Category Archives: Mt Laguna

Pine Creek Ride – March 6, 2011

It was time for another Mt Laguna ride. I always enjoy them. The first real singletrack trails I took on my cyclocross bike were there. Today, I wouldn’t get the chance to take the trails… too much snow! Alas, more roads for me, but those are still fun. After getting to the parking area behind Majors Café in Pine Valley, I headed out on my ride. The weather was warmer than I expected, but not too bad. The winds were still light, which was also good. I started out taking Old Highway 80, then over to Pine Creek Road – my road to fun. I had originally found this road through a San Diego birding website, when I was researching other roadways in the area. I had no idea what would be in store for me that first time, but I have enjoyed it ever since.

First closure gate on Pine Creek Road.
First closure gate on Pine Creek Road.

The Cleveland National Forest website stated the roadway would be closed. A closed road means no cars to contend with, not that there were ever many anyway. I got to the first gate, which I hadn’t seen closed before. Cool! Now I had the place mostly to myself. I did become a little concerned though… if the first gate was closed, did that mean the creek crossing would be flooded? Well, I found out quick, it was not! So, onward and upward! After the second gate, there is a short climb, and then a drop into a small canyon, lined with trees. Normally, this is a nice thing. Today, it was a little more problematic. The recent snow storm had caused some of the trees to fall, or at least large branches of them. I had to go around two trees; one was quite large and blocked most of the roadway. Still, I made it around and continued on.

Descending into the tree lined canyon... before the steep grade.
Descending into the tree lined canyon… before the steep grade.
View back down, a very nice day for a ride.
View back down, a very nice day for a ride.
Large oak tree branch blocking the road, I went around to the left.
Large oak tree branch blocking the road, I went around to the left.

After this pleasant little canyon, the roadway takes an upward bend. It is really the only way to describe it. The roadway goes from an average grade of maybe 4-6% to 15-20% in a very short time. This is the steepest grade around here… at least by paved roadway. The worst section is near the top, where the gradient keeps at about 17% for about ¼ mile. There is so far only one stretch of roadway in San Diego County that gets my heart and breathing going as fast… and that is the section. As I was climbing this stretch, I passed three others that were walking their mountain bikes up. One had said, “Are you just showing off?” to which I replied “No, it is just easier than walking for me.” I prefer to ride up instead of stopping along the way, when I can. Starting again on such a steep slope can be rather difficult sometimes. Once past the steep part, a small saddle is reached, where there is road junction, a tree, and some shade to rest under. I stopped there to rest a bit. I was breathing hard and had more climbing to go. After drinking a bit of water, talking with the other riders that caught up, and walking around a little, I was ready to move on.

Up and Up! The road goes up to the right, then left following the ridge.
Up and Up! The road goes up to the right, then left following the ridge.

Getting past this third gate, I’d see the first roadside snow. Mind you, it was small patches, but still. It would be telling of what was to come. As I climbed higher, the winds did increase some, which I had rather expected, the temperature dropped some, and more snow was at the roadside. After the first “summit”, the road rolls a bit more. The first big drop was clear of snow… the second was not. Snow was mostly blocking the road, but it was still manageable. It wouldn’t be until after the first Noble Canyon Trail crossing, getting up into the pines, that the snow would be covering most of the ground beyond the roadway. At the upper Noble Canyon Trail crossings, I came upon the first snow entirely blocking the roadway. It wasn’t too deep, and there were tracks to the left side… so, I tried to ride through. I went through with one foot unclipped, so that I could catch myself if I started to fall. Well, good thing I did. The snow was a bit icy on top, and just about all ice at the bottom. Rather crunchy and tough to ride through. But then… this is cyclocross… gotta carry the bike at some point! The drift here was shallow by comparison to the next, about a half mile away. That drift, was about two feet deep at the most, and was much slower to cross. I began to wonder if it would get worse, but I knew the road did not get much higher and was more exposed now. Only large puddles of water were blocking the road up to the final gate, at Sunrise Highway.

Getting into the pines and the snow.
Getting into the pines and the snow.
Snow cover is getting thicker.
Snow cover is getting thicker.
The road is under this snow... I know it is!
The road is under this snow… I know it is!
I followed the tracks to the left in the dirt. Not too bad, but icy.
I followed the tracks to the left in the dirt. Not too bad, but icy.

I didn’t linger long at the gate, just enough to cross and get riding. Traffic was light and so were the winds! When I got near the upper Noble and Big Laguna trailhead, I saw it was full of cars, some of which had empty bike racks! Well… Being the explorer I am sometimes, I decided to check out the trail. At first, it was a bit muddy, and then snow covered, but still mostly passable. Well, most of the bike tracks that I saw led onto the Noble Canyon Trail, just a couple of them led to the Big Laguna connector. I proceeded further, got just past the first gate, and stopped.  There were no more bike tracks and the trail was now completely covered in snow. Well, I tried. I know my limits. It was back to Sunrise Highway for me.

