Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

Peaks #35-38 - Four Peaks and a Waterfall Near Julian

The view from the trail to Peak 4159 Oak Benchmark on the right and Viejas Mountain in the distance
The view from the trail to Peak 4159 Oak Benchmark on the right and Viejas Mountain in the distance

UPDATE Feb 2018: There are private property concerns with Peak 4159. Please do not attempt to hike to this peak.

Oak Benchmark Elevation: 3,965' Miles: ~1

Peak 4159 Elevation: 4,159′ Miles: 1.5

Ant Benchmark Elevation: 3,920′ Miles: 1.8

Peak 1546 Elevation: 1,546′ Miles: 3.4 (4.5+ total to the falls and back)

Once again, I set out to summit multiple peaks in a day. The hiking distance to each peak would be fairly short, but, over the span of the day, the mileage would add up.

In my trip reports, I will use the name of benchmarks as the mountains themselves, though I do understand that the benchmark itself is a marker permanently fixed into a rock, I will use the benchmarks names and the mountains interchangeably, since I like to call the mountain something in my descriptions. This is specifically true when the benchmarks are at the highpoint of the mountains, since this benchmarks are not always at the summit.

This time, I had the PD with me, as we both are getting some hiking in to train for our upcoming Mount Whitney trip. The only limit to what we could do was the fact that we were to meet some friends at Cedar Creek Falls in between 12 and 1 PM. For most of the day, Cuyamaca Peak loomed over us on the horizon, beckoning us to its slopes.

We got an early start and enjoyed the drive through Ramona, saw a large doe cross the highway right in front of our car in Wynola, and drove to the first parking area. I hesitate to say trailhead, since most of the peaks we did today are rarely summited, so there was a lot of bushwhacking between the car and the summits. It was still cool and the sun had not risen over the far side of Oak Benchmark, our first destination.

We shouldered our packs and got walking on the trail. We had to squeeze between two bushes, still moist with dew, to scout the base of the mountain for a good bushwhacking route up. About 10 steps after the bush, the PD noticed some ticks on his shirt. We both stopped and did a tick check. He had four ticks on him and I had three.

I was amazed. I have done a lot a hiking and backpacking over the years and I couldn't believe this was the first time I had seen a tick. Actually, once before, summiting one of my favorite peaks in Joshua Tree, I saw one on my boot. But, other than that, I've had no personal experience with them. And we had seen 7 ticks in the first two minutes of hiking.

For the rest of the day, we gave each other "Tick Checks," (So that's what you're calling it these days, heh) and we ended up counting over 30 ticks between us. The good news is that only one of them had any skin contact, since we were wearing long-sleeves and pants for much of the bushwhacking. That tick was removed before it did any damage.

After seeing some quail and rabbits, and zig-zagging our way though thickets of manzanita, we easily made it to the top of the mountain. The Oak Benchmark highpoint is a little behind what appears to be the summit, but it is a few feet higher. We drank in the early morning views and bushwhacked a different way down back to the car.

The PD making his way up to Oak-Benchmark
Cuyamaca and Middle Peak from Oak Benchmark

We drove to the next peak, which is unnamed and nearby. We parked off the highway again and hiked to the trailhead. The trail looks like it was an old ranch or fire road, but hasn't been used in a long time and the sign at the trailhead prohibits vehicular use. This was a pleasant hike through a grassy meadow with purple flowers blooming as the trail meandered alongside the mountain. We reached a secondary summit, but could see the actual summit not far away behind a barbed-wire fence. I had checked on several maps before I left that indicated that there was private property around here,  but it was just north of the summit, not on the actual summit. So we  hopped the fence and got to the summit. It is a beautiful hike and a nice view from the top, so it's one I'd like to include in the book, if possible. I will have to do some research. UPDATE 2018: Peak 4159 has private property concerns. Please do not attempt to hike this peak.

Trail to Peak 4159
View North from Peak 4159

We headed back down and went back to Boulder Creek Road. Any time we were near our car on Eagle Creek Road, we saw cars drive westward towards the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead. I started to wonder how crowded it was going to be. When I was out in this area hiking to Eagle Peak, I only saw one car on the dirt roads, and it did not appear to be a hiker.

We had to park pretty far from where I'd though we'd start, since the "road" on the map, like the previous peak, hadn't been used for quite a while and Boulder Creek Road wasn't wide enough on which to park. Due to the heavy rains this season, there are serious ruts on either side of the road.

