Indian Hill SDC
False Sombrero Peak SDC

Fri, Apr 9, 2010

With: Derek Palmer
Tom Becht

Indian Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


The third and final day of Spring Break in Anza Borrego Desert State Park had Derek and I up just after 5:30a. Like the previous two days, I had a fairly long loop hike to three SDC summits planned, this time in the Jacumba Mountains on the east side of Carrizo Gorge. Derek was interested in joining me for the first summit, Indian Hill, after which he planned to start his long drive back to Santa Cruz. Tom Becht had not shown up during the night as we had expected he might, so shortly before 6a we were nearly ready to head out from our makeshift campsite at Dos Cabezas. Almost on the nose, Tom came rumbling down the bumpy dirt road to join us at 6a. He'd left Los Angeles a bit later than he had planned, but non-stop and probably not-so-safe driving speeds got him there in the nick of time. After some hasty introductions and route discussion, we all climbed into the van for the intended 1.5mi drive along the railroad tracks to the nearest start for Indian Hill. We didn't make it more than about a quarter mile before the road became impassable for all but high clearance 4WD. We weren't even out of sight of the Dos Cabezas water tower. We laughed, parked the car, and started from there.

We hiked north on the road along the tracks, not really sure just where Indian Hill was, but figuring it couldn't be that hard and we could always check the GPS if we got lost. Which is probably why we promptly got lost. We turned off the road too soon, crossing under the tracks at a small trestle bridging a wash. Where I had planned to approach Indian Hill from the north, the wash we followed west and southwest was about half a mile south of the jeep trail shown on the topo. Out came the GPS when the terrain didn't match and we soon realized and corrected the error. It was easy hiking across the alluvial flats, now on a northwest tack towards Indian Hill.

We were 45 minutes in reaching the base of the boulder-strewn hill on the southeast side. It was steep and somewhat blocky in the lower portion, looking harder than it was. Tom didn't pause as we approached and was halfway up the hill in a few minutes while Derek and I looked on. I followed up on a somewhat different route, with Derek taking it slower behind me. I wasn't able to catch up to Tom before he topped out in less than ten minutes. We were actually climbing a lower south summit, only realizing this upon reaching the top. Tom continued across to the higher summit another five minutes further on while I waited for Derek to join me at the south summit. By 7:30a we were all atop the highpoint of Indian Hill.

In the early morning hour the skies were as clear as we'd seen them the last several days. The summit was not very high which limited our view, but we could still see the Santa Rosa Mtns to the north and many smaller ranges in other directions. A small register dated to 1999 was placed by Mark Adrian, another prolific climber in the area. Immediately behind us to the southwest rose Moan BM, our next goal, the terrain looking much like what we'd just climbed, only about three times higher. Tom and I bid adieu to Derek after we had spent about ten minutes at the summit, descending the southwest side of Indian Hill to the alluvial flats before starting up to Moan.

It was an enjoyable scramble. The route-finding was easy enough and the large boulders made for a fun and interesting ascent. The boulders grew bigger as we neared the crest and of course the first summit we topped out on turned out to be a false one. Locating the benchmark is no easy task with just a map as it was not placed on the highest point in the area (which is further south). The GPS was useful once again in pointing us in the right direction and once redirected I could just make out the old survey pole standing atop the benchmark further to the southwest, only a minute away.

In addtion to the survey pole, we found the benchmark and a register dating to 1996. Looking west across Carrizo Gorge, I could trace out yesterday's route starting from Mt. Tule, the highest point in the In-Ko-Pah Range, down to Groan BM, over to Gasp BM, and then back to Tule. To the south was Jacumba Peak and the highpoint of the range we were currently on. The Goat Canyon trestle was just visible in the same direction, and our next destination. Well, sort of - we were heading to Puff BM which is a small summit just above the trestle where we hoped to get a good look at the structure.

It was 8:45a as we began to make our way south along the crest of the range, wandering left and right around intermediate summits, always looking for the easiest way around. The hiking was fairly easy and the fine views made it rather enjoyable. We came across a small snake that we stopped to photograph and play with. The unfortunate snake had no holes to slither into or rocks to crawl under and was forced to put up with our picking him up with a stick and placing him on a large rock for a better photo op. It was clear he was not happy with us, pooping and striking at us in an effort to discourage us. We put him back down after about five minutes of such torture and hopefully he held no lasting grudge against us or other humans he may come across in the future.

As we neared our next target we dropped off the ridgeline to begin a traversing descent across the western slopes of the ridge in order to take a shorter and more practical approach to Puff BM. We were happy to find there were no significant cliffs to deal with on this traverse and despite it's steepness, it went fairly smoothly. We dropped into a small ravine just east of Puff before making the final climb up to the summit where we arrived before 10:30a.

