Some mountains are, and always will be eternal insurmountable giants. I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Duh, mountains are giants and they are eternal”. What I’m talking about here is not the literal portions of that sentence, but how mountains are perceived by each individual’s memory and mind. In this respect, there are many legendary peaks that everyone remembers as taller, tougher, and more rigorous than Mt. Everest, or more beautiful than the most pristine range that they know. In real life, however, these peaks are sadly smaller than Everest, and may or may not have the epic beauty of the Sound of Music. One of the first mountains that I climbed definitely fits this mold, and it is Stonewall Peak.
I first climbed Stonewall when I was small, as in legitimately small. I was so small, I wasn’t even a Wolf yet. After the first switchback I was tired, and I remember thinking, “I’m never going to be able to climb all of these turns!” (Yes, I didn’t know what switchbacks were yet, and called them turns. And yes, I once took a suitcase to Scout camp before I knew to bring a duffel or backpack. Ah, embarrassing memories). I remember passing under the old growth trees and gazing in wonder at their gnarled branches; and above all else, I remember clinging to the rail near the summit thinking I would fall through the clouds back to the earth below. Most of all, what I remember is the enormous sense of pride I felt at the summit as I gazed at the far off ocean in the distance (it was a very clear day).
Since then I’ve been back to Stonewall many times, and know that the mountain is nowhere near as imposing as I thought it was back then. Despite all the times I’ve been there, I remember it as I first climbed it, the imposing monolith that stretched to the sky with a scent of dust and forest. Make no mistake; Stonewall is one of the classic hikes of San Diego County. Even though it is usually busy, and has seen a lot of recent wear from fires, I still make a point of heading up it at least once a year. It is also a great introduction to hiking in San Diego. I’ve led groups up the mountain to view the stars while cooking s’mores at the summit, and taught some basic climbing techniques on its shoulder, and it’s a great place to experience the wilderness, whether you are five or fifty.
Directions: Stonewall Peak is located in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, across from the Paso Pichacho campground and day use area, which is where parking is located for the trail. The State Park charges a day use fee to park in the Paso Picacho parking area. From Paso Pichacho, head directly across the street, and you will be on the Stonewall Peak trail. The earlier sections of the hike used to be well-forested, but the Cedar Fire of 2003 burned much of the surrounding area, and more recent fires have left the base exposed. After the first half mile, you will be under tree cover as you swing up and around the switchbacks to the peak. It can get fairly hot in some of the exposed sections during the summer, so do bring plenty of water. The last section of trail (.10 miles) traverses the exposed rock of the eastern ridge of the peak, which can bother people who are afraid of heights, but there is a well-affixed handrail to keep everyone safe. The summit has an amazing three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding area, from Lake Cuyamaca to the North, Mt. Cuyamaca to the West, and the Lagunas to the East. And while it is indeed rare, you can see the ocean on a clear day.
I recommend that you take a snack, lunch, dinner, breakfast, or s’mores, and have a seat at the summit and watch the world unfold around you as you relax. The way back, when you are ready for it is the same way up, and the whole hike will run you four miles roundtrip (4.0), along with an 850 foot elevation gain. There’s also some good climbing spots by the summit should you be so inclined. Above all else, have a great time on one of the “100 peaks” of the 1946 Sierra Club list!
Tips: If you're interested in exploring the area further, the Stonewall Mine is a great historic spot that has the remains of San Diego County's most lucrative gold mine.