Words and Photos by Dasha Dennis
Fridays are my day of the week where I can take the whole day to go do a hike, and not be pressed for time, or worrying about having to get back to the next item of the daily grind. This particular Friday, I knew that there would be some snow left lingering up in Mt Laguna, in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided I’d take the longer, and a bit more rugged route, to the top of Cuyamaca Peak. It’s the second highest peak in San Diego County at 6,512ft. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are much higher summits in other mountain ranges, such as the San Gabriels, but just knowing that you’re standing just 20 ft below the highest point in your city, is such an awe-inspiring feeling.
I set out on the Azalea Glen Trail out of Paso Picacho Campground. From the first step onto the trail, there was snow. I don’t have all kinds of money for hiking gear, so I was wearing my 20$ Walmart boots. They get the job done. Anyways, I knew I was gonna be in for quite the experience, and I was glad I had had the foresight to bring a couple extra pairs of socks, just in case. I kept on heading up the trail and came to a point that was densely forested, and still had a very significant amount of snow. I started my way up the hill walking through about 4 inches of snow. Thankfully the 20$ Walmart boots were holding up well. You climb up about 600-700ft on the Azalea Glen trail, then cut over on a fire road, and then onto the Lookout Road that takes you straight to Cuyamaca Peak. When I first got on lookout rd, there wasn’t too much snow, but I started making my way up the other 1000 ft of elevation I had to go, and the snow got thicker as I proceeded. I’ve done a lot of hiking, but this was the first hike I’ve done where the majority of my hike was through sticky snow, and it was quite the challenge.
There were quite a few times when I considered turning back. I thought, “the views are great from here, maybe I’ll just turn back because my legs are getting tired”. I didn’t turn back though. After the thoughts of turning around, I would think to myself, “no, you’ve come so far already, and those clouds rolling over the top of the peak are going to make for an incredible view, and you’re gonna regret not pressing on if you don’t”. I kept on, and my legs were getting so tired, but as my elevation increased, the views got more and more breathtaking; literally and figuratively. Once I got within a mile of the summit, all thoughts of turning around had vanished. I didn’t care how tired my legs were, or if my feet were cold, I just knew I needed to make it to that summit; not only for the inspiration that being on that mountaintop would give me but to remind myself that I DO have the strength it takes to keep going. I got to the lookout point about a half mile from the summit, and I was eye level with the clouds, and looking out on what seemed like mountains that stretched on forever, and dropped off into the ocean. Something about being up with the clouds is so magical. I stood for a moment to take in that view and knew that the real summit was still a half a mile up, and I still hadn’t reached my final destination, so I continued on. I finally reached the top, and I felt proud. I had made a new accomplishment. An 8-mile trek that was 75% covered with snow, and 1600ft elevation gain.
One of the beautiful things about hiking for me is pushing myself outside my comfort zone, and stretching the limits of what I think I’m capable of, and finding out that I’m capable of more than I thought. It definitely wasn’t the hardest hike I’ve done as far as elevation and difficulty, but I had added new elements, and it felt good. The trail has taught me many life lessons over the years, and with each hike, each summit, or element conquered, I find a new part of myself that I never knew was there.
Check out where this adventure is on Bivy: