After car camping in Agua Caliente County Park, I met Greg Gerlach for another ascent up Stage Benchmark. We met at 8 and after grabbing our gear we headed out. We had over 4 miles of easy hiking to the base of the peak, so we saved our catching up for then. We both had been busy hiking all sorts of places. In fact, Greg had just returned from hiking Guadalupe Mountain in Texas. The wash was a familiar section to both of us. This would be Greg’s fourth ascent of Stage. In addition, this is also a common route for those wanting to conquer Red Top or Sawtooth.
Just at the boundary fence, a cache of water, food, and some clothes had been left for migrants. We continued along the road southward toward the base of the peak. Surveying a route up toward the ridge that would take us to the summit, we left the desert floor and started up. Cactus dotted the rocky slopes as we worked our way up. We took a short break partway up, and Red Top stood before us to the west. After the brief rest, we continued upward. Our route seemed easier than what I remembered from last time, but we still had to reach the summit and navigate back down.
We reached the summit and took a well-earned break. I snapped some photos of the views. I must admit there are some nicer views of Anza Borrego. We signed the register and I found the benchmark and two reference marks. Then, it was time to head back down. We retraced most of our route, but this time we opted to head down an alternate path. Again, the route seemed fairly easy for us. Although I had a couple of chollas to pick off at times.
Once back on the Inner Pasture floor, we cruised back along the dirt road and into the canyon. Again, the miles passed quickly. We chatted about our next hikes, but we needed the weather to sort itself out before picking out our next peak. All told we covered 9.9 miles in 5:48 with an elevation gain of 1,716 feet.
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.