Hiked: January 12, 2020
Summit: 1,700 feet
Distance: 3.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,037 feet
Round Trip Time: 2 hrs 59 mins
One of the uncertainties around Split Mountain West was the road to the start of the hike at Oyster Shell Wash. At worst, we could hike in from where we parked for Split Mountain East, but that would add another mile or so of distance. I had seen a Jeep come out of the route we needed to take, so that was a good sign. With our lunch break over, we set off. Fairly soon, we encountered some imposing rocks, but with some care, we traversed them without an issue. As we neared our destination, one more section took a bit of attention.
We actually missed the entrance to the wash that most tracks tend to start with. We found another entrance to a wash, along with a nice parking spot, so we decided to stop here and scout out our options. Keith Winston has just hiked this, and this was the track Susie was using as her reference. I had Greg Gerlach’s track on my device. After some discussion and reviewing our topo map, we opted to follow Keith’s route. We headed up this wash for a bit, then knew we needed to hop over the ridge to get into the Oyster Shell Wash. Part of the decision was this route also appeared to save about another mile off the full journey. After summiting Split Mountain East earlier in the day, there was no argument from our legs.
The climb took a little care between the grade and its rocky nature. Once on the ridge, we cruised along before finally committing to dropping down into the wash. We left a cairn for ourselves to denote our exit point upon our return.
We began working our way up the wash. It is in this first section that we would encounter the dry waterfalls mentioned by others. Several had pools of water at their base. I opted not to attempt a couple of them and went up and around them. I was feeling a bit beat after getting through this initial section, but a few minutes in the shade relaxing was just what I needed. Never underestimate what even a short break can do.
Soon, the wash would open up some, and the journey became easier. I scanned the sediment walls trying to spot any fossils, but no luck. Regardless, the scenery was so relaxing. With the summit drawing near, we began to look for the best route toward the finish.
Much like the climb near the start of this hike, we had another one up out of the wash. We were not looking forward to the descents down these slopes. But soon our efforts paid off and the summit was in sight. Like Split Mountain East, it just held a register can. The views were not as pleasant as our earlier peak, but we all agreed the adventure up the wash more than offset it. After snapping some photos and a nice snack we headed back down. We did look over at a peak denoted as Split Mountain West-Southeast Peak, which some had erroneously summited. While it reportedly holds a register, none of us liked the route over.
We had made good time to the summit, so I knew we should not have any issues with our descent or the drive out. Matt and Susie again cruised ahead, checking in on pokey me from time to time. You certainly were not going to get lost on this hike. It is also nice to have an understood relationship with your hiking companions. They are both much faster hikers than me, but are aware and know when to pause to sync up with me. In some ways, I get the best of both worlds, semi-solo hiking with the safety of hiking partners.
Upon our return, I opted to only bypass one of the dry waterfalls that I bypassed earlier. I did not trust myself to attempt the route on one of them. Before too long, we reached our exit marker. We did discuss if we want to continue down the wash and then backtrack to the car, or hop over the ridge. The shorter route won. We each picked a different route down to the other wash, in part as not to worry about kicking a rock loose and injuring the hiker below.
Our total for Split Mountain West was 3.87 miles, some 1,087 feet of gain in 2:59 hrs of active hiking. As we drove back out, we spotted the actual start of Oyster Shell Wash. The drive out was uneventful. We dropped Matt off at his car and since there was still some daylight left, he decided to summit Borrego Mountain East Butte rather than grab dinner back in Borrego Springs. While waiting for our food at Red Ocotillo, Matt texted he was back from his summit and was headed home. I forgot to mention, we found three Mylar ballons during both hikes. Ugh.