A Good Potato ChipPosted by Adventure 16 | 11.29.2014
Mt. Woodson to Potato Chip Rock 11/29/14
by Angela Shepler, A16 HR Manager
Seeking a change from our usual weekend trek up Iron Mountain, my hiking partner (Brenda McMullen, A16’s CFO) and I set out for a longer and more challenging hike up Mount Woodson to the famed Potato Chip Rock the weekend following Thanksgiving. I read dozens of online reviews to prepare myself for this feat, a few of which had me questioning whether or not I was really ready to take on this challenge. But in the spirit of true Adventure, plus a nudge or two from my ever-encouraging friend, I decided to be a big girl and just face it – and boy am I glad I did!
There are several trails that head up Mt. Woodson to Potato Chip Rock, but a friend of ours told us the best and most scenic way was to go via Lake Poway. Many of the reviews mentioned that we would need to purchase a parking pass at the ranger station, although in the early morning hours there were no rangers to be found. With no signs advising against the dangers of reckless un-permitted parking, we decided to risk it and parked in the rear lot near the restrooms. (We later found out that permits are not required in the off-season). The trail head was just a few feet beyond.
Our journey began at 7:10am and we could not have asked for a more beautiful day. It was quite chilly as we stepped onto the trail (in shorts and t-shirts!), but the immediate roller coaster of uphill-downhill slopes warmed us up quickly. The first mile of this beautiful stretch of land gave way to amazing and uninhibited views of Lake Poway – and then the real work began. Turning away from the lake, the trail took a sharp turn upward luring its hikers toward the solitude of this elusive mountainous escape. A quick break at the top of this uphill stretch provided extraordinary views of the valleys separating Old Poway from the newer housing developments that lined the edges of the opposing mountaintops. A few feet ahead we found the trail marker leading us toward this grand summit – just 2.9 miles to go!
The trail hosted a great variety of switchbacks and winding paths that were often lined with native brush and giant boulders whose posture seemed to defy natural gravity. The steepness and rocks in certain parts of the climb certainly packed their own challenge, but provided a truly enjoyable workout. The variety of the trail kept the adventure interesting as there seemed to always be another natural wonder around every corner. A little more than half way up the trail was a large tree surrounded by boulders where tired hikers could stop for a drink, rest, or just soak in the sun’s soothing rays. Nearing the top of the trail, the path opened up to a tree- and brush-lined walkway that looked as though it was laid out to welcome its victors. We could feel the sense of accomplishment and victory with every step forward. Suddenly, we caught a glimpse of the famed rock’s profile (named, of course, for its extremely thin potato-chip like appearance) in the background and were driven to reach the site of this unusual formation.
Potato Chip Rock’s popularity is certainly not a myth. We reached its summit around 8:15am and there was already a gathering of people patiently waiting their turn to scale the massive boulders and take their poses on the rock. Not huge fans, or even remotely faint lovers of heights, neither Brenda nor I were sure that this was our calling. We were mostly fascinated by how anyone could make their way up these enormous boulders and stand on a paper-thin slice of earth hovering so high above a rocky canyon beneath. No thanks, didn’t feel like dying that day. (Okay, perhaps a little dramatic . . .)
After meeting and chatting with some mountain bikers who were on their second run of the day, one of these kindly strangers convinced us that we’d come so far and that we needed to finish what we started. I’m not sure if it was adrenaline, a sense of adventure that has never welled up in me before, or just plain insanity, but I found myself agreeing that it was time for me to seize the moment. He even climbed up the first boulder in a very sleek and Spider Man kind of way, then helped us up. That, of course, was the easy part. The true test of faith and endurance came when it was time to leap across an eighteen inch gap from atop the first large boulder to the actual Potato Chip Rock. Making it out onto the rock was breathtaking and nerve-wrenching at the same time. Spectacular views as far as my eyes could see, but trembling legs made it feel as though an earthquake was brewing below (notice we didn’t get all the way out to the edge!) We took our photo and descended the rock with a quickness.
This was by far one of my favorite hikes – fairly close to home, good trail distance in a relatively short amount of time, challenging workout, and amazing scenery. The trail was exceptionally well-kept and in pristine shape, considering that it is so well traveled. Things to beware of: there is not a lot of cover on this trail, so be smart in the hot summer months. Dress appropriately, bring lots of water to keep hydrated, and wear sunblock. Dare to be adventurous and challenge yourself to scale Potato Chip Rock. If you’re too frightened (like I was) I wish you a kindly stranger to talk you into it and help you along the way. It’s terrifying, but definitely worth it - you made it all that way, reward yourself!