Nope. Not going down this trail today.
Nope. Not going down this trail today.

After I had returned to Sunrise Highway, I decided I’d still try another alternate route. I’ve done a similar loop in the past, with this much snow, so I knew what to expect. About a mile up the road, I turned off at the Laguna Campground. This is also the lower end of Los Huecos Road, which ends next to the Visitor’s Center. The campground was mostly closed, as it usually is in winter, but it also made for a pleasant ride. I followed the route through the campground to a gate where the road was not plowed, at all. I had no intention of riding this part, I didn’t the last time. So, the bike ride was now a hike, with a bike. Fun! I do enjoy going to the snow, and this time was never really that cold. The hike lasted about ¼ mile, not bad. Well, after this snowbound portion, it was back to road, at first paved, then dirt. Riding over the dirt was felt a bit slower at times but overall wasn’t bad. I passed many people out playing in the snow. This little canyon is one of the better areas for snow play in the Mt Laguna area.

The road is about a foot under the bike.
The road is about a foot under the bike.
Gotta get a shot of the bike in the snow!
Gotta get a shot of the bike in the snow!

I reached the top of the road, and was ready to get some snacks. I stopped at the Mt Laguna Store, a general store located near the top of the mountain. They have a wide selection of stuff. I usually top off my drinks here, and get something else to snack on. So, I got a can of Pepsi, some beef jerky, and sat out on the porch and relaxed for a while. Once I felt refreshed and was done eating, I was ready to head down the mountain. With all the snow, all my alternate routes down would be snowbound, so it would just be a quick ride down Sunrise Highway for me. The ride down was fairly uneventful until I got down to just below the 5000’ level. The high winds, which were predicted, were tossing me around at times, making travel a bit hazardous. I did manage to keep a decent pace at least. The winds weren’t so much a headwind as a crosswind. Once I got back to the car, I noticed there were still lots of other cars still in the parking area, a few with bike racks. Perhaps they made the longer loop, and rode to Julian or something. Another day, I’ll do that, when I can take more dirt trail to do it!

Mt Laguna Loop Ride – Now with Snow! – Sunday, January 3, 2011

I had wanted to go for a nice bike ride up in the mountains. It had been a while since the last time up there.  About a week before, I had posted on sdbikecommuter.com about the ride, asking if anyone wanted to go along. One did reply, Sigurd, from San Diego. He came over at about 8:30 am and picked me up. The drive out was fairly nice, though seeing ice alongside the freeway was a bit disconcerting.  Still, I wore plenty of warm clothes and was planning for it to be cold.

Arriving in Pine Valley, we parked the car behind Major’s Diner, got our stuff together, and headed out. We started by heading east on Old Highway 80, cold at first, but warmed up after the climb up to Laguna Summit. On the way down the summit, we passed the border checkpoint, which had two nasty speed bumps sitting across the roadway. I managed to bypass them in the dirt, Sigurd rolled right around them.  It was otherwise a nice descent into the valley by Buckman Springs.  We only encountered light winds, so the ride across the valley was pretty good. As Sigurd hadn’t been through here before, I pointed out various things, including Kitchen Creek. Hwy 80 crosses Kitchen Creek a couple of miles west of Kitchen Creek Road. Another short hill later, we finally made the turn onto Kitchen Creek Road. The weather was still good, even with the ice in the shadowed areas. We saw only one car as we made our way up the road, which is about average. After the first hill, we finally descended into the canyon of Kitchen Creek. It had a fair amount of water in it, enough to make the ride up the canyon quite pleasant.

A different day, but a nice view up Kitchen Creek Canyon.
A different day, but a nice view up Kitchen Creek Canyon.

As we gained elevation, we started to see more snow in the shadows. We also found some ice across the roadway just before the gate. We avoided it, but it gave us more to be cautious about for the rest of the ride.  After the gate, the fun part of the road begins. For the next few miles, there would be no cars, just the road and us. The views up the canyon were quite nice, with some small cascades visible along the canyon floor. We also had noticed that we had a slight tailwind, helpful for climbing hills such as this one.  The higher we climbed, the more snow we found. At a few points, snow had completely covered the roadway. It was fun to ride through, with my new fenders I didn’t worry about getting splashed or wet. Temperatures also were dropping, but that was to be expected. They were forecast to be in the 30’s at the top of the mountain. After passing the upper gate, we finally reached the pine forest.  Most of the climbing was behind us now, with only a couple of short climbs ahead to the top. Before reaching Sunrise Highway, we saw many others that had come up to play in the snow. One group had asked us if we were cold, we said no, and were almost too warm! We had climbed up the mountain on our bikes after all.

