Puff & Moan Benchmarks

Today’s primary summits were to be Puff Benchmark and Moan Benchmark out in southern Anza-Borrego. Susie and Matt were in that part of the desert after successfully summiting Red Top and Sawtooth the day before! Ted and I rendezvoused with them at the turn-off onto Dos Cabezas road and piled into the Outback. The hopeful plan was to be able to drive past the water tower to about where the jeep road intersects with train tracks and then set off from there. Hitting X-Mode on the Outback, we easily climbed the small incline to continue on to our starting point. As we neared the parking spot, there was a group of campers enjoying their morning. Since they were up and moving about, I did not feel bad about parking nearby. Once we geared up we headed off to the east along the jeep road. Indian Hill was our first landmark.

Neither Susie nor I needed to summit this peak again, so we opted not to. However, Matt did need this peak for his list. Rather than just scramble to the top and rejoin us on the jeep road, Matt decided to make his own way from there onto Moan Benchmark and then onto Puff, where we would meet up. Knowing his skills, we wished him well as he set off. It seems that we barely passed to the west of the peak when we hear him call out from its summit! We were amazed and jealous of his climbing speed.

Our route continued ever westward along the jeep road. A motorcycle passed us coming from the east, then a bit later it cycled back. As we neared the junction of the road with the train tracks, a group of campers had set up atop a nice cement pad. We chatted a bit, and they kindly offered some water and bananas, but we were fine. From here we continued our journey to Puff Benchmark to the south.

Puff Benchmark sits just above the famous Goat Canyon Trestle, the world’s longest wooden trestle. We climbed up the steep ridge, avoiding the various cacti toward its summit, and as we neared it, there stood Matt. We sat around at the summit, marveling at the wooden structure below us. Calling this the “Impossible Railroad” certainly seemed like the right choice. Looking back to the north, we could see the tracks as they hugged the side of the steep slopes. What it must have taken to construct this line.

After a nice break, it was time for the three of us to set off toward Moan Benchmark, Matt was continuing his solo journey to summit Piedras Grandes. He would meet us back at the car (of which we had no doubt). Upon our descent from Puff, we found two shovel blades on the desert floor and as we made our way up to Moan, we passed what must have been a work camp.

Water cans were neatly stacked, rusting quietly away. Unlike the clear summit of Puff, Moan proved to be slightly more challenging. After some incorrect route finding, we eventually dialed ourselves in and pushed upward. We crested over a peak, and a higher peak stood ahead of us. Assuming that was Moan, we continued on, knowing we were close. We paused for a quick route check, to discover that little peak we passed was it. Looking back at it, a wooden stake was clearly marking the peak. So we retraced our steps, and a few minutes later we were atop Moan Benchmark. I CAN say the two of us were certainly moaning over this ascent!

The view was outstanding from its summit. There is something deeply satisfying about looking out and knowing you have stood atop these peaks. Water was still filling several small pools around us. We signed the register and took our photos. We considered fully retracing our route or working our way down the northeast face of the peak. In the end, though, we decided to opt for the shorter route.

Unfortunately, this route was a steep mess of bouldering, Susie’s least favorite thing. We kept checking and rechecking our position as we carefully made our descent. About halfway down, Susie took a small fall. Thankfully she was ok, but it certainly made us aware as we scrambled down from rock to rock. Finally, we reached the desert floor and headed back toward the jeep road and eventually the car. Although we passed by Indian Hill once again, no one had the desire to summit it. Just past 4:00 pm, we reached the car and found Matt enjoying a nap in the shade. With that, Susie and I had ticked two more peaks from the San Diego 100, while Matt was able to remove 4! It was a fun 7 hours of hiking, covering just over 11 miles. Really glad to finally see the trestle in person, even from a distance.

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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