|September 11, 2010|
I squeezed in a few summer trips to the Sierra mountains and so neglected the San Diego peak list for a short time, but I'd been looking forward to Bell Bluff. It seemed to be relatively untraveled and it was just interesting for some reason, maybe it was the name. We only had a half day to spend today so Bell Bluff fit perfectly, driving distance and hiking distance wise.
Saturday morning Anna and I pulled up to the trailhead on Via Dieguenos, something I never would have known was there had I not seen its location on the map. I could easily have driven right past it and not even noticed. The trail here is really part of an old road called "Spanish Bit," another cool name.
Immediately after taking the trail between two houses we came to a stream crossing. There was a decent amount of water and trees and vegetation back there, and someone had left a ladder to use as a bridge. It made me think of the ladders that people use to cross crevasses on Everest, but somehow I'm sure this wasn't as dramatic.
The trail quickly led away from the backs of the neighborhood houses, heading west before eventually making a 180 towards Bell Bluff. The going was easy, and it wasn't until about 40 minutes into the hike that we really got a great view of the mountain, which I thought was awesome.
As we we got nearer to the mountain, I kept my eyes open for an opening through the brush or an easy scramble up the rock. There did seem to be several possibilities, though all appeared to involve some degree of a bushwhacking contest. Always hoping for something better and seduced by the easy trail and the fact that it was still gaining elevation, we continued east until we finally decided now or never.
Looking up towards our route from where we left the trail
The manzanita was particularly vicious on Bell Bluff, this part of the hike was anything but elegant. We climbed up and over a few welcomed boulders to get out of the scrappy stuff, but we didn't seem to catch too much of a break anywhere. Thirty minutes of thrashing brought us to the summit plateau where we found a few cairns and could see the high point of the mountain about an eighth of a mile away. The bushwhacking calmed down a little until the last 100 feet before the summit, and some large rocks made that easy enough to avoid. We reached the summit in just under 2 hours after leaving the car, 45 minutes of which was used on the last half mile.
Just below Bell Bluff's high point
The view looking west from Bell Bluff
Bell Bluff sat a great deal higher than its immediate surroundings, and though it was difficult to get around to appreciate every aspect of it, the views did not disappoint in any direction. The entire summit area seemed to be a mass of rock and manzanita, with one particular cluster of boulders seemingly higher than the rest. Once I started climbing up to what I thought was the summit block, I quickly realized that this was a larger task than I had hoped. After checking all sides for a way up, the easiest way I found was an offwidth chimney tucked into a corner on the west side of the highest boulder. I felt that I could climb it easily enough, but that it was outside of my safe downclimbing abilities, so I let it alone for another day.
Backing off of the summit block
Ready to head back, we started to retrace our steps but we were again seduced. This time by easy and plant-free low angle slabs to walk on. We went further east down the summit plateau than where we'd come up, and at first it seemed like we'd get much closer to the trail without nearly as much manzanita, but it wasn't worth the trouble. In retrospect, it probably would have been worth finding a route down (or up for that matter) on the rockier west side of the summit. Once back on the trail we relaxed and enjoyed the remaining hike back to the car, never seeing a single person the entire day.
Note - a better route could probably be found near the yellow line
Bell Bluff stats: 8.0 miles roundtrip, 1700 feet gain/loss