A full moon approaches… Time for another night hike!
Hiking San Diego’s many spectacular trails is a fun activity year round. But hiking in the summer can be too hot to handle for a lot of people. The solution: hike at night. Even better: hike during a full moon.
Doing an early evening hike during the summer on a full moon is a great way to log some time on some of your favorite local trails while avoiding sunburn and overheating. Plus, it makes for an excellent social activity. Watching the sunset and the moonrise from the top of a mountain with friends over a picnic on a balmy summer night’s even is never a bad time. As many San Diegans know, September is the hottest month of the year – and technically, it’s still summer until the 21st. So don’t put those hiking shoes away yet!
This summer’s blue moon brought out many night-hikers to various parts of the county, from Cowles Mountain to Mount Woodson. The term ‘blue moon,’ by the way, has nothing to do with the color of the moon; it is when a month experiences a second full moon, which happens approximately every two to three years (hence the expression, “once in a blue moon,” meaning, not very often.) Blue moons are not associated with any particular season or holiday event, so there are no historical or cultural reasons to celebrate one necessarily. However, when one happens during the middle of the summer, an evening hike counts as a perfectly acceptable celebration. Of course, one does not have to wait for a blue moon to enjoy a full moon hike; there will still be a couple other full moons while San Diego’s stays relatively warm and clear during the evenings. And there’s a full moon in just a few days…
Iron Mountain, in northeastern San Diego County, is one of the most cherished local hikes and makes for a particularly good full moon jaunt. What makes it such a good evening hike is that it’s not a very technical hike and has extremely well maintained trails, making it easy to negotiate after dark with a small flashlight, even for the first-time night hikers. At no time does it require climbing on all fours or sliding on one’s heals to navigate over rocky outcroppings. The best time to start your hike is about an hour before sunset. Right now, that’s around 6:15 PM. This allows for plenty of western exposure so that one can almost always keep that gorgeous sunset in view while trekking upwards.
The path along the middle portion of the trail ducks behind various rolling, rocky hills and opens up to gorgeous vistas to the east. At sunset, warm light coats the granite boulders making them appear like so many giant nuggets of gold. Then on the latter part of the hike various switchback trails lead upwards to the summit and once again allow full exposure to the sunset to the west. Once at the top, find a big round rock or a picnic table, relax, and enjoy the view. If you time yourself right, you can arrive just in time to watch the last few deep orange rays of the sun as it turns into a blocky Aztec pyramid and dips below the Pacific. And just as the sun is setting, the moon is rising behind you, producing an altogether different, but just as beautiful quality of light.
While at the summit, the best thing to do is relax for a while, rehydrate, down a few bites of trail mix or whatever picnic food you and friends brought, and wait for the moon to do some climbing of its own. After twenty or so minutes, once the moon is sufficiently high above the horizon, you’re ready to hike back. Be sure to bring a headlamp or a small flashlight, of course. But once you reach the relatively flat path at the base of the hills, all you’ll need is that silver moonlight to guide you safely back to the parking lot.
As August and September tend to be San Diego’s hottest months, this coming weekend is the perfect time to plan a night hike and take advantage this month’s full moon on the 29th – and September 27th’s full moon is sure to be just as pleasant.