Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lawson Peak and Gaskill Peak

Hiked: 12/12/2015
Distance: 8.1 miles round trip on road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3664' (Lawson), 3836' (Gaskill)
Prominence: 420' (Lawson), 1196' (Gaskill)
Elevation Gain: 2575'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.06
Round trip time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Japatal Lyons Valley Road
Difficulty: Moderate

Lawson (SDC #56) and Gaskill (SDC #54) had been on my radar a long time. These San Diego peaks have exciting summit blocks and interesting scrambling routes. Since they are in close proximity, they are usually hiked together. To get to the trailhead, take highway 94 east from San Diego, then left on Lyons Valley Road, continue until it turns into Japatal Lyons Valley Road and park at the intersection with (unsigned) Skye Valley Road at mile marker 130. There is room for about 4 cars on the shoulder on the south side of the road. Hike north past a gate up Carveacre Road (Forest Road 16S03).

I got started at sunrise with the temp a nippy 32F. The road was damp and a little muddy in places from rain the day before. Gaskill was the first to come into view, followed by the impressive structure of Lawson. The road climbed then dipped down to the base of Lawson. The use trail was obvious and directly ahead from the road. It went straight up Lawson at first with plenty of class 2/3, then started to work to the right of the summit block. I followed the use trail behind the summit and found an exposed class 3/4 route up (direct route). The 2002 edition of the Jerry Schad book on San Diego County suggests going up a chimney to reach a cave on the way to the summit. I found the chimney a short distance past the direct route. However, some key chock stones in the chimney had fallen making it a difficult, probably class 4 problem. Someone anchored a climbing rope above the second chock stone and the end hung just below it. I tested the rope and it seemed OK. Before deciding how to proceed, I continued past the Schad route, but didn't find another way up. I didn't go completely around the summit, so there might be other options. I went back and looked at the direct route, then decided to try the Schad route because I wanted to see the cave. There were holds to get over the first chock stone, but I had to pull myself up with the rope to get over the second. Without the rope, I would have used the direct route. The rope itself looked to be in pretty good shape, but I'm not sure about the anchor. I am no rope expert, but urge caution using this rope in the future, especially after a few more years of weathering (if it is not removed before then). At the end of the cave, an opening on the left leads to a final class 3 slab to the summit area. I found two reference marks and the benchmark. Reference mark #2 appears to be the high point, about 5' above the benchmark. I did not find a register. I took photos and a short break before descending the way I came up, using an arm rappel to get down. Next up was Gaskill.

Trailhead at Forest Road 16S03

Lawson on the left, Gaskill on the right

Getting closer to Lawson Peak

Early boulder scramble on use trail

Direct, exposed route to the summit

Jerry Schad route up to a cave, very hard without the rope

The cave on the Schad route

Final class 3 scramble to the summit

Lawson benchmark, placed 1938

On the Lawson summit

Gaskill from the Lawson summit

Gaskill Peak is not far from Lawson. I found a large cairn on the side of the road marking the south use trail. From satellite recon, the south use trail looked a little vague to me. I chose to go further up the road to the east use trail instead since it was more clearly visible and probably more recently groomed. The last left turn to find the east use trail is marked with a small cairn a few stones high. The trail slices a narrow path through the vegetation, then begins a steep ascent. There are a couple of short dead end branches, so if you get into the brush, you probably got off track. Some scrambling is required to get to the base of the summit, with several good route choices. I followed the use trail around the south side of the base and found a large enclosed area, similar but wider than the cave on Lawson. That led to a final class 3 move to get on top. I didn't see any benchmarks on Gaskill, and the ammo box on the summit was filled with a geocache register and goodies like shaving cream and a razor. The quiet was punctuated by a long series of gunshots in the valley to the north, probably from a gun range. The views were excellent, though the summit is not as impressive as Lawson. On the way back, I spotted a group of hikers about half way up Lawson, the first people I had seen all day. These peaks lived up to their reputation as some of the most fun in San Diego County.

Narrow east use trail to Gaskill

Slab to get to the base of the Gaskill summit

Gaskill summit block

Entrance to the south side route

Lawson Peak and Lyons Peak distant right from Gaskill

Geocache ammo box

Looking north toward Bell Bluff and Cuyamaca. I'll get you some day.

