Travelers Peak P500 SDC
Pyramid Peak P300 SDC
East Butte P500 SDC

Fri, Dec 10, 2010

With: Adam Jantz

Pyramid Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile
Travelers Peak later climbed Mon, Feb 25, 2019


We had one more day left in the Anza-Borrego region and maps for about four more days worth of peaks. Since we were headed to Joshua Tree at the end of the day, we decided to tackle the remaining peaks on the east end of the State Park, in the direction of travel to JT. Palm BM and Pyramid are two SDC summits at the southeast end of the Santa Rosa Mountains, in the northeast corner of San Diego County. They are the lower end of the main crest rising up to a number of other SDC and, HPS and DPS summits including Rosa Point, Mile High, Villager, and Rabbit. Palm BM is also known as Travelers Peak as depicted on Harrison's map and possibly others, and seems to be the more commonly used name. The rough plan was to do these two as a loop, Travelers first, then the ridgeline to Pyramid, then a descent down Smoke Tree Canyon. To facilitate less hiking along S-22, we opted to start in Coachwhip Canyon, not the most direct route to Palm.

It was easy enough to find Coachwhip Canyon with the aid of a helpful sign just off S-22. We drove about ten minutes up the wash, taking a right fork when given the choice. Adam drove further into the narrowing canyons than we needed to, mostly just to give his SUV the exercise. We backtracked a short distance to leave it at a second fork that we had encountered, hoping it would make it easier to find on the return through this area. Travelers was visible from our starting location, the sun having risen only a short time earlier, but as we came to find, there was no direct route up one of the canyons from our starting point to the summit.

We hiked up the canyon to our right for about ten minutes before concluding that we should really be in the larger, adjacent canyon to the east (actually two canyons over). The walls of these canyons are composed of hard, dried mud, though not so hard as to make scrambling from one canyon to the next very easy. Once down in the larger, unnamed canyon to the east, we followed it upstream (dry, of course) in a generally northeast direction. We probably should have scrambled out of this one as well and onto the SE Ridge of Travelers, but we were blissfully ignorant of where our canyon was leading us. For the most part it was a pleasant enough hike up the sandy wash, with a few tricky sections with class 2 or class 3 scrambling to negotiate. As we moved further up the wash we became aware that our route was leading to a saddle north of our target, an unattractively roundabout way to reach it. The West Face of Travelers was fraught with steep faces composed of loose, conglomerate rock layers. We decided to climb out of the canyon to our right for a better look at the West Face and any possible breaches in its defenses that we might avail ourselves of.

Partway up the ascent we reached a narrow side ridge running up to the West Face. A short section required a steady foot over unstable terrain, so I offered to go first and climb up higher to see if the route "would go", before having Adam commit to the same unpleasantness. About 100ft higher up I got a good view of the broad West Face and noted two possible chutes that might be used. I called down to Adam to climb up, and together we considered the options further. Far to the left was a direct chute leading to the summit but it would require a long traverse across the steep, unstable cliff base of the West Face to reach it. A nearer chute to our right that led up to the SW Ridge with one questionable section in the chute that we were not certain would work. Adam urged for the nearer chute as likely to be less dangerous, so it was in that direction we headed. The cat-claw and chockstones we found in the chute once we reached it were hindrances, but did not prevent us getting up with careful footwork.

Once we reached the SW Ridge, we found the terrain much easier. A straightforward class 2 climb for the next twenty minutes led to the summit where we arrived around 8:40a. Along with a benchmark placed in 1939 and the fine views to be had from the summit, there was a Wes Shelberg register dating to 1979. The most recent visit had been only two weeks earlier by Ben Baumann. After our well-deserved break we turned our attention to the next task at hand, getting to the summit of Pyramid almost three miles to the north. The route was straightforward along a connecting ridgeline, though we did have to drop more than 600ft to the lowpoint of the saddle between them. From the saddle it was another 1,500ft of gain to reach the 3,500-foot summit, taking about an hour and a half from the summit of Travelers.

