Stage Benchmark

When I dropped Susie and Matt off at their campsite, we agreed to meet back up at 7 am at the trailhead for Stage Benchmark. I was uncertain if I was going to join. In part, I was still adjusting to my new shoes and wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this hike or sit it out since we had a big 5-peak day planned for Sunday. As the predawn glow spread across the desert hills, I figured I would try it. So, I ate my breakfast in the peaceful quiet, then broke down my camp and drove the few minutes to the trailhead.

Matt and Susie were waiting for me at the turnout. We grabbed our gear and set off again across the desert floor. After a short stretch, we entered a wash that would take us through the Tierra Blanca mountains and into the Inner Pasture. The wash was nice and wide as we snaked our way through it. A few motorcycle tracks cut through the desert sand. The miles quickly passed by, and soon we were greeted with the wide expanse known as the Inner Pasture. From here our route would turn south to approach the summit from the southwest.

The slopes were rocky, but not the crumbling kind we had during our ascent of Sunset Mountain. However, the firmer footing was offset by all the chollas dotting the slopes. We were all hit multiple times, despite our caution.

About halfway up, we froze in our tracks, as a bighorn sheep stood before us. It stared at us for some time before bounding off to the north. Apart from seeing the herd that one time en route to False Sombrero, I had never seen any in “the wild”.

We soon made our way to the summit and found the benchmark and the reference marks.

The day was a bit warmer than normal, so we spent a bit more time relaxing at the summit. Matt and Susie stared intently at Red Top and Sawtooth off to the southwest of us. These are two more peaks on the Sierra Club list and they are beasts.

After signing the register, we began our trek down. Again, more cholla attacks slowed us from time to time. Once off the slopes, we decided to continue west to intersect with the motorcycle trail that was clearly visible from the summit. We figured we would make better time on it, rather than on the cross-country open desert.

As we re-entered the canyon, the shade that had filled it when we first passed through it was now gone. I could feel some issues with my right foot and tried to adjust the tension on the lacing. Again, the miles passed quickly along through this wash. Matt and Susie were considering that this might become their route into the Inner Pasture for Red Top & Sawtooth.

Exiting the canyon, we opted to stay in the wash until it reached the highway. At first, we were happy to find some mylar balloons, but just before the road, Susie spotted a beer can. As she went to grab it, we soon found two shoes, and a bivy buried in the sand. We wrapped all this up and hauled it the short distance back to the car to properly dispose of it. All told we covered 9.56 miles in 5:13 hours and gained 1,713 feet to the summit. That was peak #80 of the Sierra Club 100! Susie and I headed into Borrego Springs and Matt was off to get a couple more peaks in.

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, Central Coast, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

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