Winter is a wonderful time of year in San Diego where you can jump in the ocean in the morning and be hiking in the snow in the afternoon, but that also presents some unique issues as well. San Diego county’s proximity to the backcountry means that we need to be prepared to step outside our bubbles and think ahead to make sure we can enjoy our trips. Like we say, “survival starts at home”.
This week’s blog we are going to discuss some strategies for snow play and winter travel in San Diego and more to the point snow play and travel to Mt Laguna. Mt Laguna’s recreation area is a part of the Cleveland National Forrest and is the Descanso Ranger District. When the snow hits the ground, this is where it is at. With monument Peak at 6271 feet this is some of the highest terrain in the country and with the ability to egress via the highway 8 to the sunrise highway or from the 79 to sunrise it is a super popular spot for local residents. So, in short it gets packed and it gets stupid really quick.
How do we help curtail that and make sure we are a part of the solution and not the problem? First be cool calm and considerate. We are guests in these communities, and we need to remember that people live and work here. Then take a deep breath because a lot of people up there probably didn’t read this post.
PREPERATION: Yes, we can wear shorts and tee shirts year-round, don’t do that up there. Make sure you have the right clothing for the weather. Check the weather see if it has snowed recently, what are the winds, is it raining? All of this stuff can happen in an afternoon and the weather can change on a dime up there, be prepared. Avoid cotton and try to dress in layers with a wicking, warming and windbreaking layer. Don’t forget a hat like a beanie, waterproof shoes or boots and wool or synthetic socks (bring extra too, trust me). Gaiters are also nice to have especially if you are playing off trail.
Fill up your car in Ramona or Alpine those are some of the more affordable places before you start to feel the “mountain tax” for gas. Also, there are not that many gas stations up there they are not always open like down the hill and they have ran out of gas on a busy weekend. For your car and this is a very foreign concept for us but from time to time chains are required, that’s not a suggestion when the sign is up. Plus, Chins can get you out of trouble there have been times that areas I have parked in where very difficult to get out of, chains save.
Food, yes there are places to eat and if you can you should always make an effort to support the local business, that being said… if the restaurant has ten tables and one hundred people want to eat be prepared to wait. I suggest packing snacks and drinks so worst-case scenario you can have a picnic at any of the awesome spots up there or in your car depending on the weather.
Another thing we all need to consider is even when full during the summer the recreation area doesn’t get as packed as a crazy snow day. What that means ions consider the communities infrastructure. Pack it In Pack it Out is an awesome way to do your part, since one of the most frustrating things we see is a full trash can with trash stacked around it, this isn’t an amusement park and the wind spreads it all over the place. Taking your trash home and maybe a little extra really helps out.
Adventure passes, so upside you don’t need it to park everywhere in the forest, just the good parts. Basically, my rule of thumb is if it has a parking lot, bathrooms, trashcans and water expect to need one. But here is the cool part you already have one because you read this in the preparation section so you totally avoided the lines try to get one if the store is open and you rolled into the nice parking spot (none of this guaranteed, but it increases your odds).
ENJOYING THE MOUNTAIN: Once you arrive especially if you get there a little later you will see what a zoo it becomes up there when the snow hits. My number one suggestion is take a deep breath and go with it. Remember there are a lot of unprepared excited people trying to enjoy the snow and it can get frustrating. Take it slow, we are coming from out awesome SoCal roads and heading into the mountains, we know how the 15 can get in a drizzle so imagine how this is going to go. Drive slowly and be aware even when they are regularly plowing the roads they don’t salt them and there are many ice patches in the turns that stay shady. There will be a lot of newbies that pull over at the first sight of snow and park on the already nonexistent shoulders. MOST IMPORTANTLY, be on the lookout for kids and adults that are just not paying any attention, doors fly open kids jump out pets are running around, please be mindful.
Speaking of being mindful, remember this is somebodies home too, there are many people who live up there and a lot of private property. Trespassing is a major issue up there and while I don’t think anyone is being malicious a lot of property damage gets done every year and tons (literally) of trash get left behind. There is plenty of public places to enjoy, do a little research and avoid making a grumpy interaction with a local.
Remember like I said in the preparation section, there is a community up there but the resources get tested. We are used to tons of places to eat and 24 hour service, this is not the case up there. I would suggest checking websites for times and menus as they will change with the weather and amount of people. Make every effort to enjoy the local shops and restaurants but also please don’t “camp out” at them nursing your water and lemon, haha. One strategy I use is actually staying up there and camping, now hear me out. I have a base of operations, food bathrooms and a warm fire. The upside of staying up there is you avoid the day commuter traffic and are early in and early out. If you are not equipped to winter camp we can definitely help you out there but if it’s still not your thing check out the motels, lodges and Air B&Bs in the area, you will get a kick out of the peace and quiet once the sun goes down.
LEAVING: This is the magical part of the day when you are ready to roll back down… If you are not staying the night and leaving early in the morning plan on getting an early start on going home before everyone hits the wall and it stops being fun. Usually an hour or two before sunset the exodus begins, usually with the idea of grabbing some pie in Julian, that is problematic. You are not the only one who wants pie, there are stop signs and a 25-mph zone in Julian. On a busy day it has taken me two and a half hours to get back to Ramona. For your sanity consider going south down to the 8 and back to San Diego, plus if you are hungry there is a bunch of great places to eat in Pine Valley and Alpine.
I know this is one of my more long winded blogs but if you learn from my experience there is a chance to enjoy your trip even more and help out the local communities that share such an amazing place with us.