We found the register under a small cairn at the top, though it was mostly a collection of loose and torn paper scraps bundled with a more recent spiral-bound notebook. Gordon MacLeod's 1983 entry was the oldest of the scraps I noted, though by no means did I do a throrough perusal. Steve Fossett seems to have the most ascents of this summits - Chucked had mentioned to us the previous day that Steve's been up this summit several dozen times, and it was Steve's name that occupied most of the notebook's entries. I spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes trying to talk Adam in to continuing on to Rosa Point, 2,000ft and another two miles further north. Not that I was interested in joining him, mind you, as I'd already visited the peak a few years earlier, but I knew he was very much interested in the DPS summit (also an SDC and HPS summit). It was now just after 10:30a and there was plenty of daylight for him to make the ascent and return well before dark. Taking this and other information into account, Adam was torn as to what he should do. Amused at seeing him in this conflicted state, I couldn't help but smile and laugh as I continued to press the case for continuing to Rosa. Perhaps if I had been more serious in my effort to convince I'd have come away successful, but in the end Adam decided to leave it for another day. Oh well, at least I'd be able to talk him into East Butte later.

Rather than the longer descent through Smoke Tree Canyon that I had planned, we headed back down the same ridgeline in the interest of taking the swiftess way back. Just below the 2,800-foot contour at a split on the ridge, we turned right and headed south, looking for the direct connector back to Coachwhip Canyon and our car. We could see the vehicle from this point almost two miles away, but picking out the correct series of ridges to follow was tricky business, more so the further we descended. The lack of significant vegetation made things easier, but the whole area is a confusing maze of eroding side canyons and ridgelines. Most of the travel along the ridges were easy enough, with only a few steep sections to negotiate. We got close, but ended up a bit too far to the east, requiring us to climb out of one canyon and into the next before we picked up our footprints and the sandy route back to the car.

As it was not yet 1p, we had plenty of time to tackle East Butte as I'd hoped. We spent almost an hour driving between Coachwhip Canyon and the start for East Butte. Along the way we retrieved my van, drove both down to SR78, then left the van at the entrance to an RV park while we drove Adam's SUV to the starting point just west of East Butte. Ordinary cars would have been stopped well before this point, but Adam managed to adroitly manuever his vehicle along the bumpy dirt road, steep in places, to within half a mile of the summit. The hike took all of about 20 minutes. There was no trail as we'd found the night before on West Butte, but it was not difficult hiking at all. We found a first register on an obviously lower west summit, only a few minutes from the highpoint further east. I dismantled the cairn marking the lower summit and took the glass jar register with us over to the higher summit. There was another cairn and register at the highest point, though it dated back little more than a year. After signing ourselves, I combined the contents into one register and kept the glass jar to place on another summit that might be in need of one at a future date (the next day, it would turn out). During the return I grabbed Adam just before he was about to step on a tarantula that was moving across our path. It was the first tarantula I'd seen outside the Diablo range, certainly the first I'd seen in the desert. After pestering it a few minutes for photographs, we let it be and continued back. We were at the car before 3p, taking no more than an hour for the whole hike, certainly the easiest SDC peak we'd visited yet.

With the earliest finish of the trip so far, it seemed we would have lots of time to shop for a few needed items (in my case, duct tape and insoles to repair my boots, more Gatorade, some breakfast food and some salty snacks to help the leg cramps I was getting at the end of the day) and perhaps Internet access to check email. After driving back out to SR78, we drove off separately, planning to meet again in the evening outside the south entrance of Joshua Tree. Shortly before reaching SR86, I pulled over at a concrete culvert in order to take a quick rinse. I had to wait for some five minutes before the traffic subsided (lots of OHVers heading to Anza-Borrego for the weekend on a Friday afternoon) to give me a chance to strip naked for the rinse. As luck would have it, Adam's was the only vehicle to drive by as I was doing my business out there in the late afternoon sun, and he couldn't let it go without a honk of his horn.

When I got to Coachella I had no luck finding the Super Target that Adam had promised me would be obvious (it was in Indio, the next town to the north). Instead, I got stuck in some awful traffic that resulted when the police cordoned off the main road through downtown. I tried to follow the locals in their efforts to drive around this mess, but I got stopped at one dead end after another before ending up in the parking lot of a Walgreens. I gave up trying to find the Target and went in to shop at the drugstore. Luckily they had everything I was looking for, though at rather high prices. Someone told me they were getting ready for a Christmas parade down Main Street due to start shortly, so my dismay at the traffic mess was mollified by my holiday spirit, though it didn't go high enough to get me to hang around to watch it.

My short excursion back to civilization after four days in the desert didn't go as I'd hoped and I found myself tired of it already. I raced back out of town, heading east on Interstate 10, happy to see the city lights receding behind me. As Charles Shultz's Snoopy once said, "Civilization is overrated."


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