Monday, August 27, 2012

Climbing Stonewall Peak And Feeling Really Bad About Yourself Afterwards...

 by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and

Approaching Little Stonewall Peak (left) and Stonewall Peak (right) from Julian
(between Julian and Descanso on CA79)

July 21, 2012: I tried to prepare the best I could to make the approximately 5.5 mile hike up and down Stonewall Peak in the mountains of eastern San Diego County.  This was my first attempt at such a challenging hike and I was trying it alone.  I knew the temperature was going to be in the triple-digits near home, so I thought it would be cooler up in the mountains.  It was only slightly cooler and I was still warned by the ranger that today was "pretty hot."  I was also warned about rattlesnakes out on the trail, but I did not see any.

I left Orange County about 8:30 am and arrived at the Paso Picacho Campground, across the road from the trail head, at about 10 am, just slightly behind schedule.  I had my cooler packed with drinks and protein bars, and a pack with bug spray and sunscreen and other miscellaneous items left over from my "China emergency kit".  I left a map showing where I was going on the kitchen table at home in case of the worst.

I parked the car, put on my hat, and filled the pockets of my camera vest with everything I thought I would need, including two large bottles of Gatorade.I love my 3 size too large camera vest, but without fail, I always forget what I put in each pocket.

There are two trails up the peak.  The red trail is longer (supposedly only "moderate" difficulty) but gives the better views of the 2003 Cedar Wildfire damage, the road below the trail, Lake Cuyamaca to the south, and skirts the base of Little Stonewall Peak. So, this is the trail I took up.

The two trails up Stonewall Peak

The views from the red trail...

Looking down on cyclists heading south on CA79

Lake Cuyamaca to the north

Damage from the 2003 Cedar Wildfire

More damage from the 2003 Cedar Wildfire

Even more damage from the 2003 Cedar Wildfire

The only people I saw on the red trail were at its lowest points; some horseback riders who politely passed by.  There is a small parking lot for horse-trailers at the northern base of Little Stonewall Peak.  The horse-camp of Los Caballos was destroyed by the Cedar Wildfire.  The riders reminded me that we needed to go horseback riding again sometime soon.

So, it was through the bushes, around the burnt out tree trunks, sitting on a boulder every couple of hundred feet or so, and conservingly sipping on my Gatorade. 

No way to get lost

Burnt out tree trunk
 As I approached Stonewall Peak's mesa, I started mentally breaking down.  I had already started physically breaking down in the lower legs, but surprisingly I was not sweating or panting as much as I thought I would.   I tore out my earphones because it felt like my head was going to explode and raising my camera with my sweaty, grimy, tired hands was becoming a chore.  But, I kept going.

At this point I was probably less than a half-mile from the actual peak. Looking carefully through the brush, I was able to see the steep stone steps leading to the peak, where there is a 360 degree view of the area.  I could not get a usable picture of the steps through the brush, but at this link you can see how awesome the stairs and peak are.  I also heard people, but with the surrounding boulders, brush, and trees, did not see any.  All I saw was someone's pack sitting on the floor.

I had strong conflicting feelings about myself at this point.  Extremely proud of myself for making it this far, I lost my new found pride when I decided not to hike the little bit more to the steps and take them up to the peak.  It had taken me far longer (4.5 hours)  to reach this point than I expected (lame excuse 1), I had a long drive home and I still had to make it down to the car and I had no idea how long that would take (lame excuse 2), I was running low on Gatorade (lame excuse 3), and I just did not have the emotional drive for climbing those stairs (lame excuse 4). So, in my mind I had to accept that I failed, even if the hike up and down the 1700' rise of Stonewall Peak was something I would not have ever attempted, no less than achieve, just a few years ago.

I started down the "short" (blue) trail, which is basically switch-backs all the way down.  I stopped frequently to sit on the hot boulders, my lower legs hurting.  Hikers were coming up the trail while I was coming down.  Some groups even had young kids.  In robo-hiker mode, I grunted a "hello" to the upward bound folks.  It took me two hours to make it to the trail head and the car.

View on the way down
I made it back to the car and started guzzling the extra waters and Gatorades I left in the cooler, while waiting for the air conditioner to blow the hot air out of the car.  I filled an empty Gatorade bottle with melted and whole ice and guzzled some more.  With the rapid pace and large volume that I was drinking, I was sure I was gonna pass out from water intoxication.  Remarkably, I did not and when my legs stopped trembling, I pulled out of the parking lot and raced home, only barely pleased with myself.

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