Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain is located at the eastern edge of the city of Poway and it is the second largest peak in the city at 2,696 feet which is just a little shorter than Mount Woodson just a little further to the north at 2,884 feet.  The trailhead is at 1,700 feet so while this may seem like not that big of a deal, it could not be any further from the truth.   The rocky and steep technical terrain makes this an advanced level ride or a moderately difficult hike.  Most riders will do a combination of both.  This ride really challenges you both physically and mentally as there are so many places where it is not simply a technical move that is required, but a series of technical moves, many times diverse moves, that are required in combination.  While there are only about 10 miles of trails out here you can reasonably expect it to take you around four hours to complete the ride.  This place is quite popular with hikers and trail runners so do not even think about riding this trail during the weekend.   Either way minimize the trail conflict by going on the weekday.  

Iron Mountain Pan
Mt Woodson (left) and Iron Mountain (right) from the Poway road trailhead

Directions:  There are two trail heads for this system, the Ellie Lane Trailhead and the Iron Mountain trailhead.  The Ellie Lane trailhead is .7 miles north of the junction of Highway 67 and Poway Road.   The Iron Mountain trailhead is located at the junction Highway 67 and Poway Road.

From Places North (i.e. Escondido) traveling south on I-15: Take the Camino Del North Exit and turn left on Camino Del Norte.  After 1.6 miles, Camino Del Norte truns into Twin Peaks Road.   Continue 2.5 miles on Twin Peaks Road, then turn right on to Espola Rad/CR-S5.   After .7 miles, turn left on to Poway Road/CR-S4.  In 2.6 miles you come to the T-intersection of highway 67.  Turn right and immediately turn left into the dirt pullout area at the Iron Mountain trailhead.

From Places South (Junction I-8 and I-15):  Travel 11.0 miles on I-15 north and take the Scripps Poway Parkway exit.  Turn right onto Scripps Poway Parkway and travel east for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 67 and travel north 1.6 miles.  The Iron Mountain trailhead on the right-hand side of the road just prior to the stoplight for Poway Road.

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountainMap.JPG images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountainProfile.JPG
Maps:  To the far left is a topographic map of the area formatted for printing on 8.5" by 11" sized paper.  Also to the left is the elevation profiles for both the Iron Mountain and Ellie Lane trails.  To the right is a aerial photo of the area from Google Earth.  Download the GPS files: GPX, GDB, KML, TOPO! images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountainGoogle.jpg Blog Post about Iron Mountain

Hazards: This place gets blazing hot in the summertime.  The first time I rode this trail was at the end of May and it was already 90 plus degrees at 4PM in the afternoon.   This place is not for the intermediate level rider, unless you enjoy lots of hiking.  For a general comparison, if you do not feel fairly confident riding the technical stuff on Noble Canyon (Widow Maker, Stairway to Hell, Barney Rubble, etc...) then this may not be the ride for you.   If  you have not ridden Noble Canyon before then put that further up on your list than Iron Mountain.

Ride Notes: (This description is for a Iron Mountain/Ellie Lane/Wild Horse Loop)

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-01.jpg     Right from the trailhead you can see where you are headed as Iron Mountain is just to the south which starts off tame enough.  At .3 miles you will pass by a fireroadish looking trail coming in from your left.  This is southern end of the Wild Horse trail that connects to the Ellie Lane trailhead.   Continuing on the Iron Mountain trail, at .7 miles the trails starts to show a taste of things to come when your first set of tight switchbacks and technical features.  They are only interspersed here and there until at 1.45 miles you reach the junction of the Iron Mountain trail and the Ellie Lane trail. images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-02.jpg
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-04.jpg Turning right you will continue along the Iron Mountain trail where the trail undulates a few times as it travels south along the east side of the mountain.  The trail from the junction of the Ellie Lane Trail until 1.8 miles where trail turns back to the north along the eastern side of the mountain is fairly tame considering this places reputation.   From this point the trail gets a little loose in places and you start encountering some tight switchbacks.    The trail will work its way to the north side of the mountain where it will pretty much switchback its way up the north side of the mountain the rest of the way up. images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-05.jpg

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-06.jpg    images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-07.jpg    images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-08.jpg    images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-09.jpg

 Iron Mountain Pan
At 2.25 mile you reach a saddle with a smaller peak on the north side of the mountain that provides an excellent view of the trailhead you started from.  

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-10.jpgimages/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-11.jpgFrom the small saddle to the peak the trail get dramatically more difficult.  The trail for the most part turns into pretty much solid and large rocks.  While you will get a few extremely short reprieves between switchbacks it is basically all technical stuff from here on up.   I have heard it said several times, that a strong technically savvy rider could make it up 90 percent of this stuff.  I could certainly see that to be true, if they knew the lines.  There was quite a bit of this I hiked on the way up.   I also did a lot of scooping out of lines for the descent.         


Summit of Iron Mountain
At 2.9 miles you reach the summit.

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-19.jpg There are some pretty nice views to be seen from the top, so enjoy them take in a snack because the real fun is about to start.  The descent down is an extremely challenging and fun descent that will work you over both physically and mentally.  On your first visit here you will most likely not be too disappointed that you hiked some the stuff on the way up as it should have helped you figure out and line and a plan of attack for descent.   I rarely wear knee/shin and elbow guards these days, but I felt no shame in strapping the stuff on at the peak before give the descent a whirl. images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-20.jpg

The following five pictures show one particular interesting section of trail.  This was more of a typical switchback near the top.

