Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Two

On January 7 and 8, 2012, Devin and I made another attempt at climbing Indianhead Peak in the Anza Borrego desert. We didn’t succeed in summiting.

Here is the map of our endeavor (click to enlarge). In 2010, we made an exploratory hike up Palm Canyon, which we documented here. We started at the same place, the parking lot shown on the lower right side of the map. The arrow at Palm Grove points to the first oasis. This is where the maintained trail ends and it is therefore the final destination of many dayhikers. A lot of people make it up there even with small kids. The waypoint marked by the blue flag just to the right, labeled 002, is the location of the New Palm Grove shown in this blog entry.

The arrow labeled “where we stopped in 2010” is just that. However, since I lost the GPS I used in 2010 on Kearsarge pass in August 2010, I didn’t have the exact waypoint with me, and I also didn’t have a good map. While I had planned to take the ridge directly after that spot, shown in the 2010 blog entry, we missed it this time and overshot by a good mile and a half, finally arriving at the arrow pointing to Our Camp. That’s where we spent the night. It was exactly five miles from the parking lot, and a very, very tough five miles.

After the first oasis, the trail ends, and hiking becomes very difficult. Making progress means climbing over immense boulders, crashing through thorny shrubs, crossing the creek many times and sliding along steep slippery rock faces. Many times we had to backtrack and find another way, on the other side of the creek. All this with a full overnight pack, which gets caught in branches and has a tendency to pull in unexpected directions, makes for a dangerous and often scary hike or climb. Five miles of this is utterly exhausting.

Here is our camp:

(Click image to enlarge). You can see the flat area where we had pitched our tents (red arrow).

Look at the palm grove in the background. It had burned some years before, and the trunks of the trees are all blackened, the old fronds burned off. However, when growth came back after the fire, new fronds developed, and the wilted ones are once again forming the characteristic yellow bushes below the living leaves – until the next fire.

We spent the night next to the creek, the full moon as bright as a reading light. We actually tested that and Devin was able to read. We made a fire in a little natural fire cave (green arrow), Devin cooked one of his gourmet wilderness dinners, and we turned in by 8:00, when the fire had died down, it got cold and there was nothing left to do but sleep.

The sun does not come up until 7:00am, so it was a long night in the tent. Since we had only planned for one night out, we knew we had to summit and come back to the camp by noon, to be able to make it back out by dark at 5:00pm. It was very obvious that we didn’t have enough time for a summit attempt again this time and we committed to an exploratory hike up the ridge (blue arrow).

You can see our attempt on the map where I made waypoints 003, 004, 005 and 006, carefully marking spots in the wilderness in order not to get lost on the way down. In the desert, it is very easy to get lost and end up on the wrong ridge, far from where you want to be at best, and possibly in a dangerous position with no way out. The light also changes the way things look. Waypoints are important for finding your way back.

We climbed up a steep and rugged ridge, of course no trails and maybe no human boots before us in years. After about 45 minutes we reached a natural turn-around point. We knew we didn’t have time to go further, and looking up looked forbidding. Here is Devin at the end point:

Looking down from our ridge into the valley where we came from, taken with a zoom, we can see our camp site (red arrow) where our stashed gear waits for us when we return.

When we finally got back to the camp after four more rough hours climbing and stumbling down the creek, when I fell twice with a full pack, once getting my head submerged in water, we were thoroughly exhausted.

We concluded that next time we’d attack the peak right from the parking lot, going on the black curved line on the right side of the map above, over the false peak and the saddle to the peak. I think this can be done in five hours up and another five down with a daypack, without having to trek all the way up the canyon first to come from behind.

A tough ridge is a tough ridge, no matter what side of the mountain we climb.

Next year, Indianhead, next year.

One thought on “Attempt to Hike Indianhead – Take Two

  1. Val

    Thanks Norb for sharing with all of us. I love reading about your exploits…especially the father/son ones. What wonderful and priceless time together. Looks and sounds very challenging. Perfect!

Leave a Reply