Pine Mountain

I have promised myself to get out once every week to do a hike or some other outdoor activity (besides my jogging routine and the Nordic walking Shuwen and I do on local trails), even during the summer months. It’s a mental health exercise as much as a physical one. When the tasks at home seem to mount, and all the tiny little things that want to get done combine and become overwhelming, getting away for just a few hours to hike puts things back into perspective, and makes everything manageable again.

Beautiful clouds began to tower to the east in the late morning on an otherwise warm summer Wednesday, so I was hoping for similar conditions like I had them last week, when I hiked Garnet Mountain. I asked my friend Peter to join me for an easy walk to Pine Mountain, and about two hours later we met at the Pioneer Mail picnic area and trailhead in the Laguna Mountains.

Pine “Mountain” stands at an elevation of 1722 meters (5650 feet). On the list, it is peak #60, and the 26th list peak that I hiked now. To call this lesser wooded hill a mountain is the biggest stretch I’ve seen so far while hiking a peak from the San Diego 100 Peaks list. It makes me wonder how these peaks got picked in the first place*. :-}

It was warmer than we had hoped for and strangely, the clouds were both more to the east and to the west, whereas the Laguna Crest was mostly sunny. Once we were on the trail though, a breeze and the occasional cloud that covered the sun made things overall quite tolerable, even though the first part of the hike on the Pine Mountain trail is pretty much in the open – seamed by thick, impenetrable mountain chaparral, with plenty of Ceanothus, Manzanita and Mountain Mahogany (their fruit plumes glowing silvery in the sun).

The trail reaches the old Pine Mountain dirt road and crosses it. At this intersection we turned left instead of following the trail, and continued on the dirt road, to gain the last bit of elevation before leaving the road altogether to find the summit of Pine Mountain somewhere to our left. We walked through the tall and dry grass of the open forested area around this “summit” and found the high point. While we didn’t see a benchmark or anything that would indicate it, my GPS showed 1724 meters, ie. 2 meters more than it should be, so I guess that counts? 🙂

We rested in the shade of the Jeffrey Pines and Black Oaks for a little bit and had a snack. There were no views here and no photos to make, but it was pleasant, easy going. It had been only two miles to get here. Now what?

We decided to follow a path through the grass, probably an animal track, hoping to find a way to connect back to the actual Pine Mountain trail on the south/west side of Pine Mountain. The idea was to continue to Champagne Pass Overlook, for the views. We came upon an old and dry ranch pond with an earthen dam, quite a lovely spot actually, but from there on, the way down was too overgrown, and unlike the sparse chaparral directly at the Laguna Crest, this was thick and dense Ceanothus, and traversing it would have been a scratchy and bloody endeavor.

We made our way back to the dirt road instead, followed it a little bit further, and where it swings around a little ridge we did find some nice views indeed: the deep folds of the landscape, covered in chaparral, the haze of summer and monsoonal moisture, the prominent shapes and silhouettes of the Cuyamaca range, the open Cuyamaca East Mesa with its golden grass, puffy clouds above… and silence. After taking it in for a while we felt satisfied with ourselves and began our way back with relaxed and easy strides on the wide Pine Mountain dirt road.

We both heard the rattlesnake at the exact same moment, and what happened in the following 2 1/2 seconds was probably a slapstick comedy worthy intermission. Peter was walking a little bit ahead of me and the snake was to our right, directly at the side of the road in the tall grass – when the rattling started, he couldn’t see the snake right away. I shouted “Whoa” as I spotted it in such close proximity to us. Peter leaped forward. This is a useful reaction because it very often happens that it is the first person who startles the snake as they pass – and then the snake begins to rattle. The person following is actually in greater danger of being bit.

In our case though, the snake wasn’t dozing as it basked in the sun – for whatever reason, it was highly alert already. Peter’s leap forward was right in the direction of the snake, which was still in front of him! I yelled “Noooo!” as I saw the snake raising its head higher, perhaps to even strike, and Peter went airborne, jumping to the left side of the road. His foot landed on a loose rock unfortunately, he lost his balance, and almost literally bit the dust – and quite hard, camera in hand. The snake, who had merely announced its presence to us at first of course, got confused by these two grown men behaving like idiots, and disappeared under an old log.

Peter had some bruises from his fall. He was caked in dust and dirt and a wound on his knee needed a bandage (which he had in his backpack – he’s always well prepared!). Luckily, nothing else had happened except that the battery door of his camera came off. Here’s to rugged DSLR cameras! After cleaning himself and the wound a little bit, Peter and I took a moment to regain our composure, and we were able to continue our hike. Thanks to the rattlesnake, our rather eventless afternoon bumble through chaparral and pine woodland had turned into a memorable adventure. :-}

Here are some impressions.

*) Hot Springs Mountain, the highest peak in San Diego County, isn’t on it, for example; I assume it has to do with access.

This is my personal blog, and I am a professional photographer. Please respect my copyright. If you would like to use any of these photos, for whatever purpose (commercial or personal), you MUST obtain a license and/or written permission from me. More information on my page about image usage. Thanks.

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