Sunset Mountain

I had pretty much written of any more peaks on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 list this desert sI had pretty much written off doing any more peaks on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 list this desert season but much to our surprise we had some nice weather here at the end of April, so Susie Kara and I decided to knock Sunset off our to-do list. We had done this hike with Matt Bennett back in January 2020. While the actual distance from the trailhead to the summit isn’t that far, this hike is one of the more challenging ones on the list. We drove out to Anza Borrego turning onto Pinyon Wash and drove down the rather nice dirt road back to a good spot to pull over and park the Subaru. Off to the east loomed Sunset Mountain. We gathered our stuff and set across the flat desert floor to the start of the grueling climb. We had a few cactus flowers scattered along the way offering a little bit of joy to offset our climb. The route up is basically a straightforward assault on the mountain. Both Susie and I remembered how much we disliked climbing a mountain due to a large amount of poor footing. We carefully worked our way up the very steep slopes to the first minor, and I stress, MINOR plateau and had a short breather. We had gained almost 700 feet in just over .2 miles. Neither one of us was looking forward to descending this section.

We checked our location against our previous route, and we were basically right on track. Since We checked our location against our previous route, and we were basically right on track. Since there is no defined trail, it is up to you to plot your route up the mountain, hoping to follow the easiest path you can see. I led us up the steep slopes ever closer to the summit. So far, my route finding had been going well. I would like to think all this time in the desert has helped improve them. 

Soon we reached the last bit of the climb and pushed on. Susie had the lead, as I did pick a slightly slower section that I had Susie skip. After hopping over the rocky summit, there stood the wooden post denoting the summit. The register can was tucked next to it. The benchmark, stamped as Yak, was also right there. Off to the east and west were two reference marks as well. We took a short break and did all the usual summit activities before heading back down.

I had parked near a couple of smoke trees that grew next to the main road. This gave us a great landmark to keep aiming toward as we slowly and carefully worked our way back down. Last time when we climbed this peak, our descent time was longer than our ascent. 

As we neared the bad section, we made the call to take the gully that was to our south instead. While we still had a steep and difficult descent to reach it, we felt once in it, our stress levels would ease. Susie and Matt took that route last time while I stayed on the same route I used going up. I did have one large rock break out from under me, we made it safely to the gully. While it was rocky, there was nothing that posed any challenges. In fact, we had a couple of sections that we just slid down. Who doesn’t like a nice slide!?

The gully opened back onto the desert floor, and we began weaving through the various pointy plants scattered across the landscape. Once back at the car we were glad to be done with this peak. The entire hike was just 3.7 miles, but we gained over 1,900 feet. And to further add to that, the first 1/2 mile was mostly on the flat desert. Our complete time was 5:09, including our breaks. It was a touch slower than last time, but we were without the awesome route-finding skills of Matt. Just 21 more to go!

A Hellhole of a Traverse

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 SYEP 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!

Coyote Mountain

As we pulled onto the side road along Rockhouse Canyon Road, another car was parked with a solo hiker getting ready to make their ascent of Coyote Mountain. Unlike last weekend, when the winds were a bit too high for our comfort, today’s forecast looked pleasant, although just a touch on the warmer side. Susie, Alberto, and I gathered our gear and began hiking across the desert floor to the ridge that we would follow up to the summit. The other hiker had already left and appeared to be making good time.

Soon we found ourselves at the base of the steep ridge and started our ascent. I was hoping that I might find the folded rock again and see it in a better light. As luck would have it, we passed right by it. Score! 

Susie guided us up the ridge. The route is very well marked with cairns, and after a bit, the use trail began to reveal itself. While not really needed, as this is a standard ridgeline hike without any real obstacles, it is nice to walk on a more cleared route. 

Unfortunately, I am not as fit as Susie, so we took a short break to let me recover a bit. I then took over the pace-setting. We would take a few more quick breathers just before a steeper section along the ascent, We were still holding a solid pace. 

As we neared the final steep section, that earlier hiker was making his way back down. We chatted a bit before continuing on. Soon, we crested the summit, and the wooden pole that marks it stood before us. We took a nice break, snapping some photos, signing the register, and refueling. I found the two reference marks, as well as the benchmark itself. Since both Susie and I had early evening plans, we were mindful of the time and headed back down.

The descent went pretty quickly. I found a nice rhythm that did not bother my knees. When I did this hike back in 2019, I had some serious knee pain on the descent. This time, no real discomfort. Susie and Alberto would stop occasionally for a brief moment to regroup. One thing I have learned with my knees is to hike at the pace my body can handle. Once I would catch up with them, I usually kept right on going.

