Iron Mountain Trail, Poway, CA

This is part of a series of posts about preparing to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The trailhead is pretty and welcoming…especially if you don’t realize that where you’re headed is the top of that mountain in the background!

Back in April I had to attend a conference in San Diego.  I had to be there by Sunday evening so I decided to go a day early and take advantage of being in Southern California.  I needed to log in as many hiking miles as possible and what better place to do it! 

This was not the San Diego weather I had bargained for!

I talked to a few friends who lived there and did a little research and found two hikes that were listed as being “challenging” as well as being between 6 and 8 miles.  On this first day I would do the less challenging Iron Mountain Trail.  It got good reviews on Yelp and boasted of fabulous views of all of San Diego County.

Just 30 minutes outside San Diego it was peaceful and mountainous with trails winding throughout!

I boarded an 8am flight out of National Airport in DC where it was already 72° and beautiful spring weather.  I landed in San Diego at 11:00 local time where it was 52° under an impenetrable ceiling of clouds!  I picked up a rental car, drove to my downtown hotel and checked in, changed, packed a day pack and then drove 30 miles east. 

I stopped and got some lunch and took a bit to find the trail so by the time I got started it was 2:00pm, or 5:00 my time.  It dawned on me that I was already tired, and now rain was threatening.  It never rains in Southern California!

At the top it was beginning to clear to the west and the view was beautiful!

Nevertheless, here I was, preparing for an Appalachian Trail  trip that would not be stopped by rain and neither would this one.   I set out on a gentle, wide gravel trail toward the mountain I would climb.  The peak is at about 2700 feet but the trailhead begins at 1700.  Still, it was a solid uphill hike.  It was three miles up and three miles back.  I walk at a pace of about 20 minute miles (which sounds better to me than 3mph) so it took me a little more than an hour to get the top allowing for time to stop and take pictures.

I quickly learned that the “challenging” designation was based entirely on fitness.  The trail itself was wide and well-groomed and easy to follow.  There were runners who ran to the top and ran back down and even the occasional mountain biker.  Still, there were also plenty of folks who were finding it challenging.

I found that once my stride hit a certain rhythm I was able to get “inside my head” and zone out.  I definitely still noticed the beauty all around me but also went into a sort of hypnotic state.  It’s pretty nice after a stressful week of work!

To the east it was stormy but even more undeveloped and beautiful.

At one point I heard something large rustling in the bushes.  I couldn’t see it but it was big…bear big!  I was thinking holy crap it’s a mountain lion!  I think they’re spotted about once a decade but anyone who’s ever watched TV has heard about mountain lions in southern CA!

I must have had a look of horrible fright on my face because a woman in a group of three people approaching me quickly ran up to me and said, “Oh don’t worry, that’s just my dog!”  Sure enough out of the bushes comes a yellow lab which I surely would have thought was a mountain lion had this woman not warned me!  I’m going to be a nervous wreck on the Appalachian Trail!

At the top is a gorgeous view, even if it was about 48° and overcast.  It wasn’t the socal I had bargained for but there is a sense of satisfaction to get to the top of a mountain and rest and enjoy the accomplishment.

The walk down revealed the gentle switchbacks of the trail, and the hillside strewn with boulders.

The walk down was even more beautiful because the whole view was in front of me.  It did rain but that was surprisingly not a big problem.  I had a rented car, and was headed back to a Hilton overlooking the Pacific Ocean, what’s a little rain.

I would go out that night for dinner and drinks with an old friend who now lives in San Diego; and, at one point I realized I had been up for 24 hours with a tougher hike ahead of me the next day!  Fortunately I could sleep in and cash in on the time change.  As my daughter and all her friends say, YOLO!


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