Nice report Andy. Hopefully the other guys can post some pictures. I only took 4 pictures.
"He said this is the only section of trail, it looks like a 45 degree pile of rocks that goes straight up. Look how far we have traveled from the flat land below."
Here is our group from top to bottom:
Jace "The Kid" Mullen -
Full of enthusiasm. A senior in high school and an Eagle Scout. Often does solo hikes on the weekends, mostly in the San Jacintos. Will be doing the PCT solo this year. I enjoyed talking and kidding with him, as he is younger than some of my grand kids.
Andy "The G-Man" Duncan -
The Gear Man. Almost all his gear is MYOG. Cuben pack, cuben shelter, bivy, quilt and more! His only interest in everyone's gear was to check out the seams, sewing and reinforcements. Very organized and competent hiker.
Jim "The Silent Man" Block -
Doesn't talk a lot, but when he does is very knowledgeable. And he thought my cheap Gallo Hearty Burgundy wine was good... I like that!! Solid hiker and knows what he is doing.
Chad "Powerman" Eagle -
Chad is the only one I actually really knew before this trip; we did a hike together last year. Chad enjoys 30+ mile days, but is happy to hang back and go slower with a group. He has his gear dialed in and sets up and packs up very quickly. I was thrilled when he decided to join the group.
Other than Chad and me, we were all strangers. After quick introductions we hit the trail. The plan was to get to our campsite by around 4 PM. I showed everyone the route on a map and we took off. Other than stopping for a couple minutes before Alcoholic Pass where I shared the history, we mostly hiked single file. Fist section was almost straight up 600 feet, a quick descent through the pass, and then a gradual downward hike cross country passing through several Cholla Gardens, then typical desert chaparral, a walk down a wide wash until we hit a Jeep road. We stopped for a short break and got to know each other when we reached the Jeep road.
After the break we headed up the Jeep road for about a half mile, then turned up a wash that led to the mouth of Butler Canyon. The mouth of Butler Canyon is a boulder field, many boulders are over 30 feet tall. Not too difficult to traverse. In a few minutes we found a shady spot and stopped for lunch. Lots of good talk and we enjoyed watching Chad concoct a cheese-something burrito.
After lunch we walked for about 30 minutes in boulder strewn terrain and then it turned into an easy walking wash. Eventually the canyon narrowed into a short section of slot-walled canyon, then opened up into a fairly wide wash. Saw some Big Horn droppings, but sighted no sheep. Found a water seep along a canyon wall. Also saw the only full bloom Century Plant of the trip.
We finally got to our exit out of the canyon, a faint Indian trail. It is not visible from the wash, but Craig Wisner and I had located it last year. At this point we took another break. More good conversation.
From here we would hike out of the canyon, generally following the faint trail, long abandoned. We would push up about 700 feet in elevation. The trail followed a small ridge-line; Indians walked ridge-lines, switchbacks are a white man invention :)
The route was all shrub, rocks, volcanic stuff and lots of cacti. The trail ended in a steep wash and we climbed a steep rocky hill until we hit another steep wash over the top of the hill, and then paralleled this wash on the adjacent hillsides working our way up to a saddle. Brush, rocks, brush, cacti, and brush. Once at the top we walked about a hundred yards to a rise and suddenly below us was the playa.
A desert playa is a sink or dry lake with no outlet. In heavy rains it floods. Playas tend to have very alkaline soil, and the only plants growing in our playa are creosote bushes. But there was plenty of open space. The ground is much like a cinder running track. But after a few minutes one really appreciates its beauty. Our playa had a 360 degree view of the San Rosa Mountains, Buckhorn Mountains, Coyote Mountain, Laguna Mountains and San Felipe Hills.
A slight breeze started up and it felt refreshing after the sunny day of hiking. Weather called for lows around 42F in Borrego Springs, but we were 2,000 feet higher. 10% chance of precipitation and winds of 5-8 mph. Everyone set up their shelters, except I decided to sleep under the stars. Then we had dinner. No campfires are allowed as this is a wilderness area. So we went to bed around 7:30 or 8:00 when the wind started to pick up. As Andy mentioned, around 4:00 AM the wind gusts went crazy. I woke up and saw the two tents had collapsed, Andy was adjusting his pitch, and Chad's tarp was rock solid. I was sleeping in a quilt, and as an experiment was wearing a Columbia Omni-heat Backcountry Ride Beanie I picked up on sale at Sports Chalet for $10. It wasn't doing the job and I was getting cold. So I sat up to get my baseball cap and the wind blew off the beanie and my Kooka Bay pillow took off in a gust. I was cold, so I just tucked my head inside my quilt and went back to sleep. Even though the quilt is cuben there was enough air swirling around to keep the quilt vented and I slept warm until dawn.
Much too windy to cook breakfast. Chad was up and packed before everyone else and he retrieved Jim's and my pillows while we packed up. My beanie was in a Creosote bush at the foot of my quilt. So we took off in a gale storm. A half hour later we descended into a wash and the wind stopped. Great timing... perfect location for breakfast. After breakfast we started working our way down several hills, up a wash and then to the ridge-line that would meander down into Box Canyon.
Jace and Jim. Andy and Chad are higher up.
"Hmm... we keep going up and down hills, around rocks and bushes. I would be more comfortable if he would look at a map once in a while."
Once we got on the ridge that descends into Box Canyon, the high winds kicked up again. A few times it was hard to keep my balance. We worked our way down the ridge and when we got to the bottom of Box Canyon the wind died down for the rest of the day. We took another break and enjoyed the even larger boulders than we saw in Butler Canyon. From here we walked non-stop until we got to our vehicles right around 11:00 AM.
Total mileage of the trip was 18 miles. Perfect loop for a group who did not know each other. Great hiking and plenty of time to get to know each other. Thanks everyone for the company. I really had a great time!!