The 5 Peaks
5 Peaks Challenge
At the Mission Trails Park there is an opportunity to take the 5 peaks challenge. There’s no time limit and all that is necessary is to hike up to each peak – Cowles Mountain (1591ft), Pyle’s Peak (1379ft), South Fortuna (1094ft), North Fortuna (1291ft) and Kwaay Paay Peak (1194ft), submit the pictures of yourself with the plaque at the top of each peak and, in return, receive a certificate and a badge!
We had climbed South Fortuna on our last housesit here in San Diego and had the picture to prove it. We had also climbed Cowles Mountain about 9 years ago, but alas, no picture to be found. So, we had to hike that one again.
Our South Fortuna hike, eighteen months ago, was longer than we had planned due to the fact that the approach to the peak was very steep and I didn’t want to descend that way, vertigo making me feel unsure on my feet. So, after the mandatory selfie and a snack and a deep drink of water, we continued along the top of the ridge to Fortuna Saddle. Here we could continue to the North Fortuna peak or take the Saddle path through the canyon, back to the visitor’s center. We decided to return to the center as it was getting late and vowed to attempt North Fortuna another day – in fact it turned out to be another year!
This time, we were in San Diego for three weeks so there was plenty of time to attempt all the peaks. Our first on this trip was North Fortuna, which we had declined to continue with on our last trip. We didn’t have hiking shoes at this time, as we had destroyed our last pair while in France. With all the hills and wet weather, they had become unwearable, with Marcel’s being held together with duct tape. Still we had good walking shoes so we were not concerned. We found the trailhead which ran through Oaks Canyon, a pretty bubbling stream and rocky path which was fairly level and a very pleasant walk. I was still on the look-out for spiders and snakes since our trip to the desert! There were some slippery rocks as we started to ascend, but we managed to get across the stream without getting wet feet. We stopped in order for Marcel to take some photographs and I also took one of him with my phone, as he never appears in any of the pictures and people wonder if he really was there at all. We drank some water, and with phones and cameras stashed in our rucksacks, set off again. About half a mile further along the trail we made a left turn and saw the trail, no longer rocky, but sandy and wide, snaking steeply up the mountain. There was another path off to the left and I decided to check the All Trails map on my phone, just to be sure we were headed in the right direction. I felt in the handy little pocket on the side of the rucksack, which is just the right size for a cell phone, but could not feel anything. I asked Marcel to look, but no phone was in sight. Oh no, I must have dropped it just after taking his photograph; perhaps not securing it in the pocket well enough. We had to go back. We thought about calling it, as we had Marcel’s phone, but decided to wait until we were nearer to the area where we thought it would be, just in case we alerted someone close by, who might pick it up and head in the opposite direction to hand it into the visitors center, which was not where we were parked. Marcel handed me his rucksack, and jogged ahead, with me following at a slower pace, scouring the path in case it had bounced out. About halfway along, I heard a phone ring, and traced it to one of the rucksack’s many pockets. It was Marcel - I answered … “Did you find it? Yes, of course you found it, you’re calling me!” haha, I was relieved. “No, I’m calling from my phone…you have your phone?” he queried. I took the phone away from my ear, yes this was my phone, in the rucksack all along, just not in the pocket I had thought! When I heard the phone ring, I thought I was retrieving Marcel’s phone from his rucksack…With a few choice words, and much rolling of eyes, we stowed the phone safely and continued back along the trail. It had become steeper and our breathing was a little labored, but we took our time and eventually reached the Saddle but this time turned up towards North Fortuna instead of downward, as we had done on our previous trip. The rest of the hike was sandy and rocky, but not too steep and with the bright sun and clear blue sky the scenery was spectacular, looking over Mission Trails Park, the Miramar AFB with jets, helicopters, and AWAX planes in constant motion in the sky. In the distance we could see the high-rises of downtown San Diego, the slither of Silver Sands at Coronado and the cliffs of both Point Loma and Torrey Pines. What a view!
After the customary selfie, a snack and more water it was time to head back down. This was when I really wished we had hiking boots, as my walking shoes just didn’t have the grip needed to keep me upright on the sandy soil. It was a little slow and I fell on my butt, cringing at the thought of the size of the bruise that would inevitably appear in all variety of colors over the next few weeks. With a helping hand from Marcel and a discussion about how we really should get some hiking poles, we managed to get down to the canyon fairly quickly. With our shadows stretching out on the rocks in front of us as the sun set behind the mountain, the canyon echoed with sounds of frogs and birds and the bubbling of the brook. It was tranquil and soothing and we lingered on the rocks looking for the frogs and any other wildlife; still no spiders or snakes. Just a lone hare. Marcel quietly observed that this would be the fourth time today he had walked this particular part of the trail…oops.
We arrived at the car and scouted the area for the trailhead of our next peak in a day or so. But first to the store – for boots and poles!
New boots laced, poles at the ready, we were off on our next challenge Kwaay Paay. A short 1.3 miles to the top. This was a good short hike where we could test our new boots and practice handling the poles. The weather was a little gloomy with the Pacific marine layer coming further inland. It was misty and the clouds were hanging low.
