5-Peak Challenge San Diego adventure pairs perfectly with BNS Brewing’s Gatling Gun Imperial Stout

Words and photos by James Murren

Earn Your Beer 5-Peak Challenge

From North Fortuna trail looking towards South Fortuna trail, with Cowles Mountain in the distance.

The sun rose bright over the mountains to the east as I stepped out on the trail to the peak of Cowles Mountain in San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park. It was 6:50am and I was getting started on the 5-Peak Challenge: summit all five of the park’s peaks, taking as long as you want (a day or several) and any route you want, but no shortcuts, meaning you have to stay on official park trails.  My plan was to do them all in a day, totaling somewhere around 15 miles of hiking, with an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet.

The number (30+) of people coming down Cowles as I headed up at sunrise was inspiring.  Who were the pre-dawn people with headlamps and flashlights? Women and men of ages ranging from 20s-60s, from what I guessed, already summited and said “Hello” to the day.

Text to my wife, 7:18am:  “Cowles Peak.”

On past Cowles, the trail continued to Pyles Peak. I hiked at a fast pace, the backside of Cowles being shaded from the warming sun. My legs felt good and there were no hot spots between my feet and socks. When the trail turned up to the summit, it turned rocky. Chunks of stone and loose dirt characterized the earth’s surface.  At the summit, I snapped a selfie to document the second peak of the five and ate some food, drinking water along the way.

Text to my wife, 7:43am: “Pyles Peak.”

Way off in the distance, I could see Point Loma, where the Spanish entered what is today called San Diego, the city skyline visible in the morning light. The vast Pacific Ocean stretched on forever.

I scampered-ran-hiked back the way I came, seeing even more people on Cowles, which injected more energy into my being. A road runner darted across the trail.

Text, 8:39am: “Down. To next trail head.”

At the car, I ate a couple bites of a turkey sandwich and a handful of potato chips.  A few baby carrots and hummus rounded out the re-fueling station session. While driving to the next trailhead, I drank a bottle of electrolytes.

Text, 8:58am: “On trail. North and South Fortuna Peaks next.”

I knew this area really well, it being part of my weekly single speed route. The rolling and wide open grasslands were perfect for my legs, a break from the pounding of coming down the previous two peaks. Hiking up to the Fortuna Saddle in the shade, I was in my element, so to speak; I like steep trails.

At the junction, I turned right to summit North Fortuna. Thinking I was there, I false summited and then kept going to the true summit. Another selfie snapped, and back down I went.

Text, 9:50 am:  “North Summit.”

Text from my wife, 9:57am:  “Enjoy!”

At the saddle, I made a quick left and a quick right to get on over to South Fortuna. More chunky rocks and some stairs in the trail made for a labored hike. Eat and drink more, I told myself. At the peak, I did.

Text, 10:19am: “South Summit. Back down to next one.”

Going down, though, was starting to put a hurting on my quads. I knew I’d be feeling it for a few days.  Once again, I went back the way I came, except I decided to take Oak Canyon Trail to the grasslands. Late autumn brown leaves, with some gold flecks here and there, hung on the trees, pools of water reflecting the blue sky above from deep within the rock-walled mini canyon that has a seasonal stream.

I decided to jump right on to the Kwaay Paay Peak trail and not stop to eat the rest of my sandwich.  At only 1.2 miles up to the peak, I thought the food could wait.

The trail went straight up.  It was like an elevator to the sky, but requiring me to put one foot in front of the other if I was going to get there.  At one point, in a tight section with gulched-out trail, I heard:

“Professor Murren?”

I recognized one of my students, putting a big smile on my face.

“This trail is kicking my butt. Hardest of the 5 Peaks, but it’s my last one.”

“How long did it take you?”

“All morning.”

“You’re doing them in one day?”


We bade farewell and I went up.  At the top, I snapped some photos and the last selfie of the day.

Text, 11:40am: “Kwaay Paay Peak. Ran into student on way up. 5/5 peaks done. Down to car.”

Text, 12:03pm: “Off trail. Done!”

Text from my wife, 12:04pm: “Wow! That’s quick! Congrats!”

When I set out, barring any injury, I knew I could do the 5 peaks in a day, but I thought it would be around 2:00pm, at the earliest, when I’d finish. Sitting by the car and finishing my food and rehydration, I felt a true sense of accomplishment. It felt good to know that my body and mind could work together and have such a morning.

I felt content in the moment.

Earn Your Beer 5-Peak Challenge

The last of the five peaks and soon to call it a day after about 14 miles and 4,000 feet of hiking/climbing.

Later on in the evening, after supper, I sat down on the couch with a book and beer. The Captured by Scott Zesch was the read and Gatling Gun by BNS Brewing (Santee, CA) was the drink. The juxtaposition of the book’s content and the name of the beer were not lost on me.

A multiple award-winning 9% Imperial Stout, it poured a thick tan head into the glass. Deep dark brown/black color, like mangrove forest water, was its appearance, while words like “roasty nose, some chocolate, more coffee, malty, perhaps some raisins, super smooth, easy drinker for an Imperial Stout” summarized the initial tasting experience. I sipped on it while turning the pages.

As time passed and the pint warmed, it seemed that I got more of a hops presence, as it was bitterer on the tongue. By the time I reached the bottom of the glass and the end of a chapter, I was ready to catch some zzzzzzzz’s.

Official link to the 5-Peak Challenge: mtrp.org/5-peak-challenge.