Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

Not Every Adventure Needs to be Epic

Not Every Adventure Needs to be Epic

Good morning, Cleveland National Forest On TV, YouTube, and social media, we constantly see images of people trekking over hundreds of miles, scaling ice walls, sailing across oceans, living out of their vans, and traversing crevasse-ridden glaciers.

Then there's the rest of us. Leading normal lives, yearning to taste even a little bit of what these sponsored athletes are doing. It can be deflating. We only see the 'epic' adventures, worthy of a highlight reel, not the boring times, or the 6 flights it took to get there. We never see them mowing their lawns or cleaning their homes.

So sometimes we wonder if we'll ever be able to do the things we see online. Recently, my answer to this disparity is to plan little adventures. I've been scouring my maps, wondering where I can spend a solitary night in the San Diego backcountry. There is a wealth of places that few people other than hunters or rangers go, if you don't mind exploring a little bit, sometimes off trail.

It was in this spirit that my friend, DigDoug, and I decided to change our planned day hike on a Tuesday to begin on a Monday night.

Sunshine Mountain from the trailhead

We got a relatively late start, gathering our gear and driving east on the 8. Even though the sun had been setting later and later, when we got to the trailhead, our shadows were long and the warmth of the day was already fading. We headed up the trail.

DigDoug heading up the trail

We were instantly bombarded with the wonderful smell of sage and other chaparral plants. I am surprised each time how much positive impact it has on my mood.

Before long, the sun was saying goodbye to the west and we waited as long as we could to turn on our headlamps.

Sunset through the San Diego River Gorge

We lost and found the overgrown trail. It used to be a ranch road long ago, but I don't think a vehicle has used it in my lifetime. It seemed to dip lower and lower until I was sure we were off of the trail. I bushwhacked upward and could not find anything except a scorpion. I checked my phone GPS and confirmed that we had been on the correct path, so we bushwhacked back down to the trail.

A friendly scorpion

After hiking for another 15 minutes in the tunnels of our beams, we settled on a couple of grassy patches not far from the trail. We set up our tents in no time and had delicious sandwiches from Lefty's Pizza and shared some great wine.

We chatted for a while about our place in the universe, as people tend to do when they are confronted with overwhelming silence and a dome of starlight. We heard some coyotes on a ridge near us and DigDoug whistled to them and they responded several times.

DigDoug was pretty tired after having a rough week and he was asleep instantly in his own tent as I stayed up a bit reading and enjoying the sense of being in a remote place.

In the morning, I got up when the sun hit my tent, learning that DigDoug had already eaten his breakfast. We made coffee while I ate mine and saw a deer ascending the hill next to our tents.

A tent or two can fit almost anywhere

We headed to a rocky outcrop above us and enjoyed the views. We could see the ridge to the north and DigDoug asked me what it was called. I wasn't sure, but I knew that Cemetery Hill was somewhere up there, out of sight. We chatted more about life and headed back down to our camp.

Looking north to Cedar Creek Gorge

My initial plan was to trek all the way to the end of the ridge to an apparent clear grassy area to camp the night before, but our daylight was finite. I checked with DigDoug and he was fine hanging out while I scouted the area. I topped a saddle to the west and startled the deer I saw earlier and I noticed something quickly climb a lonely oak tree. I bushwhacked over to the tree and wondered how a house cat got so far out here before I realized that I was looking at a fox. It seemed to have its eyes closed and was just relaxing in the crook of two branches. I said hello and goodbye and moved on.

A fox in the tree

I continued following the old ranch road, losing it continually. It was almost completely overgrown, but I could see it every couple of hundred feet or so. It must be more visible via satellite imagery than it is on the ground. I had to move slowly through a towering wall of poison oak, but I kept on heading west. There were places to camp here and there, so I know that we could easily had gone farther had we had more daylight.

I got to the end of the 'road' and looked out over the San Diego River Gorge to Mount Gower and Ramona. This would have been a fine place to camp, but might have actually had more light and noise pollution than where we had camped last night. I made a mental note and headed back.

Mount Gower from the western shoulder of Sunshine Mountain

We assembled our gear and headed back down to the car, pausing only to drink in the views while we could and noting how empty the pond was, even after the recent rains.

We took the long way home, a tour of Cleveland National Forest below Wynola, taking Cedar Creak Road to Eagle Peak Road all the way back to Pine Hills Road, passing trailheads for Oak Benchmark and Peak 4159. We had some delicious pizza in Wynola before heading back south.

Do I have to be out for multiple days, fly to Norway, or hike myself to exhaustion to have an adventure? No. I can hike a few miles into the San Diego backcountry and be surrounded by the scent of chaparral and almost total silence. I can see a deer hop up the side of a mountain, hear coyotes yelp a couple of hundred feet away, and scare a fox into a tree.

The little adventures matter, too.

The dry pond below Sunshine Mountain

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