Ascent of San Ysidro Mountain-East Peak on 2019-03-16

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, March 16, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:San Ysidro Mountain-East Peak
    Elevation:5386 ft / 1641 m

Ascent Trip Report

Summary - WOW, what a challenging day in Anza Borrego. 16 hours for 14 miles, 2 peaks and 2 benchmarks. My intended route was 30 miles with 15 peaks & benchmarks which I thought might take me about 24 hours. Boy was I sorely mistaken! The terrain here is best described as: steep, boulder-laden, thick desert shrubbery, and very slow to navigate. Bighorn sheep sightings: 0 :(

I would NOT recommend doing San Ysidro Mtn East from Palm Canyon. It is incredibly steep and full of thick desert shrubs. The climb up took me 3 hours for less than 2 miles.

Indianhead Mountain:
John and I started out from the Palm Canyon trailhead at 7:20am to make our way up Indianhead. The standard approach follows the stream up Palm Canyon and makes a right turn up a meandering ridge through patches of wildflowers and traverses the boulder field along the summit. The stream in palm canyon was flowing well! All the recent rain had made the oasis very lush and beautiful. I could have spent all day relaxing in this desert oasis. We had to cross the stream many times as we picked our way up the stream. I bet this has typically been a dry wash in recent years due to the years of drought in the area, but for us the water was flowing consistently. Some areas required some maneuvering over big boulders and sometimes bushwhacking through thick palms. We came upon some still water and some burnt palm trees. "RIBBIT"! What? Frogs?? So crazy. There were some frogs hanging out around this water hole. It's amazing, the life that this oasis provides. The When we got to the turn to head up the ridge, there is nothing that would indicate as such. The odd tiny cairn but that's it. So many flowers soaking in the sun. Simply stunning! Once at the top of the climb it is another good distance along the boulder field at the top to reach the actual summit, requiring use of hands to get up and over some of these big rocks. Very good grip, but you can also get yourself into tricky positions if you aren't careful. We reached the summit at noon. Almost 5 hours for 4.5 miles! We took a nice long summit break (almost 1 hour).

On the summit I decided I would not continue on to Palm Mesa - it looked very far and it was already the afternoon. In consolation, I decided I would cross over to San Ysidro East to at least get 2 peaks out of the day. The descent back to Palm Canyon from Indianhead is not very fast either - it took me 2 hours. I cooled off in the stream and took a 15-minute break at the bottom. So nice. John was behind and his plan was to return to his car via Palm Canyon. His total descent was 4 hours (10 hours total).

San Ysidro Mountain - East Peak:
Now I set off to make the long slog up to San Ysidro East. I chose a friendly-looking ridge that I actually made fairly quick progress on for the first hour or so to get back up to about 3500 feet. This is when things started to get a little complicated. First, the ridge turned into massive boulders. Second, the ridge became very dense with shrubs and trees. Third, it was not obvious where the peak actually was from my approach. So, the next 3 hours or so were spent getting cliffed out on giant boulders, backtracking, downclimbing, forcing my way through thick brush, knocking loose rocks... until I finally made it to the summit at 7pm. It took me 3.5 hours for less than 2 miles. There's a reason nobody does San Ysidro East from Palm Canyon. The summit has several bumps along the top - I stood in the spot where Peakbagger had it listed, but the one to the east actually seemed slightly higher. I did not find a register anywhere on the top.

Now with darkness arriving, I had to decide my next move. Do I return via Palm Canyon? No... I don't want anything to do with that route I came up. Do I take the main ridge down to the Palm Canyon campground? This would be the most direct route but I was not sure it would be passable (boulders, thick shrubs, etc...) So, I decided I would follow the standard approach to San Ysidro East, returning via the ridge which leads to the Visitor Center. Along the way I could also snag Kay Benchmark and Ode Benchmark and I had GPS tracks from Patrick O'Neil and Michael Sullivan.

