On December 20th I met fellow photographer and Twitter friend Philip Constant for lunch in Julian while he was here in San Diego County. We opted for an early lunch to beat the crowds in (always busy) Julian. This left me pretty close to Anza Borrego Desert State Park of course, and made me wonder whether I could maybe get in a hike afterwards, and bag another list peak. I picked Grapevine Mountain (peak #32 on the Sierra Club’s list), which lies northeast of Scissors Crossing in one of the wilderness areas of Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Grapevine Mountain can be hiked from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) here – at some point, one has to leave the PCT of course and go cross-country, uphill. Afoot & Afield describes an alternative, longer approach from the east, via Bitter Spring, but in the short days of December, I picked the shorter (and probably less scenic) approach from the west.
At home, I had created a route with Gaia GPS (not using their app here, but their website – it’s so much easier to plan a route on a big screen and with a mouse).
I used Gaia’s terrain map first, plotting my approach over a ridge that didn’t appear too steep, and then verified with satellite imagery, to check if the vegetation or terrain wouldn’t provide to be visibly difficult: dense growth would mean a bushwhack, large boulders potentially problematic scrambling – both are things I’d like to avoid, obviously. Once saved, the route segment automatically shows up in the Gaia GPS map on my phone – that way I knew where I wanted to leave the PCT, and begin the cross-country part of the hike, towards the summit.
With this preparation I began my hike from the large parking area at Scissors Crossing. One has to appreciate the efforts of the people who built the PCT in this area, on the west-facing slopes of the southern San Felipe Hills. Like much of the desert, it’s mostly rocks of course, but to wrest a trail from these steep slopes with Cholla cacti and Desert Agaves must have been a daunting effort.
As I got close to the spot that I had picked for leaving the PCT, I was intimidated a little bit – the vegetation was denser than I had hoped for and expected. The confidence in my route-planning efforts faltered, and I reverted to plan B: follow a tracklog from a fellow hiker who kindly provided it via the peakbagger.com website (I had previously downloaded it and synced it to the Gaia GPS app on my phone).
So I continued on the PCT for a little longer and followed this route – only to find out that it wasn’t one bit better than the route I had planned, vegetation-wise…
I made my way uphill – an obstacle course of Desert Agave, Cholla cacti, and rocks. Partially it was quite steep, but with trekking poles and the knee bandages that I’ve been using for a while now (not just for hiking, also for my runs) it was just physical exercise, and rather eventless. I attained the summit without any problems.
Here’s the mandatory photo with the summit register:
After adding my name to the register (it’s important to sign it as my friend Hans told me two weeks later when we hiked Diablo Benchmark together;-) I had a snack and enjoyed the views all around.
I particularly enjoyed the view from Grapevine Mountain over to Pinyon Ridge – its high point stood out nicely. I had been there the week before when I hiked Wilson Benchmark & Pinyon Ridge: it’s the little granite knob on the rocky ridge, and in the distance you can see Toro Peak.
To the south, the long and rounded ridge of Whale Peak stood out past the crumpled hills of the southern Felipe Hills:
To the northwest, I was able to see Palomar Mountain in the distance – the dome of the observatory was just visible from Grapevine Mountain (the tiny white speck on the distant ridge, a little bit left of the center in the photo below).
I had a little over an hour left before sunset. Time to head back, as I was eager to complete the cross-country downhill part of the hike to get back to the PCT before that. What to do now? Choose the safety of the approach that I took uphill and thus knew already, or take a gamble and test my route-finding skills in practice, with the route that I had plotted at home with Gaia GPS?
I decided to take the gamble, and it was absolutely worth it – not only was the way downhill less steep for the most part (which restored the confidence in my route-finding and planning skills), but I also found a beautiful solitary Juniper growing amidst granitic rocks that were aglow in the warm evening light. A nice reward – see it on my photo website: Juniper & Granite.
I reached the PCT with enough light left. From there it was an easy walk back to my car parked at Scissors Crossing. Total distance hiked was 9.1 kilometers (5.7 miles), with an elevation change just shy of 500 meters (~1650 feet). It was a nice afternoon exercise and I enjoyed doing it for the sake of doing it – but if I’d ever decide to do this peak again (which seems unlikely at this point I have to admit), I’d choose the longer and slower approach from the east…
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