Hikers working toward the Lawson summit

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Peak 3480 and Peak 3412

Hiked: 11/29/2015
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip on firebreak
Summit Elevation: 3480' and 3412'
Prominence: 400' (Peak 3480)
Elevation Gain: 690'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.55
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

Peak 3480 is a short hike up a firebreak in the Santa Ana Mountains near Los Pinos. The starting point is a turnout about 3 miles west of Ortega Highway on North Main Divide Road. Main Divide is paved along this stretch. The firebreak is easy to follow, but requires some light bushwhacking. In one half mile, you reach the top. At the summit, there is a small benchmark mounted on a pole about 15' to the right of the firebreak and a tall wooden stake. Views are limited at the summit due to tall brush, but you get an interesting angle on Los Pinos. The benchmark is stamped DOM USFS 1961.

I decided to continue over Peak 3480 down to a saddle and up to Peak 3412, only 0.3 miles away. The firebreak continues along the ridge but is more overgrown. I unpacked the machete to help clear the way, especially in places where the brush got intimate TSA-style. The summit of Peak 3412 was a small pile of rocks with no marks I could find. Views were similar to Peak 3480. If nothing else, I cleared out the firebreak a little for the next person.

Start of the firebreak to Peak 3480 from the turnout

Approaching Peak 3480 from the first bump

Benchmark on Peak 3480, placed 1961

Lake Elsinore from Peak 3480

Heading to Peak 3412, a little more brush

Peak 3412 summit

Machete FTW!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Seven Summits of San Ysidro East

Hiked: 11/19/2015
Distance: 12 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 5386' (Ysidro), 1512' (Ode), 3587' (Kay), 4401' (Sirens), 3828' (Tuck), 4173' (Webo), 2369' (Ted)
Elevation Gain: 5465'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 4.37
Round trip time: 11 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 204 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Turn Out on Montezuma Valley Road (S22)
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

The prominent ridge of the San Ysidro Mountains in the Anza-Borrego desert stands over 5000'. I had been to the west summit at 6147', but the high point today was the east summit at 5386'. The plan was to climb up one ridge, visiting nearby benchmarks and peaks, cross Hellhole Flat, then descend down another ridge. All peaks but Tuck BM are on the San Diego Sierra Club Peak List. A pure cross country day in the desert, the Seven Summits of San Ysidro East aka "The Beast With Many Names". To get to the trailhead, take Montezuma Valley Road (S22) until it drops out of the mountains, then turn left into a dirt parking area with signs and a restroom. It is the same trailhead as for Maidenhair Falls. The San Ysidro mountains loom above and Indianhead Mountain is directly north. Dima and Sean joined me on this crazed adventure. We started at 6:20 AM with this itinerary:
  1. Ode BM (SDC #93)
  2. Kay BM (SDC #59)
  3. Sirens Peak (SDC #43)
  4. San Ysidro East (SDC #21)
  5. Tuck BM
  6. Webo BM (SDC #48)
  7. Ted BM (SDC #84)
As a bonus, I wanted to add Goat BM to the list, but underestimated the difficulty of this hike and how much time it would take me. Goat would have to wait. We headed for the ridge line to Ode BM and picked a gully to climb, then continued to Ode BM, only about 600' above the desert floor. The terrain was unforgiving. I had my first cholla strike before Ode, and it set the tone for the day. I was prepared with the Anza-Borrego 11th essential: pliers: the best way to remove cactus needles from flesh. Ode had a benchmark and register, but we didn't loiter. We checked in and started the much longer 2000' climb up to Kay BM. The ridge dropped a little before starting up again at a sharper angle. Before we got too far, we spotted a bighorn sheep and took pictures as we crept up on it. It appeared to have ear tags. As we got closer, we saw there were a group of three, not overly concerned about our presence. When we got too close, they went down the side of the ridge. The sun was strong and I stripped down to one layer as we continued the slog up to Kay with intact benchmark and register. We rested a few minutes on Kay before starting the next leg up to The Sirens.

