Corte Madera Mountain

Did you know that it is a known fact that the mountains talk? To be clear, I’m not just discussing the Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, or John Muir type of mountain talking in which the plants, rocks, trees, and other natural features speak to man. What I’m talking about is actual talking, man-to-man, mano-a-mano talking. What I’m talking about is the summit register (or log). In many cases in the United States, and around the World, if the mountain is big enough or popular enough, it will likely have a summit register or log. These logs come in a variety of shapes and sizes to withstand the elements – some are in battered plastic containers under rocks; some are in old ammunition containers; some have their own boxes; and some are something else altogether. What they have in common is that they are a living history of the past, containing the voices of past mountaineers and hikers and their experiences on the mountain. Some logs, like the Mt. Whitney log, get changed often; and some like the log atop Corte Madera, go back a couple of years.

The early portion of the Corte Madera hike passes under some great old growth oaks.

Corte Madera is a granite mountain in the Eastern portion of San Diego; and at 4,657 feet, it has a great view of the surrounding countryside. This is one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County because it’s not well traveled, and because it passes through a number of beautiful areas on the way to the summit. And, as I discovered the last time I climbed it, its register is a good look back to the past, as it contains notes from the last several years.

Once past the oaks, the Espinosa Trail also provides some great single track scenery.

Directions: This hike is on the far reaches of San Diego County; and in order to get to it, you will have to drive a bit. You will take the I-8 to Buckman Springs Road; once you exit, you will head three (3) miles South to Corral Canyon Road. At Corral Canyon Road, turn West and follow the road for five miles (do note that the road is mostly paved; but passable by non-four wheel drive vehicles in most cases). Once you reach a hairpin turn on the road, you should park. Chances are that there will be a car or two in the area. Once you have parked, cross the road and head up the trail behind the metal locked gate (this part of the trail is known as the Kernan Road).

At the junction of the Espinosa Trail and the trail to Corte Madera, one can look back and marvel at the scenery of eastern San Diego County.

This first part of the trail passes under some beautiful black oaks for roughly half a mile, and if it is winter or springtime, you will notice seasonal water flowing under the trees. After this half-mile stretch, bear left onto the Espinosa Trail, which again, if it is the right season, will be next to some seasonal streams. Follow this trail for another mile, and you will be atop a small hill and at the intersection of Los Pinos Road. Turn right (North-Northwest), and follow the well graded fire access road for roughly .4 miles up a series of switchbacks to another saddle near Peak 4588.

At 2.5 miles in, there is a steep descent past a number of boulders, but it is passable without any technical knowledge or much scrambling.

Through this portion of trail, you will pass a number of Yuccas, as well as manzanita and other Southern California chaparral. From this point, you will follow the trail down a section of trail past some loose granite before heading out on a mostly flat final stretch toward the summit. Near the summit, there are a number of “false” trails that cut off to other areas; the best way to navigate to the actual summit is to bear due West and head toward a grouping of granite boulders, and not into well-grown manzanita plants! Once you are on the summit, you will have great views of the surrounding county; but do be careful of the near three hundred (300) foot drop off from the summit. From the summit, you’ll have a good view of the route you traversed up; and when you are ready, you will return the same trail that you hiked up on. Round-trip, this hike will run you six and a half miles (6.5) in total distance, and is a solid moderate hike.

Summit Views, Corte Madera Mountain

Tips:  This is a great area to see wildflowers when they are in season; and on a clear day, you can see a lot of interesting features from the summit blocks. As well, Corte Madera is known as “the Half-Dome of San Diego” to some people due to the fact that it is an exfoliating block of granite. Last, as noted above, watch for “false” trails when approaching the summit, as it is easy to become lost.