“Hiking is NOT one of my superpowers,” I said to my three companions. But it was too late to turn back; we were more than halfway up on the Potato Chip Rock hike.
A week before, I had seen a photo taken at San Diego’s Potato Chip Rock – a sliver of stone hovering 2,800 feet over the ridge near the summit of Mt. Woodson, and I knew I had to get there.
Sure, when I was in my 20’s, I easily clambered up New Hampshire’s 6,148 foot Mt. Washington. Three different times, mind you. But that was several decades ago.
Comparatively, Mt. Woodson is only 2,800 feet in elevation. I did some quick math… Mt. Washington is 2.2 times higher than Mt. Woodson, and I’m approximately 2.2 times older than I was the last time I climbed it. Good to go!
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I convinced three of my San Diego buddies – Marie, Diana, and Rebecca – to join me.
“You do understand it’s four miles to the summit, all uphill, with no shade,” said Rebecca, more a statement than a question.
So much for my fuzzy math!
“Um, never mind,” I said. “I’m not in that great shape; I’ll never make it.”
“But don’t you want everyone to see your new Facebook profile hanging off Potato Chip Rock?” asked Diana? I hate it when my friends know me that well.
The Ascent to Potato Chip Rock
We arrived at Lake Poway Recreational Center at around 9 a.m. for the Potato Chip Rock hike. It was an off-season weekday, so there were few people around. The cool early morning mist clinging to the path was a welcome comrade. You could almost taste the dank vapor as the well-maintained sandy path wound around, providing stunning vistas of the southern shore of the lake.
We walked for about a mile, and while the hike is rated strenuous, so far, it was a piece of cake. The only trouble was a sign depicting a sketch of a mountain lion. It seems that mountain lions have been sighted in the chaparral. Good thing Rebecca had a walking stick.
As the lake disappeared from our rearview, the trail got narrow with lots of steep switchbacks along the boulder-strewn mountainside, and the altitude began to rise at a steady ascent.
The only person we encountered on the trail was a man who looked to be around 70 years old, not an ounce of fat on his lean biker short-clad body, jogging past us at a brisk pace. I mentally gave him a high-five.
The Photo Ops Along the Way
Attention-grabbing gigantic rock formations littered the trail, a few of which looked more like they belonged on the moon than earth. It seemed like a good time for a break, so with these great natural props, we let our imaginations run wild coming up with ideas for memorable photos.
Suddenly the sun broke through the fog adding two new dimensions to the hike: heat and thirst. September days can still be hot in San Diego, and this was one of them.
The trail is well-marked with signs that tell you how far to the summit, which you swear have to be wrong. I mean, how can a half-mile feel like three miles?
The trail turned from a dirt path to stones forming natural steps, higher and higher. Thigh-burning, killer cardio.
Multiple rest stops, water breaks, and more photo ops ensued.
If not for the photo ops, props and poses I had planned for the top, I would have abandoned the hike and turned back. But as if to encourage me on, spreading out before us were stunning panoramic views of Point Loma and Cuyamaca Peak.
Arriving at the Rock
Ahhhh, finally! We arrived at the pièce de résistance– the infamous Potato Chip Rock, just steps before the summit. Now we had two choices: jump over the crevice from the main boulder over to the thin “chip” protrusion, or…..scale up the side of the mammoth boulder searching out elusive fissures for hand and footholds. One entry is very, very scary, and the other is physically difficult. Like a gazelle, Marie effortlessly leaped over the gap; the rest of us climbed the stone with someone in back pushing our behinds and another near the top pulling our arms. It wasn’t pretty, but we got up.
We inched our way out to the edge of this boulder for a gravity-defying picture, each with our own signature pose.
Then came the group photos; Diana took out her iPod and we did a brief dance on the Chip, for YouTube, of course.
Finally, we donned our martial art Gi’s with black belts (full disclosure, mine was a pink belt!) for a unique photo that hands-down is our favorite, and was also met with applause by the small group who had now gathered to watch our cinematic spectacle.
The geographically diverse and scenic hike took us about 3.5 hours to go up, one hour at Potato Chip Rock for photo ops, and 1.5 hours down. Much to my surprise, the hike down was the worst part, pounding and jamming my middle-aged knees. At least we had more stunning vistas on the descent.
But it was worth all the huffing, puffing, and pain – we conquered the Potato Chip Rock hike!
On the way down, we encountered the same elderly jogger. He had passed us going up and then going down, at least five times during the day. Totally drained, I stopped dead in my tracks, put my hands on my hips and said, “Seriously?”
“This way I can eat as much ice cream and drink as much beer as I want,” he grinned.
I didn’t think anyone liked ice cream more than me, but apparently, I was wrong.
At long last, we exited the trail and sighted the parking lot across a grassy knoll.
“I think we should do this once a month,” said Marie as I collapsed into the car for the drive home.
Obviously, she doesn’t understand the meaning of “bucket list.”
If you have more time, check out these 101 things to do in San Diego!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.