A windy and chilly romp through the Cuyamacas

Today I decided to go check out Cuyamaca Rancho State Park as I had not been there after the 2007 wildfires.   We have been having some awesome weather as of late here in San Diego so I was blissfully expecting more of the same for the ride today.  The early morning clouds hovering over Vista made me think all was not going to be well up in the mountains.  I keep just about all of my cold weather stuff in a small bag, so I chunked it in the truck and was on my way.  At the the trailhead it was overcast and the truck thermometer read 40 degrees.  Not heinious by a long shot and I had the right gear.  However, upon opening up the truck door the breeze was quite biting.  As I was getting all layered up what I would guess were gusts of up to 20mph were letting me know that today could get real interesting.  I started off from the Sweetwater staging area and  headed north up the west side trail towards the vistor center.  I had barely gotten started when I came across a flock of wild turkeys.  They were quite content to run ahead of for quite some time before veering off the trail.   I had only brought along my ultra wide angle lens for the camera so trying get a good shot of them would have been futile so I just enjoyed the encounter and rolled on.  Once at the visitor center I hooked up with the Upper Green Valley Fireroad and continued northward.  

Taking the Upper Green Valley fireroad is part of the large counter clockwise loop known as the “Grand Loop”  that I was intending to do today.  The cruise/mild climb up Green Valley was pretty nice as I was mostly sheltered from the wind but I could watch the clouds spill over the top of the ridges to the west and continue on with great haste.   Often times I could hear the winds rippinng across the top of the ridges.  


At the bottom of Soapstone Grade I veered off the traditional loop to check a trail I had not done before.   While the trailsign was not up, I believe it is called the Upper Green Valley Trail but I have also heard it referred to as the La Cima trail.  The singletrack climbed gradually for the most part and it had some nice rocky character here annd there.  I was getting a little more exposed to the wind the further I went up.  About 3/4th of the way up this trail (about a mile) I left Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and entered the Anza Borrego State Park.   The trail ultimately went out to the two-laned Sunrise Highway and loosely paralled it both to the east and west.  I went to the west and after a bit of climbing followed by some swoopy descending I connected up with the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CHRT).

Once I was on the CHRT, I was not sheltered from the gusty winds much and the intensity of the winds had built up.  (I later learned the winds were 25-35mph with an advisory out for gusts up to 65mph)   I often had to countersteer into the wind and just put my head down and pedal on.

The CRHT was in great shape and I was amazed at how much water was in Lake Cuyamaca. I had not ridden this section before and I was impressed. 

The open alpine meadows were exceptional to look at and the singletrack was swoopy and fast once things turnned slightly downhill.   Even with a now biting cross wind, there was some zippy sections along through here.  I also came across a pair of coyotes in this area.   They were certainly not the acclimated to humans types like we often seen in the semi-urban areas.  This couple were definitely not interested in being anywhere near me and they were heading up the ridgeline in  a hurry.  After 2.4 miles the CHRT connected up the top of Soapstone grade and I continued back along the traditional Grand Loop route.   Once I made it out to HWY79 I headed over to Milk Ranch Road, I had a decision to make.  The wind was gusting pretty bad and my toes were getting pretty darn cold despite the winter wool socks I had on.   I could climb Middle Peak and descend the Black Oak trail or just skip it and stay on Milk Ranch Road.  After grabbing a very quick bite to eat and shaking out the feet I decided to do the climb even though I could see that the clouds were completely engulfing the upper half of the peak.  

This place has never been the same since the 2003 wildfires.  It is such a tragedy the awesome old oaks and goliath pines on this peak burned in that fire.  As I made my way up the mountain I could not help but be once agained saddened by the loss of such a forested treasure.    

As I neared the top I entered the clouds and while I was sheltered fairly well from the wind coming from the far side of the peak, I could hear it howling above me.  The Middle Peak fireroad does not go directly over the peak, instead goes close by it  as it circles around to the other side of the mountain.   I was not interested in any side trip up up to the actual peak here as it had gotten colder and moister.  As the fireroad transitioned over to the east slope and topped out at 5,800 feet the shelter from the wind disappeared.  It was now in a very stiff cold and gusty headwind.   Luckily it was time to turn downhill on the Black Oak Trail.   

