El Cajon Mountain South Arete

El Cajon mountain located a few miles east of the city of El Cajon. It is often seen but rarely climbed because of its tricky routes. Some unprepared people have been seriously injured on some of the routes. It is also called El Capitan because of the resemblance of its sheer rock faces to El Capitan in Yosemite.
A light dusting of snow may cover to very top of the 3,675 ft  (1,120 m) mountain once or twice a year. There are over 20 routes up the mountain. The most popular two are the class 1 trail on the north side of the mountain. People looking for more adventure should try the South Arete.
South Arete
Length: 3.18 miles one way, 6.32 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 3,145 feet
Difficulty: scramble, requires route finding skills, a rope may be needed for those uncomfortable of heights, rated class 3 with some class 4 sections on the Yosemite Decimal System
Time required (One Way): 3-5 hours for very fit groups, people usually take 6-9 hours, recommend starting in the morning around 7-8am, the elevation gain and the time to hike this route may make it seem like you are hiking 15 miles instead of 6
Location:Drive to El Monte County park. Address: 15805 El Monte Road Lakeside, CA 92040. From the park, drive southeast on El Monte Rd. After 1.5 miles on El Monte Road, there will be several dirt areas on the side of the road. Park in these areas. There will be no trail-head indications or information kiosks in the area. You will see several small trails on the side of the road facing the mountain. It does not matter which one you go on. Just cross the river. 
Route description: (If you want some mystery and route finding in your hike, than don't read this). The part where the trail starts may be hard to find. About 200 feet in, you will find a small creek. At times the creek may overflow and you will have to wade across knee deep mud. This usually happens within a week after a storm. Once across the creek there will be 10-20 foot cliffs ahead. Scramble over the cliffs and walk towards the mountain. There is a little trail but it has been increasingly hard to find year after year. Just keep walking towards the mountain. You will eventually come across a wide dirt truck trail in about a 0.3 miles. Turn left at the trail and walk about 0.4 miles past 2 abandoned rock mines until you see a smaller trail in front of you that suddenly rises steeply upwards. The trail will end in about a quarter mile. Keep following the ridge upwards. You will soon see a rock with the words "Lunch Rock" spray painted on it if you are going the right direction. From Lunch Rock, go another quarter mile until you are in an area where you are standing on the edge of a 1,000ft drop (which is on your right) and there are several large boulders stacked up on each other if you are facing the top of the mountain. Turn left at this point, and you should see an oak tree against the cliffs. This tree, commonly referred to "left turn tree" is very easily missed. Keep going in the left direction you just turned. The tree stands on some rocks. You may have to bushwhack to get off them. There should now be a small indentation of a footpath going along the side of the mountain perpendicular to the ridge now behind you. This area is very grassy and can be dangerous in snake season. At the end of the footpath (about 400 ft), you will know you are going in the right direction if there is a slab of rock in front of you that you will have to scramble up. This slab is about 6 feet high. After the slab, turn right and walk up the gently sloping mountain slope. This area is simply known as "the shoulder" You should at first be walking in a small gully and gradually rising up over it. Keep following the gully while facing the top of the mountain. Halfway along the shoulder right near the top of the gully, there should be a slab of rock known as "waterfall rock" about 8 feet high that is hugging the hillside and seems to be flowing down the mountain. This rock is very slippery. Scramble up the dirt area on the left side of the rock. Eventually you will come out on top of the ridge onto a little flat area. You should also see to your left about a quarter mile away a huge slab of rock about 50 feet high and over 1000 feet wide that seems to be sliding down the mountain. This rock is known as "window rock", and will give off a large echo when someone screams. Once at this area, keep going up along the ridge. There is a lot of bushwhacking and scrambling  involved. You may come across a crack between two boulders you can squeeze across known as "two rock divide." Once the ridge ends you will find yourself staring at a huge 400ft seemingly wall of rocks, known as "South Arete wall". This is the most difficult part of the climb. There is no description of a route up the wall. You will just have to find your own way to navigate up. The difficulty of this area is class 3. Heres a tip for the wall: STAY LEFT. On the right side of the wall there is a 2,500ft drop you will not see until its too late. Some people have even painted arrows on rocks to mislead you to this drop. Ignore any arrows you see. do NOT attempt to climb the wall when is is foggy unless you know the mountain very well or has someone that does. Once you reach the top of the wall you will find yourself on a big plateau with cliffs on all sides. This is not the summit. You will be standing on top of South Ridge Peak (2,990 feet), but the hard part is over. Walk about 500 feet left and you will find yourself looking at an amazing view of the sheer cliffs of the mountain. The true summit should come into view. Walk through the brush facing the true summit and you should come across a trail. Follow the trail for 1.15 miles until you come across a junction. Turn left and walk half a mile to the summit. Be sure to know your limitations and when to turn back. Being anywhere between South Ridge Peak and Lunch rock after dark is very dangerous.   
Best Time Late November through parts of March are good times to hike. Rattlesnakes are commonly hidden inside thick brush and rocks in summer. March through mid May are good times to photograph because of the fields surrounding the mountain turning lush and green. At the trailhead, temperatures range from 45 to 77 degrees in winter and 60 to 105 degrees in summer. At the summit, temperatures range from 32 to 70 degrees in winter and 52 to 96 degrees in summer.
Maps and Photos
South Arete Photos
South Arete Route Diagrams 
More Information
Weather forecast
LIVE webcam from the city of Santee (3 miles from El Cajon)