Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List Finish

Hiked: 12/7/2012 to 12/8/2018
Distance: 479.7 miles
Average Distance: 6.6 miles (per hike)
Summit Elevation: 1152' (Lowest) to 5726' (Highest)
Total Gain: 142,364'
Total Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 113.9
Average Gain: 1,977' (per hike)
Total Hike Time: 292.5 hours
Average Miles/Hour: 1.64
Total Miles Driven: 15,803
Parking/Fees/Fares: $18
Difficulty: Easy to Very Strenuous

The Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List contained 100 peaks when I started and didn't change during my pursuit. This meta post provides concrete data of my experience completing the list. Driving long distances became a frequent occurrence and my perspective on what a long drive was changed over time. Your experience will vary depending on where you live and how you many peaks you combine into single trips. A quick note about the Average Distance and Gain. I used the average per hike (72 hikes) instead of the average per peak because I climbed more than one official peak on many hikes. I thought it better represented the experience to list the averages per hike. For comparison, the average distance per peak was 4.8 miles and the average gain per peak was 1,424'. The San Diego 100 Peaks List has some short, easy hikes, but it also has some beasts.

Unlike the Lower Peaks List, I don't think most people can physically complete the San Diego List without significant training. Even then, the difficulty is likely to prevent many from completion. Raw stats don't always convey the level of effort. Many mountains on the list demand strong boulder scrambling, and more have a rampart of sharp things defending them. I often joke about pliers/tweezers being the 11th essential for hiking the Anza-Borrego peaks. While officially optional, a rope was required to reach the summit on Square Top.

Though I was also working on other goals along the way, it took me six years and one day of sustained effort to finish. I consider this list completion one of my greatest hiking achievements. I owe a monumental debt to everyone that went before and provided routes, reports, and inspiration. Thanks to the Sierra Club for selecting an exceptional group of San Diego County peaks and to list founder Paul Freiman. Thanks to Ben Baumann who created high quality reports and unique routes. Thanks to everyone who endured long drives and less than ideal conditions to climb these mountains with me. This was my second Sierra Club list completion. My list chasing days may be over (but you never know).

Peakbagger map of Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List

The table below can be sorted by clicking on any column heading or filtered by typing in the search box.

Distance and Time in the table is for the round trip hike. Drive was the round trip drive in miles. Note: a zero (0) for distance, gain, time, and drive means that peak was part of a multi-peak day hike and the stats were combined for one peak in the trip.

