Sat, Nov 27, 2004
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
The previous night had been a full moon, so not long after the sun came up the moon went down over the rocky hills to the west. In the east the desert lowlands were filled with a thick haze or thin fog (hard to tell which), leaving the upper elevations clear for tens of miles. The left boundary of the park is marked by a barbed wire fence making it easy enough to stay in bounds, though it has a few jogs in it along the way. Dogs could be heard barking in the early morning hour, and on returning I found that private homesteads come quite close to the park boundary - one would be ill-advised to hike outside the park for the first several miles from the road. I hiked northeast then north, skirting Chimney Rock on the east and then climbing the unnamed Peak 5,326ft. As advertised, I found a register atop and promptly signed in - force of habit I suppose. It was housed in the standard red double tin cans favored by the HPS, but why it had one at all was unclear. (Years later I came to find this peak, known as 'White BM' is on the peak list of the Sierra Club's San Diego Chapter.) The Thimble stood out prominently to the northwest, with San Ysidro somewhat higher behind it. It was 7a and I was about halfway now, and it seemed it would be a shorter outing than I expected. It began to occur to me that I would probably have plenty of time for another peak after this one. I dropped off the northwest side of the peak heading more or less directly for The Thimble.
I crossed into private property, cutting a corner on a direct route to The Thimble. On the way across a flat section I came across an abandoned open-air commode. It was empty (yes, I checked - curiosity got the best of me), and I could see no reason why one would have such a thing out here - a desert mystery. Onward to The Thimble. One trip report had mentioned a climb of this class 3 peak, and described some difficulty in finding a route up. It didn't look so difficult from the southeast, and as I got closer it looked easier still. Most of the southeast side is class 2, though I did find some class 3 as I neared the summit - an easy climb though. I saw nothing of the mentioned 25-foot 3rd class chimney, and there seemed to be a half dozen ways to the summit on this side alone. It was 7:40a when I reached the top and found another tin can register. Again I signed in. I would get lots of writing practice today. I started my descent to the north, in the direction of San Ysidro. I expected some difficulty from the trip report, and was not surprised when I ran into some cliffs on that side. I worked my way across crappy slabs and then down a chimney on the northwest side. There looked to be other ways up on the west and southwest sides, and later I could see a way up the northeast side.
Some of the trip archives report bushwhacking on San Ysidro's south side, but there was very little of that today. The whole area had been burned in the past several years, and while it was making a fine recovery, it made for pretty easy cross-country travel. I reached the summit of San Ysidro via the indistinct SE Ridge just after 8a. It was fairly windy and chilly by now, particularly on the southwest sides from which direction the wind was blowing. So I was in a bit of hurry to locate the highpoint. There are three short rock towers at the summit, each no more than 10 feet high. Atop each of them was a USGS marker, two of them furnished with arrows pointing to the proper one used for triangulation of the surrounding region. The views off to the east, south, and west were sweeping, as expected. Those to the north were not. There was another point some hundred yards or more off that looked to be higher than the marked summit. Later, a closer inspection of the topo revealed a larger contour at that second point, so it seems likely it is higher, though it has a poorer line of sight than the marked summit. After signing the summit register (this one in an ammo box), I headed north to the other point along the ridge. If this was a county highpointing trip then it would seem getting to the true highpoint was somewhat important. This wasn't such a trip, but I had this need to wander over there all the same. Reaching the other point, and using the horizon as an elevation guide (I could see the horizon above the marked summit), I surmised that I was now standing on the highpoint of San Ysidro Mountain. Whoopity-doo.
I thought about hiking the ridge further, all the way down to Borrego Springs. It would make a fine, long dayhike with some definite risk - all pluses. But I would also then have to depend on hitchhiking my way back up the 12 miles of road to my car, and this had less appeal on such a lonely stretch of highway. I decided instead to head back and find another peak to climb. I headed down the southeast side of San Ysidro, retraced part of my route back to The Thimble, down over the east side of the saddle just north of The Thimble, and then south. I skirted Peak 5,326ft on the west this time, crossing into more private property somewhat unintentionally. The HPS directions tell one to cross over the unnamed peak as I had done on the way north, and now I could see why. Though no real cliffs, the west side of the peak is fairly steep and traversing the slope was pretty slow with a bit more bushwhacking than other routes. I was also looking down a bit too closely on some of the homesteaders in the area, typically a trailer or two in a clearing with a pickup truck parked nearby and a dog barking from behind a fence.
