Summits: 1340

January 16, 2011

Lawson (SDC #98, 3664′) • mapdirections

Gaskill (SDC #97, 3836′) • w/ Lawson

Los Pinos (SDC #80, 4809′) • mapdirections

Corte Madera (SDC #76, 4657′) • mapdirections*

Morena Butte (SDC #85, 3919′) • mapdirections

Having neglected the southern part of the Cleveland National Forest, I was really looking forward to getting some time down there. I had the feeling that this part of San Diego had much to offer, with the inclusion of things like Hauser Canyon, Morena Butte, and Corte Madera, which just sounded cool, all within an hour’s drive from the city. Anna and I had five peaks remaining on the San Diego peaks list located in the southern end of the Cleveland National forest, and we hoped to get them all, if possible, in a day before heading out to the desert for the night.



Lawson and Gaskill

Starting with the westernmost peaks first, we made the scenic drive in on Lyons Valley Rd, and parked where mile marker 13.0 would have been (seems to be missing), setting our sights on Lawson and Gaskill. With perfect temps and clear skies, we left the car at 7:15 am, and hiked up the badly rutted Caveacre jeep trail for 2.0 miles, admiring the changing views of both Lawson and Gaskill along the way. When we reached a junction with another dirt road (Wisecarver) just 300 vertical feet from the top of Mt. Lawson, we found and followed an obvious use trail that ran up and around to the north side of Lawson’s rocky summit. We started to work our way around to the west side of the summit block and came across what looked like one possible route up, a 20 foot rock climb with a rope hanging hanging down for assistance. We decided to continue on and find the chimney that’s described in Schad’s book, which we did just a minute farther.




Lawson from Caveacre Rd.





Anna heading up the last few hundred feet on Lawson


The chimney

The chimney was more challenging than I thought, with a couple of big awkward moves to get up, depending completely on pieces of rock wedged in with soft dirt. I was seriously questioning how tough it was going to be to climb down when I looked back at Anna, who wasn’t having any of this chimney business. I didn’t blame her. I climbed back down and we went to check out the rope route. I yanked on the rope, hard, and decided it was more than adequate for use as a handline. I pulled on the rope to get a few feet up and within reach of some good handholds, then climbed 10 or 15 feet of rock up onto the summit plateau. I double checked how the rope was anchored, and Anna shimmied up the short climb without a problem.

We arrived at the actual summit boulder at 8:13am, and were amazed with the clear views from Lawson. We could see Gaskill to the north, San Miguel and all the way to the ocean to the west, and we could see the striking Lyons Peak to the south. I was blown away by Lyons, I’d heard about it but had never seen it before. Lyons unfortunately has had legal access issues for years, but it’s now high on my list for things to do in San Diego. The benchmark on Lawson Peak was beat up pretty badly, it looked like someone hit it with a hammer a hundred times to try and steal it. Too bad.


Lawson’s summit


Lyons Peak from Lawson, the Pacific Ocean on the horizon


Anna descending from Lawson’s summit

When Anna and I were ready to head down, I gave her a quick lesson on using an arm wrap to descend using the rope. I went down first and watched her come down, which she did rather comfortably. We pounded back down the use trail to Caveacre, and hung a left towards Gaskill.


Heading up Gaskill, with Lawson and Lyons in the background

A half mile up the road from the use trail for Lawson was another use trail, this time heading up the south ridge of Gaskill. We followed it north along the ridge, admiring the increasingly awesome views of Lawson, until the trail reached its high point on the summit plateau. Though Gaskill’s summit seemed to be to our left, we weren’t certain, and a few ducks marked the way to a viewpoint to the right (east). I figured the viewpoint was just a minute away so we decided to to check it out. The views east were awesome, at the center of which were Corte Madera and Los Pinos, our next objectives for the day. Our attention however, was back to what we now knew was Gaskill’s summit. The rock looked intriguing, and Anna stayed back and took a few pictures while I climbed an exposed class 3 route on its east side.




