Visiting My Old Friend Stonewall

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I guess the earliest memory I have is sitting in the front yard at the old house, my fist balled up in my mouth and the other hand shoved in my diaper.  Mom was walking towards me, and nonchalantly removed my clenched fingers from my toothless gums along with the crushed snail inside.

“You don’t eat snails.”

I vividly remember watching curiously as she wiped my hand across her jeans.  Huh, we aren’t? Why are they so tasty?

For some reason my deep subconscious decided to hold on to that one.  However there are other ‘first memories’ to have – first bicycle ride, fist friend, first snow.  Most of my other ‘firsts’ are maybe more prophetic than pathetic.

I was always out doing something, whether it was scrambling through tall weeds in the back yard or riding a bike path all the way to its end.  Sewer tunnels, local parks, little nooks in model homes my dad was painting, it didn’t matter.  Exploring was the game, finding the micro in the macro and the rare experience that some place offers unique.

Summers we camped at the beach and winters we visited the mountains local to San Diego’s East County.  Growing up in the of the most temperate climates in the world hardly prepared me for later excursions to bigger ranges, but the little Laguna’s in Southern California gave me a slight idea of what mountain wilderness was to look like.  Big black oaks dropped acorns that could be easily stored in Overall pockets and the puny peaks had soft trails that plodded eventually upward.

There was one such adventure, though, and for a six year old it was pretty extreme.  Two grueling miles up a several-hundred-foot ‘peak’ which was capped by intimidating steel railings and stone-carved steps that felt oddly like ascending to the top of a roller coaster.  At the summit of Stonewall Peak were spooky winds, supposed exposure and the inevitable sunset chasing a Mother down the trail with 6 cold ducklings in tow.

Climbing has taken me places I couldn’t dream of, yet at the same time I rarely take the opportunity to take it to the places I had already been dreaming about.  Late fall afternoons in Yosemite and the Sierra, with black oaks and pine forests set among rolling yellow fields, would inspire old memories from my local back country.  I had been treating it like a friend in another county, too close to make plans for but too far away to visit on a whim.

Though the climbing on it’s western escarpment hardly had climbs worth hiking so far to get up, the amazing position up high in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the opportunity to revisit the area with my Mom and Brother had put the idea in my head.

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I had visited the park several times since the Ceder Fire in 2003, once with a few college buddies, another on a trip to Julian for Pie and home-made(ish) maple syrup.  The hillsides no longer hid the view of the summit under a canopy of Oak trees and the floor was carpeted thick with new brush.  The skeletons of ancient Oaks stood charred while being overtaken by a creeping array of Manzanita and Azalea.  It felt a bit like the scene in Planet of the Apes where they find the buried statue of Liberty.  There were hints of what it had been but the whole picture had to be assumed, based off memories and dreams.

The trail climbs quickly through a shallow forest before switching back and up via a fire road to a split.  A few of the larger burnt trees had fallen across the trail and their limbs lay trampled into kindling.  Further on the way was dotted with tall wood fences, appearing more aesthetic than structural, and tall lilacs trimmed neatly made a bit of a path North to the saddle.

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The steep railing and carved steps were just as I’d imagined, but a bit of the sting of their exposure was lessened by trips up Sierra giants like Half Dome and The Incredible Hulk.  Still, it was harder to find such position, even in those big peaks.  The little thumb is not the highest of its neighbors but it’s predominance gives a unique, 360-degree view.  No ridges or benches hide the surroundings and views from the desert to San Jacinto Peak are shared with that of the ocean blurred into the skyline.

A local guidebook describes the area as “more than a decent climbing excursion for beginner and intermediate climbers.”  I’d wrapped the railing with my lead line and set us to the floor, right down the main face where I’d peered over as a child, and wondered if I were an intermediate climber.  Well, I guess I’ll see how today goes.

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With the time in the day there wasn’t too much climbing to be done, so I guess I’m a beginner again.  There was just too much exploring to do, too many hidden corners to peek around and into.

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Once again sunset chased us off the peak, back to the car to be greeted by treats bought from the deli earlier that day.  Maybe if we had skipped the visit to Dudleys Bakery in Santa Ysabel on the drive up more climbing could have happened, but no one felt cheated.  Sometimes it’s good to just stuff your face and go exploring.

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(Geek notes – I like Mountain Hardwear soft shells for spots like this where wind and hot alcoves are common, and light weight gear from Black Diamond for big approaches.  The Speed pack in particular held everything really well and didn’t annoy me as much as my other packs, but to each his own.  I’d also recommend a bit stickier approach shoes, if you have them, something like the 5.10’s Mom is wearing ;D Always try new stuff and see what you like!)

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