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!

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.

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. 

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.