I last remember this as a ripping fun singletrack with lots of rocky character.    While most of that is true, it was a very segmented ripper today as there were at least a dozen deadfalls across the trail.  The visibility was also an issue due to the clouds and the fact that I had to keep wearing my glasses to keep my eyes from being dried out in seconds.  Once down to the lower half of this trail the deadfall was no more and things got zippy was again.   Somebody somewhere downwind may have heard the faint sound of giggles riding along with the clouds as I descended through here.  The Black Oak Trail drops down to Milk Ranch Road where I hooked up with the Azalea Springs, Fern Flat, West Mesa and Japacha series of fire roads to get back and my truck.   The visibility was rather short through most of this route and the wind was still often stiff.   My feet were freezing, and I was ready to get to the truck.  The good news was most of this route was a zippy descent and who was I to argue with gravity.   Fireroad or not, it was plenty of fun.  I even got to see a herd of deer up close along this route that included two sizable bucks.    I was happy to see my truck and was once again was thrilled at exceptional quality of it’s heater.   While the elements made today a bit of challenge, it was once again a good day out on a bike.

Midweek Cowles Mountain and Pyle’s Peak

Wednesday was a mighty fine day in San Diego so an after work ride was in order.  The ride today was Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak.  I have done this ride quite a few times and I always enjoy the technical as well as cardio beat down this place can put on you.  I started the ride at Mesa Road on the Santee side of the mountain and hooked up with the Mesa singletrack.  This singletrack has a bunch of railroad tie waterbars that can really help you work on your uphill ledge climbing skills.  The nice thing about them is you can usually pick how much ledge you want to attempt as the waterbars are a uniform height all the way across the trail.

I still have no idea how many of those waterbars are on the trail, but it is a lot.   It has been some number of years since I cleaned this trail and today was no different.  I suppose if started taken the easier lines I would had a much better chance of cleaning the trail but what is the fun in that.  Yes the singletrack kicked my ass but I certainly felt a little polish on the ledge skills by the time I came out on the fireroad.

It has also been some number of years since I cleaned the freaking steep fireroad up to the top.  However I did just that on this day.   I can’t say that it was physical prowess that got me up the fireroad, nope wisdom was the primary factor in cleaning the fireroad.  Right from the get-go I put the bike in the granny gear and paced myself up to the top.  Having done this climb some number of times I knew right were the easier spots were and I made a point to go even easier through these spots to try and get the heart and lungs under control.   The fireroad is steep enough that in quite a few spots I had my nose just inches above the handlebar to keep enough weight  on the front wheel to keep it from popping up.  My the time I got to the top I was microseconds from a cardio meltdown but was glad to pedal it out.  It was not the most macho way to clean the fireroad but it counts. 

The views from the top were pretty darn nice with quite a few people out on the mountain.

After I was able to get my lungs back into my chest.  It was time for the out and back trail to Pyle’s Peak.  I am a big fan of the trail.  It sees a ton less use than the rest of  the trails and has quite a bit of technical character to it.

The Pyle’s Peak trail is not too long but it is a lot of fun.  Above is the view from end of the Pyle’s Peak Trail looking back Cowles Mountain.   Yep there was some work to be done to bet back up to Cowles from here.

The sagebrush seem to be digging the wet winter.

Once back up to Cowles things were pretty zippy the rest of the way.  The fireroad is so steep that you really can’t enjoy it as much as you should because you have to keep the on the brakes to maintain control.  Once back ont the singletrack of the Mesa Trail life is grand with lots of micro-chunk and  small jump opputunites.  It got even better when I split off onto the Big Rock trail which has even more of the rocky goodness.  This is a really fun in town trail that some often refer to as “Little Noble”.  One thing for certain it was a nice bit of fun.  The Big Rock trail took me back to Mesa Road and my truck.  A mighty fun weekday ride with a really good workout through in as well.

