Monday, August 19, 2013

Straining up Starvation Mountain from Highland Valley Rd & Camino del Aguila

In my spare time I love Google Earthing remote areas of San Diego County, looking for a new scenic (and hopefully very hilly) road to explore with my road bike. A while back I espied a couple of paved road that branch off from Highland Valley Rd up this little-wrote-about peak between Escondido and Ramona. The peak is called Starvation Mountain. I've googled it to death and still don't know whose starvation its name refers to (or when, for that matter).

*Edit to add: Since I posted this entry I've heard from Ms Wendy Barker of the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park about Starvation Mountain:
"Starvation Mountain, aka Mule Hill, aka Battle Hill, is where American forces led by General Kearny were detained by Spanish forces led by General Andres Pico in 1846. The shortage of food led Americans to eat some of their mules. You can learn more about the battle at the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park on route 78."
Starvation Mountain as seen from Del Lago Blvd in Escondido. No cross on top of it or anything.
At any rate, one isn't likely to starve to death there now, as the area is surrounded by private ranches and estates. I had a good look at one particular road that heads up it, Camino del Aguilar, and didn't see any gate from the aerial shot. That made for an inviting exploration target! (I really don't like trespassing on private roads that much). So, last Thursday I caught an early bus up to Del Lago Transit Station in South Escondido and went for a ride: (open pictures in new tab to see in full size)
David Kreitzer Pedestrian Bridge across Lake Hodges.
Of course, I could have gotten off the bus at Rancho Bernardo Transit Center and coast down W Bernardo Dr to Lake Hodges before turning east on Highland Valley Rd, but why miss a chance to cross the lake on the famous pedestrian bridge? At 990 ft long and 12 ft wide, the Kreitzer Bridge is the longest stressed ribbon bridge in the world. It is quite a feat of engineering and offers amazing view of the mountains nearby. Oh, the lake itself is a beautiful sight, of course, even when it is so dry that weeds and trees are growing on lake bed for almost as far as the eyes can see!
East through the farmlands on Highland Valley Rd. Starvation Mtn beckoning up ahead.
Turning left (east) onto W Bernardo Dr/Pomerado Rd was a bit tricky. I used the pedestrian crossing light, though it took some sprinting start to go immediately up the I-15 overpass and out of the way of cars trying to get on the freeway on-ramp. It was a relief to turn left/east onto Highland Valley Rd, where traffic becomes more scarce (though probably faster-moving).

Highland Valley Rd (HVR) pitching up the mountains.
The lower part of Highland Valley Rd (known locally as the HVR) starts with a little downhill to pick up the south side of the San Dieguito River. Road shoulder more or less disappears after the turn off for unpaved Sycamore Creek Rd and the right side of the eastbound lane is often littered with cracks and rocks. The road starts to pitch up and becomes very steep for a couple of twisty stretches, ranging from 8-12% grade. I didn't much like riding there at all because of the traffic, but it is still a much better cycling route between Escondido and Ramona than Hwy 78 to the north is (that one is way more trafficky).
HVR heading east up the hill.
After a couple of miles of climbing I passed the turn off for Bandy Canyon Rd that connects HVR with Hwy 78. The road is now a rolling false flat. After another .3 mile or so I turned right onto Camino del Aguila, a narrow paved road heading up a steep little hump between two huge ranches (this is the 2nd paved lane heading south from HVR after Bandy Canyon Rd, and it does have a street sign).
Camino del Aguila passing thru fish pond.
After cresting the steep hump the road branches right at the Y-intersection and goes straight (steeply) down the other side to a ravine. Watch out for little hard-to-see speed bumps as you pass the little pond on the left.

Climbing up Camino del Aguila on a bicycle is a very painful way of enjoying spectacular mountain scenery!
Climbing up the other side of the ravine was gentle at around 8% grade at first, then the road does a switchback left and from then on it was 10-18% ramps one after another without letting up for the better part of a mile until near the top.

