Travertine Rock
Coolidge BM P1K
Round Granite Hill
Troutman Mountain
Peak 3,902ft P1K
Peak 3,247ft
Peak 3,064ft

Wed, Apr 8, 2015
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2


I had spent the night at the northwest end of the Salton Sea and west of SR86, camped off a dirt road surrounded by irrigated farmland. I had planned an ambitious day, tagging a handful of benchmarks on the east side of Rabbit Peak that at one time had been on the Sierra Club's SDC list. It wasn't clear to me that it was legal to be camped where I was, nor where I might find such a haven to leave the van while I was gone most of the day. I used that as my excuse to blow off what would surely be a grueling day with high temperatures forecast. Instead, I decided to do a handful of shorter outings including a couple of P1Ks.

Travertine Rock

This modest rock formation is found just off SR86, only a mile from where I had camped. It is an obvious landmark as one drives up or down SR86, a collection of giant granite boulders heaped upon each other. I parked at the SW corner of SR86 and 86th Street and walked the short distance through a palm grove to reach the formation on its north side. This had some fun scrambling all the way to the summit. There are two points vying for the highpoint honors, the north point being the winner. It is a stiff class 3 friction climb, but not much exposure. There are good views from the top overlooking the Salton Sea (early morning is NOT a good time to get views of it, however). Immediately surrounding Travertine Rock to the west is an array of palm groves. To the SW is Coolidge BM, where I would head next. I dropped off the west side of the summit where the scrambling is only class 2 (and the easiest) and walked back to the van through the grove.

Coolidge BM

This P1K on the west side of the Salton Sea had been on my radar for a number of years. I chose to approach it from the northeast, via Coolidge Springs Rd off SR86, across from the community of Desert Shores. This paved but neglected road has a homestead where the road bends. I chose to park here, figuring nobody would mess with a vehicle left in front of somebody's home. The land is a checkerboard of Indian and private lands but there are no signs or fences to bar entry found anywhere. A cell tower nearby was home to a number of roosting blue herons which photographed nicely with the setting moon. The hike was a good one, climbing more than 2,000ft in less than 2.5mi. Immediately behind the house are some treatment ponds, then a dry wash to cross at the base of the mountain. I picked out an obvious gully that had some class 3 scrambling at the start, eventually leading to easier, but still fun terrain. A false summit was reached after the first hour, the true summit still some 25min away. There are nice desert views as one climbs ever higher.

I reached the summit just after 9a, finding a benchmark as expected and a MacLeod/Lilley register from 1982 (also more or less expected). Wes Shelberg had visited and left a record only a month before the dynamic duo. The register had some 28 pages filled, more than I would have expected, about one party per year on average. The most recent entry was two years prior from the Monday Maniacs climbing group (they have many entries all over San Diego County summits). It was no surprise that this summit offers far better views than Travertine Rock and a fine Salton Sea overlook. To the west, Villager and Rabbit look impressive. I wasn't regretting that I had forgone that long march across the desert earlier in the morning.

My descent route started off down the SE side, my intention to continue down and then circle back north to the start. Instead, I kept traversing east, following a line across various gullies and eventually dropping in a companion gully to the northeast. Both routes seemed equally interesting and by 11a I was back at the start.

Round Granite Hill

After a quick stop at the Red Earth Casino for a large 44oz soda (who are these people playing slot machines on a Wednesday morning? They all look so bored, but they keep putting money into the machines and pushing the buttons), I headed back west on SR78 into the heart of Anza-Borrego. Noting an easy bonus summit on my GPS just off the highway, I stopped to tackle Round Granite Hill in all of 24min. I'm not really sure why it even garners an official BGN name, but perhaps it was some landmark on a stage or mail route back in the day. Some of the ocotillo cacti were in bloom in this area, adding some bright color to the scene.

Peak 3,902ft et. al.

The last four summits of the day were focused on Peak 3,902ft, a P1K in Vallecito Valley south of Country Road S2. Troutman Mtn is a low summit just off the highway that was more or less on the way. The other two unnamed summits with 300ft+ of prominence are part of the formation that forms the P1K and seemed worth visiting on the way back from the highpoint. Altogether they would occupy the rest of the afternoon, taking about 4hrs to cover 9mi. Vallecito Valley and the lands immediately south where I would be hiking are actually outside Anza-Borrego State Park, mostly on BLM lands though there are some private inholdings. To the west of my route is the Campbell Ranch, an ongoing ranching concern that raises cattle in the valley. I would come across several fence boundaries though none of them were signed for No Trespassing, and there was some confusion as to where the ranch boundary ends and the Sawtooth Wilderness boundary begins (in fact there's probably considerable overlap since Wilderness does not preclude grazing, unfortunately). Most of the rocks in this area are granitic, the summits essentially heaps of such boulders piled atop each other amidst light desert scrub vegetation.