Cascades down in the canyon.
Cascades down in the canyon.
Sigurd, with his Cannondale.
Sigurd, with his Cannondale.
Up the canyon, more climbing to go.
Up the canyon, more climbing to go.
Nice section of Kitchen Creek Road.
Nice section of Kitchen Creek Road.
Just a bit of snow... more would follow.
Just a bit of snow… more would follow.
Ever higher, we pause to check out the view toward San Diego.
Ever higher, we pause to check out the view toward San Diego.
More snow, still on Kitchen Creek.
More snow, still on Kitchen Creek.
Now covered in snow... no ice here thankfully.
Now covered in snow… no ice here thankfully.
Just rolling along...
Just rolling along…
Shasta in the snow. Not the first time, but the first with the fenders.
Shasta in the snow. Not the first time, but the first with the fenders.

Finally reaching Sunrise Highway, the nice empty roadway we had been riding was replaced with a road with snow piles as a shoulder. It wasn’t too much an issue, traffic was still light. It just made things a bit more interesting at times. The snow looked to be about three to four inches deep around this area. We briefly crested at 6000’ near the Wooded Hill turnoff and then descended into the Mt Laguna community. It was about the coldest I’d felt so far on the ride. Brrr! We made it to the Mt Laguna Store, got some snacks, and took a short break on the porch. Before we had arrived, someone had apparently had some trouble with the snow or ice, as their car was lodged against the stop sign at Los Huecos Road. Their attempts to free the car gave us at least some “entertainment” while we snacked.  Eventually, a few others came along and helped push them along. The stop sign was at least still standing after they left. After we were done, we went over to the visitor’s center next door, which was having some problems. The water in the restrooms had frozen, but the water in the drinking fountain had not. Yes, even in San Diego County, the pipes can freeze. Well, after we took care of what we needed there, it was time to get on the road. A few hundred feet down the road, we turned off to a nice vista point above the Imperial Valley. It looked so warm, and we were so cold. After we got back onto Sunrise Highway, it would be a couple of miles of downhill riding. Now, we had been mostly climbing so far, keeping us warm. Heading downhill was a different story. It felt a whole lot colder now. My feet and hands were feeling quite numb by the end. I stopped at the Noble Canyon trailhead to try to warm up a bit, it helped. As we dropped in elevation, the temperatures were at least rising. The amount of snow had diminished as well. With all the snow and ice we’d seen so far, I was getting a bit nervous about our next road, Pine Creek Road.

Mt Laguna, lots of snow here and close to 6000'.
Mt Laguna, lots of snow here and close to 6000′.

Just about a half mile past the Noble Canyon trailhead, we turned onto Pine Creek Road. So far, the road looked alright. As we went further down, we encountered more mud and more snow. The worst section for both, especially mud, was around the Noble Canyon trail crossings. Still, it wasn’t that bad and we made it through without much trouble. We encountered only a few vehicles on the way down. We made one final stop at the tree above the steepest descent. Sigurd was having some trouble with his brakes, and it was a good place to regroup.  While we were stopped, a truck with a bunch of downhill mountain bikes past us. We’d seen a lot of bike tracks on the Noble Canyon trail, so we assumed they had been riding it. It wasn’t a good idea, as the trail was really muddy, and riding it like that can cause damage to the trail.

Small pool, iced over.
Small pool, iced over.
All wrapped up in my gear, I'm mostly warm.
All wrapped up in my gear, I’m mostly warm.
Down Pine Creek Road.
Down Pine Creek Road.
One of my favorite stops along Pine Creek, view is westerly toward Cuyamaca Peak.
One of my favorite stops along Pine Creek, view is westerly toward Cuyamaca Peak.

After descending the steep part, the road heads into a narrow canyon, which is lined with oak trees. It was very nice and didn’t have the ice problem I thought it would. The ride the rest of the way down was quite pleasant, with no additional roadway problems. After we left the Forest, we turned off of Pine Creek Road, into a residential area on the east side of Pine Valley. Taking this road instead of going to Hwy 80 would save us a bit of riding, and had lighter traffic. After a few miles, we got back to the car. Overall, it was a good ride. We had lots of fun. The ride finished with just shy of 40 miles, about 4500′ of climb, and a 10.5 mph average. Sigurd got to see some new roads and I got another ride around Mt Laguna. There will be more rides up there as it is a fun place to go.