Cuyamaca Big Loop

Off to an early start on the West Side Trail

I was ready to get in a sizable ride, but when record highs projected I decided a mighty early start with plenty of water was in order for my outing up in the Cuyamaca Mountains. I was at the trail-head at sunrise and was rolling shortly thereafter. The temps were nice at that time of the morning but I knew it would not last.

Upper Green Valley Singletrack

I made good time up the West Side trail and the Green Valley Fireroad and was on the Upper Green Valley Singletrack before things started really warming up.

Lucky Five Trail

I really enjoy the La Cima trail along with the Lucky 5 trail so at the top the Upper Green Valley singltrack I did the out and back on those two trails. I “imagine” that someday when MTB access to the PCT is restored you could make a good loop with it and the Pedro Fages Trail. Even if you could do a legal loop with those trails I would have a hard time passing up the downhill section of the La Cima trail over the the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT)

The CHRT is mighty nice through here. While on this section I saw a pair of Coyotes and one of them had a rabbit in his mouth. I really wish I had my real camera (DSLR with some quality glass on it) with me. My phone has a really good camera on it suitable for a lot of situations, but it is no match for a DSLR with a quality lens on it.

Marty Minshall trail going by Lake Cuyamaca

It was plenty toasty at this point. I started with a three liters in my bladder and 750ml in a separate water bottle with a couple of electrolyte tablets in it. By this point in the ride I had killed the water bottle and refreshed the tablets and filled with water from my bladder. I connected up with the Marty Minshall trail which skirts near Lake Cuyamaca before coming out across from Milk Ranch Road.

Middle Peak and the tombstones of the forest

It has been a while since I had been up Middle Peak and I was interesting in seeing how things are progressing since the fires back in 2003. Without the trees on the mountain, there was little respite from the sun which was cooking things at this point. I was pretty stoked at how well I was handling the heat compared to how things were pre-surgery but the climb was still plenty taxing. After a water check at the top, I decided that it would be unwise to try and complete the ride without restocking up on water. The descent down Black Oak was fun but the descent down Milk Ranch Ranch Road seemed like wasted elevation loss.

Water Stop with bonus items

Once back at HWY79, I diverted off the planned route over to the general store at Lake Cuyamaca to resupply my water. While there I found a giant frozen ice stick that I simply could not live without. I enjoyed it along with nice cold Gatorade. I completely refilled water bladder even through I doubted I would need to all of that to get back to the truck. Better to be safe that sorry in these conditions. If I had a mechanical in a bad spot I could end up being out here a lot longer than planned. I also figured that if I came across someone in distress I could help.

Good to see some of you out on the trail

After enjoying my treat and the shade on the porch of the store I made my way back to the Marty Minshall trail where I retraced my route back to the top of the Soapstone Creek Fireroad. I descend this fireroad and picked up the Cold Spring Trail. I was feeling tired at this point but was still stoked at the fact I was not destroyed by the heat.

Team Cow was Moooooving Today!

As I descended down the trail you could felt the temperature climbing. By the time I connected back up with the West Side trail it was roasting. No more stopping for pictures at this point, I was ready to be done. When I got back to the truck it was was 103 degrees. My truck reads a little high after sitting so I think 98 or 99 is closer to legit. The difference being DAMN HOT and REAL HOT! Either way it was a new milestone for me in dealing with the heat. I went through 5.0 liters of liquids on the day along with six electrolyte tablets (Nuun brand).

You can download my current recommended route or the Old School Classic Grand Loop for this area here or get the exact route I did on this day over at Trailforks.

Cuyamaca Area CRHT

A couple of weekends ago I did a combination of hiking and biking in the Descanso and Cuyamaca area doing a bit more of my ongoing project to assess all of the California Riding and Hiking Trail segments in the county.  I have updated the interactive map on my page to reflect some of the details.

(Disclaimer: I’m going to ramble in this post and make some references you may have to follow along with on my site and other linked documents. This post is just as much notes for my own use later as it is something to share.)

A good portion of the CRHT has been lost to road construction over the years in the Descanso area. The trail still exists leaving Descanso to the north and all the way up through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Unfortunately a large majority of it is off limits to bikes due to a state wilderness designation in 1982.

The State Wilderness designation inside the boundary of the State Park is an unnecessary designation as all of the preservation goals could have been achieved using other existing State Park systems administrative tools. It is my opinion that for many decades now there has been a cadre of politicians out there that view the number of acres of wilderness they gain every year as a feather in their hat.    So while the designation of this existing state park land in 1982 increased those wilderness acreage numbers, it did not protect any additional land.   It was already protected from development.   What did it do?   Well it banned cyclist access to an existing multi-use trail that was established in the 1940s.

