Saturday, September 16, 2017

Little Stonewall Peak

Hiked: 9/15/2017
Distance: 4.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5250'
Elevation Gain: 768'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.61
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Highway 79 at Trout Pond parking lot
Difficulty: Moderate (route finding, summit block)

I did a 4-peak tour of the Cuyamaca area in 2016 and climbed Stonewall, but didn't feel like adding Little Stonewall at the time. This day it was a bonus hike for me on the way home from Peak 3339. I parked at the free Trout Pond parking lot about 2 miles north of the main park entrance. I knew there were connecting trails to the Stonewall Peak trail on this side but didn't know their names. The one leaving the parking lot was the Marty Minshall trail. Less than half a mile later, I turned right on the Los Caballos trail. Another 0.4 miles got me to a wooden fence that I followed, taking a left at the next junction, then right again onto the Stonewall Peak trail. Switchbacks led up the northwest side of Stonewall to the saddle between Stonewall and Little Stonewall. I left the trail looking at what appeared to be a semi-open cross country area. The true summit of Little Stonewall was not visible from below. At the bottom of the saddle is a pretty good use trail. As you scramble higher into the boulders, the brush gets dense and the use trail harder to follow. Much of the higher brush is buckthorn. There were helpful cairns along the way, but I had to back out of the brush a few times before finding my way to the summit area. The summit block consists of two granite plates next to each other.

Little Stonewall left, Stonewall Peak right

Leaving the trail from the saddle

Boulders and brush

Little Stonewall summit block

The summit ascent was not too difficult, requiring one easy stem between the plates to mount the higher of the two. There wasn't an easy way to stand on the summit, so I straddled it like a horse. In the top crack was an altoids can with a small register, placed in May, 2017. There might have been another register around the summit somewhere, but a quick search didn't turn up anything. I signed the register on top, then dropped down for a breather. The way down was not any more clear than the way up, with some trial and error. Climbing onto a low boulder, I heard a courtesy rattle from a juvenile speckled rattlensnake at the base. It slithered to the other side where I got a partial photo of it. It was perfectly colored to match the granite and I never saw it until it moved. Back on the use trail, I was about 50' from the main trail when I got more than a courtesy rattle from the bush I was walking through. This rattlesnake was giving me a stern warning and was close enough to have hit me if he wanted. I leaped as far out of the bush as I could, but my reflexes would not have saved me if he had been in a bitey mood. Two rattlesnakes within a quarter mile put me on the defensive. I wonder how many others I walked by oblivious to the danger. Little Stonewall was a great cap on the day. Although my route finding was not perfect, I had a sizable, satisying day scrambling around San Diego County.

Mounting the summit

Small register in an altoids can

Stonewall Peak from Little Stonewall

Middle Peak and Lake Cuyamaca right

Fangs of sunlight over the lower summit

Juvie speckled rattlesnake, thankfully not feeling bitey

Horse people

Peak 3339 and Al Holden Peak

Hiked: 9/15/2017
Distance: 8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3339' (Peak 3339), 3240' (Al Holden)
Elevation Gain: 1753'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.4
Round trip time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on McCain Valley Road spur
Difficulty: Moderate

I continued simple, honest work on the San Diego Peak List with Peak 3339 (#68), a vague rock pile in the northern In-Ko-Pah Mountains. It seemed like an odd choice for the list since higher rock piles are right next to it. The trailhead is on an eastern spur from McCain Valley Road, less than a mile north of Lost Valley Road. I planned to climb the nearby Al Holden Peak as well. This hike is canyon style, with a descent at the beginning and a climb at the end.

The drive out was slowed by a convoy of work trucks on McCain Valley Road strictly following the 15mph speed limit. Whatever power system they are installing is a massive operation with towers and pipelines everywhere. I was the only car at the Carrizo Overlook parking area. The initial descent was fairly gentle on a sandy single track. I had studied my intended path on Caltopo but was overconfident and took a left fork in the trail the wrong way. When I figured out my mistake, I tried to fix it by following a wash going in the general direction I needed. This led to some nasty bushwhacking and unnecessary scrambling, and probably cost me 20 minutes. Back in the open desert, I was hiking east directly into the morning sun. It was hard to figure out where 3339 was, but no angle of the sun would have made it easier. As I approached the wall of rocks leading to Peak 3339, I veered right (south), following a faint use trail and some cairns. This required some scrambling and eventually, I worked back north to find 3339 after checking out several false summits. This was the most difficult San Diego summit to locate (so far) because it is not prominent and blends in too well with the surroundings. Peak 3339 was a large boulder with a class 3 crack running up the north side. There was a small cairn on top. I didn't find a register and forgot to bring one. On the way down, my Canon Powershot camera fell out of my pocket and bounced about 20' down into the pile of boulders. I really thought I had lost it, but found it resting below the summit in a place I could reach. The camera has really taken a beating this year. I hydrated, then gathered my stuff and headed toward Al Holden Peak.

