Hike to the summit of Kwaay Paay peak in Mission Trails Regional Park.

The 1194-foot mountain dubbed "Kwaay Paay" in Mission Trails Regional Park managed to escape the flames that swept through nearly half of the park's area in October 2003. The welcome if spotty precipitation we've received this season so far has been barely sufficient to trigger a minor floral display in the predominating chaparral and sage-scrub vegetation on the mountain's slopes. That colorful display alone is worth a climb of the mountain. So, too, is the view from the summit, which is terrific when the atmosphere is transparent and cloud-free, and at least instructive even when a soupy marine layer covers the region. Kwaay Paay and several other summits lying between Fortuna Mountain in the northwest and Cowles Mountain in the southeast are part of the same elongated granitic pluton (once-molten body of rock) that rose up over millions of years to form one of East County's most familiar skyline features.

Kwaay Paay's summit offers a unique vantage for tracing the lower San Diego River's course. In the east, you can see the river's willow-lined floodplain dividing the suburban tracts of Santee. In the west and southwest, the panorama hints of how the river's "mighty" flow during past geologic epochs apparently carved its way through almost a thousand vertical feet of granitic rock, producing the sheer walls of Mission Gorge.

A well-defined and rather steep old road/trail ascends Kwaay Paay's north ridge, starting from Mission Trails' east entrance gate on Father Junípero Serra Trail, 0.4 mile west of Mission Gorge Road in Santee. Another, side branch of this same trail starts just south of the parking lot at the Old Mission Dam. The main trail along the Kwaay Paay ridge rises and falls a bit before settling into a serious climb leading to the top.

There's not much to find in the way of comfortable sitting spots on the summit, but you can wander east over to the top of the rock outcrops overlooking Mission Gorge Road for lunch and a great view of Santee. There are rock outcrops on the west and south sides as well. Don't wander down to the outcrops on the west, where rock climbers commonly practice their craft; you might dislodge rocks that could roll and injure the climbers below.

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