This trail started off quite steeply, and only leveled out on a couple of occasions. It was more of a challenge than we first thought, only being 1.3 miles, but we had not taken note of the contour lines on the map showing the elevation. Almost as high as North Fortuna, but a much shorter distance, of course it would be steeper! As well as our new boots, we wore t-shirts, sweaters and padded vests, as the temperature was only forecast to reach 60 degrees. I shivered as I saw scantily clad athletes, with nothing more than shorts and skimpy tops, running up and down the trail. Obviously, a popular work out trail – we were in for a treat, and I suddenly felt a little over-dressed and excessively equipped. Still, better to test everything out on a short hike, ready for our more distant adventures.
The trail continued to climb steeply and so we took it a little slower, stopping to take in the view, remove some of our layers of clothing, and drink water. The terrain was typically sandy and rocky, but the boots were doing their job; no further butt bruises! We reached the summit fairly quickly, coming across a young couple softly singing and playing a guitar. It would have been pleasant if they were in tune, and changed the songs a little, but it was obviously their ‘practice’ time. They needed it!
The view was similar to that at the last peak, but the clouds were low and we couldn’t see as far. We had sweated on our way up, but now we were at the top, the wind was cool and we put our layers back on, feeling cold as we dried out a little. Soon the granola bars were eaten, water drank and the selfie once again snapped, and we headed down the way we had come.
Downhill was easier, and the poles did their job at helping us balance when the terrain was rocky and steep. Again, we arrived at the bottom in a shorter time than it took us to climb and with no blisters, sore toes or rubbed ankles, our boots had passed their endurance test. We were satisfied customers and ready to take on our next peak!
Peaks #4 and #5
The day dawned gloomy and wet and we almost postponed our planned walk to Cowles Mountain and Pyle’s Peak to another day. However, during breakfast, the sun peeked from behind the grey clouds and after consulting the weather app, we decided to go for it! The rain had passed and there was no other rainfall forecast for the rest of the day. However, it was still quite overcast and chilly so we decided to wear our wax coats to keep off the damp air and cool breeze. Boots laced, poles stowed and water and granola bars packed, we headed out to the trailhead just a few minutes away. On arrival, there was a short sprinkle of rain, but we had come this far so we buttoned up and started on our way.
The initial part of the climb was gentle and sandy, with the sand being damp from the rain and less slippery than on our previous trails. The mountain is the highest point in San Diego, but the trail was longer so the steepness of the trail was much less than the previous Kwaay Paay peak. Nevertheless, after twenty minutes or so we stopped to peel off coats and continued upwards, reaching the numerous switchbacks that finally took us to the summit. There were several trails open to reach the top, and once at the summit we encountered more hikers than we had at the other peaks. The view, again similar to prior vistas, was still spectacular, with views across to the ocean in the west and higher mountains in the distant north and east. Southwards, Mexico appeared grey on the horizon, the clouds finally dropping their load. The sun created bright green sunspots and dark shadowy patches on the freshly watered landscape below and the fluffy white clouds, with their purple-grey bottoms, kissed the tops of the higher peaks to the east.
We took the required ‘selfie’, drank, and headed off to Pyle’s Peak. We took the path down the opposite side of the mountain which wound down and back up again, then down again and finally back up towards the summit. Silly me to think that the lower peak would just be a straight downward path! The trail was rocky in places and our poles were soon becoming our new best friends. The boots were breaking in nicely, comfortable, and so far, no blisters in sight. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife other than a family of Valley Quails, and still no spiders or snakes. The last part of the trail was steep and rocky and it seemed that this was a trail less traveled; probably because hikers had to reach Cowles Mountain summit first in order to reach this one. Once at the top, we took our final ‘selfie’ and shivered as our sweaty bodies were cooled by the chilly wind. After our last granola bars, and a long drink of water we started our homeward journey. Just as we were about to descend, we noticed a beautiful flowering cactus, taller than both of us, in full bloom, dripping with the rain from earlier in the day. The bees were having a delectable feast and were a little annoyed at our intrusion while we snapped a few photos. We watched for a while and then turned to go, leaving them to gorge themselves into oblivion.
There were fewer hikers on this trail, and as we walked down, and up, and down again, our poles being very useful on the rockier spots, we lapsed into a trance-like flow, watching our footing and setting a good pace – it was quite a way back to the car. Suddenly, rounding the corner came two bare-chested, ab-ripped young men, with Beverly Hill smiles, and soft downy stubble, the kind that you just might want to reach out and touch to see if it really is as tender as it looks. If there was ever a time for me to fall down with exhaustion then right at that moment would have been perfect! Alas, I was feeling good; we were in a steady rhythm and eager to get further on before any rain came, so the moment passed with a cheery ‘hello’ and they were gone in an instant. We frequently looked up to see if those heavy grey clouds were coming our way, ready to don our coats at a moment’s notice if needed.
We reached Cowles Mountain again, and decided to take the less windy trail back to the car. This was a wide service road, still quite steep but it was a nice steady hike down. It was busier with hikers and mountain bikers, pet walkers and ‘therapy’ walkers – those who play self-help podcasts on their headphones, but somehow manage to let everyone else hear the session!
Our feet were tired, thighs tight and knees a little sore by the time we arrived at the trailhead, but we were grateful not to have encountered any rain and felt happy and proud to have achieved our 5-peaks challenge.
We did it!
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