Penny Pines Trailhead to PCT to Big Laguna Trail loop
(11 miles, +1,200/-1,200 feet).
My buddy MixMaster and I were going to do an overnight backpack but life intervened, and in retrospect I am really glad it did. We decided instead to head up to Mount Laguna where back-to-back winter storms dumped over a foot of snow on this rare high elevation part of San Diego County (some parts are over 6,000 feet above sea level).
Ordinarily this loop is not my favorite. It’s pretty easy and can be crowded. But winter kept the crowds away (they were busy sledding in other recreation areas) and the snow—oh my god, the snow—was spectacular! I would easily put today in my top 10 hikes for 2016.
MixMaster and I arrived at the Penny Pines Trailhead just before daybreak.
It was 32 degrees and calm—a bit chilly at first, but absolutely perfect hiking weather after about 10 minutes of warm-up.
The first few miles of the hike we were heading south on the PCT and had amazing snow-contrasting views to the east across the Anza-Borrego desert.
We ducked in and out of side canyons where the air was still brisk from a clear starry night.
Soon we entered the pine forest that sits just below 6,000 feet and found our way to the Big Laguna Trail which would lead us away from the desert precipice towards deeper snow.
Although the first bit of the trail near the road was well worn with footprints, they petered out quickly, leaving us with fresh deep snow on the trail. In some parts we postholed up to our knees!
As we neared Penny Pines around 11am, we encountered other hikers. The snow was starting to turn slushy, and we were happy (as usual) that we had started early.