CRHT south of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

At the north end of Descanso Trail Road, the CRHT is once again a trail. It is a single track and mostly climbs for about 2 miles to Cuyamaca State Park and the southern boundary of one of its segments of wilderness. There is no other legal access for cyclists beyond that point. This section south of the state park is a bit over grown in spots and the tread could use some TLC n spots. The CRHT continues north as singletrack and is better maintained by the state park. After maybe 1.5 miles the CRHT comes out onto South Boundary fireroad. South Boundary fireroad is not in designated wilderness. The CRHT follows South Boundary fireroad north to the junction of Arroyo Seco Fireroad which is cherry stemmed out of the wilderness. At the end of the Arroyo Seco Fireroad the CRHT continues northward as the Fox trail which is singletrack.

The the Fox trail ascends steeply in spots to the junction of the West Mesa trail and finally the Fir trail which ends at the Fern Flat fireroad and the northern boundary of the West Mesa wilderness. This is a superb section of the backcountry in the park with incredible views both to the west and east.

Northern end of the Fir Trail (CRHT)

When the Fir trail (aka CRHT) reaches Fern Flat fireroad the CRHT turns north as the fireroad until it veers off to the east as the Azalea Glen trail. This trail is not in the wilderness but it still off limits to bike. The trail is often quite steep and would be pretty technical in many spots in the upper half. Near the bottom of the eastern flank of Cuyamaca peak the CRHT (single track at this point) splits off to the north from the Azalea Glen trail and is once again open to bikes (and named CRHT). After some meandering it then crosses HWY79 and proceeds around the west and north flanks of Stonewall Peak.

The CRHT (Fox Trail) in the West Mesa section of Wilderness

However when it get to the junction of the Los Caballos trail it becomes off-limits to bikes. Just a few years ago this section of the CRHT was open to bikes northward all the way to the Soapstone Grade fireroad. Where the CRHT joins Soapstone Grade Road it once again become open to bikes. This was the northern apex of assessment on these latest outings.

While I don’t know the whole story, I looked up the latest approved general plan for the state park and have some theories that I hope to get some clarifications on with some other people. The 2015 approved park general plan called for the expansion of several cultural and natural preserves inside the boundary of the park. It looks like the expansion of those preserves brought with it the loss of cyclist access to the CRHT in those expanded areas.

CRHT just west of HWY79

Also in the general plan were some wilderness boundary adjustment that should have opened up the Blue Ribbon trail to cyclist in the southern area of the park, but as of last weekend, the no bikes and wilderness signs are still up. It would have been really nice if the CRHT would have been cherry stemmed out of the Wilderness to restore cyclist access to this historic route that predates even the Pacific Crest Trail. This really falls into the category of bitching at this point since I did not participate in the public comment period when the revised general plan was being worked.

While I have not done my due diligence at this point to find out the whys, it looks quite a bit like the park is a bit slow to implement the portions of the approved plan that would benefit cyclists. One thing is for certain the classic Cuyamaca “Grand Loop” will never seem as grand after seeing what the loop could be if cyclists were allowed to ride the CRHT as it was intended.

Cuyamaca – ABDSP

It was time for a dawn patrol ride in the Cuyamaca Mountains and Anza Borego Desert State Park.   I was at the trailhead bright and early.    Too early was my first thought as it was quite brisk (mid-50’s) and I was dressed for the heat to come.

I started out at the San Diego River Staging area.  The early morning temps  made for a zippy start to help keep the blood flowing.

Still some flower out and about in the fields.

I made my way up the west side single track and then cut over to the at the visitor center and picked up the Green Valley fire road.

Mule Deer, the Ross Perot of the deer family.

I saw turkeys and some deer along way.   When I got to the bottom of Soapstone grade fire road, I took the Upper Green Valley single track.   About half way up the climb you leave the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and enter the Anza Borrego Desert state park.   Now it looks nothing like a desert up here.

Along the La Cima trail heading east

Normally, I hookup with the La Cima Trail and head west toward Lake Cuyamaca and the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT).  Today I turned east on the La Cima trail where I went for just over a mile up and over a ridge to the La Cima Trailhead.   This was a nice bit of trail.   At the La Cima trailhead I picked up the Sunrise trail and continued east.

Views along the Sunrise trail

What a nice bit of trail.  There were one spot where you could look down into the Anza Borrego Desert and see the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea is out there in the haze.

