Leaders: Penelope May, Jeff Deifik
Other Participants: Ron May, Lena Hayashi, Dan Pacholski, Isabel Labrada, Harry Luettchau, Scoff Kim, Tom Hill.
This beautiful area of pinyon pines and juniper in an otherwise typical desert setting in Anza Borrego was at its spring time best when we spent the week-end hiking in it. The temperatures were ideal: up to 75° in the day time and down to about 45° at night. Due to lack of winter rains in November of last year, and, perhaps the higher elevation of 4,000 - 5,400 feet in which we found ourselves, wild flowers were sparse, but the area was nonetheless lovely.
We met at Blair Valley "campsite" (a dirt road with occasional poorly vegetated spots suitable for setting down a tent) at 8.30 am on Saturday morning and loaded into two 4-wheel drive vehicles for the bumpy 5.7 mile ride along Pinyon Mountain Road to the parking/start point. We then back-packed 2 hours to our campsite oust over a mile). "Hiking" (boulder groping) south UP the canyon to where it levels off was an invigorating start to the day. At the top, we turned leftish and traveled in a south-easterly direction across a flat but cactus-ridden area toward the ridge on the south side ahead, passing an easy landmark on the left, a small "saddleback".
We found the ideal start point to climb up the next ridge by following the ducks and also by looking just beyond the more obvious gully which turns backwards (westerly), to find the next one, opposite the 2nd hump of the "saddleback" peaks. At the top is a large grassy valley; we turned westwards, crossing it and climbing over and around the low ridge finger on the left, to 4640, the head of Smugglers' Canyon which drops off precipitously on the right. This is the "intersection" between the route to Whale Peak and the return to Blair Valley via Smuggler's Canyon. It is a pretty camping area at a cool 4,600 feet, with some attractive bald spots for tents, with shade trees as well as cactus, pinyons and junipers. We set up camp there and whiled away our lunch break.
After lunch, with just our small packs, we set off for the peak. We followed the ducks directly south up the side of the ridge ahead to about 4800', then changed direction to south-east (still following rather sparse ducks). This is the really pivotal navigating point: the place is choc-a-bloc with boulder piles, ridges and trees and the trick is to find Nifty Valley #1, which is a little grassy valley running parallel (west-east, at the bottom of) the Whale Peak ridge. In it, there is a sandy path ("trail") leading across it directly eastwards to a point just below (WNW of) the peak, where the "entrance" to the peak is well ducked.
However, if you are like us, we discovered Nifty Valley #2 (slight whoops)! I think we turned leftish to avoid a boulder pile, when we should have turned rightish. As a result, we found ourselves on the wrong (north) side of a small ridge which also runs parallel to Whale Peak, but separates Nifty Valley #1 from Nifty Valley #2. Eventually, we reached a little "pass", where we turned right, and Voila, we were at the end of Nifty Valley #1, and found the access to the Peak, which we promptly scaled. After many photo opportunities, signing-in, laughs, snacks and taking in the 200 mile clear day views, we returned to the campsite unscathed.
On Sunday morning, we packed up our stuff in a leisurely fashion, enjoying the ambiance, and prepared for our descent. Ron and Dan were kind enough to go back to the 4-wheelers the way we came in and drive over to the parking lot for the Pictograph Trail where, 3 hours later, we met them. This allowed the rest of us to experience a change of pace, by heading down Smugglers Canyon. Despite the rocky terrain, the descent proved to be easier than expected, and certainly very beautiful. After hitting the desert floor oust over 1,000 feet of loss) we set a compass and headed off for the Pictograph site (which is about where the dot is on the topo map showing Petroglyphs) and, by an apparent miracle, arrived directly at this north-facing boulder with its Indian paintings.
After appropriate oohing and aahing we sauntered less than a mile on trail to the parking lot, into which our trusty steeds were just arriving to collect us, complete with a tub of iced cold water! It was a marvelous week-end filled with good company, beautiful scenery and many, many laughs, mostly at my expense!