Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and Lake Poway

Distance: 7.6 Miles
Elevation Gained: 1,300′
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time: 2:45
Critters: None
– Sunset in August is a brilliant thing
– Heat in August sucks huevos
So, last month, I actually failed to reach 100 miles of hiking for a month for the first time all year. Granted, I hiked 99.7 miles, which is hardly a cop-out. Yet, I looked at why, and I realized that I hadn’t been as excited about hiking as I had been. Sure, I had taken some great hikes in new places: Montana, Yellowstone, Baden-Powell in the Angeles NF. However, everything else was a tried and true standby, and all of those have become boring, quite frankly.

Part of the problem is that hiking in the summer is actually really difficult unless you have a cabin in the Sierras somewhere. It’s hot, the vegetation is dead or dying, and they don’t call August the dog days for nothing. It’s times like this when you can really hit a mental wall in which you start giving in to the temptation to stay at home at fart around on the internet in your air-conditioned apartment.

The solution is to seek out the things that make the time, place, and situation special. Hiking in August is murder during the daytime. There are few redeeming factors: no flowers, no breeze, no shade, no loveliness. Just unrelenting heat and sun. However, a hike during sunset hours, which happen to be particularly beautiful in August, is just the ticket. The humidity creates clouds and atmosphere, which gives the sun something to refract against, and, suddenly, you have light that makes the rest of the year ache with envy.

I also chose to tackle some new hikes that I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen had it not been for boredom. I have a list that details all the things I want to accomplish this year. Some things aren’t possible this time of year, but many of them are possible so long as I tackle them the proper way.

In that spirit, I went to Blue Sky Ecological Reserve the other night. I went there to try a new place and see what it was all about. Blue Sky is part of a network of trails in Poway that includes Blue Sky, Lake Poway, Mt. Woodson, Iron Mountain, and Lake Ramona. It protects a stretch of canyon left over from the creation of two dams blocking the streams that fed the canyon. Within the canyon is a long stretch of the classic, typical, albeit finely realized California Riparian ecosystem: oaks, sycamores, and willows thriving along a seasonal creek.

My goal was to hike through Blue Sky, up to Lake Poway, and then join the Mt. Woodson Trail. Wednesday night was also a full moon night, and I thought it would be interesting to summit Mt. Woodson and walk down through the boulder wilderness underneath the full moonlight.

However, I overestimated my ability to hike in the heat, and, even though it was 5:00pm, I still found myself laboring and sweating intensively. I overheat easily, which is part of the reason I should try to avoid too much hiking during warm weather. I decided to abandon the notion of summiting, coupled with the reality that the parking lots lock up at sunset. It simply wasn’t worth having my car locked into a lot to scale a peak in the darkness.

Instead, I climbed up to Lake Poway after crossing through the canyons at Blue Sky, and I followed the Woodson Trail about a third of the way up. All along, I had great views of San Diego, including some sights of the hot air balloons rising up over Del Mar, Mission Gorge and Miramar to the south, the beach, shimmering in the setting sun, to the west, and the granite ribbed hump of El Capitan Mountain to the east. And throughout all of that, I had spectacularly good light.

The sun set rapidly as I was making my way back, and I enjoyed the return trip through Blue Sky Canyon in the dark. Everything changes dramatically at night. Noises you would otherwise ignore cause your already heightened nerves to race a little bit. A rabbit crossing the trail will make you jump. A jogger coming up behind you will scare the bejesus out of you. And yet, the sounds of insects singing in the darkness, and the gloom through which oak trees brood is every bit as magical as any other setting and situation I’ve seen this year.

I have to resolve to do more sunset hiking while the weather is still hot. Most of summer is bad for hiking, but those hours before and after sunset are absolutely stunning.

August: 11.1 Miles
Year-to-Date: 862.2 Miles

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