Though it has little prominence and is lower than much of the surrounding terrain, the summit did not disappoint. As expected, there is a fine view of the 600-foot long wooden trestle just below. There are other views of smaller trestles and several tunnels that are part of this most impressive engineering marvel. We could see a party of perhaps 8 or 9 cyclists down on the railroad, admiring the structure close up. We caught their attention and exchanged waves as we took a break at the summit. After about five minutes they got on their bikes and headed back north along the side of the tracks - a very cool destination for mountain biking, to be sure.

The oldest register entry dated to 1982 from a DPS member who had hiked over from Piedras Grandes, essentially the same starting point as our own. A newer register was left in 1995 by a large SDC party headed by Terry Flood. We next turned our attention to getting back to Dos Cabezas. The shortest route was probably to reverse the traverse we had done and then descend one of the canyons on the east side of the ridge once we had reached it. Parts of these canyons looked quite steep on the topo map, and without any beta we were unsure if we might run into cliffs or large, dry waterfalls. We decided on the longer return via Palm Canyon, thinking a use trail through that route would make things easier.

We started off hiking along the ridgeline up from Puff BM towards the crest. We misread the topo to some degree and ended up traversing into the upper part of Goat Canyon without intending to. This turned out to not be such a bad idea as we found a convenient use trail that led much of the way back to the pass leading to Palm Canyon. Even though I had been up Palm Canyon before and knew of the trail beforehand, I did not remember much of the details concerning it. Consequently, we did not know the indistinct trail down Palm Canyon made use of several side canyons to get around large drops found in the main canyon. Our descent down the main canyon therefore held several surprises for us that we were happy to find class 3-4 ways around without having to backtrack to any great degree. It was all great fun and reminded me a lot of the descent down Borrego Palm Canyon in the northern part of the park near Borrego Springs. It made a nice change of pace to the ridgeline and open hillsides we'd been hiking most of the day.

We reached the first palms in the canyon just before 12:30p, and the main grove of palms a few minutes later. From there it was but fifteen minutes to the sandy bottomed wash at the entrance to the canyon. An old, primative campsite is located here, at the time occupied by a single vehicle with the unique feature - a large wooden platform built atop it on which a standard 3-person tent was pitched - camping with a view, I suppose. We saw no one in the canyon or about the campsite, but we didn't go over to search further for inhabitants.

We plied the roads for the next 45 minutes to get back to Dos Cabezas around 1:40p. With both energy and daylight remaining, it was not hard to talk Tom into another nearby hike. We drove both vehicles back out to S2, left my van there and drove Tom's Element north towards Indian Valley. Located about a mile north of the Bow Willow CG, the dirt road is easy to miss, with a simple sign reading "Indian Gorge." It's a somewhat long drive in and the road has deteriorated a good deal since my first visit three years earlier. On that first occasion, I managed to drive my van all the way to the TH for Sombrero Peak, but now it would seem to be impossible with large rocks blocking portions of it. Tom's car was up to the task however, and had little trouble. The road improved tremendously once we were through the gorge and into the valley. The valley forks shortly after exiting the gorge. Sombrero stands out prominently above the south fork while False Sombrero is almost as prominent at the head of the north fork, and it is easy to see how the unofficial name of the latter was derived from this view. We drove the north fork of the road to its terminus at the west end, landing us less than a mile from our summit though still nearly 1,300ft above us.

It was 3p when we started out, the route-finding not at all difficult - one could climb the peak from just about any direction - but it was rather steep and unrelentingly so. The boulder-strewn slopes were chock full of chollo cacti, the ground littered with the easily broken sections that lie in wait like natural anti-personnel devices. One had to be very careful where both feet and hands were placed in the process of ascending the slopes which meant the eyes could not wander much to take in the scenery. Consequently, we spent a very tiring hour ascending the short horizontal distance to the summit.

The summit block is a refridgerator-sized chunk of granite tipped at an angle with a tiny perch for the top. Adjacent blocks make it easy enough to climb even if it is a bit of a balancing act to stay atop it. The glass jar register was placed in 1985 by a MacLeod/Lilley party. Wes Shelberg signed in a couple years later, though commented that he had first climbed it in 1978. The name "False Sombrero" first appears in the 1999 entry from a large Sierra Club party. Another large party had been the last to sign in a little more than a month earlier.

While I had been waiting about ten minutes for Tom to join me, I had spied what looked like a good descent route off to the west - a sandy, south-facing slope dropping down from the west shoulder of False Sombrero. Compared to our ascent, it was pure delight. The sand was thick, lightly vegetated, and we made rapid progress for the 2/3 of the descent that the slope held out for. We were not the first humans or animals to make use of the slope, judging by the tracks we found and made use of. At the end of the slope we dropped into some modestly brushy boulder-hopping in the dry gully below, eventually exiting into the sandy wash that led out to where our car was parked. The whole descent took but 30 minutes.

Now nearly 5p, we were done for the day and turned our attention for home. The three days had been short but highly enjoyable, and the Anza-Borrego desert was quickly becoming my favorite California area outside of the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately this would be my last venture here for the season and I will probably have to wait for fall or winter before I have another chance to visit the San Diego area.

Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

This page last updated: Tue Apr 27 11:15:58 2010
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: