|July 24, 2010|
Peak 5243 (SDC #66, 5243') • w/Oakzanita
Just before 7am in the Green Valley campground, Anna and I started to crawl out of our sleeping bags and the back of the pickup truck. We were reasonably rested after last nights hike of Japacha Peak, and we didn't waste any time rolling up the sleeping bags, powering down a bagel and brewing a quick cup of coffee. We packed up and drove 10 minutes to the trailhead for Oakzanita, pretty easy to spot with a large turnout, a forest service sign, and a locked gate blocking the East Mesa fire road. We could see the top of Oakzanita from the trailhead, and a lone mountain biker bolted off as we filled our water bottles.
Oakzantia from the 79
We started off down the fire road and within 10 minutes found where the trail breaks off to the right. At the junction, I found a Tom Harrison San Diego Backcountry Recreation map laying in the dirt, probably the best map for finding obscure trailheads in San Diego County. Because of its location I doubted it was the mountain bikers, but he was nowhere to be seen to ask. We crossed Descanso Creek and followed a trail on its south side before starting the hot and dry ascent up Oakzanita. The trail was easy to follow and gained elevation quickly, and before we knew it we were at a saddle just east of the summit. A few short switchbacks, and we were at the top 45 minutes after leaving the car. The actual summit was covered in flying red ants, the same I'd seen on the top of Stonewall a while back but in much larger numbers here. The ants were so bad we had to find somewhere else to grab a snack.
Oakzanita's summit covered in flying red ants
My eyes were glued to the southeast towards our next objective, Peak 5243. Though only a few miles from the road, this area gave me a sense of remoteness, and I imagined that not too many folks ventured much past Oakzanita.
Peak 5243 (left bump) from near the top of Oakzanita
I studied Peak 5243 looking for the best way to get over there from Oakzanita. It looked like any way we sliced it we'd have to do some bushwhacking. I saw an old dirt road (marked as a trail on the map) that looked like it ran from near Peak 5243's summit over a bump on its west side, so we started heading in that direction.
As soon as we left the trail from Oakzanita our socks were being loaded up with foxtails, enough to where we had to stop several times to pull out the most uncomfortable stickers. Pants might have been nice on this part of the hike had it not been so hot. After crossing the foxtail meadow between the two peaks, we started uphill and start pushing through pockets of thick vegetation and dodging cactus and other inhospitable plants. It was slow going and fairly brutal in the heat. Just before I expected to reach the road I was aiming for, we hit an unexpected barbed wire fence. This seemed to be marking the boundary between the Cleveland National Forest and Cuyamaca State Park, both public lands, so I couldn't understand why the fence was there. If anyone reading this knows anything more about this boundary and why this fence would be there please let me know. Anyway, I knew we were on public lands, and I knew that Peak 5243 had to be on public lands, so we squeezed under the fence and found the road, a nice yet temporary change. The road was great while it lasted but it passed just north of the summit, and we had some rather rough bushwhacking on steep ground to reach the actual highpoint. I didn't mind the bushwhacking too much, though this was some of the worst I'd done to this date. I felt bad for Anna, as last nights hike on Japacha Peak was her first off trail experience, and that was mild compared to this. Nonetheless she stuck it out and we were at the highpoint before too long, along with more flying red ants.
Summit boulders on Peak 5243
We found an interesting summit log on one of the large boulders on the summit plateau and I read through it for a few minutes before searching for an easier way back down to the car. We went north from the summit, aiming for thinner spots of vegetation and crossing the barbed wire fence before turning west to again meet up with the West Mesa fire road. This did prove to be an easier route than our ascent. Soon after reaching the fire road, we found a marked trail (not on our map) that split from the road and seemed to be heading back towards the saddle near Oakzanita. Though the fire road was a sure bet, I hate fire roads and this one wasn't very direct so we took our risks with the trail. Sure enough 10 minutes later we were back on familiar ground. We retraced our original steps, dropping most of the elevation on the north side of Oakzanita and recrossing Descanso Creek.
Almost near the trailhead, we were stopped by a ranger in a truck. She asked us if we knew where the mountain biker was, apparently an injured mountain biker had called for help. I could only assume it was the guy we had seen just before we started our hike, I told her I hadn't seen anyone since the trailhead and that I hoped he was alright. I'm thinking it couldn't have been too bad if emergency services weren't along.
By the time we reached the truck we'd been out for just under 4 hours. We were covered in brush juices from the ascent up Peak 5243, and my socks were so bad I didn't know if I could use them again. As we were changing I mentioned another possible hike to Anna that we could hit on the way home. Though she didn't say yes, she didn't say no either so I figured it would be a go by the time we had 40 minutes to eat and drink during the drive to Viejas.
The victims of Peak 5243
The gate was open near the water tanks on Anderson road, so we were able to drive right to the trailhead on the west side of Viejas Mountain. I wasn't sure how easy it was going to be to find the trail since it was supposedly unmarked, but it was obvious and we had no problems seeing it from the road. I set my adventure pass on the dash and threw on some clean socks and a shirt while a willing but semi-reluctant Anna put her pack on. The trail switchbacks steeply right from the parking area, gaining 1500 feet in less than 2 miles, and it was hotter here than around Oakzanita. The trail was rather crude in places with sections of loose rock over choppy red and brown hard-packed dirt, and I really enjoyed the monotonous yet straightforward ascent. I think Viejas would actually be an absolutely perfect mountain to train for bigger trips. My thanks to whoever built this trail, it certainly could not have been an easy task.
About halfway up the mountain, I stopped for a few minutes to let Anna catch up and chat with an older woman, who I'm guessing was in her mid-50s. She was coming down the trail on her own and was happy as can be, good on her. Anna and I marched on and keeping consistent with the earlier part of the day, we seemed to top out so quickly that I failed to take any photos during the actual hike. I'll have to work on this...
Anna on the broad ridge near the summit
The final 1/4 mile to the summit is a relatively flat hike along a broad ridge, and the views really open up here. I actually tried not to notice, hoping to save it all for the true highpoint. We spent a few minutes scrambling over some really easy piles of rock and and were at the summit in no time, 65 minutes from the car. The views are really quite impressive on Viejas Mountain, affording seemingly infinite views in all directions. I'm pretty sure that there's nothing higher to the west in San Diego, and I promised myself I'd come back on a really clear day.
El Cajon Mountain and a glimpse of the El Cap reservoir from Viejas
Looking over the Viejas Indian Reservation to the east
It didn't take too long to get back down to the truck, and we made the entire roundtrip in 2 hours flat. Pretty fast considering the elevation gain/loss, but reasonable when you consider that we're still at 30 minutes per mile. Like I said before, perfect training mountain.
We stopped by a greasy burger joint in Alpine on the way out hoping that no one would notice our impressive dirt-tans, and Anna admitted that she was really glad we did that last hike, now that it was over. Little did she know at this time that's a pretty common feeling!
Oakzanita and Peak 5243 stats: 6.5 miles roundtrip, 2000 feet gain/loss
Note - switchbacks on map are not accurate
Viejas stats: 4.0 miles roundtrip, 1600 feet gain/loss