Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

Manza Benchmark - Peak 53 - A Windy Hike along the Sunset Trail in Mount Laguna

Manza Benchmark from the ridge This topic has been coming up a lot lately in my conversations: Have you ever met an unfriendly hiker?

In all sorts of other recreational activities, it seems like there are hotheads and inconsiderate people. But hikers, in my experience, reach some sort of meditative state where they are at some sort of peace with themselves. Hiking to them is not a race or athletic endeavor; it’s a journey or break from an otherwise chaotic life. The act of hiking is a calming process that balances the focus inward with the focus outward.

I bring this up because I met some especially nice hikers on my trip today.

I got another early start. I love driving in the dark on the way to a trail. It might be cold when I get there, but I love to feel nature wake up in the morning. The quiet sounds of birds waking up and the wind blowing gently through the trees are typically what I find once I set foot on the trail. I didn’t get that today.

While driving through the passes on the way to Mount Laguna, my car was buffeted by strong winds, confirming what I read the night before when I checked the weather report. I was in for a windy hike. I felt the strength of the wind as I got out of the car and was assembling my gear. It was about 40 degrees outside and the wind blew straight through my clothes. I was in the relatively sheltered area near the Meadows Information Center and wondered what it would be like on top of the mountain.

There isn’t a lot of information to be had on how to get to Manza Benchmark, especially without trespassing through the private land in Crouch Valley, so I wasn’t sure what I had coming ahead of me. I wasn’t sure the extent of bushwhacking that would be necessary, and, since the last crazy trip, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

At this point, I even considered getting back into my car and driving home. The wind was blowing fiercely and I was headed for a potentially difficult trail alone. I decided to give it a shot and headed up the trail.

Moonset through the trees

The wind continued to blow as I warmed up. I had plenty of layers on, so I was pretty comfortable. The sun was rising above the eastern ridge and painting the tips of the pine trees a golden green. I was glad I continued. At every view through the trees to the west, I stopped and took my bearings, wondering where I would be descending towards the public northern end of Crouch Valley. It was at one of these viewpoints that I took a picture of Crouch Valley when I heard voices behind me.

The Sun Rising on Sunset Trail in Mount Laguna

Crouch Valley from Sunset Trail in Mount Laguna

Two men were chatting with each other below me  and were enjoying a view similar to mine as I perched on a rock at the edge of a trail. They hadn’t seen me and weren’t expecting me, so I didn’t want to startle them by calling out. I waited until they continued again and said hello, which startled them regardless.

We chatted a bit and introduced ourselves (they were Mark and JJ) and they asked me where I was headed. I pointed to the ridge on the other side of Crouch Valley and said, “There.”

They asked, “Mind if we come along?”

“There might not be any trails and there may be some bushwhacking. This is an exploratory hike.”

“No problem, if you’ll have us.”

“Let’s do it.”

We continued along the trail until we reached a point where I was sure we should follow a game trail downward into the valley. I, of course, mentioned by blog and my quest and they were happy to hear about my hikes, as they were on the lookout for new hiking places in San Diego.

The clipped use trail ended up being pretty well marked and we made it to the bottom of the valley before scrambling up the other side. We made it to the ridge and were immediately blasted with wind, which got more intense as we made our way higher.

We got to the peak and had to get to the summit block on our hands and knees, since the wind threatened to blow us over the western side. We signed the register, which had a rather large spider living in it. It looked like a large wolf spider, but got away before I could photograph it. I attempted to record some video and enjoy the peak itself, but audio and conversation was impossible. We enjoyed the crystal clear view of Cuyamaca Peak and the surrounding area, but, as soon as we could, we descended back down the trail.

The moon and the view from the summit of Manza Benchmark

The Trail through the trees

For almost the whole hike, when we weren’t out of breath, we were chatting about our adventures. I learned that JJ had hiked a long-distance hike in Southern Spain and they both enjoyed summiting San Jacinto. I learned that the outdoors made their spirits soar. The hike itself made us happy and we were glad to share the experience.

As we made our way back to our cars, we shook hands again. I was expecting a quiet solo hike in the wind, but ended up making new friends instead.

Have you ever met an unfriendly hiker? Not me.


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