Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hike #7 Fish Creek Mountains

9 miles | +2400'

Standing atop one of the highest points along the Fish Creek Mountains at Fish Benchmark, elevation 2334 feet, overlooking Ocotillo Wells, San Sebastián Marsh, and the Salton Sea. This was just a few miles east of the SoCal Desert Rendezvous base camp.

This one left me bruised and bloodied. From the summit I made a beeline to the desert floor, descending a near vertical 1000 foot dry waterfall, negotiating loose scree, car-sized boulders, and catclaw. Took a pretty hard fall on the way down. Next time I explore this area, I probably shouldn't go alone.

Bighorn sheep carcass tucked away in this remote wilderness.

From the desert floor, the Fish Creek Mountains resemble a plateau rising as a great wall; only a few dramatic peaks appear from a distance. In truth, the mountains are a rugged land of numerous jagged ridges and peaks standing above twisting canyons and small, hidden valleys--a pristine desert mountain land worthy of a Wilderness adventure. Steep slopes often contain limestone outcroppings that have resisted erosion, and, as a result, rainstorms have created narrow chutes that swirl with runoff. Shielded from intense sunlight and its evaporative powers, pools have formed at the base of these chutes, supplying wildlife with precious water. A portion of the shoreline of ancient Lake Cahuilla, a lake that receded more than 500 years ago, remains visible within the Wilderness. Immediately to the south and west lies Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Few visitors to the Colorado Desert realize that at one time an extension of the Gulf of California reached northward nearly to San Gorgonio Pass and that marine waters lapped at the outskirts of present-day Palm Springs. Nor do they know that many thousands of years later, that same huge basin, which is called the Salton Sink, was filled with a fresh water lake. And after many more years, that this lake vanished and that in 1905, the Salton Sea was created in its place by man’s own tampering with Nature in an endeavor to get badly needed irrigation waters.

You can find millions upon millions of tiny fresh-water shells in many places along the old beach line. So numerous are these that they appear at first glance to be stretches of sand. Their presence gave the valley at the north end of the sink its colorful name: Coachella Valley. The word Coachella is merely a misspelling of the word Conchella, meaning Little Shells.

Many of the rocks along the ancient shoreline display a peculiar substance called travertine, which is a calcareous type of sinter, forming coral-like encrustations upon rocks. It is made up of chemically precipitated calcium carbonate (lime) from fresh waters containing an excess of that mineral in solution. This deposition is brought about by the action of microscopic plant algae in the water, algae which live only in fresh water. In some places this lime encrustation is several inches thick, and looks very much like gray coral.

Enjoying good times at the SoCal Desert Rendezvous afterwards.

Hike #5 & 6 Rabbit Peak via Villager Peak Backpacking Trek

22 miles | +8300'

One of my most spectacular and exhausting backpacking trips in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park- Villager & Rabbit Peaks along the Santa Rosa Ridge. Here I am watching the sunset over the Cuyamaca Mountains, Borrego Springs, and Clark Dry Lake.

Sunrise above the Salon Sea along the Santa Rosa Ridge, on my way to Rabbit Peak from Villager Peak.

Rabbit Peak selfie with Toro Peak and snow-capped San Jacinto in the distance. This remote "Island In the Sky" lies along the southeast end of the Santa Rosa Range of Riverside county in Southern California. The summit features views along the Santa Rosa Range to the northwest, to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the south, and the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea to the east. There is no higher peak further south in California, so the views in that direction can span to the Mexican border and into Arizona on a clear day. A Cauhilla Indian legend tells of Suic, a white and red spotted rabbit which dwells on this peak. When he appears, the mountain trembles, and there is a rumbling noise. I didn't see any rabbits, but there were a few mountain lion tracks.

Summit register atop Rabbit Peak, with Toro Peak in the background.

The pinyon pine forest atop Rabbit Peak stands in stark contrast to most of the nearby terrain. The trees yield edible pinyon nuts, which were a staple of the Native Americans, and are still widely eaten as a snack in New Mexican cuisine. Harvesting techniques of the prehistoric Indians are still being used to today to collect the pinyon seeds for personal use or for commercialization. The pinyon nut or seed is high in fats and calories.

Celebrating my second summit of Villager Peak.

The trail here skirts the edge of a spectacular drop off, 3000 feet straight down to the desert floor.

My body is still feeling the burn. This trek takes a considerable amount of time and effort to complete. When I do this again, I'll get an earlier start on the second day so I'll be able to spend more time atop Rabbit Peak. I carried 7 liters of water with me on the first day and had 3 more cached on Villager from a previous hike. It was enough to get me thorough the weekend. I'm also thinking I'll leave the tent behind and just cowboy camp with a bivy sack. I'm still on a high from this adventure!

"From the 8716 foot summit of Toro Peak in Riverside County, the main crest of the Santa Rosa Mountains undulates southeast past Rabbit and Villager Peaks, then drops steadily to the desert floor at the edge of the Borrego Badlands. The northern summits of the Santa Rosa Mountains are high enough to support a variety of conifers, but the south half of the range- San Diego County's share- is quite desolate. The southern Santa Rosas are rugged, almost lacking in sources of water, virtually trail-less, seldom visited, and (to the ill-prepared hiker) unforgiving. Yet it's here, more than any other place within the county, that you can really get away from it all. Perched on some high and dry peak, you can gaze out over hundreds of square miles of mountains and desert with a feeling that you own it all." -Jerry Schad

Hike #4 South Fortuna Mountain Loop

6 miles | +1200'

Mission Trails Regional Park is known for its five peaks: Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Pay, North Fortuna, and South Fortuna. All are easily accessible and doable for beginner to intermediate hikers, which adds to their allure. South Fortuna is far less crowded than its popular counterpart Cowles Mountain but is equally as challenging and twice the length. The “Stairway to Heaven” is an extra draw to this hike—a set of wooden steps that wind up the peak’s western flank. On this hike I took a new route from the far west side of the park, went up and over the summit, then descended the saddle between South and North Fortuna Mountains to make a loop back to the trail head. 

