Thu, Dec 9, 2010
Chuck was back to join Adam and I after a one-day break to attend to job duties back in San Diego. Adam and I had spent the night in the back of our vehicles parked at the Visitor Center in Borrego Springs, Chuck driving in to join us at the pre-dawn hour of 6a. Our plan for the day was to start with Coyote Mtn, a modest peak just north of Borrego Springs. I had info from Schad's book on the approach from the east via Clark Valley, but Chuck persuaded us to use the western approach which he thought the better of the two routes (having climbed both of them previously). We tossed our gear in Chuck's Subaru and drove off through Borrego Springs, heading north towards Collins Valley. Somewhere past the orchards we parked along the dirt road when we were approximately due west of Coyote Mtn.
From our starting point we were less than half a mile from the start of the long West Ridge rising up to Coyote Peak. We crossed the flat bit of Borrego Valley to reach the start of the mountain, an easy ten minute hike across the open desert floor. The sun rose shortly after 6:30a as we started up the steep slope, the sun first alighting on the mountains behind us encompassing Indian Head and the hills just west of Borrego Springs. We stayed comfortably in the shade for most of the ascent thanks to the approach route we took from the west, allowing the peak to block the sun for much of it.
Once atop the West Ridge, it becomes a much more pleasant hike eastward along the crest. The northeast side dropped off only gradually, a modestly graded series of drainages emptying out to Clark Valley. To our right the SW slopes that we'd just climbed dropped 1,000ft steeply down to Borrego Valley and offered a sweeping view of the contrasting plots of green orchards and dry, brown desert. There was an abundance of cacti to contend with along this hike, with several nasty varieties including the cholla that kept us vigilant. It we took our eyes from the ground for more than a few seconds without pausing, it was quite likely that we'd end up with a pantleg or shoe pierced with needles.
About 1/2 mile SW of the summit the easy hiking changed to a steeper pitch as we still had another 1,000ft of gain to manage. This led to one false summit and then another before finally getting us to the summit topped with a large cairn. This wasn't quite the highpoint, we found out. A reference mark pointing northeast to the benchmark seemed to indicate we were close, but as it turned out the benchmark was almost 100yds distance - probably the longest span I've encountered between a reference mark and the benchmark it points to. There were registers at both locations, and of the two the NE one is the most interesting. It has a humorous sign as well as the SDC register. If two registers weren't enough, there was yet another one - a nearby geocache that Chuck wandered east to find. The register at the benchmark had been placed by Gordon MacLeod in 1979, later co-opted by the SDC. The summit has a fine vantage of the Santa Rosa range, stretching from Santa Rosa to the northwest, to Toro, Lorenzens (or Dawns), Rabbit, Villager, Pyramid and other SDC peaks to the east.
On the return I let the other two go ahead via our ascent route while I chose to take an alternative route down the steep East Face of Coyote for no better reason than a change of pace. Though a bit shorter in length it proved no faster as the steep face required a slower descent. I was some five minutes or so behind them when I spotted them ahead on the West Ridge overlooking Borrego Valley. Eventually I caught up with them on the steep descent back down to the valley floor, allowing the three of us to finish together just after 10a. Chuck commented that he had forgotten how long the western approach was, admitting that the east approach probably would have been better. No matter, it was still an enjoyable climb.
We drove back to the Visitor Center and picked up Adam's car for the afternoon hike to Wilson BM and Pinyon Ridge, two more SDC summits. The hike was longer but with significantly less gain, making it a more leisurely undertaking. Finding the turnoff from S22 proved to be a bit tricky. We drove past it several times before finding the small brown sign indicating the start of the Jasper Trail. The dirt road was navigable by both the Subaru and Adam's Escape for all but the last short section (where we piled into Adam's car for the bumpy last 100yds or so). There is a small network of roads in the area with unmarked, or poorly marked junctions, so it helps to have a good idea of where one is trying to get to. We parked at a turnaround point that marked the start of the Wilson Trail, our approach to both summits. It was just before 11:30a when we started out.
The Wilson Trail follows along the broad, high Pinyon Ridge, located southeast of Borrego Springs. It is so wide along the route of the trail that there is little to distinguish it as a ridge proper, but the periodic views both north and south are pleasant enough and let you know you're some 4,000ft above the Borrego Valley. The landscape is moderately vegetated. At first glance it appears that cross-country travel would be more difficult, but in practice it turns out to not be so bad, at least in those areas where we did without the trail. Still, it was far more pleasant and a good deal faster to hike along the trail. The hike is about five miles one way to Wilson BM, but contrary to what the trail's name might imply, it does not actually go to Wilson's summit. We hadn't done a good job of checking the map we carried with us or this point would have been more obvious. The map shows the trail passing by the north and east side of the summit before dropping down to a fork and the ends of trail about a mile further east.
