Coyote Mountains Wilderness PP P300
Jacumba Wilderness HP
Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness HP
Pinyon Point

Wed, Mar 21, 2018
Jacumba Wilderness HP
Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness HP
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


This was a rather full day, sunrise to sunset with some driving thrown in getting between the three hikes. It was quite a mix too - a standard class 2 desert climb to start, a difficult class 5 scramble in the middle, a rough bit of bushwhacking in the late afternoon and an easy walk-up at the end. I'd gotten beaten up pretty good by the end but it was a really enjoyable day, regardless.

Coyote Mountains Wilderness PP

I had done the Wilderness HP the evening prior, but run out of time and energy to get to the prominence point on the other side of the range. So I made it my first stop, getting up well before sunrise to get an early start - it was expected to be 85F here in the desert and I wanted to get the low elevation hike done early before things warmed up. My route was pretty straightforward, about 3mi each way, mostly up Fossil Canyon. A road used to run up this canyon for several miles, but it is now gated at the Wilderness boundary though motorcycles can (and have) gotten around the barrier. There are no dry waterfalls along the route, mostly just a gravel wash, though the canyon is not without its interesting sections where it narrows with high conglomerate rock walls on either side. There are various forks in the canyon as one hikes northwest up the drainage but I kept to the main fork for a mile and a half, eventually hiking up out of the drainage as I ran out of wash below. I found a use trail, possibly just a sheep trail, winding its way up to a ridgeline where one first gets a view of the prominence point still 2/3mi to the west. I followed along this first ridge, skirting its local highpoint, Pt. 1,818ft, only 12ft lower than the prominence point. I dropped to a saddle between the two before climbing up to the summit from the southeast, gaining the highpoint by 7:45a, about an hour and a third after starting out. Nothing tricky to this one, all class 1-2. Mark Adrian had left a register in 2015 with a large Monday Maniacs party visiting in 2017. My return was a bit more direct, going up and over Pt. 1,818ft to the south before dropping into Fossil Canyon from the west. I finished up before 9a as it was already growing warm. Time to get to higher elevations.

Jacumba Wilderness HP

This is a toughie. I had read John Strauch's TR on PB where he simply described it as class 3 like it was no big deal. I didn't bother looking at any of the other reports. Had I read Craig Barlow's TR, I might not have attempted this one alone since the summit block is hard class 5. Later I texted Mark McCormick who was in Craig's party and he sent me a photo of their summit block technique, ala Norman Clyde & party on The Hermit. I looked at John's photos later and matched them to the pic Mark sent me - John was clearly on the slightly lower block to the south.

The hike from Interstate 8 is a little over 3mi each way, mostly along dirt roads. The initial mile and half goes steeply up to a junction where it forks. The right fork goes to a telecom installation atop Nopal VABM and the road has been recently improved, paving the bigger dips and adding waterbars. I might have been able to drive this in the van but I parked only a quarter mile from the regular pavement on Old Hwy 80 and walked from there. Past the junction, the road is rough - really rough - and requires a beefy 4WD vehicle with some skills. I'm not sure a standard Jeep could negotiate it without great care. There are many forks in the BLM road, a whole network of challenging roads in fact, just outside the west boundary of the Wilderness. The cross-country from the road to the base of the peak is easy, no real bushwhacking required. Once there, I made the mistake of going directly at what I thought was the highpoint without bothering to check my GPSr. I hadn't downloaded John's GPX track, thinking I could find my way up any old class 3 summit. I quickly found myself on stuff harder than class 3 as I scrambled up and down various boulders and ridges, getting cliffed out time and time again. The rock here is almost all granite, but not of high quality. The surface is grainy and prone to erode off, making it imperative to watch your steps. I spent most of an hour making my way to this tricky point only to find the highpoint was just to the south, behind me. I wasn't much upset though, because scrambling was great fun, the best I'd found in the last week and I was having a great time even if I couldn't navigate worth beans. Even the bloodletting from an agave I was using as a handhold didn't bother me.

Changing course, I reversed my intricate route off the wrong point to begin exploring the actual highpoint. My first efforts, on the north side next to the lower point I'd been attempting, had possibilities that all ended in hard class 5 which I backed off. As I was backing off to traverse around the base of the peak to the right, I dropped into a neat groove where I found a series of three bolted hangers placed horizontally on one wall. They seemed to serve no useful purpose that I could discern. At the other end of this groove, a thick, knotted cotton rope hung down from a tree as a handline to easier ground below. I used the rope to descend, but again, couldn't really discern it's purpose - I could have easily bypassed the groove had I wanted. I next explored the northwest side of the peak which seemed to be the key. A series of very cool tunnels and chimneys led upwards through the cliff bands. Most of this was class 3, though I thought some of the moves more like class 4. Above the last chimney, the route seemed to open up and I thought it would easily lead to the summit. It did not. I had to completely circumnavigate the large summit block, no easy feat in itself, before convincing myself that this was definitely NOT class 3. The shortest route to the top is on the southeast side where an 8-foot wall without holds bars access (this was the side Craig's party boosted each other up). You can almost touch the top from here. The northwest side has some steep finger/hand cracks, about 10-15ft in length that were terribly exposed and I didn't even try them. Around on the north side is an awkward class 3-4 chimney/crack with an overhanging finish. There are holes at the top of the chimney leading to the summit area, but nothing larger than a cat could fit through them. I thought if I could climb to the top of this 10-foot chimney I might be able to reach my left arm up and over the bulge and pull myself up, and this is close to what I did. I had to leave my pack, hat and gloves below for this one. My arm strength alone wasn't enough, but with my feet pressing against the opposing wall, I managed to squirm my way up and over the bulge, class 5.6, my guess.

