Saturday, February 11, 2017

6 of 52 - Morena Butte

When I left the house to hike I wasn't really sure where I was going. I headed east on I-8 and made a pit stop for gas and hiking snacks at the Cheveron on Alpine Blvd., as I always do, and there it hit me: lets go do Morena Butte! I felt kind of excited to go see my friend, the PCT. I've been thinking about the trail A LOT the past few weeks so it would be nice to finally be back on. When I arrived the day was beautiful and I parked on the side of the road just outside of Morena Lake Campground property.

It was kind of weird to be going south on this section. I have done it so many times I know it like the back of my hand but heading in the opposite direction gave it a new novelty. I kind of huffed and puffed heading uphill and used the information markers as an excuse to catch my breath. Lake Morena used to fill this reservoir but The City of San Diego decided to divert the water to Otay Lakes leaving Morena mostly meadow.

After more uphill my destination came into view, Morena Butte the a red hued beast loomed in the distance. No matter which direction you come from it is the mark of hard hiking. When it comes into view from the other side your heart kind of drops knowing you're going to have to drop down to its base and then climb out after having done 15 miles and still having more to go.

As the trail climbed higher I was able to see a bit of water in the reservoirs from all the rain we've had this season. The class of 2017 is in for a real treat in the desert this year, as all the tributaries are flowing and there is water running right thru the trail in this section that is notoriously dry.

The recent rains also left a record of the local residents, and I stopped to check out cougar, bobcat and deer tracks in the mud. After following the cougar tracks for a ways I came across a good sized pile of cougar scat that I promptly poked at with a stick.



The trail came to an odd junction that I'm still not sure about. I consulted my map but it wasn't any help so I decided to keep going on the PCT as opposed to investigating this other side trail. One day I'll come back and check it all out.

Soon the trail turned into a creek bed and it made me think of the Class of 2017 and how much water they're going to have to deal with this year. Here in SoCal I think it will be wonderful but the Sierra is going to be nuts.

I dropped into a dry creek bed just before the pass leading into Hauser Canyon. There was another trail junction here which I think goes to the dam.


At the top of the pass I sat on a boulder that Josh and I had sat on many times before both on day hikes and on our section hike and I reminisced about the PCT. My musings were interrupted by a rustle in the bushes next to me and I was startled to see a man pop out of the brush. He was dressed all in black and told me he had seen me come down the ridge. I laughed and told him I hadn't seen him at all and that he scared the shit out of me! He smiled and told me his hiking partner has done that to him once or twice out here and it was then that I noticed he was with the Border Patrol. We chatted for a while about the PCT and Morena Butte and he told me he was setting up trail cams at various points along the border. He explained that sometimes animals trigger the alarms and it takes a lot of resources for agents to investigate, so with the cameras they can check remotely to see if it was a human or an animal that tripped the sensor. He was a very nice guy and his enthusiasm for his job was contagious and when we parted ways I was feeling pumped about climbing this butte! 

That is, until I started climbing and found it was so steep I had to use my hands in some places! Holy shit! I did my standard hike 5 steps and rest pace until the trail ran out of hillside temporarily.


I walked a small ridge line below my next challenge and it reminded me of North Fortuna. Already the views were amazing and on such a clear day I could see for a long way into Mexico.

As I neared my next climb the brush got denser and the granite more abrasive and I smacked my elbow on a boulder. Since my elbows are broke out with psoriasis right now it exploded and bleed everywhere. I had this happen on another trail recently and I am always glad to be out there by myself so no one will see what looks worse than it really is!

Soon the trail dissolved and I was navigating completely by cairns. I climbed and climbed and eventually found myself heading toward the backside of the butte.

After making my way to a narrow plateau I came across this cave that is undoubtedly home to a cougar. This is just the patio portion of the cave, the rest of it went deep inside the boulder structure. Normally this would cause me to feel afraid but I didn't. I don't know if it was being back on the PCT but I felt surprisingly calm and happy on this whole hike. Maybe I'm making progress!


Not far from the cougar cave was a convenient water source. I dodged slick collections of algae as I continued up the hill.

The brush gave way to large granite slabs making the cairns more difficult to spot. I consulted my gps for my location in relationship to the highest point and found I had passed it on the back side.

Finally, I just blew right up a large boulder field with a 'lets get this shit done' mentality and popped out on the top of the butte with 360 degree views of awesomeness. 

I spotted a high boulder and ascended it rather ungracefully, again feeling grateful I was the only one up there to see me. I found a register inside an old first aid kit  that was wedged in a crack in the rock. The register was just a 1/3 of a pocket sized memo book but there was enough room for me to sign. Josh told me later that he was going to climb up here so I told him to bring another book, and he did, so there is something for you to sign should you decided to climb it too.


While meandering around the summit looking for benchmarks I stumbled upon this feature in the rock. I touched the edge and it seemed to be set inside. I was wondering if it was a fossil and emailed it to the archaeologist I met while on Ghost Mountain. She is going to forward it to a paleontologist but another friend of mine said it was probably just an old mud dauber nest. Either way it's kind of neat looking!

I ate some lunch and considered hiking to the other high points but I was near the end of my water. I decided to save them for another day when I explore those other trails, the dam and maybe ascend from the other side.

The boulders up here gave me high Sierra vibes even though the granite was different. I love this bizarre landscape.

I also noticed large crystallized chunks of quartz in the soil covered sections. The quartz was beautiful and sparkly having just been cleaned by the rain.


On my way back down to the PCT I met a pair of Ravens who looked at me curiously. I gave them a couple of clicking noises and they responded with some enthusiastic head nods.


As I arrived back on the PCT I met the first thru hiker of the season resting on the side of the trail. I thought he might be a southbounder but he said he was northbound and just getting an early start so he could take his time. We chatted for a bit and he gave me two trail names, both of which I have now forgotten. (I have to write this shit down!) I headed on before him and told him I was sure we'd meet again, and we did as I was taking a break on a boulder. I looked down inside a crack and saw what I thought was a mandible. I was fiddling with my phone to take a photo of it when the Nobo arrived. "You don't have serivce out here do you?" he asked. I told him no, that I was just taking a photo and reached in to get the bones to show him. When I pulled it out I realized it was an intact skull of a squirrel. I told him I always find dead shit on my hikes and he said that was a good thing because it means there is live shit out here too. I like that. It kind of gave me a different perspective and something to think about for the rest of my hike.




I played tag with the Nobo for a while, finally leaving him to his thru just before the end of the trail. I headed out of Morena on my way home and stopped at the rest stop between the freeway off of boulder oaks road. When I arrived, the parking lot was relatively empty and I pulled into a random parking space to find a dime right next to my truck. I love finding dimes in weird places like this because my mom always said when you find a dime it's God's way of telling you you're on the right path. I feel like I'm on the right path again. It feels good.

All together it says I did 9.17 miles. That's a new record for me since the arthritis! I'm getting my legs back! Yay!

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