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Of the three days I had to go hiking in San Diego, two would be devoted to shorter hikes with family members. Today I was solo and wanted to both get a good workout in, as well as visit the Anza-Borrego Desert park in the eastern part of the county. Having run through the DPS and HPS peaks in the area, I was happy to find the SDC list provides an excellent excuse to go back for more. There are literally dozens of peaks on their list out in this desert, but they tend to be clumped in groups that are better done together. Today I was after seven of these near the park's visitor center east of town. It took nearly two hours to drive out there from where I was staying in Clairmont, but with an early start on the drive I managed to get going with the hike before 7a.
The Visitor Center was deserted when I pulled in. The skies were overcast with temperatures in the low 40s. The sun would be up momentarily, but the cloud cover kept it hidden for most of the day. While the route I would follow was mildly ambitious, crossing over seven of the SDC peaks, it was not original I came to find out. In fact Shane Smith, whom I'd met on a Sierra outing to Three Sisters a few years earlier, had done the exact same loop in 2005, only in the opposite direction, describing it in the summit registers I came across today. And if one were really ambitious, the outing could be extended to include 4 more SDC peaks further west.
I headed almost due west from the parking lot, aiming for a ridgeline continuing up in that direction. As most of the peaks were benchmarks, I had their coordinates loaded into my GPS which was my primary mode of navigation. Being desert, the terrain is fairly open and the cross-country is not difficult, but the rolling nature of some areas and the uniformity of it make map-reading sometimes difficult. I carried a map with me, but only pulled it out a few times - the GPS was generally good enough to travel from one point to the next, somewhere between 1-2 miles apart.
The first benchmark came too quickly as I found my way up and over Ode BM and on my way up to Kay BM before I realized I had missed it. Oh well. By 8:20a I had reached Kay, the second summit, about 2mi from the start. There were two registers there, one a geocache with a small bottle Jack Daniels and other trinkets, another one from the Sierra Club dating back to 1997. There was a benchmark as promised, simply labeled "KAY". There is a fine view looking east to the desert town of Borrego Springs with the Salton Sea just visible in the distance.
Next up was Sirens, higher still, and another half mile or so further west. It took about half an hour of scrambling over rocky terrain to reach it. There was no benchmark at this small peak (really more of a rocky protrusion off a ridge coming down from San Ysidro to the north), but an SDC register dated to 1999. It was here that I found Shane's Smith's mention of the same route in the other direction.
I spent the next hour heading northwest to San Yisdro. San Ysidro Mtn is a three mile-long ridgeline trending SW to NE. The highpoint is located at the far SW end of the ridge and is on the SDC list, but the one I was after today was the point called P5386 on their list at the NE end. As I came to find out, this point is not a clearly defined highpoint as there are multiple rocky blocks vying for the honors of highest point at the location indicated on the topo map. I scrambled up 3 or 4 of these, none harder than class 3, looking for a register or other indication that I had found the highpoint, but found nothing. There is a good view of the rugged Borrego Palm Canyon to the northeast.
Fifth on the list was Goat BM, about two miles to the SW. I was aided greatly in this quest by the GPS as I was fooled by the distances and terrain into thinking a point further southwest, likely White BM or The Thimble (two other SDC peaks I had previously climbed from a different direction) was my goal. I dropped down into Hellhole Flat (not all that flat, really) and then threaded my way through a few small saddles and traversed hillsides to reach Goat. The summit is really just a highpoint sticking out on a small side ridge from San Ysidro, and no one would likely visit it if it weren't for the benchmark that had been placed there. There is a higher summit just north of Goat that was easy to mistake for the proper place, but here the GPS told me I still had several hundred feet to travel still. I walked south to the lower summit, and atop a large chunk of granite serving as the summit block I found the elusive benchmark. The register book dated to 1999, but there were sheets of paper filled with signatures dating to 1989 that I took the time to photograph.
It was now almost 11:30a and I was as far from the car as I would get. Time to head back. Number six on the list was Webo BM about a mile and a half due east. It was first necessary to scramble down to the mouth of the canyon draining Hellhole Flat, a tricky affair with rather steep and rocky terrain dropping into it. There was a tiny spring here, barely flowing at this time of year with almost no rain for many months, but the canyon was heavy with growth that took some bushwhacking to get through. There were a number of mature sycamores growing there, an unusual find in the desert. Getting back out of the canyon was similarly demanding, but this may have been due to a poor choice I made in where to cross. It seems likely that an easier route could have been made with a slight detour north through Hellhole Flat.
It took an hour to reach the Webo benchmark with a Gordon MacLeod register dating to 1982, the oldest of the ones I visited today. From Webo, the route continues east following a ridge parallel, and about a mile south of the ascent ridge. It was all downhill from here. The last point was the Ted BM, which has absolutely no prominence and is really just a flat spot along the descent ridgeline. The GPS proved quite useful once again. I found no trace of the primary benchmark, but by wandering around the area pointed to by the GPS, I located a reference benchmark (that points to the original one), and found a register among the rocks there.
By now I had begun to tire of the ridgeline hiking, and the constant vigilance required to avoid the many types of cacti that were more plentiful on this route. So I dropped north into an unnamed canyon, a very steep descent, hoping for an easier bit of walking in the bottom wash once I reached it. During the descent I spied a pocket of large palm trees growing about half a mile up the canyon. There are similar small clumps of palms in Hellhole Canyon to the south and Borrego Palm Canyon to the north. The bottom of the wash contained no hidden cliffs or dropoffs, though there was some fun class 3 scrambling to negotiate the trickiest sections. The last mile was a flat, sandy hike down and across the wide wash emanating from Hellhole Canyon, and back to the Visitor Center. Compared to the morning, the place was a beehive of activity when I arrived at 2:20p. I had some looks from some of the visitors, their eyes following me as I walked out from the trailless wash, across the parking lot and back to my car. It made me wonder if my fly was unzipped or perhaps I'd left my pants back in the canyon somewhere. Hope I didn't offend anyone.
I made a short stop on my way back. About eleven miles or so out of Borrego Springs on County Highway S22. Bonny BM is just about a mile off the highway and is best included with three other SDC peaks (White BM, The Thimble, San Ysidro BM), but I had neglected it on a previous visit to the HPS's San Ysidro Mtn (same peak as the SDC's San Ysidro BM). I used the GPS to find the spot along the road due south of the summit (near the Mile 7 marker), and spent about 30 minutes seeking out the summit. The chaparral is thick over much of the terrain and it pays to look for use and game trails to aid in getting through the thickest of it. Along with the benchmark, there was an empty Tupperware container and the standard red cans. The latter had two registers that were soaked, rendering them both unreadable and unwritable. I dropped the wet ones into the plastic tub and used a spare book I had with me to start a new register to place in the cans. I took a similar amount of time to return to the car, doing a much better job this time of avoiding the brush. It was 3:30p and time to drive back to San Diego. A very fun day indeed, and I was already looking forward to at least several more return visits to the area.
This page last updated: Mon Jan 6 08:36:06 2014
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