Otay & Tecate

Two of the peaks that Susie needed to summit in her quest to complete the San Diego Sierra CLub 100 Peak list are Otay Mountain and Tecate Peak. Both of these peaks are hiked by following an active dirt road to their respective summits, something neither of us enjoy hiking. So instead I offered to drive us up both peaks. I had done this not too long ago with Ted Markus, but Susie was out of town at that time. We began with Otay Mountain. Starting from the RV park, I drove up the long dirt road to the summit. Partway up, I pulled over to let a Border Patrol truck pass. I parked about 1/4 mile before the summit. The skies were very cloudy and we were not going to enjoy anything more than simply crossing this peak off our list. We walked up the road to the cluster of towers, then poked around a bit. We found a reference mark, and I pointed out the new rescue box that had been installed since the last time Susie was here. Once done with the summit, we hopped back in the car and headed down the east side of the mountain.

Partway down, two road signs informed us that the road was closed. What? Thay would have been much more useful to know back at Doghouse Junction. I could see a staging site for the work, as well as a good place to possibly turn around. There was a worker sitting in a truck, so we asked if it was possible to still use the road. She said that while she did not have a radio to talk to the crew, where they were working should allow us to pass by. We thanked her and continued on. Not too much further, we saw the skip loader working. We spoke with another worker who let us squeeze by. I will say, the road is in great shape. Continuing on down, we spotted more Border Patrol just as they were escorting migrants up to the road. A bit past that bit of excitement, a cluster of campers were scattered about. The biggest shock was yet to come. While two of the vehicles that were involved with the migrants passed us, we soon came upon a new Mercedes sedan driving very slowly down the road. Now the road isn’t horrible, but I don’t think I would want to take a sedan on it. Susie and I looked at each other with so many questions….

Once back on the 94, we headed for our second peak of the day, Tecate. I pulled on to the Tecate Mission Road and began working my way toward the base of the peak. I actually missed the primary road, so instead I just followed the border fence until I reached a point where I could rejoin the correct route. From there it was a long slow climb to the summit, and this road was not in great shape. There were a few spots where we needed to take some care, but the Subaru did just fine. Once at the summit, a Mobile Vehicle Surveillance System (https://www.flir.com/products/mvss/) was stationed there. It was stationed by a young Army soldier, who we chatted with for some time. Since she was new to San Diego, Susie and I gave her the 411 on the peaks that she could see from her post. After chatting a bit, and grabbing a few photos, we said goodbye and headed back down the road. We had talked about trying to squeeze in Buckman Benchmark, but the timing was too tight. I dropped Susie back off at her place, then grabbed lunch to share with my daughter before she returned to college later in the day.

Split Mountain West

After climbing Split Mountain East in the morning, Susie, Ted and I set our sights on Split Mountain West. The trailhead is about ½ mile from where we had parked. These two hikes are  contrasts of one another, Split Mountain East is mostly a ridgeline hike, while Split Mountain West will mostly be within a wash. The road out to the trailhead was also a bit more difficult, but the mighty Outback got us to a nice pull out to begin our hike. Unlike when we did this hike in 2020, we didn’t start the day as early, so we were needing to be mindful of the time, as I certainly did not want to be driving the off-road section in the dark. 

Once again, we planned to use our track from 2020 as the basis for our route. We followed a small wash for a bit, before climbing a steep, loose, rocky slope. Unlike our forgetfulness earlier in the day, both Susie and I recalled this section. After reaching the crest of the ridge, we followed it a bit before dropping down the other side into Oyster Shell Wash. This portion of the wash is a bit rocky, and we remembered that while we could follow it out back to the road, it would not be easy going. 

We left a marker to tell us when we should exit the wash and back over the ridge. I took the lead as we began working our way up the wash. This initial portion of the hike had several dry falls to navigate. Sometimes we could climb them directly, but there were a couple that required us to bypass them. After about ½ mile in the wash, it opened up some and became more sandy. We cruised along, weaving our way mostly northward toward the summit. Eventually, the wash began to end and finally the summit came into view. There is another peak directly off to the east from the wash, and on some older version of the San Diego Peak Club list, it is listed. Susie and I talked about making a detour for it. But, being mindful of the time, we decided not to. 

