Ever since visiting Borrego Springs last year, and hiking up Palm Canyon the year before with my friend Mike, I have been haunted by the urge to climb Indianhead, the massive, jagged mountain to the north of Palm Canyon.
On January 3rd Devin and I did this exploratory hike to find the starting point of the climb and learn what it will take.
We started at the Anza Borrego State Park camp ground. The entry fee for day use is $8. Once parked, we hiked up a reasonably developed trail for 1.5 miles. There is a picture perfect oasis with a group of massive palm trees, a perfect spot for a water and snack break and a little breather in the shade. Getting to this point involved hiking almost all the way in the hot sun. There are some crowds here, with children frolicking and clambering about. But this changed as soon as we left the oasis and went further.
For the next one or two tenths of a mile we had to scramble over and under some massive boulders. Eventually we got through them and picked up speed a bit, but never very long. We had to crawl through thickets, climb over slippery rocks (since the soles of our boots remained wet all the time). This is definitely not hiking anymore, since it simply can’t be done without the use of hands and rudimentary rock climbing skills.
We made it up to a point where we could see the ridge to ascend to the peak. From the trailhead at 600 feet elevation, this spot is at about 1800. The peak is at 3600, so the worst of the climb is still ahead, with no water and sun exposure all the way up.
I didn’t realize how close we were to the meeting of the north and south forks and the waterfalls rumored to be there, until I looked at a map after we had returned. We were worried about daylight when we turned around, but we could easily have gone on for another twenty minutes to that point.
There are many perfect camping spots for overnight stays along this stretch of creek, with nice flat sandy pads, water with pools, and solitude. Some other hikers will come by, but not many, since it takes some serious resolve to make it past the various boulder and canyon obstacles. Here we are at one of those great camping spots:
The round trip was about five miles and we were out for almost four hours. As you can see from the map, I tracked both the way up and down, and we took an alternate loop on the way back, and I am glad we did, since we saw some wonderful ocotillo with lush green leaves, greener than I had ever seen ocotillo before.
On the way back I also saw a nice little spot of new palm seedlings, all about six to twelve inches tall. I imagined what this little group would look like in subsequent years, so I decided on the spot to make it a tradition and come back every year over New Years and take a picture from the exact spot to document their growth. Here is the first one:
The new seedlings are in the center of the picture. To make sure I’d remember where I was, I recorded a way point on my GPS so I would be sure to find it again.
The hike was more challenging than I expected it to be, since I considered it a Sunday afternoon exploratory hike. I definitely know now how to climb Indianhead: I have to carry an overnight pack up to the 2.6 mile point at the junction of the two forks and start the day hike early in the morning the next day to the peak and back. And it must be done in the winter. The sun will be brutal.