Climbing Gaskill’s summit block

Upon reaching the top, I looked around and to Anna’s relief found her a class 2 route through some boulders on the south side, though she had to backtrack on the trail a little bit to get there. She joined me on the summit at 9:22am, and we rifled through the ammo can summit register filled with trash, someones used cd collection, and other junk. Again we were lucky to be able to see all the way to the ocean, but the distinct summits of Lawson and Lyons Peak to the south drew my complete attention. After taking a few photos and cramming down a quick snack, we dropped back down Gaskill’s south ridge and started our descent down Caveacre Rd. While descending Caveacre, we had to share the narrow one-lane road with a group of about 10 or 12 jeeps crawling their way up. Not my favorite thing to do, but they were all nice enough to stop when we were close. We arrived at the truck just after 10:30am, and I started thinking that nailing all 5 peaks before nightfall might be possible.


Downtown, the ocean, and San Miguel from Gaskill


Pano from Gaskill


Los Pinos and Corte Madera

Next on the agenda were Los Pinos (a drive-up) and Corte Madera, just seven miles across Pine Valley from Lawson and Gaskill. We drove over to the east side of Los Pinos by way of Buckman Springs Rd and Corral Canyon Rd. Corral Canyon is dirt for the first few hundred feet, but is paved along the northern shore of Lake Morena and around to the Four Corners junction. From Four Corners, we drove up the south side of Los Pinos, via a one lane paved road with plenty of large turnouts. We parked at the locked gate a quarter mile from the summit, and walked up to the lookout tower with just our cameras in hand, arriving at 12:12pm.


The lookout on Los Pinos

The lookout tower on Los Pinos is one of about seven left in Southern California, and is the only one that’s still active, and for good reason. The views are some of the best in San Diego, with a 360 degree panoramic including Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and with how clear it was, we were even able to see snow in the San Jacinto Mountains 65 miles away. No one was in the tower while we were there, but supposedly someone’s in it 4 days a week. I’d been able to manage the extra weight of my big camera on the five minute hike up Los Pinos, so I was able to get some far away shots of Morena Butte, Gaskill, Lawson, Lyons, Cuyamaca, and our next objective, Corte Madera. I’d heard and read about the massive rock wall on Corte Madera, but I was still pretty surprised when I saw it, pretty awesome stuff for San Diego. I’ve got full intentions to head back there to climb a couple routes, as soon as I’m done with the San Diego peaks list, that is.


Great views from Los Pinos


Zoomed in on Lawson from Los Pinos


Lyons from Los Pinos


Morena Butte from Los Pinos


Corte Madera from Los Pinos, Cuyamaca sticking up on the right


The wall on Corte Madera, snow in the San Jacinto mountains on the horizon

To get to the shortest hiking route on Corte Madera, we drove north from the locked gate near the top of Los Pinos, and onto the dirt road heading for the saddle between Los Pinos and Corte Madera. The road was easy to follow and in better shape than I had expected, high clearance was enough to make it easy. After a slow couple of miles, we drove through an obvious saddle between the two mountains, around a couple of sharp bends, and parked at a large turnout on the left. There was a sign notifying hikers of the birds of prey in the area, and Anna followed me up the trail behind it.


Birds on Corte Madera


Corte Madera

The trail gains elevation steadily up the broad east ridge of Corte Madera, and we crossed paths with several people on their way down, probably parked at the trailhead farther east on Corral Canyon Rd. Once we reached the long summit plateau, we followed the trail south over relatively flat ground to what we though was the summit and an overlook perched over the south face, arriving at 1:37pm. The views were again impressive, similar to Los Pinos with the exception that Los Pinos was blocking a small fraction of the 360 degree circle. There was a couple on the summit, along with a solo hiker who splits his time between San Diego and Montana, and we all spent a good few minutes chatting before heading back down. The guy that’s half from Montana mentioned how cool of a hike Lawson is, hehe.