I took the Sunrise trail out to its end at the entrance to the Lucky 5 ranch and the northern terminus of Deer Park Road (private property).   This was my first time on this bit of trail and I must say I liked it.  I have heard that there is a trail planned that would stay on the south side of sunrise highway and connect the Sunrise trail all the way over to top of Noble Canyon.   I am all about new trails and I would gladly welcome such a trail.     Interestingly enough there is already a trail that connects those two points together.  The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is that trail.  There are access points to the PCT at the the entrance to the Lucky 5 ranch as well as at the top of Noble Canyon.  Unfortunately bikes are off limits on the PCT.   Now this particularly section is not off limits to bikes because it is in wilderness.  No it is strictly off limits to bikes because the PCT has a blanket ban on bikes mostly because the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) feels bike should not be on “their” trail.  (I’m grossly generalizing their position that from their perspective makes sense)   To me it seems to be a nearly a no brainer that allowing bikes on the PCT section that is on the north side of the Sunrise Highway from Lucky 5 to Noble would alleviate the need to build a trail between those two points on the south side of Sunrise Highway.   This makes me wonder, would the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) rather see additional environmental impacts created in this area to create a redundant trail just so they could continue to keep bikes off of the PCT?  Is their need to maintain a certain trail experience greater than their land stewardship goals?   Would the organizations that support the PCTA simultaneously oppose the creation of the new trail on the south side of the trail due to environmental impacts while also opposing the sharing of the section PCT on the north side of Sunrise highway?   Things that make you go hmmmmmmmm.

Well after my deep thoughts I started working my way back the California Riding and Hiking trail.  It was well into mid-morning at this point and things had warmed up to near perfect cycling temps.  Along the way I came upon the fellow above.

 

After a bit of snake and camera juggling, I was back on my way and rejoined the CRHT which took me to Soapstone and Stonewall fire roads followed by the Coldsprings trail and the then back to the staging area via the westside single

Good times on the trails!

More Cuyamaca

I was back out in the Cuyamaca Mountains this weekend.

Spring is still hanging on. Today I started out on the west side singletrack and then crossed over to the visitor center and then took the Coldwater trail northward.

If you look close there are two turkeys in the field.

The climb up and over to the Stonewall peak fireroad was quite manageable. This is a really well built trail that I have found to be manageable and engaging in both directions.

Blooming goodness in July!

Once at the top of Stonewall Peak fireroad I turned east. Technically I was in the California Riding and Hiking trail (CRHT) at this point but the next section north of here is what I consider the “real trail”. When I reached the junction of the CHRT and the top of Soapstone Grade fireroad I had to think about my options.

It has been over a decade since I found myself and this location having arrived from the west. I have long ago given up on climbing Soapstone grade to this point as the Upper Green Valley singletrack at at the bottom of this grade is so much better. My other option is to climb the next section of the CRHT which would be good but it is fantastic in the southern direction. I decided to descend Soapstone grade and then climb Upper Green Valley singletrack.

I have been doing a fair amount riding lately and I feel I have been on the fitness and injury mend as if late. I felt really good on this climb and I think I did as well as I ever have in recent time. I still can’t beat that that much younger version of me but that is a different story. I ended up climbing the La Cima trail over to the Lucky 5 staging area (a first for me). I resisted the urge to poach the PCT back to CRHT today and made my way back along the La Cima trail to the CRHT and back the way I came. It was glorious!

East Mesa and Oakzanita

I made it out to the Cuyamaca Mountains for a a dawn patrol ride this morning. It was a brisk 55 when I started out but it not take long to warm up.

The east side singletrack followed by the fireroad climb up east mesa was quite manageable.

It was about a three to four mile climb up to fireroad to get to the single track that tasks our across the meadow.

I was a little bit past prime time for the wild flowers but there were still a plenty. I took the singletrack out to where you start descending down towards the Indian Creek trail. Here is some info on that option.

After a very peaceful break I retraced my tracks back to the fireroad. For something new to me I took the Oakzanita peak trail.

It was a little under two miles long and most of the climbing occured during the last half of a mile or so. Most of the peak prominence is on its western slopes so you have already gain much of thr elevation when coming in from the east. The last half mile is very much a loose rock and techy bit of fun ckimbing.

The view from Oakzanita peak was really cool and worth the effort. On the return trip, I took an unmarked trail that took me most of the way down the mountain. It was a great bit singletrack. It popped me out on the East Mesa fireroad. This was the upper Descanso Creek trail and saddly it is not only marked at the bottom, but also marked no bikes. Its a shame as it would be my preferred way to come off the mesa. I would not want to climb it. After that it was a quick spin on the East Side singletrack back to my truck. A great morning in the bike.

