Monday, March 17, 2014

Cuyamaca Peak by Road Bike

At 6, 512 ft (1985 m), Cuyamaca Peak is the second highest point in San Diego County (second only to 6533 ft tall Hot Springs Mountain near Warner Springs), and its distinctive wave shape in the middle of a rectangular mountain block is easy to spot from afar. As there is no paved road all the way to the top of Hot Springs Mountain, Cuyamaca Peak is the highest point a road bike could go in San Diego... and it was the main objective of my adventure bike ride a couple of weeks ago.

A friend and I started riding from Santee Trolley Station and picked up two more accomplices in Alpine. I'm afraid my plan was a bit more ambitious than prudent as I didn't quite realize how relentlessly steep Lookout Rd is. We all crested the Hwy 79 climb at a good clip, but the 3.5 miles from Paso Picacho Campground (where we stopped to refill our water bottles and to use the excellent restroom) to the top of Cuyamaca Peak took a whole hour in itself (running into stiff headwind about 200 vertical feet from the top sure didn't help). Lookout Fire Rd is a popular hiking route to the top of the mountain, so we ran into quite a few friendly hikers on the way. They are quite awesome about making way for us and were full of encouragement.

As you can see from the video, the view is quite spectacular both along the way up and from the top. We were also lucky about running into a lot of wild birds and deers. My friend Dezary even almost got rammed by a very cage-free chicken as we rolled up Hwy 79 through Descanso. It came tumbling out of the bush on the bank of the road as if chased by a coyote and made quite a racket... just a few yards from the 'honor system' basket selling eggs for $3 a dozen.

By the way, the stretch of I-8 between E Willow Rd and Hwy 79/Japatul Valley Rd is open to bicycle because there really aren't any reasonable alternate surface road between the two exits (we fit lycra crowd on lighter bikes might not have much trouble coping with the Japatul Wall or Viejas Grade Rd detour, but not all on bikes are light or fit!).

My riding buddies called it finished when we rolled back into Alpine and I spun on alone back to Santee. I had meant to detour into Crest and Granite Hills to check out a couple of enticing-looking roads along the way, but the afternoon was getting old and my legs were insistent that I shut the &%@% up about more double digit grade climbing after all they had put up with up the big mountain, so I settled for a very minor side trip around Lake Jennings before catching the trolley home in Santee.

It was quite a good trip. Only 80 miles, but with a decent elevation gain of 7920ft (most of the climbing were done in the first 40 miles). From Santee to Alpine and then through to Paso Picacho is really a long drawn out gentle climb (nothing steeper than 6%). The Lookout Rd up Cuyamaca Peak, though, is very gnarly. Once it starts kicking in earnest about a mile up it averages around 17% in endless series of very steep ramps, some in the high 20's grade. The last 2 turns had to be walked due to the very unfair combination of very steep gradient and very gravelly chopped up pavement. Unlike Mt Woodson Rd, however, you can carefully ride down most of Lookout Rd (you can't let the bike run, but the turns aren't as tight as Mt Woodson Rd and there's a bit more room for error if you skid off the pavement).


  1. "Only 80 miles"!!! Smorgy, you walked with a cane not all that long ago! This is a trip!

    - Soren

  2. Hahaha, indeed, Soren! :oD I still don't walk all that well, mind you, but put me on a bike and I can go on for quite a bit! ;o)


Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!