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Eric Su had sent me an email asking if I'd be interested in joining him and some friends for a hike of Lorenzens Peak (or "Dawns Peak" in Jerry Schad's guidebook) in the Santa Rosas over the Christmas holiday. It had been on my todo list for years, with no trail of any sort and nearly 6,000ft of gain by its easiest route. So I readily replied and we agreed to pick a date as the holiday drew nearer. I sent two emails in the weeks leading up but didn't hear back from Eric, so we ended up with a disconnect. Maybe he'd changed his mind, maybe that email was no longer valid. In any event, Tom was interested as well, so we arranged to meet out in the Anza-Borrego desert to make the climb together. Tom surprised me by bringing Glenn along. I hadn't seen Glenn since a year earlier when we hiked with Tom on his HPS list finish. A regular on the Sierra Challenge for years, Glenn is now in Florida for medical school, so we see little of him in the state other than the occasional holiday break.
The climb to Lorenzens from Clark Valley on the south side is not the straight up footwork that I had believed it to be. It is a lot of uphill, but it's broken up into three sections, each preceded by a flat, or relatively flat section. The last climb is more than 3,000ft over little more than a mile and a half, making for a tough finish. The skies were overcast in the morning, but there was just enough of an opening through the clouds to the east to provide a colorful sunrise before the sky turned a dull gray. We drove across the west side of Clark Valley to near the TH for Rockhouse Canyon. We pulled off to the side of the sandy road (high clearance recommended) and started hiking across the north end of Clark Valley around 6:45a. We aimed for the petroglyphs at the north end of the valley and the start of the first climb. It took about half an hour of easy walking to reach the sandy mouth of a steep canyon near the CORP benchmark. We found the petroglyphs easily enough, dozens of rock etchings on the boulders comprising the west side of the canyon wall. We looked around but never managed to find the benchmark.
The first climb is a modest one of about 1,000ft. Broad views of the Clark Valley begin to open up behind us. The gradient rolls off with easier terrain, then a short drop into a wash to the east where the second flat section begins, an enjoyable stroll up a mostly flat, sandy wash for about a mile, climbing all of about 350ft in the process. It was almost 9a by the time we reached the end of this easy section and started the second climb, this one punctuated by a gauntlet of cholla cacti. We all had previous experience with the nasty stuff called "teddy bear" cholla, whose heavily spined stems break off easily when brushed against. The spines have tiny barbs on the ends, much like fish hooks that make removal difficult and painful. The plants were dispersed enough to make avoiding them directly not overly difficult, but the many stem pieces that littered the ground were more trying. I was the first victim, resting my gloved hand on a patch of ground that was hiding one of the small land mines. The needles went through the glove and into my skin making it impossible for me to remove the glove. Tom helped me to first remove the main clump of needles after which I spent a few agonizing minutes removing the individual needles that still remained. The others were good to avoid contact with them on our first pass through their habitat.
This second climb was about 1,000ft and followed by rolling terrain for another mile at about the 3,500-foot elevation level. We could now see the full extent of the final climb ahead of us. An easier gradient could be had to the left and was the route we had expected to take. But as we approached the base of the crest, the more direct route up the middle was more appealing because it had a large section of rock scrambling that looked like it could be interesting. And of course scrambling over rock always seems easier and more interesting that a tedious sand/gravel slog. It was 10:30a by the time we reached the start of the longest, steepest climb. Glenn led the way out front, barreling straight up through the face that looked to be a bit tougher than class 3. Tom and I took the easier ramp leading right that made for a more circuitous route, but class 2-3 and still an interesting scramble that we preferred to the more tedious option to the left.
Not long after 11a the gradient began to roll off as we approached the top of the crest. We were still half an hour away, but the route grew easier and more varied. Junipers and scraggily pines punctuated the landscape and made route-finding less obvious. I took a different tack than the others, traversing a slope to the right rather than climb directly to the crest, knowing from the GPS that the summit lay in that direction. This allowed me to reach the summit first, though only a minute ahead of Glenn. Tom had fallen behind in the final stretch to catch his breath and would be about 15 minutes in following us to the rocky top. A huge cairn of surprising stability is found here. I had seen a picture of it in Schad's guidebook, helping to quickly confirm we were at the right place. Someone, or persons, had spent a lot of time to engineer this rock marvel. Tucked in a nook on its side was a register container with three books. Wes Shelberg had left the oldest, labeled "2nd Book" in 1980. The 1st book was reported as hopelessly water damaged. The 2nd book had 73 pages filled with entries to 2001. Book #3 had an additional 49 pages filled to the present, with less than two weeks since the previous party. Book #4 is currently empty. This summit was incredibly popular considering its difficultly, lack of any trail and lack of inclusion on any peak list. Schad had described it as one of the least climbed peaks in Anza-Borrego, but this was clearly wrong - perhaps his inclusion of it in his book (first edition, 1986) contributed to its increased popularity.
Located at the highpoint on the Santa Rosa crest between Toro to the west and Rabbit to the east, the summit affords commanding views. Though Rabbit blocks the majority of it, a partial view of the Salton Sea can be seen to the east, with the low desert stretching out across the state as far as the eye can see (and the air quality allows). To the northwest can be seen the high summits of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio with the Coachella Valley to the north. And of course the whole of the immense Anza-Borrego Desert State Park unfolds below us to the south. In all we spent about 40 minutes at the summit under chilly, but sunny conditions. Having savored the effort until our heart rates had subsided and the chill gotten under our skins, we headed back down.
Our return was very much along the same lines, though we took the easier decent to the west down from the crest. Back in the cholla section, it was Glenn's turn to pick up a hitchhiker on his gloved hand in a repeat of my earlier accident. He spent some minutes grimacing while extracting the pesky needles, Tom and I offering more verbal jabs than we did empathy. Back in the sandy wash we followed it down a little further, finding an easier exit point than we'd managed on the way up. We wondered if the wash couldn't have been followed all the way to the bottom, but we didn't want to find the impassable dry waterfalls in the lower 1,000ft of the canyon that we guessed someone had already found (and why the standard route is ducked to exit the wash and follow down the adjacent slope to the west). Tom, having suffered no cholla accident in either direction, slipped among the rocks in the last descent, bloodying his hand and leg - none of us would get off scott-free today.
We were back in Clark Valley before 4p and following our footsteps across the sandy desert floor, racing the sun which was about to set. It had just ducked behind the hills to the west when we returned to Tom's car where we'd left it hours earlier to begin our adventure. Tom had a cooler with some icy beers that we first enjoyed before packing up and heading out. It had been a good day, about 9.5hrs - giving us our money's worth on this fine December day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Lorenzens Peak
This page last updated: Mon Jan 20 19:40:10 2014
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