Above the clouds in Cuyamaca

Last weekend, I took a freind of mine (Jim) out to the Cuyamaca Mountains to show him around. The weather was overcast around rhe county and as we headed up into the mountains it started to get a little foggy. At the trailhead we were pretty much socked in.

What a bunch of turkeys!

We started up the west side single track.   After crossing over highway 79 we came upon some wild turkeys which are plentiful in this area.  We made our way north along the Green Valley fire road until we got to the bottom of Soapstone Grade.

Climbing above the clouds on the Upper Green Valley single track.

From there we continued north on the Upper Green Valley single track and climbed our way up to the junction with La Cima track right by Sunrise highway.    During this climb the clouds/fog cleared up as we got up above it. Things were pretty beautiful at this point and the La Cima trail over to the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) was a great as ever.

On the CRHT

While riding along the CRHT it was pretty cool to look over towards Lake Cuyamaca and see all of the clouds to the west being pressed again the mountains.   It was like the mountains were playing giant linebackers protecting our pocket of sunshine.

Heading back down into the clouds

We connected up to the Cold Springs trails for some super fun descending down to the south.  Down near the bottom we once again rode back down into the clouds.

Not a shabby day to spending a weekend morning!

Cuyamaca Cruise

Today I went out for a quick spin in the Cuyamaca Mountains which rarely falls into the “This Sucks!” category.

An oak at the bottom of the Green Valley singletrack
An oak at the bottom of the Green Valley singletrack

I started from the East Mesa parking lot and took the East Mesa singletrack up to the visitor center where I connected to the Green Valley fire road.   I took this up to the Green Valley single track and work my way to the La Cima trail.

CRHT
I love this spot along the California Riding and Hiking Trail

The La Cima trail took me to the California Riding and Hiking trail, which I took south where I hooked up with the Stonewall fireroad and then over to the Cold Springs trail.

Great views in the Cuyamaca Mountains
Great views in the Cuyamaca Mountains

At the bottom of the Cold Springs trail I crossed HWY 79 and hooked up with the West Side singletrack and took it south back to the East Mesa staging area.    It was definitely a fun day on the bike!

Cruising through the Cuyamacas

This past weekend, I got out into the Cuyamaca Mountains.   Main this place has some nice scenery and trails.  We started from the San Diego River staging area just off of HWY-79 and took the west side single track up to the visitor center and then took the Green Valley fire road to the Upper Green Valley single track for a climb up to the La Cima trail by Sunrise Highway.   We then looped over to the California Riding and Hiking Trail.     From there we took Soapstone Fireroad over to Cold Springs trail and then loopback on the west side trail.   We were a bit past the greenest time of the year but there were still plenty of blooming flora.   Good Stuff!

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Steve and Rodney climbing the Upper Green Valley Singletrack

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The board members of the Pacific Crest Trail Association were seen out and about in Green Valley.

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Plenty of water to cross on the west side trail.

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The Cold Springs Trail

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Bloom along the entire hillside

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Rodney on California Riding and Hiking Trail.   This is one of my favorite sections of this trail in the county.

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Steve working his way up to the “Oak Trees”.

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Lake Cuyamaca has both a upper and lower dam to help keep the “normal” water contained in the south end.   You can see the upper dam as the thin line of land in the middle of the picture.   There is water in the entire upper valley which is just incredible.

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I believe Steve is trying to convey that this trail is the #1/Ichiban Trail  🙂

I am overdue for an update to my Cuyamaca Mountains page.   I think I am going to split it up into two different pages to cover several of the routes you can take out here better.

Cuyamaca and Cold Springs Trail

This past Saturday I went out to the Cuyamaca mountains to check out the new(ish)ly rerouted Cold Springs Trail.    I started out at the Sweetwater trailhead/parking lot and took the West Side singletrack up to the connector to the Park Vistor Center.  From there I turned from usual route and took the Cold Stream Trail north.

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The trail was pretty featureless but pretty through here until it got to a big oak tree on the edge of the meadow right at the junction with the singletrack connector trail over to the Green Valley Fireroad.

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The meadow must be the typical “tour” turn around point from the visitor center as the Cold Stream trail immediately became must more narrow and interesting beyond that point.

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I had not been on this section of the Cold Stream trail before and I have to say this was a nice bit of trail.

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While stopping to check out this little spot.

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I had some locals come through.  There was somewhere between two and four of them.   It was hard to tell with them zipping in and out.

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Shortly after this spot I went by several junction.  The first was the connector over to the West Mesa parking area and the second was the junction of the Cold Stream Trail and the Cold Springs Trail.   The Cold Stream trail north of her was marked “No Bikes” but the route for today was the Cold Springs trail.  Pictured above is some the trail goodness along the Cold Springs trail.

