The Secret Hike

The alarm for 4 AM went off way too early, but we needed to meet our escort to the start of our hike at 6 AM. As I drove past the Iron Mountain parking lot, I remembered a time when this was where I would meet Susie Kara and then carpool off to conquer another peak on our list. Instead, we will have to rendezvous at the escort point. Today’s adventure was a special gift. We were allowed to hike out to some peaks that are normally only accessible from Anza-Borrego. I parked under a large oak tree while I waited for our escort and Susie to arrive. Unfortunately, the person who had arranged this adventure tweaked their neck and was under orders not to hike, but they still allowed us the opportunity to venture into the wildness. 

Once Susie arrived, she tossed her gear into the Outback, and off we went, past the locked gate and down the dirt roads. Just past the old cemetery, we found a nice spot to pull off and begin our journey. We bid farewell to our escort, thanking them for probably the 100th time… 

Our journey first took us down an old road until it reached a broad collection of oak trees. From here, we would enter a nice sandy wash and begin the climb up to the saddle near the peaks we were aiming for. The air was still a bit cool and we had some shade for a while. The temperatures were predicted in the high 70s to low 80s, hence the early start for this hike. A few small dry falls were quickly climbed as we kept heading east. Susie had summited these peaks back in March but from the much harder route from the west.  As we neared the saddle, the brush did become thicker, and took some effort to pick our way through it. If the satellite imagery was to be trusted, we should only have to deal with it for a short time.

Thankfully, the imagery was correct and the brush did become less dense. Once we reached the saddle, our route would now form the head of a lollipop. The first of the listed peaks we were aiming for was off toward the northeast. I took the lead in the route finding. Very quickly, I spotted a faint animal trail through the grass. Unfortunately, neither one of us thought to bring our gaiters, and we would be plucking thistle out of shoes and socks several times during this hike.

Looking north

Our route took us to a nice ridge before turning east and over the first of three peaks for the day. But on this ridge, we had some sweeping views of the mountains to the north of us. Squaretop stood very clearly amongst its neighbors. San Jacinto was far off in the distance. Now, back to why we were out here, we climbed the slopes of the peak. While this peak is higher than its named cousin to the east, it is NOT on the Sierra Club 100 list. We took a small break here, signed the register, and took our photos before heading on to the next peak.

Now from here, the views of Anza-Borrego became even more impressive: Palm Mesa and Indianhead were clearly visible to the east. That was my 89th peak on the Sierra Club 100. After signing the register, letting Susie go first as she was also the most recent one to have signed it, we took our photos and surveyed our descent and ascent route for the third peak we were hoping to climb.

We carefully worked our way down the steep and sandy slope. Susie noted that they had descended from the other peak, and this was an easier route. As we neared the end of the descent, we discussed possible paths we could take up the steep slope that stood before us. We had a couple of tracks loaded, and we compared our options. One thing about open country peak bagging is you have to synthesize all your data: the paper topo map, routes from previous hikers, and what your eyes and gut tell you. Settling on a general path, we began climbing. 

It was steep and at times the footing a bit troublesome. We would stop for a moment, scan ahead, and continue on. In about .4 miles we would be gaining almost 700 feet of elevation. With one last push, we reached the summit! Again, the views were incredible, with the San Ysidros rising to the south. I found a nice spot to sit and enjoy my orange and some Gatorade. Susie stretched out and had a nice nap in the sun. About .5 miles to the west stood two more benchmarks. I had considered adding them on to the day’s attempt, but since our escort could not join us, I wanted to save them and summit them together. Plus,  Susie did have to be back in town for her niece’s 4th birthday party. We bid farewell to my 90th peak and headed down. 

We slowly and carefully made our way down the steep slope. This time following the gully to the west rather than the route we took on the way up. Unfortunately, I slipped at least twice, and the bruise on my hand is evidence of my grace. Back in the wash, we began following it to the west. As we near the saddle, the wash narrowed, so we popped out of it and continued cross-country. Crossing the saddle and back toward the first wash, it was clear that if we ever get to explore, here again, stick to the south side as you approach the saddle, as the route is easier.

We made quick time back along the first wash, which was good as the day was heating up and the bugs were coming out. Soon, the Subaru came into view, and the hike was at an end. We drove back down the dirt road, taking care to properly close the gates. Once we had cell coverage, I let our escort know that we were back and it was a successful expedition. Susie said a quick goodbye and headed back into town. Yes, I have been vague on the peaks that we summited, at the request of our escort. But if you do some detective work, I am sure you can figure it out.

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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