As we neared the base of the ridge, we almost headed down the wrong spur, but a quick check of our ascent track got us back on track. Off in the distance, we spotted a truck that had pulled up. We were curious who might be looking at starting this hike around noon. The temperatures were in the mid-70s and there is no shade on the entire hike. It turns out it was another hiker and his wife we knew, who had just started tackling some harder hikes across San Diego. We chatted some before parting ways. The stats for the hike were 5.2 miles in 4:29. Our time up to the summit was 2:15, and we spent about 20 minutes relaxing before heading down. The elevation gain was a mere 2,623 feet. 

Borrego Buttes

Today’s planned summit was of Coyote Mountain, just east of Borrego Springs. Since Ted had a commitment in the early evening, we were constrained on what we could do. Also, the recent storm had left some snow on of the higher peaks, so they were off the list. As we drove through Ranchita, the area was covered in a nice layer of snow. We pulled off and snapped a few photos before heading on down to the trailhead.

Initially, we had wanted to hike Coyote on Saturday, but the weather had other plans. When I went to bed, the forecast looked ok. But when we parked at the trailhead, the winds were stronger than we expected. The thought of hiking up the exposed ridgeline just did not seem like a wise plan. So, we pivoted to some other adventures. Since we were so close to Fonts Point, we decided to drive out and see it. I had been out there years ago, but neither Susie nor Ted had ever been. The drive was pretty straightforward to the trailhead, and once there we strolled out to the overlook and took in the views of the Borrego Badlands. 

Since we had a time issue, we decided to knock out some short hikes that Ted needed. We drove around to hike Borrego Mountain East Butte. Parking again near the land bridge, we crossed it and quickly began making our way up toward the summit. Both Susie and I noted the route had been marked with a lot of cairns. Neither of us remembered them when we climbed this peak back in November. At the summit, we signed the register and took some photos before heading back down. Along the way, we crossed paths with two other hikers making their way up. Funny, there had only been two hikers to have signed the register between our previous visit and today. The two we met today had recently moved to Borrego Springs and had been looking to explore the area.  

Once back at the car, we still had time, so we decided to head over to the Slot and bag Borrego Mountain West Butte. I had always wanted to try to drive the connecting dirt road from East Butte that passes by Hawk Canyon. For the most part, I felt the road was fine, although Susie and Ted might disagree. This road intersects with the standard route you take up from the 78. This is also where the rangers were collecting the $10 use fee.

We found a parking spot and noted there were now pit toilets at the trailhead so that fee at least had provided some services. Grabbing our gear we set off along the well-defined use trail to the summit. About partway up we caught up with some other hikers who were working their way up toward the summit. They asked for directions to the Slot. It seems they had turned right, not left, from the entrance near the parking lot. We directed them back down toward the parking area and wished them well. After a bit more climbing we found ourselves atop the summit. Unfortunately, there is no benchmark or register here, so we just snapped a few photos and headed back down. Since we were making good time, we decided to go ahead and go ahead and do the Slot. 

We followed a side trail that took us right into the Slot. We passed a few folks along the way, including the folks we gave the directions to. We did not linger too long as we made our way through the twists and turns, as we still needed to be back in town around 3. Once the passage opened back up some, we took a short climb back out and headed to the car. While not the adventure we planned, it was still a great day out on Anza-Borrego.

Travelers Peak

With both Susie and Ted unavailable to tag along for Sunday’s adventure, I had some choices to make as to what peak I was going to climb. I could try for Groan Benchmark, which Susie did a couple of weeks back when I was in Joshua Tree but did not like the 6+ miles of off-road solo driving to the trailhead. That really only left Coyote or Travelers Peak as options. I settled on Travelers Peak since it was the shorter of the two. 

Passing through Ramona, I caught a wonderful pre-dawn glow. Too bad Ted wasn’t along for the ride, as he would have been all over it. I could see the snow still up on the mountains as I neared Santa Ysabel. Hopefully, I will be done before all the folks who will be heading to the mountains to play in the snow head back into town. I snapped a few photos of the snow-capped Thimble and San Ysidro before making my way down to the desert floor. Just about halfway down, I quickly stopped as some borregos (sheep) were making their way across the road. I grabbed my camera and began snapping away, and managed to get several nice shots. This was the first time I had seen them up here, as my previous sightings have all been further south. I took it as a good omen for the day’s adventures.

After making a quick bio-break at Hellhole Canyon, I cruised through town and out toward the turnoff to the Calcite Mine. The first time I hiked this area, we had parked right next to the road. The second time, I drove partway in before stopping. This time, I figured I could drive all the way to Calcite Mine and start from there, saving some mileage and elevation. As I made my way up the road, it was in great shape. In fact, about partway up, a minivan was parked at a turnout. I thought, “What is Leslie Adams doing out here…?” I had recalled there was one possible rough spot near the end of the road, but it appears that has been resolved. Another Subaru was parked there when I arrived. The driver was just making his way down from exploring partway up the use trail. We chatted a bit, then I set off.