We took the left fork of the fading wash for a bit before just tackling the summit straight on. After the steep climb, we reached the summit.

We took a short break, grabbing a snack, signing the register and snapping our photos. Once we were ready, I led the group back down from the summit. This time I headed due east to intersect the gully we exited earlier. It really did not make that much of a difference. We cruised back down the wash, keeping an eye out for the couple of dry falls that would need to be bypassed. One of the falls, I did elect to downclimb, but Ted and Susie opted to bypass it. 

We missed our exit marker just a little bit, but still found a nice route out of the wash. Susie had brought her partially broken pole, so we would need to share one of my poles on this descent. We slowly and extremely carefully made our way down the slope. I remembered how much we all hated it the first time, and I still hate it. Susie and I commented that if we ever return, we might spend some more time exploring other options for this section. There is another peak near the one we submitted that used to be on the San Diego Peak Club list that we might climb one day. Plus, the wash is filled with tons of interesting geology, and it would be nice to explore without a time constraint. Although I have yet to spot any Oyster Shells embedded in the walls!

Once back at the car, I drove us out as the light was fading, making it back onto the pavement just at sunset. Another great day in the desert. I logged the hike at 3.7 miles in 3:36 with 1,040 feet of gain. Susie and Ted tracked a longer distance, a good reminder of the differences in tracking devices.

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. 

Kwaay Paay

Another peak I needed some more photos for my trail guide on SoCal Hiker was Kwaay Paay. This is a short 2.8-mile hike, so I decided to do it over a long lunch break. Ted Markus was off, so he joined me in doing this peak.

We cruised up the trail to the peak, encountering a few hikers here and there. Ted did comment that he wishes he brought his poles (hum, might have mentioned that in the trail guide…).

The summit was nice, I had not been here since the new summit marker was installed. This was one of the reasons I needed to do this peak again. We hustled back down, grabbed lunch at Mi Ranchito in PQ, and enjoyed their fine Mexican food in my backyard.

Stage Benchmark

After car camping in Agua Caliente County Park, I met Greg Gerlach for another ascent up Stage Benchmark. We met at 8 and after grabbing our gear we headed out. We had over 4 miles of easy hiking to the base of the peak, so we saved our catching up for then. We both had been busy hiking all sorts of places. In fact, Greg had just returned from hiking Guadalupe Mountain in Texas. The wash was a familiar section to both of us. This would be Greg’s fourth ascent of Stage. In addition, this is also a common route for those wanting to conquer Red Top or Sawtooth.

Just at the boundary fence, a cache of water, food, and some clothes had been left for migrants. We continued along the road southward toward the base of the peak. Surveying a route up toward the ridge that would take us to the summit, we left the desert floor and started up. Cactus dotted the rocky slopes as we worked our way up. We took a short break partway up, and Red Top stood before us to the west. After the brief rest, we continued upward. Our route seemed easier than what I remembered from last time, but we still had to reach the summit and navigate back down.

We reached the summit and took a well-earned break. I snapped some photos of the views. I must admit there are some nicer views of Anza Borrego. We signed the register and I found the benchmark and two reference marks. Then, it was time to head back down. We retraced most of our route, but this time we opted to head down an alternate path. Again, the route seemed fairly easy for us. Although I had a couple of chollas to pick off at times.

Once back on the Inner Pasture floor, we cruised back along the dirt road and into the canyon. Again, the miles passed quickly. We chatted about our next hikes, but we needed the weather to sort itself out before picking out our next peak. All told we covered 9.9 miles in 5:48 with an elevation gain of 1,716 feet.

