Day 5. Bushwhacking


Distance Hiked: about 29 miles

I fell asleep quickly for once last night but woke up ice cold and shaking. I hoped it was at least 2 a.m. It was just 10 p.m. My sleeping pad had almost no effect against the icy ground. It was cold to the touch. I sat up and warmed up pretty quick. The air isn’t unbearably cold, it’s just the ground sucking my heat away. I can’t stand 8 more hours of cold and shaking so I formulate a new plan. There’s still a good bit of traffic on the main road here, I could hitch into Julian but I don’t know where to stay. Because I have no phone service and none of the wifi networks at the restaurant, campground or tackle shop work, I can’t look up prices for hotel rooms. My only alternative is that the public bathroom for the campground is open. So that’s where I go. It’s not heated at all, but it blocks the wind which has been getting stronger. Also the ground in there is dry and not made of ice. 

I set up my sleeping pad and quilt on the ground near the sink and fall asleep fast. Wake up and it’s 4 a.m. Yes! Finally some good sleep! By then I’m shivering here too. It it’s so close to morning that I hold out until 4:45 when I pack up all my gear. 

The morning hike is cold and my hands are bright red. The hike to engineer road is lined with big oak trees, manzanitas and other shrubs I don’t recognize. 

Once the trail met engineer road, it was roads all day. Walking down down down the mountain, there were some Coulter Pines growing along the road. These trees are super cool and notable for having the heaviest pinecones in the world at up to 11 lbs! They’re dense like a block of wood and have jagged spines on them to boot! These trees have a very small natural range and only exist in isolated groves in California. They also occur along the Pacific Crest Trail where I found some even bigger cones in 2014. I also wrote a blog post about them which you can read here >>>> Coulter Pine

Coulter Pinecone near Cuyamaca Woods. This is a “small” one this one was about 4 lbs

Here’s a bigger one I found in 2014 on the PCT.
And an even bigger one from the PCT!!!
Little skinny acorns are new to me! I’ll have to look up what species this is. 

A cool burl on an oak

The trail briefly enters the Inaja Indian Reservation for a few miles. I didn’t see anyone around here and only a few isolated houses, one with all the windows smashed in.  

After walking through some ranch land, the road meets trail for a short stint that descends to cedar creek waterfalls and the back up and out to civilization. The trail here is well maintained and cruiser. Had a good time flying down the mountain and had a snack at the bottom. After that I ran into a fair amount of day hikers heading down to the waterfalls. I listened to Disney songs and flew up the mountain. At the crest of the hill, you can see a building and a bunch of palm trees. Right over the top you get a view of a bunch of houses and roads that lead towards the city. I eat lunch at the picnic table there and use the pit toilet which is the cleanest one I’ve ever used. 

The trail skirts down the mountain to the valley floor and up to the left

A very cartoony cactus

This is where the day took a turn for the stressful. I followed the trail on a bunch of dirt roads that went into rural neighborhoods and then the route the trail takes on my maps and gps end at a guys house. The gps track takes you right into his fenced backyard where a bunch of adolescent emus or ostriches were running around. He’s also got a sign that says no trespassing right on the fence. It looks like the road used to connect to another road there but you can’t get to it without hopping in people’s yards with beware of dog signs. I say what the hell and have to backtrack a half mile to get to an alternate route that drops behind the people’s houses on national forest property. You’re free to walk wherever you want there, but unfortunately it’s a bushwhack with steep terrain and many gullies had formed from water rushing down any topography. These were hard to get into because thy were filled with shrubs and loose rock. I walked around awhile at the first one trying to find a way into it. Just as I was getting frustrated, a coyote appeared and looked at me, it was on the same side of the gully as me and then ran down into it and right up the other side in almost sheer scree! I followed where he want and then slid down the gully and walked right up the steep scree too! It looked too steep to climb but you could dig into the loose wet scree pretty well and climb out! My spirit animal showed me the way. I went in and out of about 10 gullies like this before I finally made it back to the truck trail away from private property. 

I followed this trail into the evening and planned to camp where I saw a nice flat spot on my map before the steep bushwhack up El Cajon Mountain in the morning. Before I could get there though,  the road was blocked by a gate saying private property, beware of dog. It was getting late and now I was worried I wouldn’t find a flat spot before dark. The alternative route was to follow the spine of the mountain for a mile and a half or so. This was the thickest of all the bushwhacking which dense shrubs 10 feet high. After shredding my arms and legs for over an hour I could see a spot where I could drop back to the truck trail on apparently public land? I had to climb down these big round boulders and try not to trip and snap my leg in the middle of nowhere. Once back at the road I followed it past some old rural folk refuse. Old washing machines, machine parts and a flipped over car. Once again I came to a fence blocking the road. I was right at the spot to bushwhack  up the mountainside. Only about half a mile of whacking but it’s super steep and there is of course no trail. I figured I didn’t have much of a choice. I ate a bunch of candy and powered up the mountainside. It was tough but not as bad as some of the earlier bushwhacking. Exhausted and mentally worn down I used the little daylight I had to set up my shelter and snap some photos. I was right at the crest of the mountain, with only another mile and a half of bushwacking In the morning to go. Then I got paranoid that being on the crest of the mountain I was going to be blasted by wind all night keeping me awake and cold. The only flat spot was a slab of granite so I weighed down my stakes with rocks. The shelter was sturdier than I ever have had it before. Then I thought about all the deer I saw on the way up here. Then I thought the mountain lions must be up here too. All the caffeine I had during the day had me edgy to start and then the stress of bushwhacking alone all evening resulted in me having anxiety all night. The caffeine kept me awake and the stress kept me uncomfortable. I talked to friends and family on the phone to kill time and then listened to podcasts until I finally drifted off to sleep. 

The climb down the boulders to the road


Super tired, but man what a sight

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