With the desert season slowly coming to a close, we wanted to try to get the most bang for our hiking buck. So, we decided to do the ‘infamous’ San Ysidro Traverse, starting near Ranchita, working our way down through Hellhole Flats, then down one of the ridges onto the desert floor. Along this route, we could summit Goat Benchmark, San Ysidro East Peak, The Sirens, and for our planned exit, Webo and Ted Benchmarks. I needed to summit San Ysidro East Peak and The Sirens, while Susie and Matt needed all 5. We knew the weather might be problematic, but we felt it was within our comfort level.
I spent the week watching the forecast, and on Friday I felt that we should be fine for our hike on Sunday. Saturday afternoon, I checked the forecast from NOAA and it seemed to be about the same. Well, as I loaded my car in the predawn it was clear that the predicted shower had at least happened in San Diego. In checking the latest forecast, the wind advisory had been extended and the forecasted wind speeds bumped upwards. Not ideal, but at this point, we figured we might as well see what conditions really were. We had some backup plans just in case we had real issues. Susie and I met Matt at the Maidenhair Falls parking lot. Matt tossed his gear into the Outback, paid his $10 use fee, and we backtracked up to the very familiar spot along Lease Road. When we got out of the car, it was chilly and there was a stiff breeze. If these conditions held, we were fine attempting the hike.
We followed the old jeep trail up, then we headed cross-country to a nice spot to cross the barbed wire fence. From there we made a short steep climb to the ridgeline that The Thimble sits on. We were greeted with a sweeping view of Anza-Borrego. The Thimble loomed over us to our north, White Benchmark was off to our south. Crossing another barbed wire fence, we began our descent toward Goat Benchmark. This would be my third time to this peak, but I still needed to be mindful of my GPX track, as it is just a small jumble of rocks. In fact, it is not even the highest jumble nearby. As we reached it, the winds really began to pick up. Susie opted not to make the short climb to the summit block. We had a quick snack and began to discuss our options: Continue on and re-evaluate conditions as we draw closer, or climb back out. We agreed that we should push on and see how the weather continued to play out.
As we descended from Goat, we had a small climb to make. Due to some conflicting recollections, we wound up making a larger than planned loop around it (With a bit of gain and eventual descent). Next time, we will remember there is this short little ascent to deal with. But as we stood looking across Hellhole Flats, the wind was really blowing. I could feel it push me as I stood there. The clouds raced around Middle San Ysidro Peak behind us. It was now decision time. Do we continue eastward toward San Ysidro East and attempt to summit, or head south across Hellohole Flats toward Webo? The Sirens were clearly out due to their very exposed nature and the more difficult ascent.
None of us felt comfortable making the ascent. While we were feeling good and the temperatures were pleasant, the level of risk was beyond what we wanted to take. Plus, without The Sirens, this identical trip was going to be done again. So we cruised across the flats toward the west ridge to Webo. I pointed out some features I encountered the last time I did the traverse. The climb up to Webo went smoothly. We would look back at SYEP and The Siren and wish we could have climbed them, but then a strong gust of wind would dispel any illusions we had.
The summit block for Webo is very exposed. Matt climbed up enough to grab the register, while Susie was just fine hiding from the wind. We took a long break and enjoyed a larger snack. I did climb the block just far enough to return the register. Then we began the steep descent.
Unlike last time, when my right knee was very painful, today’s descent was only moderately bothersome, just the discomfort one would expect from about 4,100 feet to 900 feet in 3 miles. We deftly avoid the various cacti that dotted the ridgeline. Some were even blooming! The desert had almost no rain this year, so there have not been a lot of flowers. We worked our way around a couple of more bouldery sections by staying on the south side of them. We kept an eye on our track, just so we did not pass Ted Benchmark. We spotted the cairn and the reference mark. The register took a moment or two to locate, but we found it tucked just a bit below the cairn. We took a short break. I shed my fleece and switched my gloves. We continued on down the ridge, Matt’s car looming in the distance. The conditions below Ted changed in other ways, while it had become warm and less windy, the rocks had now become smaller and loose. So, we had to keep an eye on our footing as the sandy desert floor drew ever closer. Once off the ridge, we had a nice 1.3-mile stroll back to the car. A couple of folks passed us heading to what we were sure were the dry Maidenhair falls. Matt this shuttled us back up to Ranchita and dropped us at my car. Susie and I made a quick stop at the Montezuma Valley Market for a cold soda and a Snickers. A couple of PCT Thru-Hikers were hanging on the porch, charging their phones. Gave them a quick nod and wished them well. The drive home was actually uneventful. Often we are caught in traffic returning from Julian, but the weather had kept a lot of folks at home. I doubt we will be able to try again this season, but you never know… The final stats were 8.94 miles in 7:36. We climbed a total of 1,675 feet and descended a total of 5,318 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.