Bighorn Canyon Peak P500
Nolina Peak P300
Peak 2,997ft P300

Sat, Feb 23, 2019

With: Karl Fieberling
Patrick O'Neill
Matt Yaussi
Tom Becht
Iris Ma
Bill Carpenter

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2


I had a big day planned in the Mescal Bajada area of Anza-Borrego SP, tagging five summits in two loops. We would manage only three of these, partly because we had an injury enroute to the first summit, partly because seven people is a few too many to move quickly, and mostly because it was overly ambitious - I have doubts as to whether I could have even managed it on my own. We'd spent the night camped at Stag Cove, a primitive campsite on the western edge of Mescal Bajada, piling into the three jeeps in the morning for the drive up sandy Pinyon Wash, only a few miles away.

Bighorn Canyon Peak/Nolina Peak

It was after 7:30a by the time we'd driven the Pinyon/Nolina Wash system to its southern end. We parked where large boulders blocked further access up the Nolina Wash and started from there. Unofficially named Bighorn Canyon Peak is the most prominent summit in the Pinyon Mountains with more than 700ft of prominence, and our first stop. We hiked up the wash only a short distance before turning right to start up one of the subsidiary ridgelines rising to Bighorn Canyon's NE Ridge. Matt and Patrick had turned off almost from the start, taking the next subsidiary ridgeline to the north that proved a bit longer but still workable. As usual, the group began to spread out as we climbed higher. Myself and Bill were out in front, with Tom, Iris and Karl below us on the ascent. Upon reaching the NE Ridge, we came to find that our summit was still almost half a mile way, much further than it had first appeared. While Bill and I were making tracks across the rocky and agave-filled terrain, Tom was just about to reach the NE Ridge when a large rock he was scrambling over gave way, resulting in an uncontrolled tumble with the rock coming to rest on his head and shoulder blades. Iris watched the accident unfold with alarm just in front of her. Tom was desperately calling for her to remove the rock that was pinning him down in a most awkward position. With some effort, she managed to dislodge it, noting the beating Tom had taken from the fall. He had cuts and scrapes to his scalp, legs arms, and torso. She called loudly up the hill to Bill and I but we were out of hearing by this time. Karl was the only other member of our party nearby. Nurse Iris went about cleaning and patching Tom up with her first aid kit. Battered, but no so badly as to lose his sense of humor, Tom commented, "You know, Bob would want you to take pictures."

Meanwhile, Bill and I had arrived at the summit, wondering what had become of the others. We found a register left by Mark Adrian and the Monday Maniacs in 2017, dubbing the peak, "Bighorn Canyon Peak". Bighorn Canyon borders the summit on the west side, much like Nolina Wash does to the east. After some time, Matt arrived and then I got a text with no words, just four pictures of the various injuries Tom had sustained. From this I surmised that Tom had taken a fall which I guessed couldn't be too serious. A few minutes later I got a Snapchat video from Iris, saying calmly but briefly, "If you get this, you should come back." Bill and I immediately packed up and started off, Patrick just arriving from another direction. We left it to Matt to explain to him what had happened. Bill took off at such speed as to lead me to believe he was just toying with me during the ascent earlier. We found Iris at the junction of the NE Ridge, a few hundred feet above where Tom and Karl where waiting. After a brief exchange with Iris to assess that it wasn't too serious, we suggested she and Karl should go to the summit while Bill and I help Tom back down. Karl wouldn't leave Tom until Bill had arrived, but was soon convinced to join Iris. Tom almost seemed interested in continuing as well, but he was hurting enough that it didn't seem the wisest choice - better to see how it goes descending back down before planning the rest of the day. Nurse Patrick arrived a few minutes later with an even more elaborate first aid kit, but it appears Iris had done most of the patching up already. Patrick produced a can of Pringles as "medicine" which Tom promptly devoured. Bill had a large bag a salty, white chedder corn puffs, more medicine that was passed around - can never have too much medicine, it was proclaimed. After more discussion and photo taking, we started back down, going slowly to accommodate Tom's injuries. The original plan had been to head more directly to Nolina Peak, but prudence suggested we go back to the cars and assess Tom's condition.

It was 10:30a by the time we'd returned to Nolina Wash and the jeeps. We spent about 45min taking more medicine disguised as lunch, patching Tom up a little better and working out a plan for the afternoon. Tom decided he was well enough to continue hiking while Patrick decided to take a break so he could monitor his solar farm for maximum efficiency. Six of us headed south up Nolina Wash once more, this time heading for unofficially named Nolina Peak. We hiked about 3/4mi up the wash before turning left onto Nolina's NW Ridge. Matt and Karl continued up the wash for more than a mile, choosing an alternate route up from the southwest side. The NW Ridge proved to be a fairly enjoyable climb, not too steep and much less agave and other nasties to watch out for. It would take us until 12:30p to reach Nolina's summit where we found a smattering of snow, much like on Bighorn Canyon, left over from a brief storm a few days earlier. To the southeast, the higher Whale Peak had significantly more snow and we were quite happy our summit wasn't of equal stature. The register came in three parts - an older, two-sided sheet dating to 2007, a small pad of Post-It notes, and a third register left by Mark Adrian in 2017, the same day he'd left the one on Bighorn Canyon. After the usual rest aloft, we started back down. I had been intriqued by Karl's glowing report of their ascent route and went off the west side to explore the upper reaches of Nolina Wash myself. The others all went back via our ascent route which we'd agreed had been a good one. The west side goes steeply down to the wash, but no more than class 2 with some care. The wash itself was a fun bit of easy class 3 rock scrambling mixed with class 1 walking in the sandy, flat portions. After some time in the wash, I neared the end and spotted the others high on the hillside making their way down. I took up a postion atop a boulder on the opposite side of the wash to watch them come down in turn. There was a moment of hilarity when Iris returned to the wash and found a tick on her jacket. She screamed and ran from it like a scared rabbit, which prompted the rest of us to start taunting her about it for the rest of the day. When we got back to the cars around 2:20p, we found Patrick relaxing in a beach chair, all smiles from a successful solar charging session.

Peak 2,997ft

We wouldn't have time for the other loop hike I'd envisioned, so I suggested we could still have time for an abbreviated version by visiting the easiest of the three. Even Patrick was game for this one, so we were back to a group of seven. We drove back out to the junction with Pinyon Wash, then drove southeast up that wash nearly to its end, about 0.9mi due west of Peak 2,997ft. It would take us about 45min to make our way to the summit, climbing some 800ft along the way. Mark Adrian had not left a register here on his visit in 2016, but there was one from 2018 by Larry Edmonds, with three other parties visiting since, all familiar names from the usual suspects. We spent more than 20min at the summit, enjoying halloween candy from Iris and other snacks before starting back down. It would be after 4:30p by the time we returned. Though we still had nearly an hour of sunlight remaining, it was a good time to call it quits while our shower water was still warm. We returned back to Stag Cove where we showered and enjoyed a BBQ/campfire courtesy of Matt and his baby Weber. There was far more meat consumed in one night than I normally would have had in a week, and I went to bed that night with my stomach feeling more full than it had been in a very long time...

Matt's Video


scott hanson comments on 03/05/19:
Glad to hear you were traveling in a group today. Kudos to Iris and Patrick for carrying a first aid pack and tending to Tom's injuries. That must have been a large rock and a frightening experience to get pinned by it. Stay safe out there!
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