Puffing and Moaning…

Since Ted was on call, Susie and I looked over our remaining peaks for ones that Ted had previously done, and Puff and Moan Benchmark looked like a good candidate. I knew Matt Hanan needed Puff Benchmark, so I asked if he wanted to tag along. He also offered to drive! While planning an upcoming backpacking trip in Joshua tree with the “other” Ted, I mentioned my weekend plans and he was very interested given all the planned points of interest along the way. Since we were hiking on Sunday, he drove down from Santa Barbara on Saturday evening. We caught up a bit—he was one of my groomsmen after all, before turning in. We picked up Susie en route to Matt’s house for our 6:00 am departure. As we drove east on the 8, we caught a wonderful sunrise.

We opted to take the road via the windmills as opposed to via Mortero Canyon. While a bit longer, overall the road is without any issues. As we made our way to the parking spot, I spotted a lenticular cloud to our north. I don’t think I have ever seen one before in real life. Once at the parking spot, we grabbed our gear and set off along the desert floor to our first goal, the Blue Sun Cave. I visited it last year when I was hiking out to Windy Benchmark. My memory was spot on and we found the cave without issue. We all spent some time looking over these reminders of people long since gone. But we had a lot of miles to cover, so we looped around Indian Hill to take the old road toward the tracks. Just before the tracks, there are some remains of one of the railroad camps.

Our route paralleled the abandoned train tracks. Full disclosure, the tracks are considered private property, and walking on them is considered trespassing. Our route gave us some great views of the Carrizo Gorge, various small trestles and even two derailed train cars. Soon we found ourselves at the base of the ridge that would take us up to Puff Benchmark. Avoiding the cactus was the biggest challenge we had as we made our way up the ridge. Off to our right, the famous Goat Canyon Trestle stood majestically.

Once at the summit, we took a well-earned break. We snapped our photos and grabbed a snack, as the easy part of the hike was almost over. We saw some folks down near the trestle, and later we learned it was Tara, Kali, and their friend David. They spotted Susie’s bright pink jacket and my blue shirt up on the summit. Small world! Once off the ridge, we retraced our route to pick up an old road that would take us part way toward Moan Benchmark. While we debated going over to the Trestle, Susie and I were here for the peaks.

The road could barely be seen. The years and weather have not been kind to it. Along the way, we passed another set of ruins from the track’s construction. Unlike last time, we had a pretty good route up to Moan. We soaked in the views to our east. The sun was even reflecting off of Matt’s car in the distance. After signing the register and another snack, we set off for the hardest part of the hike—the descent back to the desert floor. Neither Susie nor I were looking forward to it. It was going to be a steep and tough down climb. We debated just heading almost straight down just a bit south of the benchmark or following the route from last time. Ted opted to try the direct route, while we headed out along the previous track. Our route started off quite nicely. Off to the northwest, I could see Windy Benchmark. I wondered if that route might be an option, but we did not want to go exploring. Unfortunately we continued north a bit too far, but since the terrain was still easy, we continued until it was time to really begin our downclimb. The mess of boulders seemed much like the last time. We did eventually reach a spot from where we could not descend. We surveyed our options and worked our way south toward another possible route. We really did not want to up-climb and connect with our original track. We carefully pushed on downward. 

Along the way, we did find a nice shard of pottery. Leaving it where we found it, we continued working our way down. Finally, we reached the desert floor. I took a photo of some of the stuff we climbed down. I dubbed this section “Bruno”, because “we don’t talk about Bruno”. Back on the same road we took out to the tracks, we cruised back to our starting point. We would scan the desert to our south to see if we could spot Ted. As we approached the car, he was sitting happily on the bridge waiting for us to arrive. He beat us by about 25 minutes. This was a milestone hike for me, as I now have just 25 more peaks to climb to complete the San Diego Sierra Club list a second time. The hike covered 10.9 miles in 7:27, with 1,964 feet of gain. 

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