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The original Cold Springs Trail was 1.2 miles, not open to bikes and was a pretty heinous hike.   The new trail is 2.25 miles long and connects with much further up the Stonewall Creek fire road than its predecessor.  This is a most excellent replacement/reroute of the old trail.   I climbed the last bit of Stonewall Creek fire road and the at the junction with Soapstone Grade fire road I hung a right (east).  Just before I would have to drop down the grade into Green Valley I hung a left (north) onto the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

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That Oak tree in the middle of the picture on he meadow ridgeline was my destination for the day.

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I refer to this group of trees as “The Napping Oaks” because you take a break here, you may find yourself doing just that.

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A wider view of today’s turn around spot.

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While kicking back here I heard some thunder and looking over my shoulder I see that some storm clouds had developed or moved in just on the other side of the ridgeline.   Rain was not on agenda today so I thought it was pretty cool to have a little bit of weather with me on the ride.   No rain ever materialized but it was not long before got rolling again.  I pretty much retraced my path back the way I came all the way to the West Mesa parking lot connector where I crossed the road and picked up the West Side trail and took it south back to the Sweetwater parking lot.   I was a great day to be out enjoying some trails.  I spent the rest of the day doing some recon work with the truck for some of the beleaguered  and neglected sections of the CRHT out in this area of the county.  But that is another story…

Cuyamaca Mountains and CRHT Fun

This past weekend Nichol and I rode a modified version of the Cuyamaca Grand Loop.   It is very much looking like spring up in the Cuyamaca Mountains with lots of greenery, blooming plants and wildflowers.

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We started off from the East Mesa staging and rode the singletrack up to the park headquarters and then took the Green Valley Fireroad north.  Instead of climing Soapstone grade.  We took the Upper Green Valley singletrack north and climbed out of Cuyamaca State Park and into the Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the La Cima trail.

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You are certainly not in the desert at this point but the cool thing about the topology here is that in less that four miles the Cuyamaca Mountains drop nearly 3,000 feet into the desert proper. We topped out on the La Cima trail at about 4,880 feet.

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We rode the La Cima trail west to the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) where we the turned south.  This section of the CRHT is really sweet with some great views of the grassland of the Lake Cuyamaca Basin area.   This section of the CRHT is about 2.5 miles long and about halfway through this section you leave Anza Borrego State Park and cross back into Cuyamaca State Park.  The trail connects back up with Soapstone Grade fireroad at the top of the grade and we continued along the Grand Loop rout to the east.   In years past the state park had the California Riding and Hiking Trail closed to bikes in virtually all sections that were singletrack.  They have sense changed there mindset (Thanks to some tireless advocacy work by SDMBA!) and many more sections of the CRHT are now open in the park.  Instead of taking the pavement from Soapstone Grade Road out to Hwy 79 (I think the pavement is called Stonewall Creek Road??), We took the CRHT singletrack.

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The CRHT uses sections of the Minshall, Los Vaqueros and Vern Whitaker trails.  These are some nice sections of singletrack.  They do undulate a handful of times that is going to add your day’s effort but I put the cardio costs well worth it to enjoy these trails.  The CRHT comes out less than 50 yards south of the where the pavement meets up with Hwy 79.  There is also a junction with the northern end of the Cold Stream Trail.  The original plan was to turn right and continue along the Grand Loop route and do Milk Ranch Road and maybe a climb up Middle Peak.   Considering how cool the last section of the CRHT was and the open to bike signs for the next section across the highway,  we opted to continue along the CRHT.

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We immediately noticed that next section saw far less travel that across the highway.   Most of the users are obviously following the road to the north or the Cold Stream trail to the south.  I dig riding on trails that are sometimes defined by matted down grass.  There was also some rocky technical bits that added some nice character to the trail.   At the Azalea Glen trail junction the CRHT become make off-limits to bikes.   This was disappointing and turn west to ride the Azalea Glenn Loop trail which is open to bikes.   This lead us to the Paseo Picaho Campground.  We wanted to get up on the Azalea Fire Road and Fern Flat Fire Road to close off the Grand Loop but we now had to cover quite of elevation over a shorter distance.   A grunting we would up Lookout Road.

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Once we made it up to Fern Flat fire road we turn south and enjoy some mighty long stretches of downhill cruising that took us back down to the West Side single track near the start of the ride.   All together it was 22.1 miles with 3,190 feet of climbing so we definitely earned the post-ride beers and BBQ and Alpine Beer Company.