|July 23, 2010|
Anna and I pulled into the Green Valley campground just before 7pm on Friday night. Too late for most people to start a hike, but I had to be home Saturday night for another obligation and we wanted to squeeze in as much hiking as possible. I knew we couldn't make the summit of Japacha before dark but I thought we'd get close. Anyhow I thought Japacha was a good choice for a night hike as there's a trail 95% of the way, and really I thought Japacha just looked like a bump on a ridge to Cuyamaca. I'd been up Cuyamaca before and we'd be there again, so we'd catch the views another day. It would have been nice to link Japacha with Cuyamaca on this trip, but it would have put us out too late, and I had plans to link Cuyamaca with Stonewall and Middle Peaks another time.
Stonewall Peak in the distance as we start off on Japacha
We started up Airplane Ridge on the Monument Trail, named for a plane that crashed there in 1922 and a monument that was built to honor the men that died in the crash. The monument is made from the V12 engine block from the airplane, and I made note of its approximate location on the map so that we could check it out. We were warned that it was easy to miss though, and since we were short on daylight and we didn't look very hard, we missed it.
Typical vegetation trailside on Airplane Ridge
The trail was easy to follow, we made excellent time getting up Airplane Ridge stopping only once to watch a small rattlesnake slither off the trail.
The sunset from Airplane Ridge
Near the top of Airplane Ridge the trail turns north, following the West Mesa fire road before breaking off to the left (west) and switchbacking up to a small saddle just north of Japacha's summit. Soon after starting up the switchbacks, we lost our last remaining daylight and had to stop to grab our headlamps. This part of the trail, which was just an overgrown dirt road, carved through scattered trees and it felt more like a forest here than it did down below. There was tall brush crowding parts of the road and I failed to tell Anna that I was repeatedly breaking through spiderwebs strung between the bushes.
The moon was a big help getting through the brush near the summit
Soon we reached the saddle just north of Japacha's summit where the off-trail portion of the hike begins. Though its only an eighth mile and less than 200 feet of gain it wasn't easy to find a great path to the summit in the dark. We backtracked a few times and climbed over some large rotten rock piles and through some bushes. This being Anna's first off-trail hiking experience and she had shorts on, she wasn't too thrilled. She entertained the idea of just waiting for me but I convinced her otherwise and with either some good navigation or more likely just good luck we found the summit register.
Japacha's summit register
A cool painted stone in the register, more info about where it came from here.
Of course the views at night weren't much but San Diego's city lights were quite brilliant. We dug through the summit register and started back down after 9pm, later than I thought it would be. We'd spent a lot of time thrashing around in that last eighth mile to the summit, but now all we could think of was our Subway sandwiches that we left in the truck for a late dinner. We shot down the same route, and for the 2nd time this week I had an "encounter" with a strange person on the trail. I guess it wasn't so much an encounter, but about 30 minutes short of reaching the truck I saw a guy dressed in light clothing about 100 feet upslope from the trail, sitting on some boulders surrounded by thick brush. It couldn't have been too easy to get to where he was. I saw him clearly and saw him moving. I can't imagine what he was doing there, but it was after 10pm and no one else was around. I pretended not to notice him and kept on moving, making sure Anna was close behind. As soon as we reached the truck we went to the campsite that we had grabbed on our way in. We ate our sandwiches, had a beer, and went to bed. I wasn't looking forward to getting up early for the two or three peaks we hoped to bag the next day, but I slept well that night.
Japacha stats: 8.5 miles roundtrip, 1800 feet gain/loss
*-continue into the Green Valley campground for the trailhead