I climbed up Chimney Rock on the way back for no other reason that it was a named point on the map. It had no memorable features that I could recall. By 10:15a I was back at the car and soon after I had my guidebook (Jerry Schad's Afoot and Afield in San Diego County) out looking at other peaks in the area. Some that came to mind were Volcan Peak and then possibly Woodson and Iron Mtn on my return through Poway. Others were Whale and Granite Mtn, though those seemed to require travel on dirt roads (I was in my mother-in-law's new Toyota, so I was somewhat concerned about any driving off-pavement). I headed back west on S-22, then south on S-2. When I got to SR78 and headed west towards Julian and Volcan Peak, I became aware of a cloud front just breaching the top of the Volcan Mtns. The weather report had said there was a 30% chance of rain, and it seemed I was looking at it. The thought of summiting a peak with nary a view on the whole route was decidedly unappealing. I turned the car around, drove back to the junction of S-22, and headed south. Granite Mtn it would be. At least for the time being the entire mountain was cloud free, and I was hoping that the rain shadowing effect of the Sierra crest to the west could keep the clouds at bay for the balance of the afternoon.
I drove to mile 21.5 to the dirt road turnoff (actually I drove past it before even noticing it), then drove west for a little over a mile to the end of the road. Signs at the turnoff indicated high clearance and 4x4 recommended, but I had no trouble at all negotiating the Corolla down the road - only a few rocks that were easily avoided and no ruts. It was 11:10a when I started out, heading west up the dry creekbed. Though no maintained trail exists, the route up the creekbed was well used and a fine use trail could be followed. The lower part of the canyon is a narrow, twisty gorge, the creekbed lined with sand and desert scrub. Every so often there were short waterfall sections from five to fifteen feet high, all easily negotiated at class 2. The bedrock at these places was metamorphic in nature, a curious blend of white and black shades twisted together through eons of intense pressures. Schad provides instructions about following a south branch, then a right branch where the creek forks into three. At the first branch I followed the south branch briefly before deciding there was no trail and likely no good route off that way. Turning back, I followed the north branch up along the continuing good use trail to another branch. Again I turned south against my better judgement (and the ducks directing me to go right) and started following it until it too petered out. I gave up. The canyon was reminding me of the old computer game called "adventure" with "twisty, turning passages that all look the same". I decided that the guidebook left something to be desired on this one. Rather than hike back down to the junction, I climbed the steep hillside out of the creek channel and onto the ridge above. I figured one ridge ought to be as good as another in this area - there weren't any real cliffs and the hillsides all seemed to have the same steep, but climbable grades to them.
It was a good gamble. Though I wasn't on the recommended ridge (I was on the next one south), it was easy class 1-2 hiking up. I was a bit confused at first as to which way the summit lay (I had no map since I hadn't planned on hiking here originally). There looked to be highpoints to both the left and right of the ridge to the west in front of me. As I climbed higher, it became more apparent that the right side was higher, and as I reached the ridgeline at noon I found that the summit was hidden behind the rise to the right and was a good deal higher. I thought I might get up to the top even quicker than San Ysidro, but that was not to be the case. The summit was deceptively far away still. To the southwest I could see the clouds piling up on the Laguna Mtns. To the northwest they were piling up and over the Volcans. Wisps began to run across the top of Granite Mtn, and I was unsure I would make it to the top before I was immersed in the clouds.
There was nothing tricky in route-finding or climbing, just a long trek up the hillside to the rounded summit - what was beginning to feel like the standard HPS peak climb. The clouds came whipping by more frequently and faster too as the wind picked up in earnest. There was a definite change in the weather as the air grew colder, not so much from the increasing altitude as the oncoming cold front. By the time I reached the summit at 1:15p I had my jacket on and was mighty cold. As I feared, the clouds obscured all views except for a bit of a hole down to the east via the route I'd taken up. I grabbed the summit register and ducked down on the leeward side of the summit rocks to sign in. I stayed atop only long enough to add my signature, then took off back down. I was a bit concerned that the clouds might make navigating the return trickier. I had a compass with me, but preferred not to get too caught up in the clouds. I was lucky in that I got down below the clouds relatively quickly and had no trouble on the descent. I even found a long series of widely spaced ducks that led me down the correct ridge. It was a little easier than my ascent route, but not by much - I noted that the far northern ridge might be another possible route and perhaps more interesting since the northern escarpment off that ridge was more dramatic. I got only a few drops of rain the whole afternoon, so I was at least spared that discomfort even if the views were lacking. I got back to the car at 3p and drove on back to San Diego.
It didn't start raining until later that night, then it came down in earnest. While I was taking a shower I discovered a tick had lodged himself in my leg just below the knee - apparently I picked up a friend out there in the desert somewhere. I had been wearing long pants so he must have crawled up from my shoes a good distance before finding a succulent place to dig himself in. Removing him was a bit of a terror for the both of us, since once discovered I found the thing rather repulsive. The water and soap in the shower made it all a bit slippery and I had a tough time getting ahold of him with my fingers and tearing him out. Unlike the last time I got one of the buggers, his head came out attached to the body and I quickly discarded him down the drain. My leg had a little painful reminder for several days of a fun time out in Anza-Borrego.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: White BM - The Thimble - Granite Mountain
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