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-15.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-14.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-16.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-17.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-18.jpg
This is the lead-in into
the switchback
Another view of the
Just a little further
Notice the chainrings that have gone before you? It is steeper
than it looks.


images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-12.jpg   This is another interesting switchback.   The log on the downhill side it looks easy, but he moves coming to it make it more difficult images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-13.jpg
This is about an easy as section of trail you will find on this trail.

At 5.35 miles you will be back at the junction of the Ellie Lane trail and the Iron Mountain trail.

The Ellie Lane Trail


images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-22.jpgimages/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-23.jpgIf you are up for doing the Ellie Lane trail after coming down from Iron Mountain, hang a right at the junction of the two trails.  (Mileage in this description is from this junction) You will do a very short rise and then start losing elevation on a fairly tame (compared to the rest of the area) section of trail.   After only 1/4th of a mile, the trail turns back up hill and you encounter some tight switchbacks that were definitely not build with mountain bikers in mind.   Almost of the the switchbacks have a water bar smack in the middle of the apex the switchback.  The means on most of the switchbacks you come up parallel to the log which makes the move through the switchback much harder as it is a delicate balance of power and finesse to get over the log and make the turn on the uphill side.  You will have quite a few of these switchbacks to deal with while making your way to the the Ramona Overlook at .6 miles (Point B on the map).   The Ramona Overlook is really not all that picturesque, but if you take a small out-and-back trail off to your right it leads  out to much better views.  (I do not know if this is a legal or trail or not but it is well established.)

    From the overlook, you will switchback for another 1/2 mile to the west up to a saddle to the west of the overlook at 1.0 miles.  For me, this saddle should be the overlook as the views are much better from this point. 

 Ramona Overlook
The saddle above the Ramona Overlook looking east.

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-25.jpg From this saddle the trail gets extremely interesting.  The trail drops almost 400' in the next 1/2 miles making this something around 19% grade.   The grade combined with some terrain makes for some down right gnarly sections.   They all have a doable lines in them but without having the benefit of seeing them beforehand like going up the Iron Mountain trail, committing to some of these without having a peak first is mighty ballsy.   There was some pretty cool combination moves along this section coming down from the saddle, and many times they come at you in a BAM-BAM-BAM no rest for the weary kind  of way.   For me this was technical skills, reality/gut check section.  images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-26.jpg
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-28.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-30.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-27.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-29.jpg images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-32.jpg
Looking down to
the east
Another well placed
Yep there is
a line there
Looking back up at the
saddle you came from
(#5) Down near
the bottom

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-31.jpgOnce you are near the bottom and have crossed onto another slope to the north.  You are now traveling west with the downhill slope to your left.  (Your general view should be like the picture #5 above and on the far right-hand side).    It is in this area at 1.5 miles where there is a bit of trail confusion.   Notice on the map that I have drawn is some trail in bowl shaped area at Point G labeled "Illegal Trails".   I am assuming these are illegal since they are not on the published maps or descriptions.   Look for a split in the trail in a almost flat area.  You want to take the split to the right that turns and switchbacks uphill.   Taking a close look at Picture #5 above you will see one of these illegal cuts at the base of the far hill.  If you end up out in the middle of that bowl headed towards that trail you have missed the split.   Another good indication that have gone to far is that all of the sudden the trail gets markedly easier.  The picture to the left shows the junction of the illegal trails just north of the Point G on the map. 

images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-33.jpg Once you make the right split the trail switchbacks then works it's way northward above the eastern side of the bowl.  There are some pretty rugged and tight switchbacks in this section but not to the same degree as the drop from the saddle earlier.  The trail drops down into the northeastern corner of the bowl and there is once again another illegal trail splitting off to the left.   It is the predominant trail and you need to look off to your left as the legitimate trail splits off to your right.  At this point your are 1.95 miles from Iron Mountain junction. images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-34.jpg
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-35.jpgContinuing on the trail gains quite a bit of elevation (200') in the next 2/10ths of a mile as it goes up to the table rock area at Point A.  I was feeling pretty freaking beaten at this point and was exceptionally happy to see the trail turn downhill just after table rock.  To the left is a picture looking back from the table rock area back across the bowl to the south-southeast.  You can see both the trail coming down from the saddle and the trail working it's way northward on the east side of the bow.
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-36.jpg The descent down from table rock was much easier than the last few up and downs but it still had it spots.  The trail weaves through and by some large boulders on it's way down to the west. At around 3.1 miles you should see a trail splitting off to your right.  Taking that right will quickly take to the Ellie Lane Trailhead a little over a 1/4 of a mile directly west.  I continued straight onto the Wild Horse Trail. images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-37.jpg
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-38.jpg The Wild Horse trail was a smooth and welcome change as I was pretty sure I was suffering from a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all of the technical stuff by the time I finished up the Ellie Lane Trail.  images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-40.jpg
images/Trails/IronMountain/IronMountain-31MAY06-39.jpg Wild Horse is just under a mile long and passes by a couple of small ponds before connecting back up with the Iron Mountain trail.    Hang right and spin back to your car at the main trailhead.   You can also connect this area up with some of the trails on Mount Woodson just north of this area (I have not checked out that area yet), but I was quite beat from the 10 miles that make up this loop.   This place will not make it on my weekly ride list, but a few visits a year, particularly in the non-summer months will happen.    If you feel like you are due for a technical reality check this might be the ride for you.