Palomar Mountain Trail Run

Saturday I ran on Palomar Mountain. I've only been up there once before and that was on a bike. I remember a slow grind to the top, and a long wait for the pros to summit, then a long, spaghetti curved, white-knuckle descent to the bottom. Running the thing is a different story.

I camped at the top with my family, and the first night of camping is never a restful one. The kids were rolling around the tent with stomachs full of s'mores, and the novelty of sleeping on the ground was still fresh. It was a cold night, colder than the 40 degree weather forecast, and I didn't sleep all that well. I woke up at 5:20, 10 minutes before the alarm. I was already in my running clothes, so I just had to slip on my shoes, grab my pack and go. The transition from lying prone to shuffling, to a slow walk, to something resembling a jog was eased along by the beautiful trails and the soft, early sun firing through the trees.

I started at Doane Pond on the Thunder Spring Trail. It's starts as a single track through the pine forest, then opens up to a wide, rolling, pine needle-cushioned trail that climbs over fallen logs and switchbacks to the Chimney Flats Trail and then onto the Silver Crest Trail to the Silver Crest picnic area. At the edge of the picnic area there were some pines lined against a drop. The early morning view from here was breathtaking. The marine layer was thick and quilted stretching from the base of Palomar to Tijuana to the south, Catalina Island and LA to the north, and a cloud-covered Pacific to the west.

I passed a meadow on the way to the Boucher Lookout and noticed a deer, not fifteen feet away, staring at me as I ran. It was young, no horns and it ran alongside of me for a few yards, but long enough for me to notice that the grace of a wild animal running through a meadow needs a different word; we were both running, but there was no similarity in what the two of us were doing. The deer turned toward me as we ran, and I thought it might charge, but it sped up and crossed the road in front of me. There were four or five other young deer that ran alongside, but at a greater distance. At that point I loved running, I loved 5 AM and the fact that there was no one there to share this experience with, because I'm sure I would have ruined it by saying "that was freaking awesome" or something else equally dumb.

I then ran the six miles down Harrison Grade to the base of Palomar Mountain and the Pauma Valley. I dove into the marine layer cloud cover just as it was getting hot. I guess toward the bottom it hit me that I was feeling really good, light and fast on my feet, and that I had to turn around and run the 6 miles back to the top.

My love for running switched to a bi-polar hate at the bottom, as I turned around and looked at the peak, about 4 miles and 3,000 feet away. I struggled on the way up, taking turns power-hiking and jogging, watching the 3 hour estimate I gave my wife the night before come and go, and expecting an emergency vehicle to come roaring around the next turn at any moment. It turns out that I was only about ten minutes off my pace, so no dramatic rescue for me.

I made it back to the camp as the kids were heading out to the pond, fishing poles in tow. Later, we all went for a hike and my wife pointed out the trees to the kids, old trees with deep wrinkles and hundreds of branches, spread across the trail, and through the sky.

Early morning, into the pine forest
Chimney Flats Trail
Deer in the meadow
View from Harrison Grade
Boucher Trail
Harrison Grade
Profile


Running with deer


Boucher Lookout


Halfway down Harrison Grade

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