Hike #3 Viejas Mountain South Approach

5.5 miles | +1900'

Reaching a height of 4,187 feet, Viejas Mountain rises above the surrounding hills in San Diego County and looms in the north over the small town of Alpine, CA. Located near the southern end of the Cleveland National Forest, just north of Interstate 8, this triangular shaped mass clearly stands out to those traveling both east and west on the interstate. I've wanting to hike this mini-monster of a mountain again ever since I discovered another approach to the summit from the south. There's a small turnout just off Interstate 8 and Willows Road that provides easy access to the trail that climbs straight up the south ridge of the mountain. It's longer than the west approach but the views are better.

Years ago there existed on the summit of Viejas Mountain an arrangement of stones interpreted by anthropologists to be a winter-solstice marker, used for ceremonial purposes by the Kumeyaay Indians. Unfortunately, the marker was thoughtlessly destroyed by campers in the mid-1970s. In its place several windbreaks were constructed, including one large one with a small lean-to and fireplace for those seeking shelter during overnight stays.

Hike #2 Carrizo Mountain

12.5 miles | +2100'

I've taken my Jeep up Carrizo Mountain for years but this was my first time hiking to the actual summit. It was interesting to read entries in the summit register dating back to 1979.

The United States Congress designated the Coyote Mountains Wilderness in 1994 with a total of 18,631 acres. All of this wilderness is located in California and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The fishhook-shaped Coyote Mountains cover about 40 percent of this austere Wilderness, a desert land of low ridges and washes capped by the forbidding Carrizo Badlands to the north. Carrizo Mountain and the striking Painted Gorge lie in a non-Wilderness corridor that punches in from the eastern boundary.

The highest point of the Coyote Mountains is Carrizo Mountain, at an elevation of 2,408 feet. An old mining road winds through Painted Gorge and up the hills to a turn-around a few hundred feet below the summit. A use-trail and some cross-country makes for an easy hike to the top. The mountains sit within the Yuha Desert Recreation Area, which features tracks for off-road vehicles. The badlands below the range extend many miles north and east, and are popular with the off-road crowd. A few venture into Painted Gorge and to the turn-around up high, but the road up high is narrow, steep and rocky with some very exposed sections demanding an experienced off-road driver.

This road serves as the natural route to the top. In Fall and Winter, this is an enjoyable hike, and especially when the gate is closed (Jan 1 to June 30), you will probably have the mountains to yourself. It's very remote, stark desert, and very peaceful. The mountains feature no significant brush other than ocotillo, barrel cactus, creosote and shrubs. Wildlife includes the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, and as usual, snakes when warm. Summer is very hot: things heat up as early as March and stay warm even into October.

The entire area falls within the Yuha Desert Recreation Area, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies immediately to the north. You'll find unusual sandstone formations that are estimated to be six million years old, adding a touch of scenic character to the area. On the mountain ridges, you may be privileged to see a barefoot gecko or bighorn sheep.

Hike #1 Agua Caliente Creek via PCT

10 miles | +1000'

First hike of 2017! Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail. I hiked this back in September of 2015 and it was bone dry. So I've been waiting for some rainfall to bring the creek bed back to life and it did not disappoint. The sound of water flowing, gurgling, and splashing down the canyon was delightful! Trails through the trees puts me at ease.

"Some of the loftiest- and least visited mountain country in San Diego County surrounds the resort community of Warner Springs. Before the 1970's the canyon of Agua Caliente Creek above Warner Springs seldom saw the intrusion of humans. After the Pacific Crest Trail was routed through, however, it became recognized as a pleasant camping spot for backpackers heading north toward Canada or south toward Mexico. This is one of only four places in San Diego County where the PCT dips to cross a fairly dependable stream, and the only place in the county where the trail closely follows running water for a fair distance."- Jerry Schad

So towards the end of my hike I began to feel something irritating the skin on my neck. I felt it and didn't recall having a mole there. A photo from my phone confirmed my fears... A tick in my neck! A western black-legged tick, to be exact. I didn't want to mess with it until I could see what I was doing with a mirror and I was still two miles away from the trailhead. Fortunately, I came across another hiker who agreed to help me out. So out came the tweezers from the first aid kit and soon I was free of the little blood sucker.

Here in Southern California, tick season runs typically from November through May, when cooler, wetter weather makes the pests more active and more likely to crawl on humans or pets in order to bite and feed on blood. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend removing ticks by grabbing them with tweezers as close to the insect’s head as possible and pulling out steadily and firmly.

Scouting out campgrounds after my hike. Indian Flats Campground is a small 17-site campground in the Cleveland National Forest near Warner Springs. The campground lies within a sunny live oak woodland at 3,600 feet, located below Hot Springs Mountain, the 6,533-foot high point of San Diego County. Granite outcroppings around the campground offer picturesque sunset perches or fun places to climb around during the day. There is a short trail from the campground to the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River, where you will find shallow pools to explore at the end of the winter wet season.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Exploring San Diego County, SoCal, & Beyond


2017 Explorer Series

Are you ready to take on a life changing journey?  Are you ready to do whatever it takes to complete the challenge, including meeting new adventure partners and exploring places you have never been before?  If so, we welcome you to the challenge!


For 2017 we decided that it would be a true challenge for some people to explore a new trail every week. Several challengers have already done so, and have inspired us to get you to explore some new places you may not even know about. *You can do various trails in one park and make the hike different each time as well.

So what are you waiting for? Get out and explore!