San Diego Port Call | September 2019 | Hiking Lawson and Gaskill Peaks
Less than 3 weeks after my trip to Alaska, I had yet another opportunity to go meet Curtis, just a little further South than before. This trip started similarly to Alaska with going to the airport in the evening for a red-eye flight, except this time I was traveling with my good friend Celeste, whose boyfriend is on the same boat as Curtis. We both lucked out with having window seats on the plane with empty middle seats — I still didn’t sleep well on the overnight flight, but always appreciate a little personal space!
We landed at LAX just before 6, and our connecting flight left about an hour after that. It was raining in LA, but as soon as the plane rose above the clouds it revealed a beautiful bright sunrise and mountain peaks in the distance. The ride was short, and soon enough we were in San Diego.
Feeling tired after our long flight and anxious to see our guys, our first few hours in the city were a bit of a struggle. We struck out at picking up her rental car and attempting to check in at our hotels early, but the day instantly turned around when we found a place for brunch and mimosas. We finally heard from the guys that they had arrived in port, and eventually our hotels called to let us know they had rooms ready for us, so we went our separate ways for the rest of the trip.
Curtis had to stay with the boat for a few hours, so I took a short nap while waiting. He was finally released and we were happily reunited once again. We took it easy that first day, and walked to In-N-Out for dinner that night, then got snacks and hiking food at Vons and drinks at Bev Mo.
For our second day in San Diego, Curtis had duty so I was on my own. There’s not much to report since we opted to not get a rental car until after Curtis’ duty day, but I did walk to In-N-Out again. I should mention that the closest In-N-Out was 2 miles away, so each time we walked there was a 4 mile trip.
On day 3, I woke up early and walked to the airport (a pleasant 1 ½ miles basically along the harbor) and took a shuttle to the rental car center and got us a car for the day. I then drove back to the hotel and loaded up everything we’d need for a hike, then drove to the base to pick up Curtis. This was going to be our one day specifically focused on hiking. Curtis’ wishes were to find a hike that made him fall in love with the desert again (which he told me right after hiking in Alaska…because we are both very much in love with Alaska now). My only request was for a hike where we could be alone for the most part. Thankfully it was a Friday so we would avoid the busier weekend days, but we knew we’d have to drive a bit to find something more remote.
We were pretty overwhelmed by all the options we found on AllTrails, but after some discussion, we narrowed it down to a hike in Cleveland National Forest that was nearby and looked similar to Texas Canyon in Arizona.
After I picked up Curtis from the boat, we took the I-8 out of San Diego. We joked about how Arizona was only 150 miles away if we were up to it, but still got off our exit in Alpine and drove out through the Southern end of the National Forest through the Pine Hills. We got to the trail head to see only two other cars there, packed our bags with a lunch and snacks and started heading up the trail to Lawson and Gaskill Mountains.
It was an overcast day and the peaks were all in the clouds, which gave us some concerns as well as questions as to where exactly we were going, how high, and whether or not to expect rain. We believed ourselves to be well prepared though and continued up following an old forest service road through the chaparral. We were immediately struck by how nice it smelled and soon found the source to be what we think was either California Buckwheat, chamise, or a type of sage. The trail grade was also very pleasant and easy enough.
Soon, the sun and wind shifted the clouds and we began to make out the boulder strewn ridges and summits of this range as well as the Northern end of a lake (Barrett Lake) to the South. Soon we were up among the granite boulders (one of the reasons we had picked the hike in the first place) wandering around in the mist and cloud. We saw/heard another group of guys in front of us and saw them go off to the left. And then we saw it; Lawson Peak coming out of the clouds. Massive, shear faced, boulders easily two stories high with bus sized boulders strewn about. And there among it the group of 4 guys. Guess that was the way we were going.
I of course make it out to be more than it really was. The trail was readily apparent and some cross between a steep incline and a scramble with the occasional squeeze or climb between some boulders. That was until the actual summit. We came out of the scrub oak to see the summit block; a couple of boulders topping off the peak. Two of the guys in front of us pointed up behind them and intimated that was the way to go but that it was ‘tricky’. I stayed behind, but allowed Curtis to go ahead. Peak-bagging and all that. The views from the peak looked down on both sides of the ridge and out to the East. One of the others at the peak claimed he could see ‘the city’ but Curtis couldn’t see anything on account of the clouds. We couldn’t even see the neighboring peak and our next stop.
After navigating our way off the summit we continued following our track until the AllTrails app indicated that we should make a left turn onto the taller, yet less steep Gaskill Peak. It’s a good thing we had the app, because I don’t think either of us would have noticed the rock arrow off to the side of the trail pointing our way.
It was clear as soon as we stepped off the main trail that we were the first ones to break this trail this morning. All the Manzanita and Scrub Oak trees were damp with ‘cloud dew’ and soon our pant legs were soaked from brushing against the thigh high plants.
We pushed our way through the brush and up towards the peak. To our pleasure, before and behind us, the clouds started to break and we were treated with a good look of Lawson Peak. Before we knew it, we were at the top. Although Gaskill had a less steep approach than Lawson, it still had big boulders as the actual summit and Curtis went on to scale them and get another peak. (Both Lawson and Gaskill are on the ‘San Diego 100’ Peak list. Only 98 to go!)
We enjoyed the view, ate some lunch, took some photos, talked about the Desert and the PNW, and then called it a hike and started back to the car. The hike back was uneventful. We got lost once and the clouds filled in behind us, quickly obscuring the places we had already been.
We drove back to our hotel, and went out for Mexican food that night. We noted later how sore our arms were from all the rock scrambling and bouldering. Overall this hike was just what we wanted, and though we would’ve loved to do more hiking like this we can be satisfied with these two peaks, until next time! Check out our AllTrails recording of this hike here.