By Audrey F. Baker
If you are up for a short-distance, quick-elevation-gain hike that works the muscles, affords panoramic views of Mission Trails Regional Park and displays a broad sampling of the season’s flowering plants, consider Climber’s Loop Trail. Rated as difficult and moderately-trafficked, the 1.2-mile trek doubly serves as a gateway to the west-facing Kwaay Paay mountain rock climbing area.
Hiker be warned! This trail is a mélange of steep and narrow places and not suitable for the casual hiker. Sections are described as an “intense climb.” Some spots have a 30 percent-plus gradient. Be prepared to use all fours when traversing certain rock patterns or scrambling over the fair-sized boulders that form portions of the path.
Fortunately, amid this rugged terrain are break spots to catch your breath and take in scenic splendor that include eye-catching blooms and incredible vistas. You’ll want to take your camera along. Views of the Fortuna Mountain Ridge to the west are spectacular. You can visually track segments of the San Diego River traversing Mission Gorge and take in unique perspectives.
Just 1/3-mile from the Visitor Center, down the main road that runs through the park (Father Junipero Serra Trail), the southern trailhead for Climbers Loop is on the right side. Seventeen switchbacks characterize the zig-zag pattern of this challenging trail as it leads toward the towering vertical columns of Monzogranite (Adamellite) that dominate Kwaay Paay Mountain.
After the hairpin section, the trail turns left, transitioning into a lateral segment that passes under three rock climbing staging areas, dubbed Middle Earth, Limbo, and Main Wall. Here, rock climbing enthusiasts with proper safety gear prepare for their ascent. If your timing is right, there’s the added bonus of watching the rock climbers do their thing.
Your route reaches a crest of 407-foot elevation at Main Wall, then begins your descent. Going “downtown” will be somewhat easier as you face nine less angular switchbacks before arriving at the North Trail Head, just a 0.21-mile from your ascent point.
Here’s a sampling of the botanical wonders seen along Climber’s Loop Trail.
Lilies abound. The lavender-hued Splendid Mariposa Lily (Calochortus splendens), rises up to two feet to find its place in the sun and beckons a look into its deep bell-shaped flower bowl. There you’ll find an intricate pattern formed by dark anthers and feathery glands. The brown fringed and freckled Weed Mariposa Lily is another coastal mountain beauty. It intrigues with candy yellow petals.
The area is flush with flat-topped clusters of taxi-yellow Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum). Also contributing to the “yellow fever of bloom” are the California and the San Diego Sunflower.
Interspersed is Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta). This little trickster defends itself with a hairy stem and thread-like leaves.
A hemiparasite, it takes some nutrients from the roots of other plants, commonly native grasses.
Look for its purple-red flowers, reminiscent of clover, forming a dense spike atop of the plant’s branches. Chalcedon Checkerspot butterflies may lead your eye straight to it.
Enticing Heart-Leaved Penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia), the renown hummingbird attractant, is well adapted for its role in nature.
With a six-month bloom period, the wide-mouthed narrow tubular flowers broadcast siren-like colors from orange to deep scarlet and droop at a comfortable angle, creating hummer heaven. With no landing platform and only weak nectar guides, most insects discretely bypass its offerings.
Growing on rocky slopes, slabs and boulder facings where adequate soil has accumulated in crevices, Lady Fingers (Dudleya edulis) agilely performs its own balancing act, and symbolizes the hard-scrabble life of this edgy chaparral terrain. The graceful succulent features light green, pencil-thin, Medusa-like leaves.
Blooming into July, its branching terminal clusters bear up to 10 or more pointed white flowers with yellow-green centers tinged in deep pink. As summer progresses, the fingertips turn orange or red.
The bountiful flowerings of chaparral-defining Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) are begging for attention. Expect to see blooms through June. A neighboring shrub, Spiny Redberry (Rhamnus crocea) wows with delightfully small bright red berries drooped against miniature leaves on spiked branches.
The list goes on. It’s all part of the grand experience, enjoying nature’s offerings.
—Audrey F. Baker is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park. Check the MTRP events calendar published here or at mtrp.org or call 619-668-3281 for more information on the park’s free trail guide-led nature walks and opportunities to learn more about natural Southern California. Special walks can be arranged for any club, group, business or school by contacting Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-2746 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVENTS AT MISSION TRAILS PARK
May 20 – Guided Bird Walk, 8 a.m. (KLC); Explore Mission Trails Day, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. (EFSA); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC); Guided Twilight Walk, 7 p.m. (KLC); Star Party, 7:30–10 p.m. (KLC)
May 21 – Guided Nature Walk, 8 a.m. (WS); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
May 24 – Fortuna Trail Restoration Crew, 9 a.m. (WF); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
May 26 – Stars at West Sycamore, 7 p.m. (WS)
May 27 – Guided Nature Walk, 8:30 a.m. (KLC); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC); Birding Basics Class, 1 p.m. (VC)
May 28 – Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC); Family Discovery Walk, 3 p.m. (VC)
May 31 – Fortuna Trail Restoration Crew, 9 a.m. (WF); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
June 3 – Wildlife Tracking Walk, 8:30 a.m. (VC); Mountain Bike Confident, 9 a.m. (WF); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
June 4 – Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
June 7 – Fortuna Trail Restoration Crew, 9 a.m. (WF); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
June 9 – Stars at Mission Trails, 8 p.m. (KLC)
June 10 – Habitat Restoration Crew, 8 a.m. (KLC); Guided Nature Walk, 8:30 a.m. (KLC); Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC); Discovery Table, 10 a.m. (VC)
June 11 – Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC); San Diego Native American Flute Circle, 1 p.m. (VC)
June 14 – Guided Nature Walk, 9:30 a.m. (VC)
Have fun at Mission Trails – All activities are FREE!
VC = Visitor Center; KLC = Kumeyaay Lake Campground; EFSA = East
Fortuna Staging Area; OMD = Old Mission Dam; WF = West Fortuna 92124;
WS = West Sycamore, east end of Stonebridge Parkway 92131