The weather was pleasant as I began working my way up the use trail. The first part of the hike has a very nicely defined use trail from folks exploring just a bit of the ridge once they make it up here, but after the first bump or so, it begins to fade a bit. The route basically follows the ridgeline the entire way to the summit. The challenge of this hike is three-fold, with the first being the steepness. In the 1.3 miles to the summit, I would climb over 1,600 feet. The second challenge is the nature of the Santa Rosas. The geology of this range tends to be crumbly earth, so that is something to contend with. The final challenge is this ridge is often quite narrow. If you have done Mt. Baldy via Devil’s Backbone, that is what you can expect for several sections.

I kept a careful and measured pace as I worked my way up. There is very little plant life on this trail, so at least I did not have to worry about that. Several times the route encounters a section that will give you pause as to how you are going to overcome it. The first two, I took a route to the right. This allowed me to safely avoid a real up-climb. 

I continued plodding on toward the summit, pausing to snap a photo from time to time. As I neared the summit, I stood before a doozy of a challenge, but I recalled that the way to bypass this was to take the route to the left. Even the bypass was still a real challenge, as it required using my hands to safely navigate it. Ted is going to hate doing this peak…

Finally, the summit came into view. I slipped off my pack and soaked in the view. The Salton Sea was very clearly visible to my east. I forget how big it is. Usually, I am looking from much further west. Off to my north was Marble Peak and beyond that Rosa Point. My views to the south and west were equally stunning. The snow-capped mountains were a nice treat. I signed the register and enjoyed a snack. I realized later I forgot to snap new photos of the reference marks…oh well. Once I was ready I began my careful descent. 

I took it slowly and carefully, and in fact several times, I sat down and worked my way down a challenging section or two. The sun would glint off my windshield way down below. It is always nice to know it is still there.

Soon, I was back at the car and had crossed another peak off my x2 list. A Jeep had driven up and we chatted a bit while I was stowing my gear. It was still early and I debated if I wanted to go explore something else. I considered driving out to Fonts Point, or maybe hiking out to Hans Benchmark. But in the end, I decided to explore a small section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail near Ranchita. This would let me have a little fun in the snow. The entire hike logged in at 2.6 miles with 1,664 feet of elevation gain. Including my time at the summit, it took me 3:26 to complete.

Valley of the Moon

Today’s adventure was a combination of climbing some peaks listed on the Borrego Benchmark Club list and some fun off-road adventures in the Valley of the Moon area. Dave picked Ted and me up and headed down the freeway toward the Valley of the Moon. Ted has been wanting to climb Blue Angels peak to cross another SoCal county high point off the list. We pulled off the freeway and lowered the tire pressure on the Rubicon before setting off. We drove up the road that takes you into the Valley of the Moon. Past where I had parked my Subaru on a previous excursion, the road had its first real section that would take some care getting through, but the Rubicon had no issues. Our first designation was the trailhead for Blue Angels peak. It was nice just driving there and not having to walk on the road like I did the first time. Just before we reached the trailhead, we had to drive up one tricky section. We parked and grabbed our gear for the much shorter hike to the summit. 

First, we inspected the quartz mine, as well as the abandoned Chevy, before heading southward along the use trail. To our east, we had some nice views of the actual Valley of the Moon. Huge wind turbines stood off to our south. We cruised along toward the summit, and scrambled up what I thought was the peak, only to discover it was the bump to our north. Since Boundary Marker 321 was just a few hundred yards away, we headed over to it. After snapping a few photos of it, we retraced our route and ascended the correct bump. 

Dave is dealing with some tendon issues, so he found a nice rock to lay on and enjoy the sun, while Ted and I made the short scramble to the summit. I could not find a register, but at least it now has a wooden sign. After snapping our photos and me scrambling to photograph the reference marks as well, we dropped back down off the summit and began working our way back to the jeep.

We stowed our gear in the back and set off toward some of the other minor benchmarks scattered around the area. Just to our west was Whip Benchmark. I wanted to get it last time I was here but had some time constraints that prevented me from hiking to it. We carefully made our way back down from Prospect Mine. At one point we had a 25-degree tilt, which was a fun bit, as we came down the road. The road up toward Whip also had some fun off-road bits, but nothing like that section we just drove down. Whip Benchmark was a quick walk up. In fact, there was a benchmark and register that was guarded by a cactus on the summit. The last person to sign it was back in March 2021! We snapped some photos and cruised back to the jeep. We missed a turn when leaving Prospect Mine for the road I thought we should take, but could now see it to our east. That road actually rejoined the road just above that “fun” section, but this time Dave found a better line and it was a cakewalk.