Kay Benchmark:
As I descended S.Y.E. towards Hellhole flat my mood changed from nervous to calm. Something about night hiking calms me down. I knew I had lights (and backup batteries), layers, an emergency bivy if needed. I was prepared for a 24 hour hike. I also had the GPS route to follow which was very helpful. Although the traverse over to Kay Benchmark was not easy! I had to constantly check the route to make sure I was going the right direction. Then I noticed a prominent mass protruding from the terrain. It was quite obvious this was Kay. I slogged it up and made it there by about 9pm. Here, there was a register with the last entry being on February 25th. I noted my route from Indianhead to S.Y.E. to Kay. I wonder if anyone's done that before.

From Kay I descended the ridge directly Eastwards towards the lit-up Borrego Springs area. I was now in a happy place and getting Kay was an uplifting feeling. I was happy I decided to go this way and not my other two options from earlier which would have had no additional peaks! I set my sights on Ode benchmark at the bottom of the ridge - an intriguing placement for a BM and also curious to why it's on the SD 100 peaks list when there are so many higher ones out there.

Ode Benchmark:
The descent from Kay down to Ode is fairly steep but also pretty fast. Not super bouldery and dense vegetation as higher up. The main thing to note is that the ridge splits into 2 and to get to Ode you need to keep left. It drops way down and then there is a slight climb back up to get to the top of the bump where the benchmark is. At night it looked like a huge hill, but it was a really easy little climb and nice to motivate me as the last peak of the day. The register here was super old and even the new one didn't really have any pages left in it so I didn't sign it and continued on down towards the valley floor.

As I was descending and following the ridge I could hear coyotes howling in the distance. I could hear the odd owl hooting. The high-pitched squeaking of bats. The nocturnal animals were out. As I continued down, I noticed a small pair of round glowing orange eyes looking right at me. I wasn't sure what it was and then all of a sudden they started flying around in the air, in some strange pattern and then landing exactly from where it took off. My guess is it was an owl based on the round eyes. It flew away as I approached it closer. I was coming to the last portion of the ridge when I noticed another pair of eyes looking at me - this time they were bright green and beady, standing prominently at the top of a bump on the ridge. I have seen these eyes before. Those are the eyes of the predator - the mountain lion. I wanted no part in this animal's business so I made a direct left turn off of the ridge to get down to the desert floor. I hiked at a brisk pace, walking towards the lights of the Palm Canyon Campground. The moon was shining bright all night and I could see all of my surroundings clearly. I looked up at Indianhead mountain and I was stricken with the profile of the landscape - it looked just like a big head looking upwards! I would make out the chin, lips, nose, stern brow, and forehead. It suddenly clicked with me why it has the name Indianhead. It was actually kind of unsettling. I returned to my car at 11pm to the sounds of frogs croaking away by the Palm Canyon trailhead. What a long day. There were some major struggles and there were many times where I was questioning why I was doing this and if it was even worth it. After a couple days of reflection I can attest - it was worth it. The why part... we might never know.

A park ranger approached me in the parking lot in her truck and asked if I needed anything. I told her I was just resting after a 17-hour hike. She was amazed. I was energized. I spent the night at the Maidenhair Falls trailhead off the S22 where John was at. A beautiful, still, mild night in Anza Borrego, where the hills beckon down from above, providing a safe home for the wild big horn sheep ("borrego") of the region.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3500 ft / 1066 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:2 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Nice afternoon out of the wind in the canyon
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3500 ft / 1066 m
    Distance:2 mi / 3.2 km
    Route:East ridge
    Start Trailhead:Palm Canyon  1886 ft / 574 m
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: Anza-Borrego

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Indianhead2019-03-16 a3600 ft / 1097 m
2San Ysidro Mountain-East Peak2019-03-16 b3500 ft / 1067 m
3Kay Benchmark2019-03-16 c400 ft / 122 m
4Ode Benchmark2019-03-16 d300 ft / 91 m
Total Trip Gain: 7800 ft / 2377 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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