Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jacumba Mountain

Hiked: 2/20/2017
Distance: 6 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 4512'
Prominence: 1272'
Elevation Gain: 2933'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.34
Round trip time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 88 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Mortero Palms
Difficulty: Moderate

The third and final goal of the day was Jacumba Mountain, #40 on the SDC list and #74 on the Desert Peaks list. There is a shorter route on the south side that seems to have gained favor recently, but I was already close to the northern trailhead at Mortero Palms and I needed the extra training. Note: time and elevation gain are higher than they should be due to mistakes I made on the way back. My first trip down Mortero Canyon road was in a sedan and I had to stop well before the train tracks because I could not make it over a large rock. This time, the 4Runner was able to cruise over the worst spots. Campers had several tents set up at Dos Cabezas as I drove by.

At the Mortero Palms trailhead, a group of six was gearing up for a hike to Goat Canyon Trestle. They asked me if I had been to the trestle and where the trail started. I told them I had been there, but from a different starting point. I gave them a few tips on finding the use trail once they got to Goat Canyon, but was concerned that none of them had a map or GPS. They looked young and fit, but unprepared. They started ahead of me into the south canyon, the way I was headed, instead of Palm Canyon. They were about 100 yards ahead of me, and started climbing in the direction of Palm Canyon, so I thought maybe they would be OK. The boulder scramble begins immediately with a mix of class 2 and class 3. I found the path of least resistance was usually left of center on the way up. The climb to the top was enjoyable and got my blood pumping. I exited the canyon onto a flat plain with several huge piles of rocks rising from the earth on both sides. I could see Jacumba at the top of a steep canyon on the left, while the ridge line formed a north-south wall. As I crossed the plain, one of the boulder piles caught my attention to the south. I could see two large caves in the formation and made a mental note to check them out on the way back.

Start of the south canyon

Hikers in the wrong canyon, heading to the trestle

Going up

Looking back


Jacumba left of center

Instead of tackling the most direct canyon, I picked a spot on the ridge line and started in that direction. It was a long slog of steep class 1 to the ridge line. I took a break when I gained the ridge, knowing there were going to be major bumps and false summits along the way. I took aim at the first bump and plodded upward. From there, I could not see Jacumba, so I headed for the next. I skirted the flank of the highest bumps and found remnants of a use trail along the last mile. When I got close enough to see the summit, I spotted a crow or raven perched on the wooden pole jutting up there. I didn't take that as a good omen. It only flew off when I was just below the block. The Jacumba summit block was low class 2, and has a neat drop off on the west side. There was a benchmark and reference mark on the main block along with an ammo box containing several registers. I relaxed and took in the expansive views in all directions. After all summit rituals were complete, I started back with confidence I could descend quickly.

Looking down to the flat area

One of the bumps on the ridge

Jacumba in sight

Summit bird

Benchmark, placed 1935

Looking south

Looking northeast along the ascent ridge

Drop off on the west


It turned out I had too much confidence as I overshot the ridge line and started down a gully in the wrong canyon. As the landmarks started looking alien, I checked my GPS and tried to correct my course. This involved climbing back out of the gully and taking a side hill path back to the point I where I gained the ridge. I should have just descended, then headed back to the descent canyon. With extra effort, I got back on my original line, but gave up on the idea of exploring the caves I noted on the way up. I didn't have the energy for the cave exploration, but it might be worth a future trip. I was glad to get back into the descent canyon and scramble down to the trailhead. There I saw four of the six hikers I met at the start, waiting for the other two to return. They had gotten lost and abandoned their trip to the trestle, returning down Palm Canyon without even getting a look at it. Like me, they had been roughed up a bit, but were no worse for wear. Their other two companions had continued on, but they did not know if they had been successful. Jacumba was more of a challenge than I expected and a fun desert peak.

Obstacle on the way back

There will be blood

Interesting rock

More rocks

Brushy palm

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