Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Teaspoon of Water - West Mesa, Cuyamaca

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them. - Albert Einstein

After doing a lot of reading and soul searching about the medicine prescribed to me to treat this Psoriatic Arthritis bullshit I apparently have now, I've been working on trying to heal my body thru natural channels instead. Not only is the medicine insanely expensive, it is a weekly self injection that can cause a couple different types of cancer, which I'm not super stoked on having. Really, I'm just scared all the way around so if I can't manage it on my own, I will take the meds because being in pain is a bummer, but I kind of want to exhaust all my alternatives before going that route.

Seeing as few things are as beautiful as Cuyamaca in fall, I decided to head out and see if my recent drop in weight and my diligence in stretching, icing and eating a more autoimmune friendly diet have helped. 

I arrived in Cuyamaca round 9am without a solid plan or destination. I cruised hwy 79 and was compelled to stop at the East Mesa turn out. I had tried to hike up the West Mesa fire road a while back and my feet were in such pain I hardly made it a quarter mile. What better test of my healing than to try it again. 

I passed thru a pipe gate and immediately saw dozens of tracks in the powdery sand:

I think this one is a lizard.

Perhaps a Crow or Hawk? Seemed to big to be a Jay or Dove but not big enough to be a Turkey.

Beats me!

I'd say this bird is likely no more.

A lizard and a rodent with a bobcat in between.

A big bobcat or a small cougar?

Hard to tell in the soft sand if its feline or canine.

There is a lot going on in this one. The top left looks like a skunk then there is a small rodent trail going diagonally with a bobcat track at the end like he pounced on the rodent.

A deer? I can't figure this one out!

No Idea...

And....Here's where I met up with the Cougar tracks. There were at least 3 sets I counted. Not sure if it was the same guy coming and going but this is from the freshest set which was going in the opposite direction of me. 

I wear a women's size 10. I have big feet. This is a big Cougar!

I made my way up the road slowly and was passed by a vehicle who, through not fault of his own, covered me in dust but I didn't care. I was too busy reveling in the fact that my feet didn't hurt! The road climbed gently but steadily and Stonewall Peak became visible in the distance. 
It was a beautiful day!

After a little over half a mile I came to a crossroads between the Japacha/West Mesa fire road and the junction to Fern Flat fire road. I decided to follow my Cougar buddy's tracks and rounded onto toward Fern Flat. The road leveled out for a stretch and then climbed over a small hill. 

After the hill, the road started to head down which was nice but I was feeling a bit skittish with all of the Cougar tracks and impressions in the grass. This cat was not small. Here you can see his tracks in comparison to horse tracks and a large pair of men's boots. 

I kept my senses tuned into the surroundings and enjoyed the colorful leaves of the black oaks which have started to turn. The leaves fluttered off the tree in the breeze and crunched under my shoes.

In the distance I could see the East Mesa grasslands shimmering in the sunshine before a backdrop of fog.

 I rounded a bend and it was easy to see why the cougar lived on this road. The grass was tall and yellow and there were dozens of shady grottos in which to rest and hide.

Trying to spot any cat out here would be an exercise in futility. I tried to not freak myself out, but the whole time I was in this area I could feel something watching me. 

Stonewall was looking particularly lovely with her granite crown shining in the sun.

I reached another junction and decided to divert from the wide road and try my feet on a narrow trail, so I headed up the West Mesa trail toward Japacha Peak.

The terrain was dry and lackluster and the birds kept me on my toes as they rustled in the brush. At any moment I expected to meet my cougar friend but all I was met with were bugs.

After the fourth gnat/fly thingy flew up my nose I went for my head net. I am so glad I brought it with me! The trail wound its way thru the Japacha Creek drainage making the trail soft and marshy with a gazillion little bugs.

I walked along a ridge for a while and the day was heating up. The weather was only supposed to top out at 70 but my thermometer read 80. I stopped for some water and realized I had only brought a little over one litter, which was more than halfway gone. I thought I had an extra bottle in my pack from my last trip out but was disappointed.

I sat at the junction for the Burnt Pine Trail for a while trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was feeling so good and had developed a bit of summit fever as I went, wanting to finally bag Japacha Peak. I looked at the map and convinced myself it wasn't too far and I could just ration my water. Great idea!

I headed up the Burnt Pine trail away from the ridgeline and followed a set of switchbacks that wound in and out of tiny pine grottos. I kept my eye on Japacha Peak and felt like I could reach out and touch it, but with every switchback it looked further and further away.

The day was really hot now and I sat in the shade to think. I was really thirsty and only had about a cup of water left. I decided I had to call it and turned back down the switchbacks toward the West Mesa trail.

 Things stopped being fun on the way back as I was hot and thirsty but my feet didn't hurt, only ached in a manageable sort of way and that made things easier. 
I'll get you next time Japacha! 
Just wait!

I arrived at my truck with a teaspoon of liquid in my bottle and a major headache, to find I only had a couple sips of super hot water in my nalgene in the front seat. I made a beeline to the Cuyamaca Lake Store and bought some exorbitantly priced, but ice cold water and a can of cold 7up before taking the long way home. 
I guess I'm out of practice! It is not like me to not bring enough water!

This is my 'I think I might barf' face - which I'm sure you're all familiar with by now.

When all was said and done I did a little over 6 miles and about 1200 feet in elevation gain. Certainly not amazing stats as hikes go but they are for me! This is the furthest I have hiked since I've been sick and I am feeling very hopeful that I'm turning toward bigger adventures in the future.


  1. I really enjoy your blog. You're witty, plain-speaking style is so refreshing and REAL. I also love reading about the hiking you do in SD. I used to live there but never ventured onto the trails. Now I see what I missed all those years ago!

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Where are you at now? Any good hikes there?

  2. Up in Ventura county, and yes, lots of trails!