Oakzanita Peak 1/29
Oakzanita Peak is a peak I’ve driven by hundreds of times but never found the time, or motivation, to hike. Well, once I had the motivation, but withered in the unexpectedly hot weather, on the steep, exposed trail. I have always found the rocky, chaparral-covered peak interesting, and of a slightly different character than some of the other prominent peaks in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
The typical route to the summit is via Descanso Creek Trail; a fairly steep trail, mostly on the northern side of the peak. If it is not already obvious, Oakzanita Peak was named for the Oaks and Manzanita which blanketed its flanks. Unfortunately, that was before the Cedar Fire in 2003. There are some remarkably large, silvery skeletal remains of Manzanitas on Oakzanita. I would have liked to seen those, alive, radiant red trunks, and pale green leaves, in a good bloom.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been thumbing through Afoot and Afield in San Diego by Jerry Schad a lot, looking for new places to hike. I’ve had every edition of San Diego’s favorite hiking guide since it was first published in 1986. I must have read the entries for Cuyamaca’s hikes dozens of times each. Yet, last week, I skimmed through Schad’s description of the Oakzanita hike, and came away with the total misconception that he was suggesting hiking up the East Mesa Fire Road. I thought that was kind of odd for Mr. Schad, and even mentioned it to a friend. Later in the week, I reread it and realized he was only suggesting the fire road as an alternate descent. So much for skimming. This may explain why I couldn’t find McGinty Mountain a few weeks ago.
Since I was hiking alone, prefer loop hikes to out-and-backs, and just wasn’t feeling like huffing it up the Descanso Creek trail, I decided to hike up the East Mesa Fire Road, then down the Descanso Creek Trail (it’s ok, at least one friend knew my plans, and I left a note on my windshield with my route and timeline). The fire road added 1.6 miles to the hike, but the road is well-maintained, a moderate incline, and allowed me a roughly 2 mph average speed over the 4.5 miles and 1250 feet of vertical gain. The added value, as a nature nerd, was a large variety of animal tracks, and signs, on the relatively seldom-traveled fire road.
The East Mesa has always been my favorite area of Cuyamaca State Park, with its wide open vistas, huge meadows, and abundance of wildlife, so, a nice benefit to the fire road hike was ending up on top of the mesa, and having views of the high meadows, near where the Oakzanita Trail meets the fire road. The trail from there approaches the peak from the east, providing a different perspective, and a pretty nice view of Oakzanita. The peak is deceptively close from this trail, and it doesn’t take but fifteen or so more minutes to summit.
Besides Cuyamaca Peak, which I haven’t hiked in probably 20 years, Oakzanita provides probably the best views in the park, for 360 degrees. Unfortunately some haze near the coast prevented views of the Pacific. A slightly cool breeze and deep blue skies were more than enough reward for two and half hours hiking.
After a some lunch (including a Mocha Cliff shot energy gel – yum), and some photos, I headed back down, via the Descanso Creek Trail. The effects of the Cedar Fire are much more obvious along the Descanso Creek Trail. Burned stands of mazanita, and the occasional oak made me a little nostalgic for the pre-fire park. Ceanothus has emerged in thick stands everywhere the fire came through. This is also where Mountain Mahogany grows in greater abundance than I’ve seen it anywhere in the park.
Overall about 7.75 miles (the Everytrail always seems to clip about .2 miles from my GPX file) over three and half hours. Nearly perfect hiking weather this time of year. Get out and enjoy it while it lasts. I highly recommend Oakzanita Peak if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. Click here for a PDF Take Along sheet.
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