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Anza Borrego- Whale Peak

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 9/18/2004, 6:11 pm

Tomorrow will be Jan 1, 2000. In the land of fruits and nuts AKA southern California, a mild hysteria sweeps the land. Will the government shut down, will power go out, will the computers seize up? Some people take to the streets, others barricade themselves inside, some withdraw their money from banks and take to the desert.

This last day of 1999, I am car camped at the trailhead for Whale Peak off the Pinyon Mountain Road in Anza Borrego State Park. One unusual thing about this park is camping is at large, whereever you want, as long as you do not go off road and tear things up. It is darn cold and the highs are not expected to get out of the 40's. A front is moving in so the sky is iron gray with low clouds. This evening I turn in early but set my alarm for 11:00pm.

For this new years I have a split of champagne in my daypack and glass (plastic) that I carry up a ridge line opposite my camp to sit on top of Pinyon mountain, which is not much of a mountain more of a small mesa.
Since the clouds obscure the moon I night hike with my headlamp. Its a very short climb up. I find a suitable rock out of any wind and overlooking the flat valley which contains the small town of Borrego Springs, a glow with lights. I break out the bubbly. At midnight they launch fireworks. Its really eerie - the valley below is clear but some of the rockets explode in the cloud cover, strobing the entire flat lands. I am near the cloud tops so it seems I am on top of the world.
My boyfriend at this time, Dale, wasn't interested in freezing to death so chose to stay in San Diego. Whiner. Anyway I finish the champagne, enjoy the show and turn in to get a little more sleep.

The morning I have big ice chunks in the water. I have breakfast and put on a jacket- I basically slept in all my clothes in the sleeping bag it was so cold- and a hat and start out to be the first in 2000 to sign the register at the top of Whale Peak.

Whale is on the Sierra Clubs 100 most notable desert peaks list. The variety and size of vegetation, differing terrain, and route finding make it an excellent hike. Again you need a topo, the "trail" is hiker made and cairned somewhat, but several routes have been marked, I don't think I've been exactly the same way twice. Also it challenging because of the undulating ridge lines on this approach you do not see the peak until you are right on it. I have met people at the trail head who ask me "did you make it to the top; we couldn't find it".

This is a short hike and Whale is not a "sexy" destination; being a little under 6000 feet in elevation and not a technical job to get there. I enjoy every single step of this hike. It's just beautiful and the scenery is natural decorating at it's best. The effect is not unlike a well tended Japanese garden. All is pleasing to the eye and I feel as if I have tread this way before, hiking without effort but with an unerring internal compass.

The route starts with a hand foot climb up a gully with some huge Nolina Yucca and large juniper trees. At the top the drainage is sandy and you enter a flat area, you contour to the east at the foot of a ridgeline and pick up a faint trail by a boulder that takes you along the side of a small hill. As you climb views open up. Its a little clearer but cold. A little dip into a drainage then a climb out thru a problematic boulder field. It pays to watch for cairns thru here. This terrain can get impassable quickly if you decide to stray too far afield. I top out soon along another flat. Its grassy here and the trail is very obvious where it has been tramped down. Its pretty and open with hoodoos and boulders on either side. Up and over another small ridge then its ascending another gully with an easier grade. From here another route comes up from Blair Valley on the other side of Whale Peak. Now the views are of Earthquake valley and the Laguna mountains, dark as to look almost blue in this light. The climb is pretty heavily vegetated and the drainages sandy , at times makes very attractive small campsites, by the ever present boulders.

Another attractive flat with some excellent dry campsites. More contouring and soon on the shoulder of Whale Peak. Its fun on this hike because sometimes to find the right way you must really look, for the disturbed or scuffed rock, the unnatural lane thru the brush; you must observe carefully because sometimes the cairns are small or are missing.

On the shoulder of Whale, one sees out to the road coming up from the south--S-2, the unnatural line of asphalt.

You are high enough to see the many washes spread out like veins in the land below. The climb up to Whale Peak summit is short but confusing thru huge boulder mazes and unavoidable bushwaking. At the peak register I climb up on the boulder and read thru the entries. I am the first for 2000; I try to enter some appropriate comment. I look at the Salton Sea, snack and head down quickly as the wind is picking up and the clouds very thick. As I start down a bit of snow starts falling. Its pretty neat, I know there will probably not be much and as I get lower there is none, not even rain. Its so cold that as I was climbing I didn't get warm enough to shed my jacket. I get to the Jeep and still have part of the day left. I break camp, and start the drive out-- but instead of heading home I turn right at the main "road"- a rough 4wd affair and head out to The Squeeze and Heart Attack Hill on Pinyon Mountain Road.

That story is for another time------

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