Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve is a 1,700 acre county park that is a lot nicer than the name suggests. There’s nothing particularly hellish about a stream that still trickles even in the midst of a severe drought. In addition to the lovely riparian strip along Hellhole Creek, there are mountains to climb and vistas to view.
Distance: 9 Miles
Elevation Gained: 1,760′
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
So, hi there, 2014. Welcome to the fold. So far, you’ve been bone dry and much warmer than average. While I find this trend disturbing and disheartening, I still have high hopes for the year, even if it feels more like October than January. Those gripes aside, I’m looking forward to everything this year, whether it is wet, dry, or all of the above. One of the dangers about worrying over the state of the environment is that it becomes very easy to lose track of the moment. Regardless of what changes may be occurring, the world remains beautiful.
Today’s sojourn brought me to Hellhole Canyon in Valley Center. This canyon and tiny mountain range forms the south wall of Pala Valley, through which the San Luis Rey River drains nearby Palomar Mountain. The principal attractions of the preserve are the creek, which would be truly lovely during a wet year and is still lovely when bone dry, and Rodriguez and Paradise Mountain. Both peaks, which are bumps on the same formation, sit at just a hair over 3,000′, presenting a moderate challenge for most peak-baggers.
The morning started out cool and windy, but the late morning quickly became quite warm with temperatures reaching up to 75 degrees. There is very little shade on this trail. Sun protection and abundant water are essential. I brought 2.5 liters thinking it was overkill and I wound up drinking 2 liters of it.
|Toward Camp Pendleton with Catalina through the haze|
The climbing didn’t begin in earnest until about 2 miles in, but when it started, it kicked off with a vengeance. The trail covers about 1,000′ in a little over a mile, which makes for a really challenging stretch. From the summits, there are good views of the San Diego mountains, including all the usual suspects. There are far more intimate views of Palomar, which looms like a dark, conifer-studded wall to the north. The rest of the hike is much more moderate, save for the 300′ of gain climbing back out of Hellhole Canyon. If you do this hike, be sure to save some energy as this will likely be the hardest part of the trail.
One of the enjoyable aspects of this trail was my encounter with Tim, the caretaker at the Preserve. He spent a good amount of time explaining the trail and trail map to me to ensure that I don’t get lost and came adequately prepared. When he saw that I was not only prepared but had 20 lbs of gear on my back as I test out my new backpack, he seemed much reassured, and we spent a pleasant 10 minutes talking about past adventures. It’s extremely rare to find somebody so dedicated to creating a safe hiking experience, and I wish there were more folks like Tim out there.
January Mileage: 18.2