Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Desert to Pacific Ocean: San Diego Trans County Trail

Salton Sea & petrified tilapia (Photo by Marie Haddad)

Last week, we hiked from the Salton Sea to Torrey Pines State Park. It was predominantly a desert hike, starting at a large inland salt water lake and finishing at the Pacific Ocean, north of the city of San Diego.

There were a number of firsts for us on this hike - hiking in a true desert, backpacking with a group, and backpacking together for more than a week. 

The route is a new one, put together by Brett Richey, who was one of the leaders of the group and a solidly kind person. he and some of his fellow Pacific Crest Trail hiker friends have been walking the route together for a few years now, as a kind of hiker family reunion. Reed and I were fortunate to connect with them via their Facebook group. They agreed to let us jump in with them and thus they put two extra gallons of water at each of three water caches for us. 

West side of the Salton Sea

I had hoped to write more about our journey as we were making it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to due to my energy level, wifi availability and then a raging El Nino storm, which booted us from the train for two days. When we came from Seattle to southern California, we knew that El Nino would potentially affect us. We were somewhat dismissive, and didn't think that it's rain would be a big change for us, coming from the Pacific Northwest. We were wrong. The rain, which turned to snow and then hail, then sleet and back to snow again was one thing. Quite another was dealing with 50 mile per hour winds as we climbed Oriflame Canyon and crossed the Pacific Crest Trail on Mount Laguna. Darkness fell even earlier than usual due to the storm and we decided that our best option was to pitch our tent in a small hole in a manzanita grove. The storm raged all night long, flattening our tent on top of us when the biggest gusts blasted. Amazingly, we did manage to sleep most of the long night. In the morning, we waited for a let up in the rain and packed up quickly with our frozen fingers and began walking in order to stave off hypothermia. At times, we were pushed backwards by the gusting of the wind.

The SDTCT Route
It was a miserable 6 mile march to the Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant and Store. We stumbled inside, were warmly greeted and cared for by the server working that day. She allowed us the use of the cafe's phone. We phoned a friend, Todd, who graciously offered to drive out to rescue us, which was a 2 hour+ round trip for him, in the middle of his workday. I will long remember his kindness. 

So, we spent two days off trail, waiting for the storm to subside. Two days later, we got back on trail, with two fellow hikers. 
At Lake Cuyamaca Store, mile 83 on the route, about to start hiking again, post El Nino storm (Photo by Marie Haddad)

The second half of the route was even more enjoyable on its second half. Perhaps it was because our bodies had adjusted to the mileage and we had gotten used to being dirtier. In any case, the hiking was wonderful, through beautiful canyons and over ridges. The most physically demanding portion was the cross-country / bushwhack up to the summit of El Cajon Mountain. We summited and thus ended our battle with the thick manzanita and scrub oak just after the sun had set. The way down required weaving through large boulders. Unfortunately, my headlamp battery died as I turned it on, Reed's was weak, and Girl Scout's headlamp had been stolen by a bush somewhere in our cross-country section. We slowly descended to the saddle between El Cajon & El Capitan and pitched our tents at the first decent place, which happened to be immediately in the trail. 
Emergency water cache near summit of El Cajon  (Photo by Girl Scout)
On the 8th day we finally rendezvoused with the rest of the group, and then we were 14 hikers in total. We camped on a fire road in Poway that night, a short walk from the Costco, where we had filled our bellies all afternoon. 

Descending to the headwaters of the San Diego River

Our final two days were spent walking through the Penasquitas Canyon and out the Pacific Ocean.  The route was gorgeous. A real treat that amidst the housing and other civilization of San Diego, the canyon is wild and open. We spent our final night camped as a group in one of its meadows. The next morning we woke to ice in our water bottles and frost over everything. A few hours later, the sun and temperatures had risen enough to be able to plunge our filthy bodies into the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines State Park. All of the miles had been hiked we had gotten to know a new group of hikers. There was accomplishment, yes, and there was also sadness at the reality of parting ways and each person going on to the next thing. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to walk for 9 days with a fantastic group of people. 

After our plunge in the Pacific Ocean

The Beach beneath the cliffs of Torrey Pines Preserve

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