How I conquered the only potato chip that doesn’t make you fat!
Easily accessible from San Diego by car in less than 40 minutes, this hike is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, even if like me you do not have a lot of time to spare. It also has possibly the most satisfying summit picture of all (besides Everest!) if you can pluck up the courage to tip toe your way to the edge of the precariously placed and suitably titled “potato chip” rock.
I heard about this hiking trail and strange rock from a friend. I was curious to see exactly how this rock looked in real life, and also to test myself a little too. I have always been scared of heights, anything involving ledges or precarious floating balconies are my worst fears, and so this was perfect. I love to stay active too when I am down route wherever I am, so failing I didn’t make it onto the rock I at least will have enjoyed the hike.
I found some willing participants on my flight over to San Diego who were keen to come with me, so after a well deserved nights sleep after our 10 our flight we headed off at 6am, hoping to beat the heat. California suffered horrendous wildfires this year, so it was important to check if it was safe and that we were not walking in the peak heat of the day either.
Where we started the hike was from Lake Poway, which is roughly 35 minutes away in an Uber from the city center. It turned out our chatty driver was a keen hiker himself and explained that the biggest thing to look out for when hiking in California are snakes, and not to step over a rock unless you can see what is on the other side of it. I forgot to mention my second biggest fear; snakes.
The hike itself is easily mapped out. You follow the “Woodson Mountain Trail” signs and you can take an “easy” route or “difficult” route, we took the latter. Although steep it’s not the hardest, there is no climbing involved, just a lot of glute busting steps and not much flat terrain. As it was early, we were mostly surrounded by cloud, it wasn’t until we must have been around 3/4s of the way up that the fog started to clear, revealing to us the panoramic views of our surroundings.
The landscape was very different to anything I had seen before, mountains, with few trees and huge perfectly round grey boulders, which looked like they had been dropped from the sky scattered everywhere – very different to the rolling green hills of English countryside where I am from. Soon enough, we saw the tip of the potato peak through the clouds; complete with a couple of small children perched on the ledge. Surely if they could do it, I could.
We passed only a handful of people during our walk up in the 2 hours it took us to reach the Chip. When we arrived at the top there were around 10 people, taking photos and watching others climb on the potato chip. We didn’t mind waiting our turn to climb, as it was fun to watch other people’s reactions from below. My legs were also turning to a jelly like consistency; I’m not sure what from, the hike or my nerves.
I let my two crew members go first, happily playing the all-important role of the photographer. I gauged the safety of the rock by the visitors who I followed in the queue, 3 people all at once. I figured, if he rock were suddenly to break it would surely do it with the weight of three whole humans and not just me. So, when my turn came I decided to jump from its neighboring rock into the Chip, (you can either climb up a crevice between two rocks or jump onto it from the adjacent rock) I caught myself by surprise, I was not as scared as I had expected.
The ledge does feel very precarious and you absolutely would not want to fall off it, or for it to break either. Which I guess one day it most likely will with the weight of all the visitors it attracts. But luckily for me that day was not today. Whoever named this rock “The Potato Chip” was spot on, it is such a unique looking rock, which does look exactly like a crisp (the English name would not do it justice or sound as cool) The only way it must have come to be shaped like this is that the bottom of a part of huge round boulder cracked and the majority of the underneath fell away. Leaving the top layer left, almost like a nutshell. Either way, it’s a wonder how it came to be this way or how it has stayed like this for so long.
For our return walk the clouds completely cleared, showing us some of the views we had missed on the way up. With no cloud cover, the sun was strong, so we were pretty glad to not have been walking up at that time. We stopped at Lake Poway Concession for some snacks and a well-deserved break, to relax and take in the serenity of the lake before heading back to San Diego, all before 1pm.
- Go early – cheaper Ubers, less traffic means less travel time. Also there are less people hiking at this time, which means not so many people at the Potato chip too.
- Take plenty of water, I got through 2 litres but could have drank more!
- Make note of the last bathroom stop – you do not want to be looking for somewhere to go to the bathroom off the beaten track. I was mostly scared of stepping on snakes!
- Take snacks or stock up at the Concession, it’s very reasonably priced too.
- Wear sunscreen or a hat, the sun comes out of nowhere and it’s intense. I wore a hat, which I was thankful for because I sweated a lot!
- Watch out for snakes – don’t step onto ground you cannot see.
- Stop and look up – we saw some amazing birds of prey overhead, but when you’re watching your feet these can easily be missed.
Start: Lake Poway, Poway
Distance: Roughly 13kms/8 miles around trip.
Duration: 3.5-4 hours round trip
Cost: Free (Taxi/Uber fare $40 roughly each way to CBD)
Recommend/Go again: Yes, loved it.