Epic final desert weekend

The Thimble & San Ysidro Mountain
April 10, 2021
Miles: 4.48
Elevation Gain: 1,915 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #s 48 & 49

Bonny & White Benchmarks
April 10, 2021
Miles: 4.07
Elevation Gain: 1,048 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #s 50 & 51

Pinyon Ridge & Wilson Benchmark
April 11, 2021
Miles: 8.61
Elevation Gain: 1,243 ft
Gaia Track
100 Peaks Challenge #s 52 & 53
Afoot & Afield 5th ed. Trip #240

Back in early March, when we hiked Mile High Mountain, I said to my husband Tad that our overnights in the desert were done, at least until the fall. I figured the hikes up by the Ranchita area would not be too hard to squeeze in before it got hot; or if not, they could wait until fall. But we had a weather window and in a surge of ambition we decided to bag ALL SIX IN ONE WEEKEND. Tad was like, yay. Ok now THIS is the last desert overnight until the fall, seriously, for real this time!

We knew we’d have our work cut out for us. The Thimble is particularly notorious for having a lot of bushwhacking, and if you don’t approach the summit block from the correct direction, it can be almost impossible to summit. The other benchmarks north of the main road were no slouches either, despite the moderate stats. We were doing this because the forecast predicted relatively cool temps, but “relative” is the key word – it would still be in the mid-70s and sunny by the afternoon.

We headed up early on Saturday morning and met up at the PCT trail junction at Barrel Springs just west of Ranchita. From there we piled in to Shadow (Tara’s trusty Jeep) and, turning left onto Lease Road and right onto Landmark Lane, arrived at the trail head for our first objective: The Thimble. These rural dirt roads were not bad – high clearance would have been sufficient. When we arrived we were not that surprised to see Travis Curry there! Love following all these other peak baggers around as we all work down our lists! Travis was shooting for East San Ysidro so had an even longer day in store than we did. Our trails started together so it was fun walking with him as we hiked up the dirt road which wound its way around an unnamed hill to our right. We arrived at our cross-country turnoff for the route that our friend Chris recommended. Travis continued on his journey and we began our bushwhack.

Chris’s route was spot on. There were definitely some bushes that required whacking (I brought some clippers and did a little landscaping along the way) but nothing too severe. We arrived at the scramble to the summit and had no trouble. Peak #48 was done!

We opted to backtrack down our known route rather than try to make a beeline to the northwest toward our next objective – that just looked sketchy and we knew from our research it would be tough. So we sucked up the extra distance for a ways until we finally cut toward the north and bushwhacked to the wash leading up toward San Ysidro Mountain.

San Ysidro proved to be straightforward if a bit straight up in places – nothing we had not encountered before. The summit was broad with a few boulders to climb and check out the trio of benchmarks. There was another pair of hikers atop the summit. They introduced themselves as being from Orange County and working on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section list.

After a rest and a snack we made a straight shot back to the car and debated whether we wanted to continue. Yes, it was hot, but not that hot. We had not done a lot of mileage but we had still worked pretty hard to get these summits. Should we call it a day and do something closer to home tomorrow? Or even drive back out in the morning to do tomorrow’s planned hikes?

Well we are nothing if not determined, and we decided to stick with the plan and DO THIS! In hindsight it was hard and if we weren’t so tired I’m sure we would have enjoyed the next pair of hikes more, but it was also good to get them done.

Bonny and White Benchmarks were straightforward. No trails to either of them, but the cross-country hike was clear, with no bushwhacking or steep sections, thank goodness. We summited Bonny Benchmark first – and were disappointed that we could not find a way to climb atop the summit block! We searched around the boulders a bit and found a possible route up the south side, but it was just too windy on that side. This challenge has no “rules” per se, and typically for these peak lists, if the climber is not comfortable with the exposure, or not able to get atop the summit block due to the technical difficulty, you can still “count” it. So far there have been a few other examples – Tooth Rock (of course – who would climb that??) and Mt. Woodson are standouts, although I’d like to take another crack at Woodson when the summit block is not covered in ice. But it was disappointing. I also regret not finding a better spot to take my summit photo. Maybe I have to revisit this one someday.

