I’ll never forget the first time I climbed Black Mountain. I was halfway up the mountain, my legs were covered in scratches from the shrubs that I had been crashing through for the last twenty minutes, and I was annoyed. I hadn’t been able to find hide nor hair of a trail up the mountain after the first quarter mile, and I had been following odd foot trails after that point. Suddenly, I stumbled into a nine foot by nine foot clearing that inexplicably enough had carpeting all over the ground. I was hot, sweaty, and annoyed. I said: “What the CORNDOG!?!?!?” Later on, after I reached the base of the mountain, I passed an individual who asked if I had been up on Black Mountain “gliding”. I gave him a “what-the-corndog” look and stomped off to pull thistles and foxtails out of my shoes and legs. That was then.
Today, Black Mountain is part of the Black Mountain Open Space Park (http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/blackmtn/), and there are actual, designated trails going every which way. (Including the Lusardi Loop Trail:http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2011/11/8/lusardi-loop-trail-black-mountain-open-space-park.html) It’s the home of an Xterra Trail Run (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/5/2/xterra-black-mountain-trail-run-march-14-2010-515k.html). What a difference over ten years makes. With this in mind, I decided to check out the Glider Port trail up to the summit of the mountain yesterday.
What did I learn? Ten years makes a positive difference in this case, the Glider Port Trail is one of many well-maintained trails to near or at the summit of Black Mountain. What I also learned, however, was that Black Mountain was indeed the site of many Hang Gliding and Paragliding launches from the 1920’s onward (there is a handy interpretive panel discussing this near the trailhead). However, you can color me skeptical about whether gliding is going on here today: just because there is a history of gliding from the mountain, and a couple chairs set out by the trailhead and launch area, does not mean there is actual bona fide gliding happening on a regular basis. Then again, it is fun to imagine all sorts of gliding occurring in this area, as well as blimps taking off from the Del Mar Airfield (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2011/11/9/the-del-mar-airport-1.html) in some sort of steampunk alternate reality. If you are an actual glider who utilizes the “airstrip” here at Black Mountain, drop me a line so I can come out, see you in action, and say, “what the corndog!”. (More information on gliding here: http://voices.yahoo.com/californias-black-mountain-open-space-park-glider-4005277.html)
Directions: The portion of the Black Mountain Open Space Preserve you are looking for is the entrance located off of Carmel Valley Road (Pictured here: http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/pdf/blackmountaintrailmap.pdf). There are two places you can park: you can park in the lots at Black Mountain Ranch Community Park, and cross the street, or you can park at the Glider Point turnout on the South side of Carmel Valley Road. Note: if you are heading West on Carmel Valley Road, there is no left turn for the Glider Point turnout as there is a median running down the road; you will have to either make a U-Turn at the Black Mountain Ranch Community Park light, or park and walk across the street. If you are parking at the Community Ranch lot, use the signal at the Carmel Valley light, cross the street, and walk a tenth of a mile (.10) east to the Glider Point Trailhead, which is well-signed.
From the trailhead – which is next to one of the gliding takeoff/landing zones, the trail heads straight uphill for a mile. This is not a trail for the faint hearted, or anyone looking for a leisurely walk. Although you are only gaining ~875 feet, the trail is steep at places, and you will get a workout. I’ve walked in steeper terrain, and chances are you have too, but if you don’t want a challenge, this is not the hike for you. If you do want a challenge, I suggest you do what I did: run up the trail, it is a great workout! At three-quarters of a mile up the mountain, you will pass the carpeted takeoff/landing zone that caused me to say, “What the corndog!!!” over ten years ago. And, at one mile, you will arrive at a turnaround/fenced area that is on the saddle of the mountain just below the summit. At this point, you have two options: you can turn around and head back down the trail, or you can go around the fence heading up to the actual summit. Frankly, I’m not sure what’s going on with that fence – there’s no “Keep Out” or other warning signs, and there is a clear (and wide) trail to the actual summit from that point. If you want to disregard the fence (as it appears 90% of people are doing), you can follow the clearly delineated trail the remaining quarter mile to the summit of Black Mountain.
As Black Mountain is only 1,554 feet tall, it won’t confuse anyone with Mt. Everest anytime soon. What it does have, however, is a great 360 degree view of the mid-county of San Diego. On a clear day, you can see out to the Coronado Islands, and into the north-eastern interior of the county. Sadly, this is a peak like Woodson Mountain whose view is partially obscured by an antenna cluster at the summit – the cost of civilization! (http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2012/2/10/woodson-mountain-eastern-approach.html) Despite that, this is a great mid-week, or mid-morning hike on a weekend to get your blood moving; and it’s great to see that this area is now being protected in the Open Space Preserve. Roundtrip, from the trailhead to the summit is 2.5 miles; without the last jog to the summit, the hike is 2 miles roundtrip.
Tips: This route, the “Northern” summit route is steep; so watch your footing, and for loose rocks on the ascent and decent, as it would be easy to slip and twist an ankle. I’ve also been advised by my friend Derek that this is an area with lots of rattlesnakes, so keep an eye out for them as well, especially during summertime. (http://www.100peaks.com/2009/07/03/black-mountain-peak-2-foggy-at-the-top/)