Whale Peak P2K HPS / SDC / DS
Indianhead P750 DPS / SDC / DS / CS

Nov 23, 2007
Whale Peak
Story Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2 3
Indianhead later climbed Feb 17, 2010

11yr-old Ryan was going to join me for the moderate hike to Whale Peak in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County. Visiting relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday, it had become somewhat of a tradition for the two of us to go climb an HPS peak or county highpoint or some other interesting peak during our visits. We had only driven about half an hour (of a nearly two hour drive) when Ryan complained his stomach wasn't feeling good. So back we went to drop Ryan off (he miraculously recovered enough to play about 8hrs of Playstation while I was gone) and then back out again I went solo.

Following the HPS directions, I made my way to Blair Valley (Route #1 by their guide, but definitely not the most-used route), including the 5 miles of mostly good dirt/sand road. There was one other car at the trailhead when I got there around 9a, but I didn't run across anyone until I returned some time later. I wandered down the trail to the petroglyphs, a single large rock with native American drawings of unknown meaning scrawled in various places. I went to take a picture only to find I had forgotten the battery which was unhelpfully still in the charger back in San Jose. No pictures for today.

I attempted to follow the main route to Whale Peak out of Blair Valley that follows up the wide drainage to the north and then meets up with HPS Route #2 (the more popular choice coming from the north). But I missed a turn and ended up a lesser drainage that brought me to the broad South Ridge which I followed up to the summit ridge (there would appear to be almost endless options to climb the peak, all more or less similar). From there I picked up the use trail from the popular approach, and followed it east to the summit, taking about 2hrs in all. The summit is climbed quite frequently, judging by the many entries from several registers jammed into the coffee can holders. A small bivy site at the summit is wind-protected by a rock wall, but it doesn't look all that comfy for an overnight visit. The views were muted by haze in most directions, but one could still see north to San Jacinto and the Santa Rosas, as well as south into Mexico (though exactly where the border might be was impossible to make out). Despite the haze, the weather was quite nice for hiking.

I stayed only long enough for a snack to recharge myself and to peruse the summit rocks a bit (the highest rock is not where the register was located, but nearby). I followed the use trail west and down from the summit as far as I could, to where it turns north and drops down that side towards the other trailhead. I missed the turnoff to Route #1, but by dropping down an adjacent canyon was able to shortly pick up the main channel. I followed this back down to the petroglyphs and back to the cars. Several other parties, mostly families camping and 4-wheeling in the area, were out on the trail to visit the petroglyphs.

It was about 12:30p when I got back to the car, still enough time for another outing. I downed two quarts of Gatorade during my drive to Borrego Springs and Indianhead. The latter is a DPS peak, a short hike of only a few miles, but a good 3,000ft above the desert floor. I parked at the visitor center to start the hike, a mistake as it turned out. The visitor center isn't on the 7.5' map, and is located more than a mile from the trailhead that can be found by driving through the campground. Live and learn. I ended up walking the extra distance across the desert floor, through sand and scrub before reaching the paved parking lot.

I followed the trail only a short distance before crossing the wash channel and starting up the South Ridge of the subsidiary peak just east of Indianhead. The more direct route up Indianhead's South Ridge looked to have some difficult scrambling stretches near the top, so I opted for what looked like the easier route. It turned out to be a very enjoyable scramble with some solid class 3 sections. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - DPS peaks tend to be fairly good climbs since they don't pick peaks for the list based on elevation (as the HPS list does). And that was exactly what I found today - mediocrity on Whale Peak and a fine scramble to Indianhead. The hardest parts were some slabby sections near the top. After reaching the lower subsidiarly summit, I had only to go down a short distance before climbing back up to the higher point.

What I had hoped would take about an hour and a half turned into two hours plus change, and it wasn't until 4p before I reached the summit. The register I found there was equally stuffed with entries as it appeared this peak was also quite popular (neither peak had registers dating back more than about 15 years). I was tempted to descend down the South Ridge that I had declined earlier (it looked easier once I had a good view of it during the ascent), but I ended up following a steep descent chute down the southwest side in the interest of time. I was able to get back down to the main canyon before dark, but I needed my headlamp for the last hour or so as I made my way down the canyon (an interesting descent by headlamp with numerous short drops). Spring-fed water flowed down the center and through the rocks and boulders at a rate surprising for the desert in late November when the last significant rain was more than 8 months prior. It was a bit eerie in the twilight among some towering palms that dotted the canyon in several patches I came across on my way down. Some lights appeared ahead of me some distance, and they seemed to be waiting for me as I continued on. They turned out to be headlamps from a group of hikers from some club, waiting for me because they thought I was one of their group that had lagged behind. They were surprised to see another soul out this way after dark. I quickly left them back some distance as I made my way back to the trailhead via the alternative trail (it wasn't the one I intended to take, but I missed a junction somewhere along the way), and finally made it back to the visitor center sometime around 6:30p. A quick stop in Borrego Springs for a phone call to the family, then I was back in the car for the two hour drive to San Diego. Overall, a very enjoyable day.

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This page last updated: Thu Jun 12 11:34:04 2008
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