It took about 25min to cross the valley floor and climb Troutman Mountain. I found nothing at the summit aside from some nice views. I dropped down the southwest side of the summit to reach a ranch road which I then followed south, deeper into the upper reaches of Vallecito Valley. Somewhere along the way I passed into the Sawtooth Mtns Wilderness. Scattered cowpies told of years of grazing, though none of it looked recent, perhaps suspended due to drought conditions. There is abundant agave growing in the valley and on the slopes of the hills and it was interesting to find a whole range of the plants in various stages of blooming. I left the road at its closest approach to Peak 3,902ft's NW Ridge and then followed this ridge to the summit, taking about an hour. The ridge had some difficulties, not particularly hard, that could be bypassed on one side or the other. It was a bit brushy in places, but nothing that couldn't be circumvented with judicious route choices. Mark Adrian and the Monday Maniac crew had left a register in 2006, noting they had come up the North Ridge. There really isn't any North Ridge, so I'll assume I followed their route. They came back again for a second visit in 2012 and again in 2014, apparently a favorite of theirs. The only other item at the summit was a rusty steel stake planted in the round. It had notches in the side, perhaps used to tie one's horse to while visiting the summit.

I next turned my attention to the east and the other two lower summits found in that direction. It took about 45min to drop from the summit to a saddle and climb to the first of these two summits. Some colorful cacti blooms in fushia and yellowgreen added some interest to the otherwise drab colors of the surroundings. The scrambling was not difficult, but rather tiring as the day was wearing on and my reserves were thinning. I found the same steel stake planted at the second summit, but no register (not really surprising). It took another 35min to get from the second to the third summit where I was amused to find a third steel stake marking the highpoint. I dropped north off this last summit to reach the valley floor once again, then a long march back to the highway, taking most of an hour. It was after 6p by this time, the end of a long day. I showered where I was parked off the highway then drove back north towards SR78.

I had planned to spend a third day in the desert area but was foiled by car problems. I had noticed one of my tires with a slow leak and had been filling it with air from my portable pump the last few days. When I stopped at an overlook in Box Canyon to fill it once again, I was dismayed to find my pump suddenly stopped working. The tire wasn't of immediate concern, but I was afraid it might not do to wait until the next day when I was done hiking - by then the air pressure would be too low to drive without damaging the tire. I resolved that I needed to either fix the tire or fix the pump. I drove back up to Julian where I arrived around 8p. Most everything in town is closed by this time. At a convenient store I borrowed a few tools to take the pump apart, only to find it did not have a broken wire like I'd found the previous time the pump gave out. I then tried another appliance in the 12V outlet, only to find that the outlet was the problem. I figured it was a blown fuse and there was nowhere in Julian I was going to get a replacement at this hour. So I drove further west on SR78 to the town of Ramona, another 45min away. Here I found an auto parts store open until 10p. At least I wasn't going to be under a time constraint. After studying the fuse chart for the suspect fuse, I had to borrow a pair of pliers from the store to remove it. A few bucks later I had a pack of five fuses and immediately blew the fuse again after replacing it. After more investigating, I determined the pump motor had seized, causing a short, which in turn blew the fuse. Another $30 got me a new pump and after replacing the fuse a second time, all was well once again. Rather than drive two hours back out to the desert I decided to find some peaks closer to the coast.

I spent the night parked off some backstreet outside Ramona, actually a closed section of SR78 left hanging when the highway was improved and slightly rerouted. It was away from any habitation and far enough from the highway that I would get little noise to bother me in my sleep. I was visited in the night by a Highway Patrolman, concerned I might be up to no good. He was cordial enough when he found it was just some old guy sleeping in his van, and said he wasn't going to make me move. This surprised me, because I didn't think I was parked illegally. I offered that I had parked in the gravel on the shoulder, but he replied that it was illegal to park along a state highway - even as we were both staring at the big Road Closed signs erected across the roadway. "Technically this is still a state highway," was his last rejoinder. I didn't argue, just thanked him for his time and went back to sleep. But I thought that was a pretty lame thing to say...


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