Diablo Benchmark

We had hoped to do Diablo Benchmark last week, but the stars were aligned against us. Since Susie did not need this peak, just Ted and I headed back out to Anza-Borrego to climb it. As we drove eastward, we kept an eye on the temperature as it kept getting lower and lower. While we did not expect to have any issues, it was mildly interesting. The shocker was it read 20° as we passed through Shelter Valley. Yikes! We turned on June Wash and began the 3+ mile drive up the slight sandy road to our starting point. I had my sand boards and shovel in the back just in case, but the road was in great shape. We found a spot to park next to the fence that now blocked driving further up the wash. When I did this hike back in 2020, we were able to go a bit further back. We gathered our gear, and our concerns about the temperatures were unfounded as we both decided to shed a layer before even starting. The route to the summit is broken into two main parts; following a wash for about half of the way, then climbing out of the wash and taking a ridgeline to the summit. 

The wash started off nice and easy, as it weaved its way northward. But as we continued, the wash slowly became rockier in nature. We kept working our way up the wash, avoiding the cacti that were starting to become more frequent. Finally, about a mile into the hike we reached the spot to leave the wash and obtain the ridge. The slope is a mix of loose small rocks and cactus, so we took extra care on our ascent. I remember coming down this the last time and did not enjoy it. However, once we crested the ridge, the desert view was breathtaking. We followed the ridgeline for about another ¾ mile to the summit. Once there we found the benchmark and the register. We enjoyed a snack, took in the views, and signed the register. As we headed back down from the summit, I asked Ted if he was up for a bit of an adventure. While the route we followed is the most direct route to the summit, some folks have taken a different route approaching from the west after using a different wash. He said sure, so off we went. 

Instead of following the ridgeline that would take us south, we instead stayed on a different ridge that took us westward. The terrain was easy as we worked our way down. After a bit, the terrain became a bit rockier, but nothing worse than what we had on our ascent. We reached the start of another gully and worked our way past it. We could see the wash that we would take southward below us. However, this section was a bit steep and took some care. It was about the same as the section we would have taken on the other route, just with the uncertainty if we would have an issue at the end getting onto the wash itself. Ted and I split up our descent, with Ted staying in the gully and me on a ridge. Our thinking was if we ran into an obstacle we would assist each other. Turns out neither route had any issues and found ourselves on the wash next to a nice large cairn. 

From there we simply followed the nice wide sandy wash south. We knew we would need to backtrack to return to our car. As we cruised along, we debated the pros and cons of this section. On one hand, this wash was very easy but does add some distance to the trip. In the end, we concluded it was a hiker’s choice as to which route. 

A Ghost of a finish…

The original plan was to drive out to Ghost Mountain and join Erika, Tara, and Kali as they complete the 100 Peak Challenge! Then afterward we had planned to head down to Diablo Benchmark, but my car had a battery issue, so we had to switch into Susie’s car which would not be capable of the drive up June Wash. Oh well…

Kali drove out to the entrance to Blair Valley and shuttled us back to the Marshall South trailhead. Once we were all assembled we trekked up to the Marshall South homestead. After some exploring of the ruins, we Kali drove out to the entrance to Blair Valley and shuttled us back to the Marshall South trailhead. Once we were all assembled we trekked up to the Marshall South homestead. After some exploring of the ruins, we headed on to the summit. Unfortunately, just before the summit, I got stabbed by an agave! While our finishers scrambled up the summit block, I took care of my wound. Once I was patched up, all the finishers posed together!

We then cruised back to the homestead and rejoined those who chose not to continue. Once back at the trailhead we shuttled back to Susie’s car. Since my daughter was coming home from college (and I now had to deal with my car trouble), we skipped the pizza back in Wynola.

Big Congrats to all the finishers!

Sheephead Mountain

Today’s adventure was doing Sheephead Mountain for a third time, as Ted Markus needed it for his effort to finish the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list. We drove down the semi-paved Kitchen Creek Road off of Sunrise Highway. The dirt road to East Butte was in better condition than this one. Pine needles again crunched under our boots, as we made our way to the other Kitchen Creek road. Once there, I again made sure to leave a mark to find the use trail back up the ravine. I missed it the first time I summited.

