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.