Peak Summit Distance (mi) Gain Time (hrs) Drive (mi) Report
Indianhead 3968' 9 3145' 7.5 236 report
Black Mountain #2 1554' 4.2 775' 1.5 134 report
Iron Mountain 2696' 5.5 1101' 1.8 8 report
Woodson Mountain 2897' 7.2 2059' 2.8 138 report
Mt. Israel 1346' 4.4 1316' 1.5 120 report
Bernardo Mountain 1152' 7.5 900' 2.2 120 report
El Cajon Mountain 3675' 11.8 4073' 5.7 174 report
White Benchmark 5326' 0 0' 0 0 report
The Thimble 5779' 0 0' 0 0 report
San Ysidro Mountain 6147' 9.4 3248' 7.5 286 report
Bonny Benchmark 4574' 0 0' 0 0 report
Piedras Grandes 2601' 0 0' 0 0 report
Puff Benchmark 2716' 13.3 3520' 10 306 report
Moan Benchmark 2939' 0 0' 0 00 report
Indian Hill 2280' 0 0' 0 0 report
Cowles Mountain 1591' 5.9 1710' 2 158 report
Pyles Peak 1379' 0 0' 0 0 report
Kwaay Paay 1194' 0 0' 0 0 report
Fortuna Mountain 1291' 7 1983' 3.3 5 report
Mt. Gower 3103' 6.7 2150' 4 180 report
Boucher Hill 5438' 0 0' 0 172 report
Borrego Mountain 1207' 3.5 850' 2.3 260 report
Borrego East Butte 1196' 2.7 1020' 1.8 5 report
Pinyon Ridge 4614' 0 0' 0 0 report
Wilson Benchmark 4573' 11.8 2920' 4.5 208 report
Eagle Peak 3226' 4.4 1050' 1.8 228 report
Agua Tibia 4779' 16.7 3300' 7.7 154 report
Viejas Mountain 4187' 3.2 1475' 2 198 report
McGinty Mountain 2183' 4.9 1515' 2.5 20 report
Black Mountain #1 4051' 4.9 1190' 1.5 134 report
Granite Mountain 5633' 8.2 2900' 5 222 report
Eagle Crag 5077' 18.2 3900' 7.5 190 report
Palomar Mountain 6140' 0.9 100' 0.33 194 report
Combs Peak 6193' 4.7 1140' 2.5 25 report
Ode Benchmark 1512' 0 0' 0 0 report
Kay Benchmark 3587' 0 0' 0 0 report
Sirens Peak 4401' 0 0' 0 0 report
San Ysidro Mountain East 5386' 12 5465' 11.66 230 report
Webo Benchmark 4173' 0 0' 0 0 report
Ted Benchmark 2369' 0 0' 0 0 report
Lawson Peak 3664' 8.1 2575' 4.5 220 report
Gaskill Peak 3836' 0 0' 0 0 report
Bell Bluff 3409' 7.2 1800' 3.5 214 report
Los Pinos 4805' 7.9 2080' 4 260 report
Corte Madera 4657' 0 0' 0 0 report
Cody Benchmark 5586' 0 0' 0 0 report
Palm Mesa High Point 4660' 10.5 4560' 9.25 210 report
Ghost Mountain 3400' 4.2 900' 2.5 240 report
Pike Benchmark 5571' 4.9 1700' 3.25 40 report
Middle Peak 5883' 0 0' 0 0 report
Cuyamaca 6512' 18.6 3975' 8.25 222 report
Japacha 5825' 0 0' 0 0 report
Stonewall Peak 5730' 0 0' 0 0 report
Oakzanita 5054' 0 0' 0 0 report
Sugg Peak 5243' 9.6 1750' 4.5 222 report
Pine Mountain 5640' 0.5 100' 0.25 76 report
Garnet Peak 5880' 2.4 540' 1 252 report
Garnet Mountain 5680' 1 200' 0.5 2 report
Roost Benchmark 4351' 8 2200' 3.5 20 report
Monument Peak 6271' 3.5 750' 1.33 0 report
Square Top 4649' 8.4 2950' 7.75 218 report
Mt. Tule 4647' 0 0' 0 0 report
Groan Benchmark 2732' 0 0' 0 0 report
Gasp Benchmark 3223' 11 4419' 8.75 274 report
Wooded Hill 6223' 1.3 299' 0.5 242 report
Manza Benchmark 5556' 4.3 1048' 2.3 7 report
Pinyon Mountain 4492' 0 0' 0 0 report
Whale Peak 5349' 7.1 2133' 3.83 240 report
Sentenac 3068' 2.2 900' 1.16 20 report
Mine Peak 1850' 1.9 707' 1 356 report
Red Hill 1720' 3 933' 1.5 0 report
Jacumba 4512' 6 2933' 5.5 0 report
Coyote Mountain 3192' 5 2650' 3 256 report
Grapevine 3955' 6.5 2058' 4.33 220 report
Otay Mountain 3566' 0 0' 0 103 report
Tecate Peak 3885' 0 0' 0 22 report
Sheephead Mountain 5896' 3.5 1034' 2 172 report
Morena Butte 3920' 9 2064' 4.66 246 report
Goat Benchmark 4232' 9.4 2657' 6.16 210 report
Peak 3339 3339' 8 1753' 4.16 288 report
Peak 3640 (North Pinyon) 3640' 4.5 1665' 2.5 228 report
Split Mountain East 1690' 4.1 1700' 3.25 302 report
Split Mountain West 1680' 5.4 1929' 3.5 302 report
Sombrero Peak 4229' 3.5 2011' 3 354 report
False Sombrero 3463' 2 1359' 2.5 4 report
Travelers Peak 2697' 4.8 2326' 4 274 report
Pyramid Peak 3480' 0 0' 0 0 report
Rosa Point 5000' 0 0' 0 0 report
Mile High Mountain 5320' 19.2 7107' 14.75 260 report
Villager Peak 5756' 0 0' 0 0 report
Vallecito Mountains HP 3583' 5.9 1415' 4.5 312 report
Sunset Mountain 3657' 4 1988' 3.83 254 report
Stage Benchmark 2816' 11 2777' 6.5 270 report
Diablo Benchmark 2440' 9.5 1362' 4 270 report
Elder Benchmark 3433' 6.2 2438' 6.25 254 report
Palms Benchmark 3121' 0 0' 0 0 report
Collins Benchmark 4559' 14.3 4313' 12.25 214 report
Knob Benchmark 3431' 0 0' 0 0 report
Sawtooth Mountains HP 4684' 16.8 4408' 13.25 288 report
Red Top 4467' 16.5 4238' 12.25 288 report

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Red Top

Hiked: 12/8/2018
Distance: 16.5 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 4467'
Prominence: 667'
Elevation Gain: 4238'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.39
Round trip time: 12 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 202 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on North Indian Canyon Road
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

