Last Sunday and this Wednesday I spent some time exploring the El Capitan Open Space Preserve located near Lakeside. El Cajon Mountain is the extremely promient granite mountain on the preserve you can’t miss if you are driving into El Cajon from the west. And if you have ever ridden Anderson Truck Trail it is mountain on the other side of the reservoir. I can’t count how many times I have said I wanted to get up on that mountain and snoop around. I finally got around to doing just that.
So for the first go around on Sunday, I checked out this area on a whim. I literally left my house in the morning and did not know where I was going to go ride. I did not feel like driving forever and I did not feel like the usual stuff. After remembering how many times I had commented on “What’s on that hill?” I started pulling up maps on my phone and headed towards Lakeside and ultimately the staging area for the El Capitan Open Space Preserve off of Wildcat Canyon Road.
I knew I was in for some climbing, and it started right out of the gate. After climbing about half a mile on dirt streets I came to the trailhead proper and keep going on a sorta wide singletrack up from there. The going was steep in spots but I soon came out to a saddle and junction with an old mining road. I could see lots of ups ahead and some of it looked steep.
All along the route there were wildflowers here and there making an appearance.
It became pretty clear early on that there was a lot more climbing to be done than the simple bottom to top elevation would lead you to believe. There was a lot of “UP three” and “DOWN one (sometimes two)” action going on. One of the mental bummers of this was that you could see that you were just going to have to pay back the elevation real soon. While most of the climbs were workable (hello granny gear) there was some heinous pitches that required the foot gear.
I was amazed how much water was up here on the mountain, little brooks and the sounds of running water were often heard along the route. One week ago to the day, there was snow of this mountain.
One of the things that had been intriguing me about this mountain was all the huge slabs and rocks that could be seen from afar. On this first outing when I got up to what I thought was the main ridgeline with the bulk of the climb behind me, I started snooping out lines and playing on some of the rocks.
I ultimately wanted get on the east end of the mountain to be be able to look down at El Capitan Reservoir and across to Anderson Truck Trail. After checking out an off-shoot trail I saw I still had a long way to go to get there and no trail heading directly in that direction.
Also in this area I came across an old mine that was pretty cool looking. It had three opening that only went back about 20 feet before stopping. I don’t know if this was its as-left state or wither the shafts were later plugged but it was an interesting bit of history carved into the rocks.
Beyond the mine site the old mining road turned downhill in a big way. I followed it for a ways and it looked like it was going off of the ridge and towards the Barona Indian Reservation area. I did not have good cell coverage here and I could not pull up any kind of aerial or map views of the area. I thought about continuing on but the thought of slogging back up in the other direction or having to ride way around on the roads did not sound appealing at this point in the day’s effort. So I chocked it up to thats what I get for not preparing enough for this exploration and decided not continue downward from there. I started heading back and played on some rocks here and there on the way. At the bottom of some of the descents, my rotors had that dark blue hot look and the smell of burning pads filled the air near the bike.
Fast forward to Wednesday and armed with some new information, I repeated the Sunday ride but pressed beyhond the sadddle at the old mine and commited to loosing a good chunk of elevation, knowing that I was just going to have to gain it back. The descent had some pretty gnarly steep bits.
(The “Much Steeper Than It Looks” moniker applies here)
I know I did not lose as much elevation as I thought, but knowing that you have to come back up this stuff later in the ride makes the terrain seem much steeper and each foot of descent seems like it is going to be 18″ of gain going the other way. Just as Google Earth had shown the old mining road soon turned aburptly back towards the ridgeline and started going uphill in a semi-heinous manner.
Part way up this climb there is an old jeep along the route that was pretty cool to check out. Not sure of the era, but it seemed way old.
The rocks and natural features along the route were also pretty interesting but I did not spend anytime exploring these as it was later in the day and I had some uphill ground to cover still. To compound things, the signs at the trailhead said the gate is locked at 5PM which seems a little crazy. (Why not something reasonable like “sunset”)
I soon got up to a junction where if I would continue straight to get out to the point I was looking to get to. Going off to the right would take me to a viewpoint on a secondary peak, and to the left was a foot trail that would take me up to the main peak. There were still no views of the reservoir at this point. The old trail out the point straight ahead was quite overgrown, way rutted and downhill from were I was at so I opted to forgo going that way. I spent some time working my way up the foot trail towards the main peak but once it started becoming mostly a rock scramble I decided to turn around as I did not want to test the 5PM gate policy.
After turning around I enjoyed a sizable bit of tricky descending before getting back into the granny and foot gear. I had plenty of UPs to do on the way back but I was ultimately loosing elevation. I made back with 15 minutes to spare before the gate was scheduled to be closed. I was pretty good and pooped. While I had only covered 11.5 miles I had climbed 3,491 feet. I think I am going to go back out there maybe once more on a weekend just to fully see the rest of the place, but I don’t know how much more beyond that I will spend out here as it is ultimately a high price to pay to play kind of place.