I found a makeshift register at the summit from Craig's group of seven from 2016. They had used two plastic water bottles to hold a small notebook. Knowing the plastic would not last in the elements, I replaced it with a sturdier one of my own and included the page from their register in the small tin box. I was so anxious about the return moves to get down that I forgot to take a photo of the register. I did take a few pics looking west and east, but I don't think I was on top more than a few minutes. The reverse moves went well enough and I got down without getting sketched. The chimney offers some security from the exposure though my left arm did get a little battered from holding my weight against the sharp granite on the lowering move. I reversed the rest of the route to return to the road network in short order. There appear to be many interesting pinnacles in the area with tons of class 3 (and higher) scrambling to be found. As I was hiking back out along the road I noted one after the other, thinking each would be a fine scramble on its own. I'll have to pay this area another visit to check them out.

It was 2p by the time I returned to the van. Though nearly 4,000ft in elevation, once again it was getting a little too warm out. For the last hike I decided to drive up into the Laguna Mountains at over 6,000ft - this, combined with a cool breeze, would make the last hike quite comfortable, weather-wise.

Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness HP

The Sawtooth Mountains (and the encompassing Wilderness) are a small desert range on BLM lands sandwiched between the USFS's Laguna Mtns to the west, the Anza-Borrego State Park to the east and the Cuyapaipe Indian Reservation to the south. The Wilderness HP is a liner high on the crest of the Laguna Mtns outside the Sawtooth Mtns, proper. Getting to it is no easy feat, requiring some tough travel through the Indian Reservation and chaparral country, almost 3mi each way. There are several possible starting points along the PCT which runs along the crest of the Laguna Mtns. I started from the Desert View Picnic Area (recreation pass required) around 3p, hiking the first easy half mile on the PCT to a water station. The easiest route goes over the fence at this point (onto the indian reservation) and along the old firebreak where the walking is easy. Not knowing this, I went a bit further until I found a breach in the barbed-wire fence, thinking this was the correct route. It led to some awful bushwhacking before I finally reached the same firebreak. Live and learn. Forking off from the firebreak before reaching Pt. 6,122ft is a heavily overgrown, unmaintained trail that runs roughly along the crest of ridge heading east. This trail is key to making progress for the next mile and half through thick brush. It is easy to lose if you're not paying attention and even when you ARE, it's still easy to lose in places. The first half of trail is the easiest to follow while the second half has numerous ducks to help point the way. If you fail to find the trail or continue without it, thinking "how tough could it be?", you will find yourself up against one of the greatest regrets of your life. The trail, such as it is, goes up and over several rises on its way eastward. A little sadly, the trail does NOT go to the Wilderness HP, but instead curves to the south to Peak 6,210ft. The last half mile to the Wilderness HP requires some moderate to heavy bushwhacking, depending on your route choice, most of it heading downhill. I followed the GPSr \coordinate I'd gotten from LoJ, slightly different from that of PB. I went over the PB coordinate without finding a register, eventually leaving one myself atop a rock outcrop within 15ft of the LoJ coordinate. It is not the highest rock in the immediate area and you have to circle around the larger outcrop just to the south to see the small cairn perched on a larger boulder. Have fun with this one. Later I studied the GPX tracks left by others to the old, wet register. The register isn't at the PB coordinate, but it's close.

I thought I might be returning in the dark, but having traveled the hard-to-find trail in one direction made it easier going back. I managed to take quite a spill as I tripped over the brush at one point, but was happy to find nothing injured outside of my pride. I got back to the firebreak in about an hour and half and was on the PCT at the fountain soon afterwards. I had a bit of daylight yet so decided to visit Pinyon Point, a minor summit about a quarter mile across the road from where I'd parked. It was a shameless bit of stat padding with no redeeming qualities to be found at the summit. It was after 7p by the time I returned to the van to call it a day - phew. I had the picnic area to myself so I simply showered there before it got too cold outside, then drove back down the Sunrise Hwy to the large Cottonwood Falls turnout where I spent the night. I had only enough time for dinner before I was ready for some much needed rest...


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