Playing on the San Juan Trail

Sunday was a return to the San Juan Trail at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains.  The weather was in the typical range of So-Cal Awesomeness. 

The climb up from the bottom went well.  There was a really stiff wind that sometime gusted to what I would guess would be 25-30 mph.  On several occasions I had to put a foot down to keep from being blown off the trail.  Luckily, the trail weaved around sidehills enough that there was lots of wind breaks. 

The views were pretty impressive from up at Cocktail Rock.  On this ride I decide to continue on the New San Juan Trail were I enjoyed technical sections and fun swoopy stuff in the trees.

I took a bit of breather near the junction with the Viejo Tie Trail before continuing on to the Old San Juan Trail.  I got the oppurtunity earn some Karma points by helping out a guy change a flat how had forgotten his pump and tire irons.   After that I enjoyed the descent and cruise down through the meadow along the Old San Juan Trail.   The climb back up to Cocktail Rock was just as much of a beater as I remember, but it was nice in that I had not done this segment in some number of years.  I ran to a MTB Bud (aka Mushroom Dave) there and we chit-chatted a bit before it was time for the fun 6 mile descent back to the trailhead.

The descent was quite awesome, with one 2 second exception.  While I kept looking ahead down the trail other riders on thier way, I got suprised by another rider just past the apex of a blind turn.   The loose decomposed granite in the turn and my hard breaking do not mix too well together and the bike slide out from under me.   Another thing that did not mix to well was my knee and the decomposed granite which resulted in a minor fleshwound (make sure to use your best Monty Python impressionation while saying it).   It cleaned up quite well but pretty ugly at first.   Luckily I did not hit the dude or his bike as that could have made things much worse.

A litte bloodshed aside, it was an awesome day to be out on a bike.

Trailwork at La Costa

 I was long overdue for giving some loving back to the trails so Saturday morning I got managed to carve out some time to help out with some trailwork out at La Costa. I would like to bring my boys along, but they both had hockey games later in the day and I’m sure thier coach would not appreciate them showing up to the game dog tired.  Maybe next time.


There was a good showing of folks out at this event, I think I saw 45 at the start and another half dozen showed up a little latter on.

Much of the work was routine treadwork, with some corrective work had to done due to some folks just riding way too soon after our heavy rains earlier this month.

There were folks of all ages out and for some it was an entire family affair.

In addition to working on the trails, there was also a revegitation work being done up on the peak.  Some hard ground was broken up and some seed was laid in hopes having some more green on the summit in the future.

NASCAR also saw some TLC along with a good to-do list getting started for future efforts on this trail.

All in all some good work was done and afterwards it was time to burn and flip a few burgers and dogs before some swag from the SDMBA Sponsors were tossed about.  A Saturday morning well spent.  Wanna get in on the action?  Check out the San Diego Mountain Biking Association’s website, sign up for the Trailnews or better yet, join.

Checking out Nate

Last weekend was busy with my kid’s hockey games and honey-dos but I grabbed Sunday afternoon for a ride.  I needed to get in some climbing and since I had not been on Nate Harrison Grade since before the 2007 fires, it was a good time to revisit the place.

It did not take long along the climb to realize that the visibility was exceptional on this day.   As soon as I climbed out of the valley the ocean as well as Catalina and San Clemente Island could be seen.   To the south downtown San Diego could be seen as well as the Coronado Islands.   Simply impressive.

I was a little surprised to see that there was a few sections of the road that had been paved with some rough asphalt but understand the need to do so considering all the erosion issues that existed after the fires.

The views continued to just get better the further up I went.

B&W with Catalina in the distance.

Up near the top there was some remanents of snow here and there.   Not enough for a snowball fight but nice to see none the less.

Just before reaching Boucher Peak view to the north opened up.  San Jacinto in the distance.

The views from Boucher Peak at 5,438 feet were pretty impressive today. I was more than readay to chill for a while after the 4,700 feet of climbing to get here.

It did not take too long before the low angle of the sun urged me to get moving down the mountain.  I knew this was going to be a twilight finish.  About halfway down the mountain I stopped to watch the sunset.