Matt and I returned to North Indian Canyon Road, two weeks after our hike to Sawtooth, determined to get Red Top (SDC #42). It was the final peak I needed to complete the Sierra Club San Diego Peak List. A 4x4 is needed for the large rocks and sand on Indian Canyon Road. This time, Matt left his car parked off S2 and I drove in to an unmarked spot off the road we used as a trailhead. Ninety percent of this hike was the same as Sawtooth. Only the upper reaches of Red Top offered new terrain. We got started at 4:20 AM, but instead of the full moon we had for the first hike, there was no moon at all. Complete darkness except for the stars. Matt used a headlamp, and I used a handheld flashlight in addition to a headlamp. As we crossed the first mile toward the Tierra Blanca Pass, some plants glowed silver in our artificial light. The experience from our first hike paid off and we made a quick, cholla-free crossing over the pass down to Canebrake Wash.

To make the approach different, we turned right turn after the fence and followed the road that was signed for Inner Pasture, heading directly at Red Top. We thought it would intersect the road closer to the Sawtooth Mountains, but we didn't find it. Instead, before we got too far, we went over the open desert until we found the road. The sun came up as we marched toward the ascent gully. We both cached water beneath the large boulder at the entrance and took a break to refuel. We went up the gully then drifted north, staying inside a sort of alley between higher ridges on both sides. The terrain is confusing and sometimes a 50' ridge blocked the view where 80' contour lines on the GPS showed a flat area. It was a relatively smooth ascent to the reach our previous stopping point. Ahead was a gully full of over-sized boulders. We started up favoring the right side, then dropped back into the middle to get around one of the 40' boulders. We stayed in the gully the until it ended about 200' below the summit. The wall of rocks choked with vegetation made a direct approach look improbable, or at very least, miserable. We climbed a short wall to the west to reach a final plateau clear of boulders. From this point forward, our GPS track is a mess as we picked our way up and across the maze toward the summit. There was a lot of bushwhacking and backtracking. Sometimes we would split up to explore different options, shouting to each other if it advanced our cause. The last 100' was mostly class 3, with the same kind of recon and route finding needed to find a way to the summit block. The difficulty of the summit area validated the call to turn back the first time when we were short on daylight.

Starting up

Massive boulders in the big gully just below Red Top

First good look at the summit

Squeezing through boulders

Matt about 50' below the summit

Register can below the summit block

Summit block

A single red can held the register underneath the summit block. The summit block was about 20', but another boulder was piled against it to provide a head start. While the block is rated class 3, the final 10-12' was a mostly smooth surface requiring a friction move. It was a little spicier than expected, though the exposure was not bad. A slip would probably result in a slide back into the starting boulder. I got down by sliding into it. The views from the summit were fantastic, more valuable because they were earned. While similar to Sawtooth, I felt the views from Red Top were better because they were more central. The view down the southeast ridge of Red Top was something special. The Inner Pasture and Canebrake surrounded everything like a moat. For Matt, it was his 69th peak on the Sierra Club San Diego Peak List. For me, it was 100/100 and a perfect list finish. After we both signed the register, we spread out on one of the monster slabs for lunch. We tried to return the way we came up, but there were minor variations. It took us about 2 hours to descend back to the bottom of the ascent gully and collect water cache #2. The walk back was long, interrupted occasionally by startled jack rabbits. We stopped at water cache #1 to retrieve what was left. Because the temps were ideal for a long desert hike (46F - 64F), I used a lot less water than expected and poured out the remaining water from the cache. We thought the sun would set when we reached the top of the pass, but we made it back to the truck just as twilight was fading. While the stats undersell it, I consider either Sawtooth or Red Top alone about equal in difficulty to Cactus to Clouds, and combined of greater difficulty. The challenges are very different, but the time required tells the tale. Red Top is a unique mountain that thoroughly captured my imagination. It is the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the SDC list. It's combination of remoteness, allure, and layered defenses make it one of my all time favorites. Had I climbed it first, my blog might be named "Red Top Hiker".

Matt on the summit


Momentary immortality

Looking over at Sawtooth Mountains High Point

East ridge



Final look back at Red Top

Returning to the pass

Twilight in the desert

Friday, November 30, 2018

Wild Things San Gabriels v2

Continuing my quest for black bears. I moved the camera further upstream from the original location and anchored it to a rock near a larger watering hole. There appeared to be a clear animal path above the water and below the tree. I placed it on 11/4 at noon and 4 hours later, the spot was visited by a momma bear, who bumped the camera, miraculously, into a better position. For the following two weeks, several bears and a cub passed by. If you look at the ears, there appear to be two adult bears and one cub. Also captured was a bobcat, a fox, and a buck. The camera also had about 500 videos of mule deer and mule deer butts. Very popular place for the deer. On 11/22, one of the bears lingered for a long sniffing session and left the camera face up which was the end of the videos. The camera was lucky to survive the bears and a couple of storms. It was dripping wet when I picked it up, but the SD card was dry. This run was a big success. Props to Sean for suggesting this remote canyon.

