Mecca Hill BM P500
Peak 2,449ft P500
Mecca Peak P750

Tue, Feb 26, 2019
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


I'd spent the night camped at the gravel pit TH for Mecca Hills on the east side of Coachella Valley. It was a very quiet place to spend the night undisturbed without road noises. I'd gone to bed before 8p because I wanted to get up for an early start, knowing the first couple of miles would along a flat road that parallels the levee. Trucks began arriving early for their work day at the nearby gravel pit, but luckily I was already awake when they started rolling by around 5:30a.

Mecca Hill BM

The Mecca Hills are a collection of badlands found north of the Salton Sea and west of the Orocopia Mountains. There is some minor debate as to where exactly the highpoint is located, primarily because the range is poorly defined. On older maps the Mecca Hills are shown extending east, taking in the radio towers where Blink BM is found. On newer USGS maps, the range is more narrowly defined, encompassing the lower, western portion only. Mecca Hill BM is the highest point in this newer definition, and it was to this that I was headed, having taken in the other highpoint along with the Mecca Hills Wilderness HP on a previous trip.

The Coachella Canal runs along the western edge of the range, limiting access from that side to those few places where a road crosses the canal. Southwest of Mecca Hill BM, Box Canyon Rd crosses over the canal, providing access to dirt Painted Canyon Rd which can be driven to within a few miles of the peak. The problem I found the previous day is that the route-finding is tricky due to the treacherous nature of the steep, loose canyon walls and the twisty maze made up by the various washes penetrating to the range interior. The other approach is from the northwest, via a trailhead found next to the aforementioned gravel pit. This TH has no signs indicating public access, but there are no "No Trespassing" signs either, and it seems to be regularly used for accessing BLM lands within the Mecca Hills. This approach is five miles each way, but the route-finding is considerably easier, especially since Adam Walker posted a GPS track on PB. I used this to make my way along the road that runs just east of the levee, turning left after a few miles to follow a wash that heads east towards the peak. The wash narrows considerably and begins to meander, but after a mile and a third it opens into an inner valley. Here the route turns southeast for a short distance before starting east and northeast up another wash system. This one, too, begins to narrow and when about 2/3mi from the summit, the interesting part begins. As with the Painted Canyon approach, the canyon narrows with high, crumbling walls characteristic of badlands. One needs to climb out of the wash, going up these steep, crumbly slopes to gain the WSW Ridge. Depending on where one exits, this portion can be stiff class 3 or scarier class 4-5 stuff. In trying to follow Adam's track, I found a large duck he may have placed where I left the wash, then kept to the track for perhaps 100yds before finding the going unsafe by my reckoning. Looking around, I found what seemed an easier way to the east of his track, though still a short stretch of class 3-4. This is followed by several hundred feet of slow, careful climbing up the crumbly slopes until the ridge is attained. From there, the views open up and the going becomes tame class 2, a most welcome way to finish the last half mile of the effort.

I reached the top at 8a, after almost 2.5hrs' effort, finding a rusted set of nested cans holding a somewhat brittle register dating to 1979. The first two pages were just fragments, but they showed Wes Shelberg had visited at least three times in those early days. There were many pages of entries, most interestingly by a family group of Babcocks, who visited on many occasions as a pilgrimage, often with as many as a dozen members. Adam Walker, whose track I'd been following, was the last visitor three months earlier. I would have liked to head north off the summit for an alternate return, but that seemed a bit unwise given the terrain and my experience the previous day. My return was almost exactly the same, save for the last couple hundred feet of descent back into the wash. I found another way just east of my ascent route that bypassed the class 3-4 section and kept it to the easier, albeit loose, class 3 crud. It was 10a before I had found my way back to the gravel pit and the start, the 10mi outing having taken something under 2.5hrs.

Peak 2,449ft/Mecca Peak

These two summits are found on the west side of Coachella Valley, on the east side of the Santa Rosa Mtns. I had to drive through the small town of Mecca on my way across the valley, eventually finding my way to the western end of 66th Ave. The land here is a patchwork of private, indian and public lands and it's not obvious where the BLM lands begin. I parked at the junction with Jackson St and headed southwest onto undeveloped land bordering the Santa Rosas. There are no signs to bar public entry, but the initial plot of land may be private or possible lands owned by the Desert Water Agency (the same one that restricts access to San Jacinto's Snow Creek route). After rounding a bend at the base of the range, I headed southwest up a 2mi+ wash/canyon that appears to be the shortest route to Peak 2,449ft, at least on paper. In practice it had very little to recommend it, primarily due to the overabundance of rocks that one must clamber over pretty much the entire way. It seemed to go on and on far longer than I had expected it would, taking me almost 2.5hrs to cover barely three miles. Though only a foot short of 700ft of prominence, I found no register from any of the usual suspects as I had expected. I left one of my own, though I'm pretty sure it will see very few visitors. The air quality had grown much poorer since morning due to high winds kicking up dust through the pass between San Jacinto and San Gorgornio, and consequently the views were terribly hazy. Of the two peaks I was after, this one was the more remote, but lower. The higher peak to the southeast was only about 70ft higher, but more than 850ft of prominence, and it was to this I next turned my attention.

The peaks are separated by about 1.5mi, connected by a ridgeline dropping 700ft to a saddle between them. It would take me about 1.5hrs to negotiate this next segment, but I found it much better than boulder-strewn gully/canyon on the ascent to Peak 2,449ft. There were a few random finds along the way, including a pair of ducks located on a stretch of ridge that had no defining features. At a slightly lower summit to the northwest, I found an old samurai sword embedded in a cairn. The broken handle appeared to be made of ivory or some type of bone. The wooden case it had been stored in was at the base of the cairn, weathered and deteriorating. There must have been an interesting story behind the weapon being left here, but the clues were few. At the actual highpoint another 10min away, I again found no register. This time I decided to christen it with name Mecca Peak, for the small town to the east I had spent the last few nights at, and for which the Mecca Hills were named.

For the descent, I chose to go down the East Ridge which turned out to be a very pleasant route. I was pretty tired by this time, so I was happy to find there were no serious challenges along the way, and despite the poor views, I enjoyed the afternoon descent along it. After descending nearly 2,000ft, I came to a small saddle before a short climb to stay along the ridge. It seemed a bit daunting so I chose to descend the gully facing north from the saddle. I was regretting this initially because I found myself back in more of the boulder-strewn unpleasantness I'd experienced earlier, but it came out upon some interesting, rusting mining works near the base of the gully. Better, there was an old use trail, well-ducked, that I was able to follow back through another half mile of bouldery wash to reach the floor of the valley at sea level. From there is was an easy walk on flat, sandy washes/roads to the north to return to where I'd started around 4:15p. A pretty full day, this one...


Adam Walker comments on 03/10/19:
I also tried the Painted Canyon approach and found it too dangerous. Glad to hear my track log and single duck was useful.
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