It was high time to start the desert hiking season – but where to go? It had to be something new, and the 100 Peaks list provides plenty of new for me still. My friend Hans had mentioned Palm Benchmark* sometime last year, and that it was in the Calcite Mine area. Having been there often for the slot canyons, it meant combining a familiar approach with “a nice little addition” (just about 2 miles more, out and back, from the mine itself) to “bag” another peak from the list.
In my typical fashion, I forgot my hiking shoes again, and then a road closure added to my travel time. When I finally met my friend Peter at the Calcite Mine trailhead, it was about 45 minutes later than originally planned.
Peter had never been to the mine proper (we did explore the slot canyons together, 5 years ago) and the idea was that while he explored the mine area, I’d “do my peak” and then join him on the way back. Except that there’s a slight elevation change between the Calcite Mine, at about 350 meters (1100 feet), and Palm Benchmark at ~820 meters (2700 feet) – in a distance of only about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). I don’t mind hiking steep uphill – in fact, I really enjoy it: the slow but intensive movement has a very meditative quality to it. But I didn’t really know how long this would take me.
In the approach (over a partially quite narrow ridge) one loses sight of the actual summit quite a number of times. When I had been mislead by the second or third false summit, I got my phone out to check my location – and texted Peter to go home without me, because at that point I was only halfway there. 🙂 (we later met in Borrego Springs to close the day over dinner, of course).
A light rain had begun at that point – which wasn’t unexpected. The National Weather Service had predicted a 40% chance of rain with precipitation accumulation of less than 1/10th of an inch (2.5mm) – not really a problem, and the ground, composed of coarse granite dust, gravel and rocks, provided excellent grip even as it got wet.
The weather was in fact the reason why I wanted to hike in the desert on that day: the Peninsular Ranges in Southern California block most of the winter storms from the west and only very little rain actually reaches the desert – but the clouds do! They filter the light and add drama to the sky. Long time readers of my site know that I do find both quite desirable from a photographic point of view. 🙂
The hike was described as strenuous but my physical condition is not a hindrance at this point – once past the obvious use-trail from the mine area and over the first false summit though, the route looks a bit intimidating, especially from a distance. How the heck am I supposed to get up there? At that point, the use-trail vanishes often, but there is no other route – the only way is to follow the ridge.
As it turned out, perspective and scale are quite misleading and upon getting closer to and “into” one of those difficult-looking spots, they weren’t all that difficult to pass. In the absence of a trail, the most important aspect was to keep an eye ahead on the route and decide where I wanted to be next, and how I’d get there.
There was another false summit of course, and then another. It was raining a bit harder now and for the last leg to the summit I put on my rain jacket. At the summit proper I ate my apple, signed the register, and quickly made a few photos. I had a late start and sure wanted to get past the steep, trail-less section of the hike while there still was light. I reached the mine just past sunset and walked back on the dirt road in twilight. The muddy dirt road was actually the most treacherous part of the hike!
Would I hike this again? Well, it’s pretty far for the (relatively) short hike. And, I’m not complaining about the weather, but I guess getting more views in better weather would be a plus for the peak, so it’s a “maybe”. 🙂
An early-season storm at the beginning of October brought rain all the way into the desert, and particularly to the Santa Rosa Range it seems. I saw a number of plants growing and blooming that I did not expect to see – bushes had sparse “out of season” inflorescences, and some wildflowers were out too. Seeing how the plants react to moisture instantly was fascinating. The most important “season” in the desert seems to be “rain” – whenever it happens.
Those plants that I could identify were Desert Lily (Hesperocallis undulata – and in large patches, too!), Desert Wishbone (Mirabilis laevis), Schott’s Indigobush (Psorothamnus schottii), Desert Lavender (Condea emoryi – smells good!), Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum), Desert Tobacco (Nicotiana obtusifolia – which reminds me a little bit of Primula veris, harbinger of spring in Europe) and of course Ocotillos, Ocotillos, Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens)… the masters of making use of whatever precipitation they can get.
100 Peaks Progress
Palm Benchmark is peak #14 on the Sierra Club’s 100 peaks list. Its elevation is “around 2700 feet” – depending on which list and map you look at, it is given as 2697 feet, 2699 feet, 2701 feet. Not a dramatic difference, of course. I’ve hiked 28 list peaks now. Still got plenty to go! (personal progress sheet)
Below are my photos. I offer many fine art prints from Anza Borrego in my print-on-demand store. Please take a look!
*) unofficially also called Travelers Peak. It is clearly named “Palm” at the summit benchmark though – I don’t know where the name Travelers Peak comes from.
This is my personal blog, and I am a professional photographer. Please respect my copyright. If you would like to use any of these photos, for whatever purpose (commercial or personal), you MUST obtain a license and/or written permission from me. More information on my page about image usage. Thanks.