Los Pinos from Corte Madera


What I had originally thought was Corte Madera’s summit block

While heading back down the trail from the overlook, I stopped to check out the tall orange boulder that seemed to be the high point. It looked like a fun highball boulder problem, and I was sure I could climb it using a chimney between it and a smaller boulder on its north side, but there was no way I was gonna climb down it without a rope. I then spent a few minutes looking west, fascinated by what looked like a higher point guarded by thick brush 500 feet away. In the interest of time though, I decided against going over to have a better look, only to realize several months later that I had been staring at the actual high point of Corte Madera, and we had missed it by 20 vertical feet. Well, I can think of worse things than having to repeat a hike of Corte Madera. Upon arriving back at the truck, Anna and I drove up and over Los Pinos again, and started the circuitous driving route towards our last peak of the day, Morena Butte.


I returned to Corte Madera with my friend Christian on March 28th, 2012 in order to tag the actual summit and SDC listed point. A short bushwhack from the main trail got me to the high point, though I was unable to find a summit register. I did find a white-walled tire nearby though, the origin of which completely baffles me. Another great day in a great area.


Looking at the slightly higher SDC listed point for Corte Madera


Looking back at my friend Christian at the lower summit (but certainly better viewpoint)


Old tire near Corte Madera’s high point

Morena Butte

We pulled into the parking lot at the Morena Ranger station within Lake Morena Country Park, Anna and I both content after indulging on snacks and fluids during the 45 minute drive from the base of Corte Madera. We walked in to pay our parking fee at 3:39pm and explained that we were going to hike Morena Butte, so I wasn’t surprised when I got the “you’re starting a little late, aren’t you?”. After explaining that this was our fifth peak of the day and we’d actually gotten an early start, I was met with, “what are you trying to prove?!”, which is one of the coolest things anyone’s ever said to me. I assured the ranger that we were prepared to come down in the dark, which is when he insisted that I wouldn’t even make the summit before dark. “Oh, we’ll make it to the summit before then,” I said. It was a friendly conversation and he offered to let the other rangers know that we’d be parked in the day-use parking lot after dark.


En route to Morena Butte

Anna and I started hiking along the shoreline of the reservoir before I realized that the road I was expecting to be there was a hundred feet above us. We bushwhacked our way up to the road and really started moving, eventually turning south and catching the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We took the PCT south and found the junction with the Morena Butte Trail at the very crest of where the PCT crosses Morena Butte’s southeast ridge.


The view into Hauser Canyon


Starting up from the PCT

While starting up the rocky Morena Butte trail, I could tell that we were in for a spectacular sunset. We continued briskly up the steep path for about 20 minutes before reaching a massive slab of rock and the summit plateau. The sunset had really matured by that time, and we stopped to take some photos before we scrambled up to the summit, just a few minutes east of where we had come up. We signed the log at 5:16pm, just as the last remaining light disappeared, and unknowingly to me, what would be my last summit for a while.


Pink skies looking north from Morena Butte



Looking up at Morena Butte from the southeast ridge


Near the summit of Morena Butte


The Sunset over Tecate


Sunset over Tecate

Just a few minutes after starting the descent, I started experiencing sharp pain during any type of twisting motion in one of my knees. It was easy enough to avoid that type of movement on the way down, and once we were back on the PCT and the flat fireroad, the pain was nonexistent. After a few days at home though, I had what seemed to be excessive pain in both knees, so I went to the doc and got an MRI. I’d unfortunately developed a slow healing overuse injury, and I’d need to take at least several months off to play it safe. The result of one of my busiest years in the mountains – 73 peaks in San Diego (including repeats), several long weekends in the Sierra mountains, and a trip to (and relevant training for) Denali. So San Diego 100 peaks, to be continued ASAP…



Lawson and Gaskill stats: 6.6 miles roundtrip, 2150 feet gain/loss


Los Pinos stats: 0.5 miles roundtrip, 100 feet gain/loss

Corte Madera stats: 3.0 miles roundtrip, 800 feet gain/loss

Notes: green is the driving route, the red flag marks the actual summit of Corte Madera that we missed (reached on March 28, 2012).


Morena Butte stats: 7.5 miles roundtrip, 1350 feet gain/loss

*-The driving directions for Corte Madera should take you up and over Los Pinos. This parking area is not accessible from the north.