It was simply fantastic.  I even got to see a bit of the green flash thing you hear people talking about.  I did not however have my camera setup to capture it.

After watching the sun finish up it’s march across the sky I released the hounds and enjoyed a blistering descent back down to my truck.  Just another awesome day on a bike in San Diego County.

Snooping around near Santee

Yesterday, I met some of the usual and some of the not-so usual suspects for  a bit of riding and exploring around the Santee countryside.

We certainly got in some tough climbs.

We also got in some skinny singletrack


The Santee hillsides are mighty green this time of year.

We got to watch a coyote stroll along the far side of a hillside we were on.

He was a healthy looking fellow.

Later on in the ride we came across a fairly large red-tail hawk that allowed me to get surpisingly close.

After the bird encounter the rest of the ride was a series of steep up and down fireroads before calling it a day.  It was a good day to be on a bike.

New Year’s Day in Pamo Valley and Black Mountain

I decided to start the New Year off with a solo ride through the Black Mountain area near Ramona.   There is something about the combination of a ride with lots of climbing, great vistas and solitude to help get things straight in your head.    I done the 30 mile loop I had planned a couple of times before, but I decided to do the loop in the opposite direction today (clockwise).  I parked at the corner Pile St and Black Canyon Rd and took Pile St west over to Pamo Road as a brisk 48 degrees with a slight breeze that a had a bit of bite to it.  

The descent down into Pamo Valley was very zippy which is typically super fun but on this morning the self-induced wind chill factor wiped a nearly frozen smile off my face.  

At the Santa Ysabel Creek brige there was quite a bit water flowing which had me wondering what the crossing I would have to further upstream later in the day was going to be like.

As I proceeded up Pamo Road (now dirt) I was astounded by the amount water that was in and the earlier flood water level of Temescal Creek.  Mother Nature has been done some landscaping in this area as of late.

Pamo Valley was green as I expected at this time of year but the rains had added a little extra pop to the colors.  As I worked my way up the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail (FS 12S07) the views of the valley below kept opening up and trend continued after I switched over to the Black Mountain Truck Trail (FS 12S04) to continue the climb up the mountain. 

This entire area was burned during the 2007 wildfires but it making a fairly swift recovery.  Throughout the climb there were many spots where the recent rains sent some boulders down onto the truck trail.   In the past the truck trails were open to vehicles but both the truck trails are closed due to “soft roadbeds”.  Bummer for the four-wheelers but it is nice to not have to worry about vehicles on the descents.    

I was quite happy to see that most the oak trees along the route had survived the fires  and with the exception of some charred bark they seem not too worse for wear.  The shade of these oaks were quite a welcome treat last time I was here during a summer month.  

While the sun climbed as my ride went on, so was I and the temps gradually got a little cooler and the breeze made things a little more nipplely.  Thanks goodness for quality techncial apparel as I stayed comfortable for the most part with some minor adjustments here and there.   

The views at the Black Mountain summit (4,051 feet) were exceptional.  Oakazanita, Cuyamaca and other peaks to the west were clearly seen and amazingly the Coronado Islands as well as Catalina Island could be seen to the east.   Not a bad spot for contemplation and and reflection at all.

After all the work to get to the summit, I was quite content to think about taking a nap before heading back down.  The breeze ultimately changed my mind for me and after some additionally layering an exceptional fireroad descent was had.  It was one of those descent were you are not completely hammering and forcing the speed.  It was more of a case of flowing smoothly and the speed naturally flowed.  It was quite blissful and I was giggled out loud on no less than half a dozen times.  My stoke meter was in the happy zone by the time I was back down to the Santa Ysabel Truck Truck.

I continued on the Santa Ysabel Truck Truck to the East-Southeast to work around to the south flank of the Black Mountain.  There is an exceptional Oak Grove in this area that I was really happy to see had survived the the 2007 fires.    At this point I had be fiddle farting through most of this route and I decided I had to get a bit more serious about finishing off this ride so the photos came to end.


This was a ride that was good for the body as well as good for the soul.  I’m ready to take on 2011 at full speed.