Borrego Benchmark Club fun

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 261 feet of gain

Agua Benchmark: 1.08 miles in 31 minutes with 108 feet of gain

Store Benchmark: 4.11 miles in 3:11 (with the stop at the store) with 862 feet of gain.

5 more peaks…

Today’s adventure was again exploring some of the various peaks on the Borrego Benchmark Club list. Being New Year’s Day, I wasn’t planning on anything too extreme or requiring me to wake up early. I found three around Little Blair Valley and a couple near Borrego Springs that fit the bill. Alberto Martinez joined me for this adventure.

First up was Foot and Walker Benchmark, just a bit down Little Blair Valley Road. We found the turnout, grabbed our gear, and began working our way up the steep slope. Quickly we found ourselves on the summit. To our west, Granite stood impressively. Alberto is looking to climb it soon and was asking about my route from 2019. To the south was Blair Valley, Ghost Mountain. There was no mark or register to be found. After a few photos, we returned to the car and drove a short distance to tackle our second peak, Shake Benchmark.

This peak was similar in difficulty and distance, so again we were quickly atop its summit. This peak did have a benchmark and register. The views were very similar to Foot and Walker, and still lovely.

The third peak on my list was Arena Benchmark. I drove back up the S2 to the turnoff that The third peak on my list was Arena Benchmark. I drove back up the S2 to the turnoff that normally one would tackle to hike Whale Peak. Taking a quick left, I drove along the dirt road to the trailhead. There were a couple of spots where I had some need for my high clearance, but nothing too extreme. Once we parked, we scanned for a good route up. We again quickly found ourselves on the ridgeline and followed it east toward the summit.

The views were breathtaking, the air was extremely clear, and the Salton Sea was easy to see off to our east. Our southern view was now dominated by Whale Peak. We signed the register and took our photos and headed back down.

The next peak for the day was Ship Benchmark. This peak was going to be another short one, but it was just off the S3. Although we had packed a lunch, I figured we probably would be able to grab some Mexican food in Borrego Springs. We climbed the rocky slope to the summit and found the benchmark. However, we again were rewarded with some impressive vistas. Now we could see Borrego Springs to our north. The snow-capped San Gorgonio and Toro Peak could be seen as well. We were starting to get hungry, so we returned to the car and headed into town.

After refueling, I decided to swap out our next planned peak. Originally, I thought about hiking Hans Benchmark, but instead, I suggested we go for Lute Benchmark. If you have ever climbed Villager Peak, the sloping shelf off the west as you make your way toward the Villager Ridge is where Lute Benchmark sits. So we parked at the Villager trailhead and set off. Following the path along the desert floor north, we reached the turn-off to begin the east climb along the slope. It was weird looking at Villager and the other peaks in the Santa Rosas in the middle of the day. Usually, we are taking in this view at dawn.  We kept heading west until we finally spotted two cement pedestals upon which the benchmarks were mounted. After taking our photos, we started back down. Almost at the junction with the Villager path, we met two other hikers making their way up. We chatted a bit before parting company.

With that our 5 peak adventure was over. While I did entertain doing Hans Benchmark, I was just beat enough and I was also the driver. This was a fun day hopping around Anza-Borrego and kicking the New Year off right.