The shrubs scratched frantically at my lower legs as I slipped on the loose rocks that had exfoliated from the summit blocks as I circled to the South. There was no real path or trail that I was following along the granite wall, and I kept having to clutch at cracks in the rock to steady my feet from sliding out from under me completely. Then, there was nowhere else to walk. It wasn’t surprising. There hadn’t been a firm spot for my feet for the last five minutes. Even though it wasn’t unexpected, it wasn’t pleasant to feel the branches ripping at my legs, while gravity attempted to yank me off the mountain. Screw this. I muttered to myself as I maneuvered back to a firm foothold, and began traversing back around to an acceptable crack. Screw this, there is no ladder.
Five minutes later, I was back at the crack twenty feet below the summit. I checked down my gear, chalked my hands, and changed my shoes. Then it was the typical movements of climbing. After three moves, I began to get into my rhythm. I could feel the sun scorching my skin as I levered myself up. There. Is. No. Ladder. I panted under my breath, as the sweat began to trickle down my back. There. IS. NO. LADDER. I chanted in my head as I pulled myself up to the summit block. I dropped my gear, and paced back over to the West side I had just climbed. No ladder. I shook out the kinks in my arms as I stepped to the North side. No ladder. Cautiously I stepped to the Southeast corner and looked straight down a sizeable drop. No ladder there, either. I laughed. The rumors of a ladder on Mt. Lawson were greatly exaggerated.
To me, Lawson always will be the hottest pyramid shaped peak at the Southeast corner of Cuyamaca. Getting to Lawson is easy – one takes the I-8 East to State Route 79. From the State Route 79, one heads south on Japatul Valley Road for a couple miles until one reaches Lyons Valley Road. From the turn, go approximately three miles. At three miles, there is a sign - mile marker thirteen (pictured above). There is off-road parking at the marker, but don’t block the road – it is an off-road trail – the “Carveacre Road”, which off-roaders do use frequently. Above, I mentioned that Lawson will always be the hottest peak in the area to me – and when you are heading up the Carveacre for the first mile or two, you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt why I think this. The road has no shade whatsoever, and is a direct, semi-steep uphill straight shot to just below the boulders of the peak. Last year, when I took my hiking group up Lawson, we elected to eat a leisurely breakfast beforehand. That was a bad idea. By the time we reached the trailhead, it was pushing ninety-seven degrees. At the second mile uphill, the group was completely smoked, and we did not make the summit.
This year, we’ve had a late winter in Southern California, so when I started up Lawson mid-morning, there were some lingering clouds, leaving the temperature at a temperate eighty-two degrees. Nevertheless, by the time I had charged up to the lower boulders of the peak, I was dripping sweat, and cursing my beard for making me extra hot. One of the nice things about having a longer winter this year, though, were the lingering wildflowers along the trail. Once I got up to the ridgeline, I surveyed the area. To my right, just off Carveacre, was a large granite block that I walked across, and once I came off the slab, I was directly under Lawson Peak.
At this point, the routefinding on Lawson becomes difficult. The peak is surrounded by numerous large slabs of granite, which are in turn, surrounded by tons of shrubs and low growing brushes, including, but not limited to, Manzanita, coastal sage, some black oak, and many other Southern Californian native plants. There is no “approved” trail from this point on, so if you intend to head for the summit, be warned that there will be scrambling, climbing, and cranky bushes. Also, be warned that should you take the “wrong” way toward the summit, you may very well likely find yourself lost and in a tight spot with dangerous drop offs around you. On my descent I found two people trapped in this very situation on one of the rock faces in a slight panic. While I wasn’t able to cut them a trail out, as I had left my chainsaw at home, I was able to get them out safely, which they did greatly appreciate – but as Lawson is remote, the chances of helpful strangers being there to help you should you get in this situation may be slim!
Since I had been to the peak before, and trusted my map and compass skills, and routefinding skills, I was not worried about being able to find the summit route. It also helped that I was able to follow a well marked (and sometimes flagged) path that someone else had recently made that was near - or identical to the route I had taken over twenty years ago. Mid-way up the route, there is a series of boulders that form a sort of “cave”. At this juncture, one needs to either boost or boulder or climb their way through a semi-narrow opening to pass through and continue on upward. How narrow is the opening? It’s narrow enough. While I am not a “large” guy, I am big enough that when I was climbing through two of the rocks, I could hear my gear scraping. It is important to note here that I was in no danger of getting stuck at any point, and when I was through, I looked back and saw that I had gone through the narrowest section for some strange reason.
From the cave, it is probably a quick five minute ascent to the summit pile of rocks. This is where friends of mine had told me that a ladder had been installed by mysterious parties – perhaps the Mayans – or perhaps other more recent arrivals – to reach the summit. But, as my investigation revealed, these rumors are just a hoax. There is no ladder. But, there is an adventure. Whether you drive out on Carveacre Road, or walk it, take plenty of water, and be sure to be careful when you are using your arms as your own ladder up that final stretch.