Split Mountain East

The first of two peaks planned for the day was Split Mountain East, and if you guessed the other was Split Mountain West, you would be right! We left from our standard rendezvous point and headed out toward the desert. Along the way we caught a lovely sunrise just before Ramona.

We stopped at the Ocotillo ranger station to use the facilities before heading down toward Fish Creek Wash/Split Mountain. This was the first time Ted had been here, so he was fascinated by the Canyon. The Subaru once again handled the terrain like a champ. The canyon opened up and we parked just a bit past the trail sign to Wind Caves. 

While the skies were overcast, the temperature was pleasant. We gathered our gear and set up. One of the reasons for picking the hike was both Susie and I recalled it being fairly straight forward and one that should not put too much stress on my knee. The trail starts off with a short climb to a plateau. I could feel my knee a bit as I worked my way toward the Wind Caves. Once we reached the caves, we took a bit of time exploring the amazing wonders. But, the peak was calling us, so we continued on following the trail. This trail followed a ridge for a while. To our left, there was a decent drop down to a wash. To our right, the Carrizo Badlands and the Elephant’s Knees. The route took us around and over several small bumps, some which we followed on the use trail around to the side, and some we had to go up and over. FInally we reached the point where we would leave this ridge and pick up an old mining road for a short bit. We finally got our first glimpse of the summit. 

After a short stint on the road, we had a careful descent down a steep and rocky slope to cross over the wash that we had been following for some time. From there, we began climbing back up toward the summit. When we did this hike back in 2020, Susie and Matt stayed in the center of the gully, while I stayed to the left and found a use trail. Remembering this, we followed my previous route to the final ridge to the summit. 

Throughout the hike, both Susie and I commented that this hike seemed harder than we remembered, and the next section was going to be a reminder of our forgetfulness. Our route took us straight up a steep slope toward the summit, however off to our left was a very large cliff face. Coupled with this drop-off, the ground did not provide the best footing. The only saving grace was the lack of cacti. We pushed upward, being ever mindful of our steps. Finally, the true summit came into view. What we had spotted from below was not the actual summit. Thankfully, it was fairly benign to reach. We sat at the summit for a bit, enjoying a snack and the views. The cloudy skies subdued the landscape. There was just enough breeze to make it slightly cool, and we wanted to try for Split Mountain West, plus I was still keeping a close eye on my knee.

We carefully began our descent along that ridge. Susie had left a broken trekking pole back at the car, so she was having trouble working her way down the slope. I took the lead and would proceed about 10-15 feet ahead of her, then toss her one of my poles so she could safely come to me. Once off this section, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Ted turned to me and commented that I said this was an easy hike. I resisted the urge to reply “Did you die?!” 😉

The rest of our descent went without issues and my knee held up just fine. Upon reaching the Wind Caves again, Ted and Susie opted to explore them a bit more, while I felt like cruising back to the car. Once back at the car, we had some lunch and I took the opportunity to ice my knee. I was up for trying for the second peak, so we packed up and drove to the other trailhead. I logged this hike at 4.3 miles in 3:50 total time, and with an elevation gain of 1,630 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. 

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