Tuesday, March 31, 2015

North & South Fortuna Mountain | Mission Trails Regional Park

One of the most popular hiking areas in San Diego County is Mission Trails Regional Park. While Cowle’s Mountain is easily the most well-known hike in the park, there are plenty of other less crowded (and in my opinion, more scenic) trails to explore. Peering north and northeast from North Fortuna's 1291-foot summit, you can see thousands of acres of empty, corrugated land spreading eastward from the Miramar air base. In the southeast several nearby peaks jut skyward, culminating in 1591-foot Cowles Mountain, the highest elevation in the city of San Diego. This route marked my 16th trip for my 52 Hike Challenge and combined two of the park’s major summits in a 10 mile trek that provided a great workout with some fantastic views.

My trek begins at the parking lot at the far west end of Mast Blvd in Santee. I cross the grasslands to my destination atop the mountains straight ahead.

The wildflowers were putting on a show.

Looking south towards Kwaay Paay Peak (center) and Pyles Peak (just to the left).

There is quite a bit of poison oak along the more shaded parts of the trails.

Oak Canyon still had a bit of water left over from the rain a few weeks ago.

Start of the steep climb up the service road to Fortuna Saddle. As you near the saddle, the road becomes so steep its difficult to keep from slipping in the loose dirt.

Looking back I can see Highway 52 and beyond that, the peaks of Mount Woodson and Iron Mountain in the distance. Once at the saddle I turn right up the eroded firebreak to North Frotuna's summit, which is marked by an outcrop of granitic boulders.

This section of trail was a steep 1/2 mile climb with some spots of rather loose gravel under foot. Reaching the top, a height of 1291 feet,  I rested among the boulders to take in the view. From here, I could see highway 52 wrap around the park on the east and north sides, as well as views of downtown and the ocean to the west.

Looking south I can see my route to South Fortuna summit, with the tops of Kwaay Paay, Pyles, and Cowles Mountain just beyond.

Working my way down from the north summit.

From here my route led back down to the Fortuna Saddle, a small dip between the two summits with a row of towering electric lines above. The trail to the south summit was easier that my earlier ascents, just a gradual climb among the usual chaparral.

More wildflowers along the way.

Looking back at the trail leading up to the north summit.

Finally reaching the south summit. Its broad peak doesn't lend itself to views as good as seen from other nearby summits.

Another obligatory shot of my boots dangling precariously over the edge.

Just below the summit is a great spot to take in the views. Towards the west I could make out the outline of downtown, Point Loma, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Below was the San Diego River, with the paved Father Junipero Serra trail running along side it. Looking across the river to the southeast, I could make out the antenna topped peak of Cowle’s Mountain. To the east was Santee and the other side of Mission Trails Regional Park.

Now it was time to descend the South Fortuna stairs, or the "Stairway to Heaven", as some call it. This staircase of wood planks, anchored into the mountainside with steel bars, is very steep so take care to not loose your footing here.

This strip of oak woodland is known as Suycott Wash. In places the creek trickles over boulders, and oak limbs arch overhead in an intricate tangle. There is an abundance of poison oak in the area.

Coming upon a couple crossings of the San Diego River.

The river volume has fluctuated from as little as about one cubic foot per second in a dry summer to a winter record high (in 1916) of about 70,000 cubic feet per second. Most of the year, it’s safe to say you won’t have a problem.

Along the riverbank you'll come across evidence of Native American habitation here; bedrock grinding holes.

A few informative plaques along the way.

Unfortunately I had to endure a bit of road walking on my return trip. Father Junipero Serra Trail, the original road through Mission Gorge, has been reconfigured with a divider down the middle. One side is for one-way car traffic, while the other is a two-way paved path for bicyclist and pedestrians. 

Looking down at Old Mission Dam.

One final crossing of the San Diego River before passing back through the grasslands and to the parking area.

Overview of my 10 mile route.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hiking Sweetwater Trail to Mother Miguel Mountain

From the headwaters in the Cuyamaca Mountains, the Sweetwater River flows through San Diego's back country, pools up in Loveland Reservoir near Alpine, and flows again past El Cajon and Spring Valley where it pools once more in the Sweetwater Reservoir. Whatever water is left continues seven miles to the river's mouth at the southern end of San Diego Bay.

The rolling hills south and east of Sweetwater Reservoir, dotted with sage, pepper trees, and rare coastal varieties of cholla and barrel cactus, are still a somewhat untouched and wild part of San Diego county where hawks and ravens glide overhead.  Around more than half of the reservoir, suburban sprawl creeps relentlessly. It was through this landscape that I would make my to the summit of Mother Miguel Mountain, at an elevation of 1,527 feet. This would be my 15th outing for my 52 Hike Challenge.

Crossing under the Bonita Road bridge.

At first the trail heads east along the perimeter of the Bonita Golf Club course.

Zigzagging up a grassy hillside before crossing over State Route 125.

Looking back towards Bonita at one of the trail markers.

The Mary Augustine bridge crossing over the highway below. Mary Augustine spent years lobbying for and helping to build miles of horse and hiking trails throughout Bonita Valley. When public officials demanded that developers of the South Bay Expressway build an equestrian bridge to link the existing trails over State Route 125, they knew exactly whom to honor.

There's a bit of pavement to cross at the Sweetwater Summit Regional Park.

Getting back onto the trail, I pass a fishing access area for the reservoir and proceed across near-flat, grassy terrain.

 My hiking boot footprints overlapped the linear marks of mountain-bike tires and the inverted-U impressions of horseshoes. It appears all kinds of self-propelled travelers are welcome on the Sweetwater Trail along the southeast shore of the reservoir.

There were plenty of routes heading off into the closed areas.

The trail meanders over rolling grasslands, staying well back from the shoreline of the reservoir.

Soon the route veers sharply right and begins a series of relentless and rather severe ups and downs. To the left ahead rises the massive, triangular bulk of San Miguel Mountain (another upcoming hike), its summit bewhiskered by several spiky radio and TV broadcast antennas. My destination atop Mother Miguel can be seen to the right.

Along the way I check out some ruins of an old long-ago abandoned building resting on the hillside above the lake.

Not a bad view from these windows.

Continuing on, the trail becomes a narrow path that descends again before going up a few more switchbacks and past a grove of pepper trees along a hillside. 

 I eventually make my way up and past the flat top of a prominent knoll, where a picnic table and shade ramada stands, offering a great view of the lake and much of the South Bay area. 

After a bit more elevation gain I come to a steep service road for the power lines. After checking the map on my phone, it appears to be the best way to the summit.

Looking south under the power lines towards Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. After climbing a bit further up the loose road I come across a narrow footpath that zigzags the last few hundred feet to the summit.

The flag and rock house at the summit of Mother Miguel Mountain.

After taking in the views for a bit it was time to start my descent.

At the bottom of the service road I come across some type of coastal barrel cactus.

I decide to take a different route down the mountain that I hoped reconnected back into the Sweetwater Trail but soon find myself blocked by private property fencing. I manage to find a way along the perimeter that eventually gets me to where I need to go. The sun sets by the time I get back to my Jeep, parked in a nearby residential area. I was tired and dusty, but happy to have explored another trail so close to home.

Overview of my 10.5 mile hike.