When I was hiking with Gina Norte on Hot Springs Mountain last weekend, she mentioned that she was taking some fellow peakbaggers out for their attempt at Palm Mesa High Point, and possibly Cody & Pike. Since Gina was one of my hiking buddies when I summited Palm Mesa High Point, I knew she was not planning on doing that peak again. She said she might try for Phil and Norte Benchmarks instead. So, I asked if she would enjoy some company, to which she joyfully said yes. We chatted about what other peaks we might explore and how. In the end, we left it a bit flexible as to our plans and were just going to see how the day unfolded.
I arrived at the guard station for Los Coyotes Indian Reservation around 6:15. It was in the high 30s, but the forecast for the region that Gina and I would be hiking was in the low 70s. Alberto and Dale pulled up around 6:30. Initially, another peakbagger, Phil Y. had planned to come but he just did a long hike up in the San Gabriels and was not up for this adventure. Gina arrived soon after and we headed back to the campground. Dale and Alberto transferred into Gina’s car and I stayed in mine. Since I did not know how long Gina and I were going to spend hiking, having my car allowed me to leave if we finished before Dale and Alberto did (which is what we expected).
We drove to the familiar parking spot near the cemetery and quickly gathered our gear. Gina and I weren’t in a rush, but Dale and Alberto had a long, hard day ahead of them, so we got underway fairly quickly. This was the first time I had a chance to meet Dale in real life. We chatted about various topics as we made our way down to the wash and then up the saddle. The biggest question I had was “what order/route they were going to take?” Alberto had been with the group that was with me when I did Palm Mesa High Point. Per our recommendation, he had climbed Cody and Pike Benchmarks, but he was unable to make it down to Palm Mesa High Point. So for him, this was his first priority.
The hike up the wash went quickly. This time I did not miss the junction to the right, but did leave the wash a bit too early to reach the saddle. Nothing too problematic, but that is what happens when you are too busy talking and not double-checking your route that closely. Gina took a quick break just below the saddle and I escorted Dale and Alberto on up to it. Once there I pointed out Pike off to the left and Cody off to the right. I pointed at the wash below us and said “just follow that to Palm Mesa High Point”.
I returned back to Gina, and we set off for our primary peaks, Phil and Norte Benchmarks. I had spotted what appeared to be a descent route up earlier, so took it up the slope. In hardly any time at all, we found ourselves next to the summit of Phil. I spotted the register in a glass jar sitting high up on the summit block. Below it was some of the guidewires for the survey post. Gina carefully scrambled up the rocks and signed us in. Meanwhile, I poked around and found a passage under the summit block that gave us a nice route toward our next peak, Norte. We relaxed and chatted for a while, and also surveyed the surrounding terrain for how we might visit the other nearby peaks. We were in no hurry, so we just sauntered toward Norte.
Jim Wick had done Phil and Norte a number of years back, and in his trip report, he mentioned that the approach to Norte was almost a walk up from the south side. So we looped around and his report was spot on. This was a special summit for Gina, as this peak was named in honor of her husband’s family. In fact, the benchmark is different from the regular USGS ones. We proudly signed the register and again took in the views. Since we both were feeling great, we decided to keep on exploring. Almost directly to our south stood Cody Benchmark. Gina had also wanted to climb it, so off we went. I had summited it with Susie Kara back in June of 2020, but we tackled it from the north up a steep and rocky route. This time, Gina and I worked our way along the ridgeline, staying on its northern side. Soon, we found ourselves at the saddle just below the summit and the short climb up.
We relaxed on the summit for a good while, soaking in the view, having a snack, and enjoying a little bit of cell coverage. I showed Gina the route Susie had taken down from Pike and up to Cody. Then looking back west toward Phil and Norte, we could see the difference between the south and north sides of the ridge. While Phil Benchmark was just a mere .7 miles to our north, I had no desire to take the direct route, especially having done the reverse. So, we roughly retraced our route to the saddle.
Along the way, I spied a string running from plant to plant. I suspected it was probably a weather balloon of some kind. We located the beacon, then followed the string to see if any remains of the balloon could be found. We only found the plastic hook, so we gathered up the items and stowed them in our pack.
Still feeling good, we set off for our fourth peak of the day, Army Benchmark. This provisional peak sits just north of the saddle. We followed the main ridgeline up toward it. There were two possible bumps that it could be. Once we reached the first one, we did not see any signs that this was it, so we moved on to the next bump, a mere 300 feet away. Here, we did find some remnants of the surveying post. We found a nice spot for our lunch. From my spot, I could see Collins and Knob off to our north. We once again had some cell coverage and got a message that Dale and Alberto had reached Palm Mesa High Point. This let us begin to estimate when they might return. We debated if we should head west and summit Dry Benchmark, or push on and try for the Pikes. Still feeling adventurous, we set off for Pike Benchmark Summit and Pike Benchmark. Since we were on the ridge, we opted to stay on it as we worked our way over. Just to the west of Pike Benchmark Summit is a nice saddle. We walked over to its northern edge and had a sweeping view. Cougar Canyon was below us, SquareTop, Collins, Knob, Palm, and Elder were spread out before us. The final push up to Pike Benchmark Summit was a bit bouldery, so I continued my route finding and weaved our way up it without issue.
Once on the summit, we could see Pike Benchmark just a stone’s throw away to the east. We again took in the views and signed the register. Rather than taking the direct approach to Pike Benchmark, we went north a bit, then across the minor saddle and up to the summit. If memory serves, Susie and I just charged straight across.
As I stood atop my sixth summit of the day, I had to chuckle to myself. Initially, I thought I might just do two peaks, but here I was on #6 of the day. As an added bonus, I was a little closer to finishing the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peaks list again. We scanned the wash below us to see if we might spot Dale or Alberto, but no luck. Gina and I discussed our route back, one option was to drop down from Pike all the way to the wash and climb back to the saddle, which was probably about 500 feet of gain once we dropped down. Or, we could follow the contour lines and sidehill it back to the saddle. That was the option we decided on, as it was getting a bit warmer in the mid-afternoon sun. I picked various landmarks to work our way toward, adjusting as the terrain revealed itself to us. After about 45 minutes or so, we found ourselves back at the saddle. When I was at the saddle in the morning, there was a cactus that was in full bloom, so I had to find it again since that is something that Gina loves to find.
Although we had not seen nor heard Dale and Alberto, we felt that we should probably head back, just in case they had slipped past us. We cruised back down the wash and back to our cars. We arrived about 4:30 and neither of them was there. We did some calculations of when they might arrive, and we loosely estimated they had at least another hour or more of hiking, depending on if they tried for eighth Cody or Pike on their return. I followed Gina back to the locked gate, and she let me through. I said my goodbyes and headed home. Gina returned to wait for them. She told me they arrived around 6:15 or so. I will let them tell their own adventures. But for us, it was an absolutely fantastic day; six peaks, 6.9 miles, and 1,715 feet of gain!
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, 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.