Here are a few stills:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sawtooth Mountains HP and Red Top (attempt)

Hiked: 11/24/2018
Distance: 16.8 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 4684' (Sawtooth), 4467' (Red Top)
Prominence: 604' (Sawtooth), 667' (Red Top)
Elevation Gain: 4408'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.52
Round trip time: 13 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 238 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on North Indian Canyon Road
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

The final two summits I needed on the Sierra Club San Diego Peaks List were Sawtooth Mountains High Point (#31) and Red Top (#42). These are the two most difficult to day hike and I saved them for last. Matt and I met at Indian Gorge road a little after 4 AM and he drove his 4x4 Jeep to the starting point on North Indian Canyon Road. A 4x4 is needed for the large rocks and sand. We were lucky to have a full moon but broke out the headlamps to avoid the cholla land mines. We went over the Tierra Blanca pass and stopped for a break where I had cached some water near the entrance to Canebrake Wash. I added a liter of water from the cache and we started the long, sandy walk toward the ascent gully. Morning light gave Red Top a golden glow. There are at least two old abandoned roads in Canebrake. We started out on the one closest to the Tierra Blanca, but there is another one running closer to the Sawtooth mountains. It is clearly visible in satellite views. After a few miles on the first road, we headed over to the one closer to the Sawtooth mountains. This road went over a small rise before dropping down to the gully between Sawtooth HP and Red Top. We were 6.5 miles from North Indian Canyon road but all the hard work was ahead.

Full moon start

Descending the Tierra Blanca pass

Sheep bones

Red Top from Canebrake Wash

Sawtooth Mountains High Point

Matt and I each cached a liter of water under a large, prominent boulder at the base of the ascent gully. This was water cache 2. Then, we started up the steep gully, dodging sharps and scrambling over large and small boulders. The ascent was also slowed by sandy patches, gentle on the feet but each step half as effective due to sliding. About half way up, Matt was losing energy. He decided to take a break and eat more calories. We agreed to meet at the top of the gully below Sawtooth HP. I continued up, heading directly at the summit. When I got close to the head wall below the summit, I veered left. This was a mistake and led to a lot of class 3 scrambling to get to the base of the summit. Heading right would have put me on a plateau with a much easier approach. At the base of the south side of the summit, I found a couple of small register booklets in a Knott's Berry Farm glass jar. I signed in then looked for the best way up the summit block. There were two cracks near the register that looked workable, both about 25' going high class 3 to low class 4. I chose the left crack. The rock felt a little crumbly but held. The crux was the start with a good hold on the left and a foot jam on the right. There was a loose rock in the middle but I didn't need it. After the first 10', the rest was exposed but easy. There were awesome views from the top. I took a few photos and a photosphere, then went down to the summit plateau where Matt was just arriving. I waited there while he bagged the summit. With Sawtooth behind us, we prepared for the traverse to Red Top, but we were more than an hour behind schedule.

Sawtooth summit from the east

Ascent crack

Looking down the north side of the summit

Canebrake Wash, Sombrero Peak distant left, tip of False Sombrero far left

The traverse to Red Top involved side hill work around two major pinnacles. Moving any direction in this terrain is rough sledding. It took us about an hour to descend net 700' to the saddle below Red Top. From there, we were about a half mile and 600' gain from the summit. Matt didn't think he could make it up and down in time to reach Canebrake before dark. Neither of us liked the idea of trying to navigate down the gully from Red Top in the dark. Matt encouraged me to give it a try while he waited at the saddle. I gave myself a short turn around time to allow a buffer of daylight and started toward Red Top. Not far up the gully, I ran into a troublesome grove of trees and brush. Doing the calculus on the terrain cast doubt on my attempt. Deferring to safety, I turned around before my cutoff time. The descent was tricky as we angled back to water cache 2, requiring several course adjustments. It would have been a nightmare in the dark. We picked up our water and shuffled back. Night fell as we reached the pass and we picked our way slowly over it and back to the road. Despite missing Red Top, I was pleased with my performance. I had the right mix of food to stay energized the entire hike. We had plenty of water and only thing we were short on was daylight. The bad news is I failed to bag Red Top, but the good news is that I get to hike Red Top again.

On the way to Red Top

Heading back