Black Mountain

Santa Ysabel Road – Black Mountain Truck Trail

Distance: 14.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3100′
Difficulty: Strenuous
Time: 4:50
Critters: A bobcat, a flock of quail, hawks, a momma duck protecting her nest, squirrels

Pros:
– Unique views of east San Diego County mountains, including Palomar, Volcan, Cuyamaca, Woodson, and Hot Springs Mountain.
– Great early spring wildflower display
– gentle incline for much of the way makes the hike less strenuous than it could be

Cons:
– Heavy sun exposure. Not recommended for a warm or hot day

Details:

The Black Mountain that looms over the rural town of Ramona is one of two Black Mountains in San Diego county. The second, in Rancho Penasquitos, is a much smaller hill that requires far less effort but is much more easily accessible. The Black Mountain that I climbed today is a 4,051 foot peak that sits fifteen miles south of Palomar Mountain. This Black Mountain is much more formidable than the latter, although it is not as difficult a hike as its dimensions suggest.

This mountain gave me a good lesson in expectations. I have found many times that my enjoyment of a hike often hinges upon my expectations and biases toward the experience before I even attempt it. For instance, my expectation of the Boney Mountain hike during the past week were fueled by years of experience in climbing it. I knew that mountain from many different angles, and I had only one side of it left to explore. The knowledge therefore created the expectation that this would be a semi-seminal hike that would be the definitive Boney Mountain experience. It lived up to the expectation not just because it was a great hike, but because I expected it to.

Likewise, I have a bias towards hikes in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains. The bias, since I know the Santa Monicas so well and because the San Gabriels are an accessible substitute for the Sierras, is that all hiking in Los Angeles county is superior to what can be found in San Diego county. San Diego county features far more expansive views, but the vegetation, which I have an ever-deepening love for, is not nearly as interesting. For instanc, there are no valley oaks in San Diego. The nearest equivalent, the Engelmann, is a fine tree, but it will never match the valley oak, which is the largest of all oak trees. It’s easy to fall in love with the superlatives and diminish everything else by comparison.

However, I do myself a disservice by falling into those twin traps of bias and expectation. Anytime I approach a hike in San Diego with either a latent or overt expectation based on an unfavorable comparison, I inevitably fail to enjoy it as much as I could. Palomar Mountain is not as exciting as Mt. Wilson. Daley Ranch is not as lovely and Malibu Creek. Penasquitos Canyon isn’t as beautiful as Santa Anita Canyon.

Really, this isn’t any different than saying that ones new friends aren’t as kind as the old friends, or this enchilada isn’t as good as that. It’s natural to rely on comparisons to frame our experience of a thing. However, in doing so, it becomes impossible to experience something on its own merits.

Now, the hike. I almost didn’t make it to this hike. In fact, I almost turned around before I even got onto the freeway. It was 5:3 am. It was sprinkling. I was tired. I had already been driving so much recently for school. I could have crawled back into bed with Kelly and slept all morning. Beyond all that though, I simply wasn’t looking forward to Black Mountain. I expected it would be another mountain with some nice views, a lot of shrubs, and too much sun. I almost even turned off for Daley Ranch, thinking I could still get the mileage in without having to work as hard.

Somewhere on the drive though, I kicked my lazy ass in to gear and decided I was climbing the mountain one way or the other. And, to my delight, I really enjoyed the hike. Sure, it doesn’t feature anything remarkable in terms of vegetation. There are some Engelmann oaks, many of which are burnt out from a recent fire – it’s still amazing to see how well oaks recover from fires though. And yes, it’s mostly scrub chaparral. However, the bloom is in full swing here, and many of the flowers are absolutely gorgeous and completely different from what I would see in the Santa Monicas.

And above all else, I saw a bobcat, which is just fricking cool.

Ultimately, there is no need to draw on expectations and biases here because I enjoyed Black Mountain in its own right. I enjoyed the cold breeze and the snow on the highest elevations. I enjoyed the ever expanding views, and the revelation of the Volcans and Cuyamacas once I summitted. I enjoyed the long, winding, well-maintained fire road that never taxed me too much, but still gave me a great cardio workout. I enjoyed the sunshine. I enjoyed the amazing smells that accompanied every mile of the hike. There isn’t a lot that smells better than wet chaparral drying in the early morning sun. I enjoyed way the chaparral transitions from scrubs to manzanita to sparse oak woodland to planted Coulter pines. In short, I just enjoyed an experience without letting other thoughts dampen everything.

Ultimately, expectations and biases do very little for our enjoyment. I’m finding it is best to simply take each situation/hike/moment as it comes to learn to enjoy (or not enjoy) it based on its own merits. There’s a way to make everything lesser or greater through comparison or expectation, but that process distorts what we’re really seeing and experiencing. Everything can be beautiful in its own right if given a fair, unbiased chance. Whether Black Mountain is remarkable or simply another hill in East County, it taught me a lesson about expectations that I hope I don’t soon forget.

March: 25.6 Miles
Year-to-Date:  272.3 Miles

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