Cuyamaca Peak (LO), Middle Peak, Oakzanita Peak, Sheephead Mountain, Cuyapaipe Mountain

10 November 1990

By: Alan Coles


Leaders: Alan Coles, Bill T. Russell

The Laguna Mountains of eastern San Diego County are a geological freak when compared to the rest of Southern California. Unlike the steep ridges and deep canyons of the Traverse Ranges that surround most of the LA Basin, the Laguna's and the other peninsular ranges are an uplifted series of basins with more rounded hills. With no barrier between them and the Pacific Ocean to the west, they are able to pick up sizable moisture not only from winter storms but from the ubiquitous autumn and spring low cloudiness. They also pick up an occasional summer thunderstorm coming from the south.

The result is a landscape that is more reminiscent of Kentucky than California. The forest here is thick with Incense Cedars, Spruce, Coulter and Jeffrey Pines with deciduous Black Oaks intermixed between large grassy meadows. You will find wild strawberries and azaleas along the many streambeds.

There are 2 times in the year when this region is especially attractive. Spring brings deep greens to the meadows with abundant wildflowers displays. Autumn brings crisp blue skies, golden hills and bright orange and yellow leaves on the Black Oaks. This year we opted for the latter.

John Radalj was going to be the co-leader on this outing but was recovering from the flu along with his wife Agnes. Finding a suitable replacement was not a concern since 2 of the participants, Bill T. Russell and Evan Samuels, are leaders. With Ron Lanyi and Janet Phun, our small but highly congenial group began the hike to Middle leaving shortly after 7:30 am on Sat morning.

We took the highly scenic Azalea Trail up to the saddle between Cuyamaca and Middle. With a light crisp wind, the views from the saddle were clear all the way to the ocean. The leader opted to take the western loop road instead of the traditional eastern portion as it passes through a large meadows overlooking the Pacific. Leaving the trail at a strategic location, Middle was reached without much effort.

After signing the register and admiring the thickest forest on top of any of our peaks, we descended a slightly different way back to the western loop road and back into the saddle again. From there we took the recently reworked Conejos Spring Trail up to the Cuyamaca Pk Rd and finally to the summit itself reaching it around 11 am.

Bill T. contemplated an alternate route to the top from the west while the rest of us enjoyed the views that ranged from San Gorgonio to the north and peaks in Baja to the south. From there we descended directly back to the cars.

After a short break, we drove down to the Oakzanita trailhead. Evan went to do Stonewall and the Garnets while Pat Russell, who was recovering from a cold and had elected to stay at the cars during the morning, joined us for this enchanting hike.

The weather was unseasonably warm but never uncomfortable as we passed through dry meadows fringed with large canyon live oaks. As the trail progresses up to the East Mesa, the vegetation abruptly changes to Black Oaks, conifers and open grasslands. This route is a rather circumventurous but passes though a wide variety of sceneries that is always enjoyable. The summit itself offers fine views especially towards the east and north.

We returned back to the cars around 4 and drove over to Laguna CG where I had reserved 3 family units. Not knowing which sites to pick, I chose 1, 2 and 3 on the Meadow Loop which turned out to be rather far apart. (Note: The best site numbers are 13, 14 and 15!) It turned out to be a good idea as every site was taken with many people driving in and out unable to find a place to camp on this very busy Veterans Day Weekend.

We were joined by Jim Peterson who drove up alone and Sue Wyman, new husband Vic Henney and nephews Gabe and Jesse Barber who came in their truck and managed to find us. That made it a perfect 6 cars for 3 sites (at $8 per site with $6 per site Mistix reservation fee). We enjoyed a good community salad and a warm campfire before retiring around 9 pm.

Sunday, we left the campground at 7:30 and headed over to Sheephead first since that is the only one Sue and Vic needed. We followed the peak guide and stayed on Forest Service land the entire way. (There is a new fence around the private land near the road junction). The peak was reached without incident around 9:30. The register can was on top but the register itself was missing. Only a note saying that the can was found off in the bushes. We signed the piece of paper and left after everyone got a chance to climb the summit rock.

Only Bill, Evan, Janet, Jim and the leader went on to Cuyapaipe. We followed the directions as given by Charlie Knapke in the Mar/Apr 1990 Lookout that avoid the private property that is currently for sale. The land on the other side of the fence, however, is not public land either and is part of the Cuyapaipe Indian Reservation along with the peak. The flagged route was relatively easy to follow except for spots where recent bulldozing had occurred. There is a lot of activity occurring on this land as tree branches were sawed off and stacks of wood were piled up. We reached the top before noon without problems and descended about 30 minutes later.

I personally like this peak but question whether it belongs on the list. Some of our peaks require us to pass through private land to get to them but generally the peaks themselves are on public land. In the case of Cuyapaipe, all of the land from starting point to the summit is private. Perhaps we can find another nice summit on public lands in the vicinity to replace it.

Many thanks to all participants for a very nice weekend.


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