Showing posts from October, 2019

starter backpacking trip in san diego alpine region: 4mi out and back on the pacific crest trail

I dreamed up this little trip to introduce my 5 year old to backpacking. It was 4 miles out and back in the laguna mountains along the Pacific Crest Trail weaving in and out of the tree line, with moderate ascent/descent (~1000 feet). Only an hour from central San Diego along the 8 freeway takes you to this entirely different "alpine" biome in the cleveland national forest. No reservations required, but the ranger station does want you to file a permit (easy to do online or over the phone).

We did this mid october. The daytime temps were low 70s, and the night time was 50 or maybe 45. The low was a bit chilly but it's nice to hike in pleasant daytime temps!

We parked at the Red-tailed roost trailhead (free!) around noon. We walked back over sunrise highway and walked s/sw along desert view / thing valley road for about a half-mile to reach the PCT. This single lane dirt road sees minimal use, probably only other fellow dispersed campers. For a road, it's pretty pleasant, with nice tree cover.

Turn left off Thing Valley Road when you reach this sign to join PCT
Note that you cannot camp in the Laguna Mountain Recreational area. You should be safe after you pass the sign above and join up with the southbound PCT but do check the official maps for boundaries.

Once on the PCT we were surrounded by oaks and pines and dappled shade for about 1.5 miles. We could have ended our backpacking trip anywhere along here, there were lots of flat places. At about going about 2+ miles from the red-tailed roost parking lot we reached the first patch of open vistas surrounded low manzanita. This was a short preview of things to come, and then we were back in the forest for another half mile, and our last opportunity to camp unless we wanted to do the full 4 mile trip.

Extra nice campsite ~2.5 miles from start

After that we were back in the manzanita. Little shade and no real options to get off the trail. Nice views though. We were past the midday heat by now which was nice.

Wide open vistas. Not much variety, and all down hill.
The descent was pretty much constant for this part of the trail, maybe 1000 feet over 1-1.5mi.

Then we came into a valley with an actual running stream! With good water filtration I'd feel very comfortable drinking it, but with such a short trip it was easy to carry 4L of water and have enough for the inbound and outbound trip.

The narrow valley was moderately tree-lined (and poison oak, and stickery plants). Thus, while in theory there were lots of places you could have set up camp, in practice we found only 1 area that was clear of offensive plants and nearly flat enough. This was exactly 4 miles from our parking spot.

Enough space for 3 tents, probably no more and you'd better be good friends!

I scouted another 1/2 mile down the canyon and did not see any more likely spots. There was this neat dead tree though.

Supposedly there's another camping option if you were to go a full mile or so down the PCT to around the point that the trail climbs back out of the canyon. You didn't hear it from me, though.

We had plenty of time and light to set up camp, eat, and then it was dark, cold, and the night sky was filled with stars like a san diego city boy wouldn't believe. But, since I grew up in the hills of VA, it was just a nice reminder of a previous life/home.  At nightfall it was 50 degrees out, and I didn't check again but I'm sure it got lower than that, maybe 45. Our tents were warm enough with insulated sleeping pads and bags rated to 35 degrees, but only because we wore our down jackets and warm underwear. I suppose that might be an argument for doing this earlier in the year, but at the cost of a less pleasant trip though the scrub.

Next day we ate and broke camp slowly, leaving just as the sun finally crested our little valley and filled our campsite with its cancer rays. But with the temperatures still low, the climb up and out was very pleasant and we were back in the tree cover before it got too warm.

We had a pleasant walk out the rest of the way and were back at the car by 12:30, exactly 24 hours from when we left. 

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