Mt. Tule under the cloud

Heading across the open desert toward 3339

Scrambling up

Peak 3339, the crack to climb is on the other side

Summit view

Summit view

Summit view

It was a short trip over to Al Holden. I didn't have any beta on it, so as I approached it, I guessed the east side would be easier to climb. That was wrong. I got about half way up before running into class 5 problems. I returned to the main gully on the south side and found it was straightforward class 3 all the way to the top. It was all good granite. There was a metal "Al Holden" sign on the summit, but I didn't find a register. The 360 views were great. Al Holden Peak was a lot more fun than 3339 and a much better summit in general. It was definitely worth the side trip to bag it. On the way down, I took my first break to refuel, then wondered whether to return over 3339 or circle the other way around the big rock pile. I decided to circle around. I stayed just above the drainage filled with truck-sized boulders, but ran into plenty of brush and class 3 on the descent. It would have been easier to return over 3339. When I got around the rock pile, I continued back to the trail and followed it, the right way, up to the overlook. Driving out on McCain Valley Road, I ran into more work trucks of various sizes. I passed one that took offense and gave me a low honk, while others pulled over to let me speed past. Next up, I drove toward Rancho Cuyamaca State Park for Little Stonewall Peak.

Al Holden Peak

Heading up the main gully

Summit sign

Looking east from the summit

Looking west, the big rock obstacle on the return


Al Holden 360 photosphere

Saying goodbye to Al Holden

Starting the descent to the north

Back at the overlook

One mylar baloon removed

Would you like to know more...?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Goat BM, Clyde, and Hut

Hiked: 9/4/2017
Distance: 9.4 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 4232' (Goat), 4695' (Clyde), 4308' (Hut)
Elevation Gain: 2657'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.12
Round trip time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Recommended water: 124 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at turn out south of Montezuma Valley Road (S22)
Difficulty: Strenuous

Goat Benchmark is #45 on the Sierra Club San Diego Peak List. It is a small bump at the head of Hellhole Canyon in Anza Borrego and nearly invisible until you are right on top it. There are many small boulder piles in the area and picking it out without a GPS would take superior map skills. I used a GPS. A short route with unfriendly terrain is possible from Culp Valley. I ran out of time trying to complete that route in May. This time I took the standard route that goes by White and the Thimble. This let me add a couple of other benchmarks along the way. The area around the San Ysidro Mountains is one of the favorites in San Diego county. The desert here has endless piles of boulders.

I started a little before sunrise to make the most of the cool morning. I began on the California Riding and Hiking Trail, then left the trail toward Hut Benchmark about a quarter mile from the start. I passed within feet of Hut on the way out, but didn't want to stop until I was heading back. Navigation was something of an issue but I had a GPS track to help me sidehill around the bigger obstacles. 75% of the route was sidehilling, aargh. I picked out the next ridge I needed to cross, then tried to find human or animal trails heading that way. Mostly I found animal trails. Bushwhacking was never a real problem, but it could be based on route choices. I tried taking a slightly more direct route on the way out, but I think any time savings were eaten up by additional gain and loss. In one of the canyons, I found deer parts and what looked like a juvenile or baby deer head, still with some wet brain matter inside. Insects hadn't had enough time to clean it up completely.

Chimney Rock

Goat is a needle in a haystack

Descending toward Goat

The Thimble and San Ysidro

As far as other wildlife, I startled a couple of adult mule deer, but they were too fast for me to get any photos. Jackrabbits and birds were in abundance. Bighorn scat was everywhere, but I didn't see any. It seemed like a long time before I finally laid eyes on Goat. Once found, the summit was an easy boulder. A higher mound stands just behind it. The register went back to 2001 and was quite thin. I was the fifth party to visit Goat in 2017. It doesn't see much activity. Unless you are chasing the San Diego list, there is no reason to go there. If you end up there by accident, you are probably in serious trouble. I don't know why the US Army Corps of Engineers decided to mark it, but I really appreciated the remoteness. It had great views, being sort of Hellhole Central. Hob Benchmark and Middle Ysidro towered directly above. This is very wild country.

Goat BM and register cans

Hob BM and Middle Ysidro

Hellhole Canyon

All the entries from 2017

Goat BM circled (from my trip in May)

On the way back, it warmed up so I stayed in one of the side canyons longer and avoided unnecessary hills. I paid less attention to my GPS on the way back in favor of staying on good animal trails. I also made a couple of guesses about which bump was Clyde, climbing a couple of false Clydes before getting the real one closer to Bonny. The Clyde summit required one class 3 move with good holds in the top boulder. The last stop was Hut Benchmark. I scrambled up to take a picture of the mark on Hut's highest boulder. I didn't find a register on Clyde or Hut. Getting Goat was satisfying. It's in a tough spot and the navigation required my full attention.

Bonny from Clyde

Hut Benchmark

Goat Benchmark 360 from Keith Winston on Vimeo.

Would you like to know more...?