Peak(s):  North Fortuna Mountain
Date Posted:  09/30/2020
Date Climbed:   09/12/2020
Author:  petal53run
 Hiking with California Military Chaparral   

Hiking with California Military Chaparral

When I was in San Diego helping my deployed sailor move, he made time for us to hike North Fortuna Mountain(1291ft) and didn’t get embarrassed because I got to the top first. This report is for my Son(TJ) who shares his world hiking & running adventures with me.

The state of California holds a central role in America’s military defense because of its valuable network of land, air and sea ranges. Used by 5 military branches, these installations have trained generations of service members for conflicts around the world and the US. NFortuna sits in the area once called Camp Elliot(1934-1944); a Marine Corps Training Center. The scruffy pointy vegetation, called CA chaparral, hilly terrain and unstable traction prepared thousands of officers and soldiers for combat zones; many who fought at Iwo Jima. Needing more space, diversified training facilities and the waters edge, the Marines moved to Camp Pendleton. The Navy became the new real estate owners until 1960. After that, the explosives & munitions ridden property was considered surplus land and the Army Corps of Engineers mobilized a cleanup. We weren’t hiking on danger as the trails circumvent the active sites. But just in case one happens upon a stray, instructional signs are posted.

Much of this open space was established as the Mission Trails Regional Park in 1974, the 6th largest municipally owned park in the US. It successfully meets its mission to provide the public wilderness, recreational and educational activities within a defined border. A prominent peak line consists of NFortuna & its 4 relatives. This centerpiece of the park is encouraged to be climbed and finishers earn a 5-Peak Challenge Tshirt for doing so. Imagine the size of the Tshirt for climbing all 53 peaks as recognized by With only presupper time to climb, we tackled NFortuna (346/385 elevation rank in SD). It was a target sighting point for soldiers that offered natural camouflage and solid rock footing.

We began at the Mission Trails Park Portobelo TH which was framed by eucalyptus trees(pic1). Out of treeline, the rockface of NFortuna stood clearly in front of us(pic2). The multi use coarse grained sandstone trail was wide and well defined. As we headed up a gentle incline, S of CA state highway52, we saw a deer (pic3). At the junction, we turned left to hike on the NFortuna Perimeter Trail(pic4). It began on naked packed dirt(pic5), but a loose rock frosting became the norm with intrusions of prickly pear(pic6-7) as the grade sharpened. Pic8 is of my son climbing up the erosional scarred trail, indicative throughout the park. SD averages 12” of rainfall a year (we each drank a whole camel pack). There were some cool & gnarly looking trunk remnants(pic9) along the way.

The signs were encouraging as the summit arrow leads to the stairs(pic10). Pic11 teases with the false summit. As the trail bends, its more steps(pic12) and the peak disappears. Had to snap a selfie(pic13). More encouragement (pic14), then the last hill trail goes vertical and finally, on the summit looking N(pic15-16). That’s the excitement of traveling; being wowed by new spectacular views and appreciating the beauty of the different ecosystems. Looking S over 52(pic17) is Mexico, the blue line. The world of subdivisions stretched west beyond the Visitors Center(pic18) to the Pacific ocean and the eastern US disappeared over the Laguna Mountains. I could see why this area was crucial to honing artillery skills. The summit was flat, rocky and full of vegetation and the downslopes were equally as congested with rugged sage & tangled chaparral. We high fived to celebrate and devoted a few minutes to pay homage to the hallowed ground.

We continued west(pic19) so we could complete the loop. It was a careful steep descent to the spot(pic20-21) where TJ had severely twisted his ankle and had to be air lifted(pic22) to the hospital. After a couple more rolling descents on loose rock(pic23), we passed through a boulder field(pic24), saluted a cairn(pic25), crossed a bridge(pic26), cautiously admired the prickly pears(pic27) and reconnected with the junction(pic28). Heading N to the Portobelo TH, the dusk sky was dotted with palm trees(pic29). As we walked through the young eucalyptus grove(pic30), I ooo&aahed at some native flowers(pic31-32-33) and the hike ended with a unique CA sunset(pic34).

In sum, this was a fun challenging hike. Scanning the hillside before leaving I could see the assets (weather, climate, terrain, no shade, open space) this area packaged as a critical staging ground for warfare preparations. I’m sure trainees would echo worse, but the loop is rated moderate-hard in difficulty. My 14er experience (climbed Hoosier Ridge before leaving for CA) would soften the score. But it was unbelievable to imagine soldiers marching up and down these slippery trails. The N perimeter loop followed 52 (noisy at first) and the trail crews made the hike exciting with different structures incorporated into the desert terrain. Add that to the rolling hills that steepened steadily and this loop becomes a mindful walk in the park. The temps were SD perfect, no wind and I was thrilled to share time with my Son. Pic 35 of us bicycling RAGBRI. It was worth driving 1100miles for this moment.

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Comments or Questions
interesting hike
09/30/2020 19:11
So awesome that you could spend time with your Son. Thank him for his service in the Navy.

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