Why suffer up a beautiful steepie like this without stopping to enjoy the view? You might as well!
But, in this part of town; no pain means no view, my friends. And for a spectacular view, spectacular pain is the going price!
Gate to Eagles Crest Rd from Camino del Aguila.
Dirt track up from top of Cam del Aguila to Starvation Mtn Rd.
After much struggling (it didn't help that I was one-handing a lot of the slope photographing and filming my way up 14% ramps) I made it to the end of Camino del Aguila where it turns into dirt for a bit to connect with Eagles Crest Rd, the private paved lane that comes up the mountain from its east side. Eagles Crest Rd is gated at the top here and also at the entrance from a little further east on HVR. I suppose you can just hike-a-bike around the gate. I had other agenda, however, and opted left up this steep dirt track to pick up the top bit of Starvation Mountain Rd to head further up the mountain.
View from a resting spot on Starvation Mountain Rd. Looks like they had cleared two little plateaux for future houses.
The last (and steepest) ramp up Starvation Mountain Rd... Especially capricious after a mile and a bit of 14% average grade climbing!
More suffering ensued. More hideously steep ramps behind switchbacks separated by some short bits of gentle (5-7%) slopes. Then I got to another Y-intersection and opted right for the ramp that leads uphill... It is a monster ramp! Mid-20's % grade for maybe 60 ft as it wraps its way around the final left curve and ends at a huge gate of the highest house on Starvation Mountain.
Gate at top of Starvation Mtn Rd leading to 18096 Starvation Mtn Rd, blocking off the trail to the top of the peak.
View from top of the road.
As high up Starvation Mtn as a road bike could go.
It isn't the just-to-keep-cars-out sort of gate, but a real 8ft tall estate gate that doesn't show on Google Earth yet. So that was the end of the road for me. Not quite to the top of the peak, but the view is still spectacular in almost every direction! Mt Woodson was close by with the radio towers on its top. Double Peak & Mt Whitney peeking out of the cloud layers to the west like two tiny islands. A view to cure much of the muscle and joint pain the steep climbing had extracted from yours truly.

It was now a bit past 9am, though, and the sun was starting to get annoyed with me, so I started my descent. Braver souls can try and ride down that 27% grade slick top ramp, but I only made it halfway down before putting my foot down and walking the rest of the way to the Y-intersection since I don't have disc brake and didn't feel like sliding right off the mountain (doing so would allow me just enough air time to ponder on my one last stupid move before I finally land on something).

Starvation Mountain Rd descending from the top.
I didn't fancy wearing my brakes out descending on Camino del Aguila, so I opted right at the intersection (no road signs up here, you've better memorize how the roads look from Google map before heading up this mountain!) and then left at the next, down Starvation Mountain Rd.

A roadside Christian shrine on Starvation Mountain Rd.
It is a surprisingly green lane, sloping steeply down through orchards, carving itself around the hill. On a straight away I spotted this cross-topped shrine by the side of the road and decided to investigate. Unfortunately it isn't a historical memorial that tells any story about how Starvation Mountain got it name, but just a Christian shrine with a quote from Genesis put up by the local landowners.
Starvation Mountain Rd car gate. Bikes can walk around the side.
A little further down  I ran into a gate! For a couple of horrifying seconds I thought that I had picked the wrong fork on the road, came down a dead end and would now have to climb back up the mountain.... but then I spotted the intercom box on the other side and realized that I was on the 'private' bit of the road and should be able to get back out to HVR if I walk around the barrier. Whew!

HVR between Starvation Mtn Rd & Eagles Crest Rd.
Eagles Crest Rd at HVR.
Rejoining HVR I headed right/east toward Ramona for a little more climbing. After a while I passed Eagles Crest Rd turn off. It's the private paved road that goes up to nearly connect with Camino del Aguilar high on Starvation Mountain. The big gate at the bottom was wide open (though even when closed you can walk around its right side). That's one nasty steep ramp right at the bottom of it, though; not something I'd like to ride down or up it!

Amy Strong 'Mt Woodson' castle.
Hwy 67 descending through the hills overlooking Poway.
The day was turning very hot, so I opted to ride home the quickest way possible and took Archie Moore Rd to catch Hwy 67 into Lakeside, stopping at Mt Woodson Golf Course for cold drinks and snack along the way (there is no other water stop on the route). Hwy 67 downhill south to Lakeside is a horror story that deserves a post of its own, but it was late morning on a workday so traffic volume was not quite as suicidal to cycle with as would be otherwise. The whole ride was only 48 miles long, but that 14% grade mile and a bit on Camino del Aguila and Starvation Mountain Rd took quite a bit out of my legs!


  1. Camino Aguila seems too steep for me, but what a view! Thanks for all the photos!

    RC Brown

  2. My pleasure! It is a very steep climb indeed, but wouldn't be too bad if you stop and look at the view every now and then. ;o)

  3. What an incredible ride and you documented everything so well. The views are breathtaking and I want to thank you for sharing your story and ride through paradise.


Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!