Cuyamaca Peak February 2010 Trip Report
© February 2010 Adam Helman

Note: All coordinates use the WGS84 datum.


A self-imposed regimen of winter backcountry and climbing skills is in session. Thus early last month I went to Flagstaff for learning downhill skiing at the Arizona Snow Bowl with a three day training course.

Bob Packard was an excellent host as I stayed at his home. I met his "ladyfriend" Peggy; and we had a wonderful dinner Wednesday the 6th at the Himalayan Bar and Grill which serves both Indian and Nepalese food.

My intention is not to become an expert downhill skiier. Rather, to learn the coordination and movements shared with cross-country skiing, and telemarking, as desired for certain mountain climbs.

By the third day I was sufficiently adept as to enjoy descending the bunny slope; and actually wished to remain at 3 p.m. when I had to return my rented gear.

I was in the minority - as were experienced skiers: perhaps 80% of the people were snowboarding! Most were teenagers, and it was gratifying to see them also fall down as they too tried hard to learn. As when I travel abroad it was nearly impossible to find an overweight person: I guess that the current uproar over childhood obesity does not apply to those with active lifestyles. In fact, some young people were frightfully thin.

Then again there were some 4-6 year olds learning to ski or snowboard, their parents immediately at-hand to provide direct physical and emotional support.

I digress. My ski trip was a success.

Living in San Diego imposes severe constraints owing to its generally fair weather. However after a winter storm which brings rain to my home there is often snow in the mountains of east San Diego County.

I rely on this for a pair of day trips to Paso Picacho Campground just under Cuyamaca Peak. The venue is perfect for sledding with snowshoes and a heavy pack - akin to the start of many a long-term expedition to the world's big mountains.

The other Monday (January 25) I practiced this technique after a major series of storms that drenched the Southland over nearly a week.

Trip Details

Yesterday, Monday the 8th, I returned for more sledding. Unfortunately the snow cover was nearly nil; and so I opted for plan B to not waste the 60.0 Adam truck miles from home: yet another climb of Cuyamaca Peak, the San Diego County prominent point. Cuyamaca has 6,512 feet of elevaton and 2,855 feet of prominence.

The backpack weighs 50 pounds, an adequate exercise resulting as I walk the paved fire road starting from my pickup in the general parking lot at about 4,850 feet elevation. The weight derives from what I had planned on carrying while sledding - 45 pounds, plus the weight of snowshoes lashed to the pack (in case of higher snow), ski poles, and a parka in case I were injured and had to spend the night unsheltered.

The sled was to have carried 45 pounds as well, measured using an electronic bathroom scale after shoveling the correct amount of snow into a duffel bag. The snow was to be dumped-out on reaching the top of an obvious hill so that the sled would behave itself on descent.

The other week I arrived a half hour before sunrise to practice rigging the sled in the day's coldest part - perhaps a balmy 25-30° F. I recorded the truck coordinates as (32.96032° N, 116.58018° W) at 4,823 feet in case I somehow "got lost".

The other night I intentionally did not set the watch alarm; allowing me to arise without getting "nuked" out of bed. I hike at 8:49 a.m.

I head generally south through the campground, remaining on the obviously largest road while avoiding numerous turnoffs to specific campground sites. For my future reference I note that this means staying straight rather than bearing right and uphill.

At the campground's southern end I arrive at the fire road with coordinates (32.95647° N, 116.58364° W) and elevation 4,995 feet. Here I turn right (west), heading up the fire road. Thereafter navigation is easy.

I break for water at a T-junction, T-junction coordinates (32.95493° N, 116.59555° W) and 5,436 feet before continuing straight (west). Snow gradually covers the road. After making a major bend south at 5,800 feet the road is soon surrounded by forest - and the trees are rapidly shedding their snow. The flakes, or crystals of ice, come tinkling down on me as I pass under them.

A moment's silence - the sound is of breaking glass from every direction.

My water is insufficent, and I realized this on starting that one liter is not enough for climbing 1,650 feet with a full-sized pack on a sunny day. I conserve the water remaining even though not drinking it hinders my ability to exercise.

The road ends by splitting into a south and north branch right at the summit communications shacks. I take the north branch and head cross-country, now steeply, the final 100 horizontal feet to the summit rock outcrop. The pack is left behind as I scamper to the very top and munch on rime ice festooning every tree branch and antenna mast.

I have taken 1.4 hours, having touched the summit boulder at 10:13. Dividing, my ascent rate was 1,150 feet per hour including two water breaks. This pleases me.

I enjoy a blueberry and white chocolate granola bar, concluding it may be the tastiest edible of that genre I've ever had.

I descend at 10:39 and return to the vehicle at 11:41 a.m. with one break at the T-junction noted above.

Soon I am back home and, after a brief nap (having slept only 5 1/2 hours) enjoy a large meal with roasted chicken as the main event. Eggplant is pan-fried using the skin; and the combination of chicken, eggplant, very hot Indian vindaloo paste and raw garlic wrapped inside a flour tortilla is simply too delicious for words.


In two weeks I'll be concluding a rigorous winter trek to Kings Peak, the Utah state highpoint. That exercise is the season's premier journey for developing winter skills. Constructing and living in an igloo will be new to me, and I hope that Ben Knorr will be an effective and enjoyable partner.