Ascent of Indian Head Peak in Anza Borrego

9 Oct 2004 - by John Fischer

The weekend warriors are alive and well (although somewhat sore from this brutal ascent and descent)!!

It started out as a weekend camping trip with some hiking, ended up as a hiking trip with some camping! My brother in law Slader Buck suggested a local hike in Jerry Schad's book up to Indian Head Peak just outside Anza Borrego Desert State Park Headquarters. Good day hike, we thought. All day hike, now we know!

Palm Canyon has been devastated by recent flash floods - the lush foliage lining the canyon has been ripped from it's roots, most of the palms tossed like matchsticks, and even the monitoring station torn asunder by massive flash floods. It was reported that 4" of rain fell in one hour in Warner Springs above Palm Canyon, feeding (causing) the deluge.

We had planned on hiking from the Palm Canyon Campground trialhead per Schad's instructions (by the way this hike is a 4 out of 5 stars for difficulty in Schad's book). Due to the flashfloods campgrounds are closed (road washed out -won't even let you park there)vso we had to hike from the Park HQ parking lot, adding an extra mile each way...

We started out at about 10:00 a.m. - Slader carrying 3 liters of water, me 2.5. Temperatures ranging from mid 90's to a reported high of 102 (as reported at HQ the next day as "previous day's high"). Hiked up wash with surface water visible sporadically but still muddy with silt - many previous "waterfalls" destroyed or silt filled, but still beautiful. Made a nice little rest stop at the main palm grove (about 10 palms left there, with much debris pileup). After much debate about which ridge to the North to ascend we finally "picked" the right one. Steep ascent, dodging rocky outcroppings, cactus, agave etc on the way up with frequent rest stops. Finally made the saddle at 3200' and took a long rest break. Noticed the soles of both of my boots had seperated from the boots - these Vasques are 13 years old and have given good service, but this looked like the last climb for them. Power bars and lots of water to celebrate. Final ascent to peak was arduous -steep and picking trail in and out of large boulders along the way. We hit the peak at about 3:30 p.m. with about 1 liter water left each. We didn't get to the chin to "dangle our feet" as Schad suggestes, too tired and not enough day left for that extra excursion. Telephoned friends left at home to taunt about what they had missed and signed the log (last registry was December of '03 - that should have told us something...). Taped both boots' toes with duct tape (Slader brought - never leave home without it) and started descent via East (or was it South) ridge off of Indian's forehead and down toward Palm Canyon from saddle...somewhere about 1/4 of the way down the rest of the sole of the right old trusty Vasqe gave way and came completely off the boot...more duct tape and cinch strap kept it part way on, but the rest of the descent was sketchy, lots of sliding on the butt such that seat of shorts wore through. Light was fading as we approached the canyon bottom and encountered 2 groups of 3 Borregos each, one had a great curl of horn. As we hit the bottom and dusk was fading we drank or last water, and started the hike to the Palm Canyon restrooms, where the water was thankfully still available. Quenched thirst and layed down in parking spaces for 15-20 minutes before resuming hike, now in the dark, back to visitor center. Arrived at the car at about 6:30 pm, one shoe half off and strapped together, the other held together by duct tape, and my skivvy's showing through the worn out backside of my shorts, plus both of us had multiple leg wounds from encounters with sawgrass, bayonet plants, agave, granite rock bites, etc.

Bruised but proud to have made it, we solar showered in the parking lot, changed, and went off to dinner and then tequila and beers by a fire. today is Tuesday - I'm still sore. The descent was brutal on the quads and upper body from bracing to gently lower myself from rocks so as not to land hard on my off-center sole and roll an ankle... Somebody had written in the log book "My fifth time, so beautiful.." yeah yeah...My opinion: great view but there are many peaks to be had with less effort. I won't be back (soon at least). If I do go I'll 1) wait til later in the year and cooler days...2) start earlier 3) carry more water and less cell phones, radios, binoculars, etc. 4) make sure boots and all eqpt are in good condition - don't take anything for granted in that tough environment and 5) do it with a good buddy like my bro-in-law who would help and encourage you through anything (again).


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