Cuyamaca Peak September 2014 Trip Report
© September 2014 Adam Helman


I have lumber spinal stenosis that presents as sciatica below the left knee. I have been unable / unwilling to climb anything for nearly three months - hoping that a combination of exercise and chiropractor "adjustments" will suffice for a return to normalcy.

It's not working. This week I will have an epidural steroid injection to relieve the pain, allowing me to go hiking and mountain climbing again.

Two weeks ago I did Cowles Mountain, highpoint of San Diego city to assess pain onset and intensity. I repeated this last week, summiting both times with 900 feet of gained elevation.

Now I return for a tenth ascent of Cuyamaca Peak, which is twice the distance (6 miles round-trip) and 1,600 feet of gained elevation.


Trip Details

Normally I visit Cuyamaca Peak in the morning's cool, and on the weekdays, to avoid the crowds of hikers and campers. Unfortunately I decide to attempt this peak without any pre-planning, such that I don't arise early...and drive at a quarter of 10. It will be warm yet not overwhelming so.

The gas station's "pumpkin spice cappuccino" pairs nicely with my toffee almond chocolate chip cookie - arguably the only (pain-free) "good time" I have the entire morning.

Along Route 52 I see a large plume of black smoke coming from Miramar Air Base, made famous through the movie Top Gun featuring Tom Cruise. It looks like the aftermath of a plane crash - yet I cannot find any information online of said catastrophe.

Arriving at a leisurely 11 a.m. I change into trekking shoes and proceed to the asphalted fire road winding its way to the summit. As expected pain ensues after 20 minutes, and gradually intensifies to the point where it's no longer reasonable to continue: I have been to this particular summit nine times, and so it's simply not worth the pain.

My turnaround point features inspiring views to the horizon as I rest on a tree stump in the shade of some nearby shrubbery. Able-bodied hikers pass me in both directions, oblivious to my situation. I am not disgusted - this result is roughly what I anticipated, and the steroid injection will proceed.

A GPS waypoint indicates (32.95564° N, 116.60051° W) at 5,672 feet - some 800 feet of gain.

Back at the car I eat my snack of Jewish challah (egg bread) with apple and a jar of honey - the traditional combination enjoyed on the new year, Rosh Hashanah, a few days hence.

The drive home is uneventful.

northeast vista
View northeast at my turnaround point.