On the north side of Wilson is a wooden post set in concrete that was lying on the ground when we passed by. It wasn't until we were around to the east side and seemed to be running out of high terrain that we thought to double check our map. Adam seemed to think it might be further to the east, but Chuck's GPSr confirmed my suspicion that the highpoint to the west was Wilson. I followed the others as we picked various ways through the brush, agave, cacti and large boulders, making the final few hundred yards to the summit. We found a wooden stake, a register and the benchmark in the middle of the large summit area when we arrived at 1p. While Adam perused the register and Chuck hunted for a nearby geocache, I made my way around the summit area to visit all three of the possible highpoints atop various summit blocks. After a careful, but mostly unscientific survey, I concluded the one next to a large tree was the highpoint, an easy class 3 scramble.
When it was time to head down, we found a nicely ducked route leading back to the main trail at a ducked fork we had failed to notice on the way up. Back at the downed pole on the north side, we paused to give Chuck time to look for another geocache that was reputed to be in the area. After giving it a few minutes, I left Adam to help Chuck with the search while I dug out a small pit and spent perhaps ten minutes to erect the pole once more and build a supporting cairn around its base. Despite my efforts, I imagine it will only take a moderate push or a strong wind to knock it back down again. Chuck never did find the geocache he was looking for in this area.
On the hike back we started asking Chuck questions about his geocaching hobby. Once he realized we were actually interested and not just manuevering to make fun of him, he became more open and admitted to logging more than 2,000 geocaches. I was shocked by the sheer volume of geocaches available, something like 30,000+ in the city of San Diego alone, more than a million worldwide. Geocaching.com is the most popular site and when I got back to San Jose I opened an account for some family activity. My kids thought this was great fun when I took them along, and now I have yet another way to get them outside.
The highpoint of Pinyon Ridge, another SDC summit, is located about a mile and a half west of Wilson BM. The Wilson Trail g oes about a quarter mile north of the summit, so when we had backtracked to the saddle north of the highpoint we left the trail and followed along the ridgeline heading southwest. A use trail of sorts seemed to exist, offering the easiest route along what also appears the most practical choice. The last bit is a class 2-3 rock scramble to the highest point, a fine vantage point with good views (N - E - S - W) and a better summit than Wilson, in our opinion. A register dated to 1984 with Richard Carey placing a newer book in 1995. In returning we eschewed the ascent route, choosing a cross-country jaunt to the northwest that we figured would save a bit of time. It worked nicely, intersecting the trail about where we expected, then about 45 minutes more back to the car where we arrived around 3:30p.
Chuck needed to return to San Diego while Adam and I headed back east on S22 to Borrego Valley, debating the wisdom and timing of trying to hit up another peak. It was not difficult to get him interested, so we headed out to SR78 and Borrego Mtn. There are two SDC peaks here, East and West Butte, the latter the closest of the two and our destination. We had little trouble finding the dirt road turnoff from SR78 according to the directions given in Schad's book. We followed this to an overlook for a feature called The Slot, a narrow slot canyon that we did not stop to visit (some hiking required to get into the slot). Though we were still in Adam's Escape, any vehicle should be able to drive to this point.
There were no signs indicating a trail to West Butte, but by following the most obvious route to reach it, about a mile distant to the northeast, it is easy to pick up the good use trail. It essentially follows the ridgeline dividing two drainages, one flowing northwest, the other southeast. Both drainages are an interesting displays of errosion in action, finely carved minature canyons and ridges with very little vegetation. It was 5p when we reached the summit, taking all of 30 minutes from the start. We found no register at the highpoint. It was growing chilly now that the sun had gone down and would be dark fairly soon. Unlike the previous day, we managed to get back to the car without headlamps. Further, we were closer to Borrego Springs and had more time in the evening when we were done showering.
Chuck had recommended the Red Ocotillo in Borrego Springs for dinner so we gave it a try. We didn't realize ahead of time that it's a little high falutin', connected to one of a dozen or more swanky resorts in the area. I showed up in flip flops while Adam was adorned in one of his (badly) ripped tshirts. These aren't the stylish type they sell in stores that come this way, but rather the do-it-yourself variety that comes from one two many cat-claw encounters. The hostess looked at us briefly and whispered, "Just a minute and I'll have a window seat set up for you." After she left I chuckled at Adam and commented, "You know that's code for We'll put you in the corner, don't you?" Adam thought I was kidding until we were escorted to the far end of the room with a small window looking out on utter darkness. Still, the meal was quite good and we left feeling pleasantly sated. Life in the desert is good...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Coyote Mountain
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