White Benchmark redeemed us – the hike from Bonny to White was absolutely beautiful. We were scampering (ok, trudging…) on a carpet of flowers, with wide open meadows and views all around. The summit block only required a tiny bit of easy climbing yet it looks really impressive on the photos. We took turns up there and then started heading back.

There are several other benchmarks in this immediate area including Clyde (of course – right next to Bonny), Hut, and Chimney. Most people collect these as they go. This was another drawback of us doing this hike while tired and hot – there was no way we were going to do anything other than what the challenge required of us! FOCUS!! Maybe another reason to come back to this area and explore more.

Our original plan was to camp at Culp Valley. Not surprisingly, it was totally full. We headed over toward the Paroli Homestead to camp there, but there were “no camping” signs. (I still have not figured this out – it’s marked on all maps as “Paroli Homestead Primitive Camp,” but it’s within a cultural preserve where camping is not allowed. Something to investigate on a future exploration.) By now we were just done. We ended up driving around toward tomorrow’s trail head and as soon as we had crossed out of private property and onto the state park, and found room to pull off the road, we stopped. It was not the most pleasant of campsites – I squeezed my tent between Tara & Casey’s cars, where they slept (Kali had headed home to deal with some work issues) – but it was fine. Once hiker trash, always hiker trash!

The plan for Sunday was to meet at the turnoff from the main road. To get to today’s trail head, the driving route headed south on Wilson Road and then left onto Old Culp Valley Road. The first part of this latter road is severely rutted – in fact we were impressed that Casey got her RWD pickup through – go Casey! We had stealth camped just past the rutted section, so Tara & I climbed into Shadow to backtrack to the S22 and pick up our hiking companions who had departed from San Diego at o’dark thirty to join us. On our way to the trail head, beyond our shitty camp site, of course we passed some gorgeous spots!!! LOL! Turned out if we’d been just a wee bit more patient we would not have had to sleep in the gutter! Oh well. As I have said before, one of my favorite things about this challenge is getting to know the nooks & crannies of San Diego County better – and here’s a great example.

Unlike yesterday, today’s hike was along a trail, with no bushwhacking or significant steep sections. Today was less breezy than yesterday so it was good to be getting started early. The trail passes by Pinyon Ridge before continuing on to Wilson, so we decided to hit Pinyon first. The off-trail section was straightforward with only a few minor navigational decisions to get around some boulders and bushes, and we soon arrived at the base of the summit block. This block was not as exposed or challenging as Bonny. Kali scampered to the top without hesitating. For the rest of us it was not so easy. There is no doubt in my mind that I could have climbed up there, but I just wasn’t feeling it today. Now as I sit at my desk typing this I am regretful – I barely even tried, and I wish I had. I’m really racking up the reasons to come back to this area sometime!

We cut cross-country due east, eventually meeting back up with the trail. Wilson Benchmark was just off trail. We chose to mostly follow a route that was marked as a trail on my Gaia layer but not on the USGS layer. This worked out well for us, with no bouldering required. The summit block was photogenic and not challenging. The summit area was broad and lovely, and we enjoyed our lunch and a rest. From there it was a fast four miles straight back to the cars. We all really loved the hike out to Pinyon & Wilson and agreed we should come back sometime for sure (reason #4??), maybe on a cooler day. In fact Kali pointed out that this would be a great WBC trip – something to consider in the future.

About Erika Lawson

Blogging from El Cajon, CA, just east of San Diego. I mostly blog about hiking, but also traveling and family life as a working mom. I also have blogged about my experience dealing with (curable) breast cancer with as much humor and disdain as possible.
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1 Response to Epic final desert weekend

  1. Pingback: Another Six-Peak Weekend | laughter & sleep

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