We climbed the improperly placed fence/gate and continued down the road a bit before heading off to locate the use trail that would take us up to the summit. Now the real effort would begin, the trail would climb some 600 feet in about .3 miles. The trail has become a bit overgrown, and in fact, it did rip the left sleeve of my shirt. 

We hung out at the summit just for a bit, taking in the views and having a quick snack before heading back down. The descent was uneventful which, given some of the steep sections, was a good thing. We cruised home and grabbed some burritos from Mi Ranchito in PQ. My tracker logged the hike at 3.2 miles in 2:08 with 928 feet of gain.

Change of Plans…

The plan was to climb the ridgeline from Hellhole Canyon and summit Ted and Webo Benchmarks, but as we drove out toward Borrego Springs, neither Susie nor I had that much enthusiasm for this hike. I had already done it twice, so this hike was solely to help Susie along toward her finishing the San Diego Sierra Club 100 list a second time. We pulled into the parking area, looked at the ridge and the 3,000+ feet of gain that stood before us, and said “Let’s hike something else”. Since she did need Borrego Mountain East Butte, we picked that as our first replacement of the day. After a quick pit stop at the bathrooms at the off-road area, we drove the dirt road up toward the land bridge that I used last time. 

Susie’s other time summiting East Butte was via the rocky gully. That was the same route I had used for my first time as well. But my second time up I used the land bridge to climb it from the west side. 

After parking and snapping some photos with the Santa Rosa mountain range behind us, we climbed the steep slope toward the summit. We quickly found ourselves approaching the summit. Once there we signed the register and took in the views. Since this was such a quick jaunt, we debated what else we might try to tackle. Most of our other Sierra Club peaks weren’t an option, so instead, we turned to the San Diego Peak Club List and found Perpendicular Bluff Benchmark as a strong candidate. 

We drove back along the Highway, amazed at the string of cars and RVs heading the other way. Found a safe place to park near the start of Keith Winston’s track. After scampering across the road, we then cruised across the desert floor, passing through a nice grove of agave. In reviewing Keith’s track, we had a general sense of what he did to reach the summit. We saw a nice spot to hop on the ridge that he eventually got onto later. The ridge had no real obstacles or navigational challenges, and soon we were atop Perpendicular Bluff Benchmark. 

We found the benchmark and the register and after a short break, we headed back down, following the same ridge. Once back at the car, we both agreed this was a fun little desert peak and we’re glad about opting to do something else. The stats for East Butte were 1.27 miles in 1:19 with an elevation gain of 440 feet. The stats for Perpendicular Bluff were 2.55 miles in 1:50, with an elevation gain of 595.

Morena Butte

I wanted to hike out to Diablo Benchmark, but since we could not head out until 11, it was going to be too warm to attempt it. Instead, I looked at some of the peaks Ted needed to complete on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 peak list. But I really did not want to go bushwhacking up Middle Peak, Manza Benchmark or Sheephead Mountain. That left Morena Butte as our best option for a nice afternoon hike. We stopped at the Ranger station and got our parking permit ($3). We parked next to the trailhead and set off down the service road to the dam. A light breeze kept the temperatures pleasant. 

The road worked its way around the edge of Lake Morena, until after about a mile, we turned off onto the trail that would have us connect with the PCT. The Butte loomed over us to the west. We cruised along the PCT for a bit until we reached the turn off to the use trail that would lead us to the summit.

The trail would now weave its way upward through the manazatia. We continued working our way toward the north butte. Once on the slabs near the summit, a nice collection of cairns pointed the way. There is no benchmark on this peak, and we did not locate a register. I found a nice spot to enjoy a late lunch. We debated working our way over to the west butte, but Ted had already run 13.1 miles in the morning, so he was ok with skipping it. Plus, I was feeling a little bit from my ascent of San Ysidro the day before. 

We made our way back down without incident, opting to take the trail on the west side of the small valley this time. After tossing our gear back in the car, we stopped at the market just outside the county park and treated ourselves to some nice milkshakes. I logged the hike at 6.5 miles in 3:17 and 1,100 feet of gain.