Today’s summit was going to be a special one. Gasp Benchmark was Susie Kara’s 100th peak on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 list. To honor this accomplishment, she invited a group of fellow peak-baggers to join her on the 6 or so mile hike to the summit. This peak sits to the east of McCain Valley and is one of those ‘fun’ inverted hikes. Since the distance and terrain were not too difficult, we agreed to meet at the trailhead at 9:15. As Ted and I pulled off the 8 toward Boulevard, we realized that we were quite early. So, I decided to drive all the way to the trailhead and not wait at our initial rally point. That way we would know the condition of the dirt roads. We knew the first section, the one you would use to head to Mt. Tule took some care to drive on, but the ½ mile road to our starting point was an unknown. As we reached the junction with the other road, a familiar friend was just locking up his bike and about to set off to Mt. Tule and peaks beyond. Ted needed Mt. Tule, so I said since there was plenty of time before we needed to sync up, he should grab Mt. Tule. If he wanted to continue on with our other friend, he could feel free, or he could hustle back and catch us. Ted grabbed his pack and set off, and I drove on down to the trailhead. The road was actually in slightly better shape than expected. I found a parking spot and hung out, enjoying the views.
Soon the rest of the group arrived: Greg Gerlach, Kelly Laxamana, Larry Edmonds and his wife Leslie, Matt Hanan, Gail Welch, Susie’s dad Larry, and of course the guest of honor, Susie. We quickly started to gear up. Since we had cell coverage, I pinged Ted as to his plan, and he said he was going for the loop: Mt. Tule – Rozzie – Groan – Gasp. I wished him luck, and the rest of us set off down the jeep road toward Gasp.
We spread out to hike in a properly socially distant manner. As we worked our way toward Redondo Spring, we chatted about various peakbagging adventures. The conversation soon turned to my remaining peaks. Greg, Matt, and Larry each offered insights on summiting them. We passed through a protected area that was created to offset the impact of the wind turbines that now dot McCain Valley. Soon the road came to an end along the ridge that we would follow down to Gasp Benchmark. On the way, we spotted a fox running through the bushes. I don’t think I have ever seen one in the wild.
A use trail would take us most of the way along the rocky ridgeline. Atop one of the minor bumps, we looked to the east, hoping the higher and closer bump in the distance was Gasp Benchmark. Checking our map, we were confident that it was. Across the canyon, the Impossible Railroad’s track and the famous Goat Canyon Trestle were easily visible.
The terrain spread us out a bit more and we picked our way along the ridge, but soon we found ourselves atop Gasp Benchmark. We scoured around to see if we could find the actual mark, but just some wooden stakes and barbed wire were all that remained. We found the register and let Susie have it first. She had done it! It took a bit longer than she wanted due to Covid-19, but she had reached another major hiking milestone. Her dad had made a beautiful sign that she had tied to the back of her pack. Her smile beamed as she held it high, with the vastness of Anza-Borrego behind her. Since Greg and Larry are also 100ers, we had them also pose for photos. We kept scanning to the east, just in case we spotted our two friends on their loop, but had no success. It was time to head back, as there were pies waiting for us back at the trailhead. When Susie completed the 100 Peak Challenge, she brought a cherry pie in a Pyrex dish to the summit to celebrate. This time we had mini-pies from Betty’s Pie Saloon for each of us.
Back along the ridge we went. Just to the north, we would see Peak 3339 and Al Holden, and off in the distance, Sombrero Peak. Susie’s dad was having a bit of trouble making his way back up the ridge, so I stayed with him as we made the climb. I had to wait for Ted to complete the loop, so I was in no rush at all. I knew exactly how he felt after last weekend when I had trouble ascending from Knob Benchmark, and I was glad to be able to return the favor. We chatted off and on, depending on the terrain, but mostly just kept slowly making our way back up. Just after I let him know we were just about .2 miles away, we spotted the cars up along the road. Mission accomplished!
I dropped my gear at the car and grabbed my chair, my lunch, and a nice IPA from Second Chance Brewery. I ate my sandwich, then dove into a wonderful apple pie. Greg and Kelly had already left, as they had a bit of a drive home. We chatted a bit, wondering how our two other friends were doing on their hike. Not some twenty minutes later, they turned the corner. We were shocked and amazed. I was expecting another hour or so before I would see them. Ted looked beat. He said it was a monster of a hike. But that is his tale to tell. After some more relaxing, it was time to pack up and head home. For me, that was my 93rd peak toward the Sierra Club 100.