Cuyamaca Peak March 2013 Trip Report
Climb only - no Camp
© March 2013 Adam Helman

Note Mouse-click images for enlargement.


As noted in my October Cuyamaca Peak report I shall return to Denali in June. Not wishing to spend gasoline on another 1,000 mile journey to and from Flagstaff (for colder overnight temperatures), I am pursuing multiple trips to Cuyamaca Peak for both a review of winter camping methods and to snowshoe with sled and a full-size pack. For all of these desirables the peak's 6,512 foot summit and an area surrounding the campground parking lot, some 1,650 feet below, are deficient substitutes for colder venues - venues that sadly cost a lot more to reach. A tradeoff.

This is the season's fourth journey to Cuyamaca Peak. The first three were snow camps - first in "pretend" mode as if there were snow; second with snow; and the third trip similarly. The first two include a summit climb, the third replacing that with sledding and crevasse rescue practice. Now it's a matter of losing returns to camp yet again, especially with a predicted overnight low temperature above freezing. Hence I just climb the peak, yet a ninth time, with a 30 pound pack, snowshoes and a sled trailing behind.

Trip Details

Daylight Savings Time has just taken hold the previous morning. Hence sunrise is 7 a.m. rather than 6 - and I time my drive to negotiate the final, winding 12 miles in the half hour period before sunrise when there's sufficient light to see all-about. Backtracking, I arise at 4:45 a.m. and drive from home at roughly 5:30. A 3 inch soft chocolate chip cookie and mini Almond Joy candy bar are enjoyed with 16 ounces of caffeine-laden gas station hot chocolate.

gear near top
An exceptionally clear day - the
Pacific Ocean is visible.
I even see downtown
San Diego skyscrapers!

Arriving just before 7 a.m. I change into double plastic boots and set out with snowshoes affixed to the pack and orange sled under one arm. Upon reaching the fire service road one quarter mile later I stop to fill a plastic bag with snow, thence placed into the sled duffel and zipped shut. With that duffel tied to the sled using two carabiners I tow the sled behind me atop largely asphalt because of inadequate snow coverage. I dare not wear snowshoes here - the metal edges will likely be damaged on dry pavement.

After gaining about 3 or 400 vertical feet, that is, roughly one fourth of the elevation gain, snow is adequate for snowshoe use. Again I stop, remove a layer (the sun is quite strong as it reflects off the snow), and proceed for the effort's balance.

I play hop-scotch with two teenagers hiking the snow-covered road in search of snowboarding opportunities. They are carrying largely empty packs with only a snowboard standing upright in each of them. I am carrying some 45 pounds in gear, once one includes pack, the snowshoes with poles, the sled and its snow burden. So as I huff-and-puff uphill they don't seem to be winded.

gear at car
Back at "DENALY". Snowshoes are
still inside the sled duffel bag.

After about 100 minutes of travel time I reach the summit structures where I leave everything behind and walk the final 20 vertical feet to the tippy-top. The boys arrive just as I return to my gear - whence I hydrate and eat my "lunch" food. There's a chopped liver sandwich on multigrain bread, one-half with ketchup. Sliced dill pickle makes 4 bite permutations. A juicy Bartlett pear is enjoyed before heading back.

How do I handle the sled going downhill when there's nobody roped behind to stop it from banging into me and the snowshoes? I dump out the snow (analogous to delivering a cache on Denali) and lash the sled, oriented vertically to my pack's rear by repurposing the sled-haul cord - albeit with the pack-to-sled connection points now completely different.

Snowshoeing downhill in every-warming weather, I lose nearly all the elevation before absence of snow forces me to abandon snowshoeing. The snowshoes cannot simply be lashed behind the pack because the sled is there! So I wrap them inside that plastic bag which held snow, and zipper them inside the sled duffel. Off I go ... all of 12 minutes to the car, arriving just before the 11:30 a.m. I predicted last night.

I barely slept at all last night, having gone to bed around 12:10 a.m. only to arise 4 1/2 hours later - and much of that time was spent in certain math calculations unable to actually sleep. So after arriving home around 1:15 p.m and setting out to dry several items, I nap for one-half hour prior to a sizeable meal with whole roasted chicken as entrée. The tastiest way is by taking the extremely flavorful pan-drippings as gravy, adding hot sauce, and dipping absorbent bread (a whole wheat French roll) with chicken into the mix - "French Dip aux jus". After an hour of this feasting I am quite satisfied and continue reading a book on the country highpoints of Central America.

Two items to address from this short excursion -

The uphill exercise was sufficiently vigorous as to be an excellent option once weekly - notwithstanding the cost of six gallons gasoline.