Guard Benchmark

With Susie and Ted unavailable to tackle any of the San Diego Sierra Club 100 peaks, I decided to knock off some peaks on the Borrego Benchmark Club list. This is a collection of benchmarks scattered on various peaks across the Anza-Borrego desert. There was a cluster of three near Agua Caliente County park that seemed likely candidates, and I thought this would be a nice way to end 2021. Just north of Agua Caliente was a small turnout where I parked to begin my adventures. These three peaks were going to be done in a spoke-like fashion, meaning I would summit one, return to the car, then set off for the next one.

First up was Guard Benchmark. I had Keith Winston’s track loaded, but it was just a straightforward ridgeline hike. Just a short distance from the trailhead, I scrambled up the slope and began working my way toward the summit. Soon I found myself at the top, but I could not locate the benchmark. Finally, I found it behind a small bush. The funny thing is the benchmark is misnamed. There is no register here, so I took my photos and headed back down.

Agua Benchmark in the distance

My next peak, Agua Benchmark, was clearly visible a short distance across the desert floor. I weaved my way around the cactus toward the peak. As I drew nearer, I examined which route might be the easiest. The elevation gain to get to the summit was not the issue, but rather the cactus density was the real concern. I spotted a nice route and was atop the summit in no time. I spotted the benchmark and next to it, the register. I signed in and stared at Store Benchmark off to my west. That peak was going to be the hardest of the three. 

As I cruised back to the car, I could see the clouds slipping over the Lagunas. I had hoped I might have some snow-capped mountains to look at from the desert. I decided to move the car to another turnout about a 1/4 mile closer to the start of this route. Keith described the route mostly as following the gully to near the saddle then climbing out toward the summit. 

The gully was not too difficult to work through. I mostly would check the track to see where the exit might be. Since the route hooks around to the summit, I did glance up at a more direct route to the summit but decided to stick to the known. I found the exit point and began working my way up the rocky slope. The first portion was a bit steep, but it soon eased up. Once at the high point, I again began looking for the benchmark. Reviewing the topo map, it should be the mark on a mound to the south. Sure enough, there it was.

I took a well-earned break and signed the register. Off to my south was the campground. Just to the west was the marsh I had explored last weekend. The wind was picking up some, so I decided to head back down. Once at the gully, I took a look at the map and what I had seen from the summit and opted to turn this hike into a loop instead of an out and back. I crested the saddle and scanned for a route down to the wash about 200 feet below me. It was steep and rocky, but I safely made it down. 

The wash was certainly sandier and easier than the gully. Soon I found myself at the northern end of the marsh. Unfortunately, I did not see a path through it. While there had been cairns along the way earlier in the wash, I spied none now. I  opted to hug the left side of the wash to work my way around the thicket. This was another tough little section. Just past it, water was flowing for a section. 

Soon I reached the section I had hiked last weekend. I stayed in the wash until it reached the trail that would take me to the General Store and a cold drink and some ice cream. 

After enjoying my well-earned snacks, I headed back down the road to the car. The wind was picking up and I had to tighten my hat to keep it from blowing away. The stats for these hikes were:

Guard Benchmark: 1.06 miles in 36 minutes with 259 feet of gain

Agua Benchmark: 1.08 miles in 31 minutes with 95 feet of gain

Store Benchmark: 4.11 miles in 3:11 (with the stop at the store) with 816 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. 

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