisha with the “grass,” which is actually impenetrable shrubbery of all kinds, sprinkled with Manzanita everywhere.

When we got to the top, as expected, we had a 360 degree view of absolutely nothing:

Finally, on the way down it cleared up a bit, and we actually saw the mountain we were just on, kind of:

Overall, a great hike of two hours or so, a good workout. The trail is half trail, rough and rocky, and then toward the top it’s a truck road. Not a pretty hike, but very quick to get to and a good workout right in the heart of San Diego County.

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