Webo BM is the high point on the left, Sirens is the high point in the middle,
San Ysidro East is on the right but the high point is not visible at the start

Sean working up to Ode BM

Ode Benchmark, placed 1941

Mighty bighorn

The herd

Bighorns moving along the ridge

Looking back at Ode BM on the way to Kay BM

Sean climbing the steep ridge to Kay

Kay Benchmark, placed 1940

Looking back at the parking lot from Kay

To get to Sirens, you have drop several hundred feet from Kay, then head up one of the gullies or directly toward it. The giant boulders directly below Sirens convinced us to head for a pair of stacked boulders at the top of a gully to the right. We started that way, then Dima pulled ahead of us and disappeared into the rock field. The gully ascent was mostly class 2, with occasional (optional) class 3 moves. When we reached the stacked boulders, we started to doubt which rock pile was The Sirens. The first pile we climbed was wrong, but it did allow us to spot Dima on top of the right summit not far away. We scrambled over, with multiple class 3 moves required to gain the summit. Sirens was the most difficult summit of the day vis-a-vis scrambling skills. There was no benchmark, but a sparsely populated register rested on top. The views were stunning in all directions. We took another break, and discussed how to approach San Ysidro East. We decided on another gully ascent right of a false summit and would traverse from there. Sean was feeling some pain from a recent back injury and decided to sit this one out. He planned to head over to Tuck, then would wait for us on the summit of Webo.

Scrambling toward The Sirens

Climbing down from our false summit and up to Sirens

Looking down from Sirens

The three of us on the Sirens summit

San Ysidro East from The Sirens

San Ysidro West and The Thimble from The Sirens

It was a tough ascent to Kay, and another tough ascent to Sirens. The next trial was the thousand foot gain to Ysidro. First, we dropped about 300 feet to the base of our chosen gully. Many deer met their end in this gully, based on the bones and remains we found along the way. There were half a dozen antlers, I collected a matching pair. We found two spinal columns and various piles of limbs. As we ascended, I got really lethargic. I told Dima to go ahead and that I would meet him on the summit. I brought a sub sandwich for lunch and should have eaten it on Sirens. I thought I could hold out for Ysidro, but clearly not. I stopped on a flat rock, dug out the sub and ate half of it. A consequence of fumbling with my pack is that my GPS spilled out somewhere in this area, something I discovered near the top of the gully. I climbed back down, looking for the rock where I stopped, but no luck. So, the distance and gain reported were estimated based on topo map drawings. I got the needed surge of energy from the food and met Dima on top. There were a couple of false summits on the way. More great views were served up by San Ysidro East, and like Sirens, this spot had no benchmark. We signed the register and packed up for Tuck BM. We descended the same gully and kept and eye out for the GPS, but it was history. We got down to Hellhole Flat and looked for the confluence where Tuck BM could be found. We found a reference mark and split up to search all nearby boulders for the benchmark. After 20 minutes, we gave up and continued on to Webo.

One of matching pair of antlers I picked up as a memento

Pile of deer parts

One of two deer spines

San Ysidro East summit

Looking north from San Ysidro East to Palm Mesa and Hot Springs Mountain

San Ysidro East register

Hellhole Flat

Tuck Reference Mark, placed 1941, the benchmark remains a mystery

Next, we set out for Webo. Sean was waiting for us there and yelling down into the basin. We waved at him and crossed a ridge on the way to base of Webo. Mercifully, Webo was the last chunk of gain. We met Sean at the summit, who had located the benchmark, the hiking register, and a geocache. The benchmark was on an easily climbed boulder. Days are short this time of year so we didn't spend a lot of time on Webo. I was running low on water and rationed what I had left, leaving half a liter for Ted. We started down our descent ridge with a goal of getting to Ted BM before it got dark. Sharp, pointy vegetation limited the speed of our descent and Ted was 2000' down. We got there just as light was fading. The register was next to a reference mark, and our search for the benchmark did not yield fruit. The final register signed, I finished off my water and we began our final descent. We broke out the lamps/flashlights and continued off the ridge and across the flat desert to the car. Getting off the ridge, Sean picked up 5 hitchhiking chollas. We were in the dark for about an hour and a half and it seemed like a long, but easy walk to back to the car. It was a glorious hiking day by any measure.

Heading to Webo BM

The Sirens from Webo

Webo summit boulder

Webo Benchmark, placed 1941

Passing through a cholla garden on the way down

Ted Reference Mark

Dima descending at dusk

Sean navigating by headlamp

Red is the actual ascent GPS track from Dima, yellow is rough descent path.