Lawson and Gaskill Peaks, near Alpine and Jamul, help define the serrated mountain skyline we San Diegans see on the sunrise side of our county. Atop either peak, on a clear winter or spring day, your gaze takes in miles and miles of undulating landscape, alternately clothed in dark-green chaparral and broken by countless outcrops of gleaming rock.
You can reach Lawson Peak most directly by way of the south segment of Carveacre Road. Ostensibly this is a dirt road, but actually it's more like a deeply rutted wide trail, best suited for hikers and expert mountain bikers. The start of the old road is precisely at mile-marker 13.0 along Lyons Valley Road, some three miles east of the intersection of Honey Springs Road and Skyline Truck Trail. Limited parking is available in two small turnouts on Lyons Valley Road.
After climbing somewhat tediously to a crest in two miles, you descend a little to meet another dirt road coming in from the left. Lawson Peak lies straight ahead, a massive heap of granite slabs.
The fun begins as you plunge ahead through low brush and over boulders toward Lawson's summit block -- taking care to alert any rattlesnakes that may have become active in the warm sunshine. Just below the summit on the far side (west side) is a near-vertical fissure with abundant hand- and footholds. At the top of this is a narrow rock cave. By groping 15 feet or so into the darkness in back of the cave, you'll find an opening above. By mantling up onto a ledge, you can reach a broad shelf with a view to the east, where Barrett Lake, a county reservoir, snuggles into a broad valley. Nearby is an easy route to the topmost boulders on the peak. From the pinnacle, if the air's sparkling clear, you'll see the ocean wrapping around a full quadrant of the horizon.
To reach the summit of Gaskill Peak, return to Carveacre Road and turn north. After 0.5 mile of road walking, you can find and follow an obscure path, on the left, up along Gaskill's south ridge. A short but tricky bit of rock climbing puts you on the summit. A large, flat expanse of granite, sheltered from the wind, lies near the summit -- a great spot for lunch.