Friday, April 21, 2017

Hike #12 Upper San Diego River

3 miles | +1080'

Chasing waterfalls along the upper San Diego River. It was slow going with bushwhacking, water crossings, boulder scrambling, and poison oak in abundance. The reward was relaxing in a pool at the base of a 50 foot waterfall.

The San Diego River has always held a special place in my heart. Many think of it as a stagnant and polluted watercourse running through town, but it's upper reaches offer a truly remote wilderness adventure.

"Turn down-canyon, and at 0.5 mile arrive at the first falls, a set of two, each about 50 feet high. To get by, you'll probably need to traverse through brush and over tilted rock slabs on the right (west) side. If you don't like this dicey maneuver, go no further and turn back. You will encounter nothing but long stretches of boulder hopping, and occasional rock climbing ahead." -Jerry Schad

Hike #11 Sweetwater River Trail

9.5 miles | +780'

Across the road from a sprawling strip mall in Rancho San Diego lies a hidden gem of San Diego Hiking. The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge encompasses the majority of San Miguel Mountain (aka Mount Miguel, Mount San Miguel, etc) and surrounding areas. The Sweetwater River runs along the northwestern edge of the Refuge which provides riparian as well as coastal scrub habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species. This is a hike that provides a surprising amount of quiet solitude considering how close it is to civilization.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hike #10 Whale Peak

5.5 miles | +1500'

Whale Peak, at 5349 ft elevation, is one of the more popular summits in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I took the north approach from Pinyon Mountain Road, making my way over and around several rocky summits, gentle valleys, and high desert vegetation. The views, of course, are phenomenal. I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple other hikers that I follow on social media. Small world!

Hike #9 Shelter Island

3 miles | +50'

Shelter Island (peninsula would be more accurate) was built up from San Diego Bay in the 1930's and 40's. There's a fishing pier and a popular launching ramp for boats, along with a few restaurants, hotels, marinas, and one of the best bay front walking paths. Sunrise or sunset is a fine time to catch a stroll here, with great views of San Diego's skyscrapers just a few miles west.

Hike #8 Abandoned US 80

3.5 miles | +330'

Once known as the “Broadway of America,” Highway 80 was the first coast-to-coast highway in the U.S. Locally it was built in stages, starting in 1917. In 1972, the roadway was officially decommissioned from Texas to California following completion of Interstate 8. Vestiges remain, including well-preserved sections in East County that have sparked interest among nostalgia buffs.

This is the first section of US 80 east of San Diego in which the original concrete remains exposed, most of which is in pristine condition.

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