…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush. We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse. Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.
The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area. The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest. I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home. Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains. Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks. With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.
Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county. Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side. The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo. It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border. We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface. It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence. Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV. Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border. We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes. The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.
The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook. There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors. Like many trails, this one was diverse. Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can. “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way. Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub. Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water. We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county. Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction. Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail. To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps. Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective. The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent. Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike. My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill, steadily traversed the path. I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.
The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction. The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau. Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below. We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch. The view was amazing. So this was Corte Madera! The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north. It was getting late as the days were getting short. I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left. We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain. We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.
They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish. There were four of them, two with guns drawn. Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands. In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.
I recommend these hiking poles. They are lightweight and fairly sturdy. Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue
We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case