East Mesa High Point Elevation: 5,178′ Mileage: 8.8 Trailhead Map
Once again, I was going to be racing weather. The report said that high winds, coupled with heavy rains and snow at Mount Laguna and Cuyamaca Peak would be unleashed at exactly 5PM. I’d say that would be a motivating factor in getting off the trail, wouldn’t you?
The plan was that Level3 and New Jersey George would be running Noble Canyon to Penny Pines and back, a total of 20 miles with plenty of gain. Since there were no peaks on that route and I wasn’t going to be doing 20 miles, I recommended that the She-wolf and I head over to East Mesa in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park and hike to the high point. I had seen the high point from my trip to Sugg Peak and it looked like an easy enough hike up a not-too-densely covered mountain in the middle of the grassy East Mesa.
After waving goodbye to the two ultra-runners, we drove through Guatay and headed over to the East Mesa Fire Road trailhead. It’s easy to miss, apparently, since we had to turn around and drive back to it after passing it. We got out of the car and were instantly reminded that it was going to be a chilly day. We added a layer or two and headed up the trail. I’ve been in this area twice already, once for my aforementioned Sugg Peak trip, and once for my snowy trip to Oakzanita Peak. I liked it a lot and so did many others, since the East Mesa Fire Road is a pretty popular hiking area.
As we started the incline, we took note of the many tracks in the dirt, mostly human, horse and some dog. We could hear Descanso Creek rushing below us, swollen from the recent rains. We then saw two healthy-looking coyotes with large, bushy tails, standing in the trail in front of us. They would trot ahead a little bit and then turn and look back at us. After a couple of bends in the road, they disappeared and we never saw them again. Truly a wild experience in San Diego County.
The road kept climbing until we hit the flatter, mesa area where the icy wind picked up and chilled us, leaving us thankful for the extra layers. Our eyes scoured the area for turkeys and deer, the typical sightings in Cuyamaca, but we only saw tons of deer scat as we traversed the meadow. We passed a group of what looked like Boy Scouts and their fathers, which brought me back to an earlier time when the pack/boy weight ratio was amazingly high. These kids had pretty good gear, though, which has come a long way since my early days.
We took a left at the Grass Trail and continued the single track trail up to the open grassy mesa. Suddenly, the feel of the area changed from a recovering forest to a wind-swept prairie. It was a big change from the area where we just had been.
We continued up the trail a bit and it was pretty plain where we were headed. In the middle of the mesa, a large hill rose above all. It was an easy bushwhack to the top and, since we knew Level3 was doing 20 miles, we sat and had some lunch and chatted while admiring the mountains to the east and the green grass below us.
Before long, the chilly wind reminded us we had to start back down. So we shouldered our packs and made our way back to our cars. All in all, a nice, but cold day.