Once on the old road, we hiked a while and then arrived at a beautiful meadow with flowers blooming at the foot of Ant Benchmark. We crossed the meadow and began another round of bushwhacking to the summit. There were enough boulders on the mountain that made it easier. The view from Ant was pretty good. You could see as far as Viejas Mountain and El Cajon Mountain and the San Diego River Canyon, a 1,300' chasm in these mountains could be seen and felt from almost anywhere in the area.

Meadow at the base of Ant Benchmark
The PD Almost at Ant Benchmark
Me atop Ant Benchmark
One of the Bechmarks
Another Ant Benchmark with a Summit Register and a Tennis-Ball
The PD Descending Ant Benchmark with Cuyamaca Peak in the Background

We made it back to the car, happy to have made three peaks. I decided to start heading towards the Eagle Peak Trailhead and see if we could squeeze some more peaks in before we had to meet our friends at Cedar Creek Falls by traveling Cedar Creek Road, which appeared on the map as pretty rugged.

By the time we got to the area, it was getting late, so we went directly on Cedar Creek Road and enjoyed some bumpy dirt road driving and got a great view of Sunshine Mountain, another peak that looks like great fun and is on my list for the future. We saw a snake in one of the ruts in the road, sunning itself. It didn't move, so we drove around it. It didn't appear to be a rattlesnake.

Snake on Cedar Creek Road

We got to the Cedar Creek Falls trailhead, known as the Saddle on the Topo maps. There were 20-30 cars there. I have never seen so many people at a trailhead before. Looks like the word was out. The heavy rains this year made the falls spectacular and the warm weekend drew visitors by the carload.

The danger with this hike is that inexperienced hikers start this hike in the cool of the morning with little water ("We're going to a waterfall!") and hike downhill towards the falls. Maybe they'll be carrying a bottle of Evian in one hand. They end up swimming and jumping from the cliffs and some even start drinking beer at the falls. They then start the hike back and the temperature is 30 degrees F warmer than before and they need to gain a total of 1,000' feet of elevation in about 2+ miles. And they may have drunk all of their water below, if they brought any at all.

We hiked down and enjoyed the views of the San Diego River Canyon, Mildred Falls to the north, and could see the relatively new West Side Trail plunging down into the canyon. We encountered some people debating at a fork in the trail. I shook my head. Shouldn't they have all studied the maps and made this decision before they even decided to go on the hike?

Mildred Falls from the Cedar Creek Falls Trail

We took the left trail spur that leads to the top of the falls. On the way, I could see a trail leading straight up the side of a small mountain. I could imagine that the view of the canyon to the west would be great from the top, so we decided to add on another peak to the list. After a short, but extremely steep, hike to the top, we weren't disappointed. With Eagle Peak looking above us to the southeast, we could see down the Canyon to El Cajon Mountain so the southwest.

San Diego River Canyon and El Cajon Mountain from Peak 1546

Four peaks in a day was a good number so we began our descent to the falls and got to the top. This was the most bathing suits I have ever seen on a hike. While I attempt to not be a hiking snob, it was hard to contain my amazement at the lack of preparation and haphazard way people were handling themselves. A hatless, shirtless guy carrying an almost empty water bottle in one hand was scrambling down a dangerous section of the trail, with only one hand to aid his descent. People with dogs were going up and down some pretty steep scrambling areas, too. I hope the dogs had enough water.

The PD at the top of Cedar Creek Falls
Crowd at the bottom of Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls

We stayed a little bit and visited with our friends, but, to be honest, I was ready to go. I go hiking for relative solitude and quiet, not to reacquaint myself with all of the people whom I avoided in college. While I appreciate that these people are spending the time outdoors and doing physical exercise, if I wanted to go to the beach, I would have. I was happy to have seen the falls, but would only return on a non-holiday weekday.

We hiked up and out of the canyon and when we neared 9 miles for the day, I started to get tired. I realized that should have eaten a little bit more and the strap on my pack was limiting the flow of water. I corrected this and we made it back up to the trailhead and the car. Even I make mistakes.

Stream Crossing on the trail back from Cedar Creek Falls

On the way up, we saw an already reddening guy wearing no shirt and no sunscreen carrying nothing except a case of beer downward towards the falls. I shook my head again.

Sorry for the rants, and I understand that if you are reading this blog, you likely already know this: Hiking is an inherently dangerous activity. Don't make your leisure activity anyone else's responsibility by failing to be prepared. Even I make mistakes, and I consider myself fairly meticulous. Being completly blasé about hiking can lead to unpleasantness, a rescue situation, or death.

Be careful out there, people.

All that being said, it was a great day of hiking and I am really enjoying this part of San Diego County. Much of it is rarely hiked, but there is so much to see.


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