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Anza Borrego 2012
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Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
Anza Borrego 2012 on 02/21/2012 21:23:10 MST Print View

Many thanks to Nick for organizing a fun trip through some of his stomping grounds in the Anza Borrego desert. We left our GPS units at home and followed Nick along mostly cross country routes that were based on his experience in the area. After leaving the Alcoholic Pass TH on Saturday we didn't see another person (or human footprint) until hiking out on Sunday.


We followed a wash/trail up to Alcoholic Pass. Nick mentioned that the pass is named after the cattle ranchers who used this pass to access the bars in Borrego Springs many years ago.

alcoholic pass th

After a quick 600 foot incline we made it over Alcoholic Pass with some good views of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

alcoholic pass view

On the way toward Butler Canyon. . .

cross country desert

Soon we were following Butler Canyon.

butler canyon

Then up the remains of an old indian 'trail' cross country toward the Playa.

cross country indian trail

The Playa with the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains in the distance.


Nick was trying out a Zpacks poncho/groundsheet, Neo-Air and cuben quilt.

nicks gear

Jace kicked it in luxury, a GG Squal Classic. When he needed some advice with the tent Glen Van Peski actually invited him over for personal UL instruction at his house. Now that's customer service.

gg squal classic

Jim's Tarptent.

tarp tent

Chad was using a bivy and later setup a tarp in storm mode when the winds kicked up.

chad gear

Minimalist cuben tarp based on Glen Van Peski's cuben wedge. We used this for some group wind protection for dinner.

cuben wedge

Later the wind really got going. It was about 40 mph consistently until 3:30 - 4:00 am when we started getting some 50 mph gusts. Both of the tarptents were flattened. Chad and I made it through using some low profile tarp setups. The next morning we were all ready to get going. . .

sunday morning

on the way to windy ridge

another cactus

We followed along this ridge and eventually made it down to Box Canyon on the right.

windy ridge

Jim on the way down to Box Canyon.

jim on windy ridge

b and w cactus

Thanks again to Nick for showing us some of the 'Desert High Route'.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Anza Borrego 2012" on 02/21/2012 21:35:37 MST Print View

This is awesome guys.

I must admit that I'm a bit envious, a trip in Nick's backyard would be a killer way to decelerate the passing of a few days. I'll put a trip with Nick on my list of "Things to Do".

Jace Mullen
(climberslacker) - F

Locale: Your guess is as good as mine.
Anza Borrego on 02/21/2012 23:39:56 MST Print View

I really enjoyed that trip!

Nick, I am extremely grateful that you were willing to take us into your backyard. I dig your John Muir-esque setup.

Andy, Amazing pictures, great write-up. Thanks! You are also amazing behind a sewing machine. If you ever get the urge to make another bivy, give me a call.

Jim, thank you for putting a smile on my face when I looked over to see that it was not only me who was sleeping in a collapsed tarptent.

Chad, Thanks for keeping the lights on. I think you were the only one who got the setup right for the winds. I'm jealous.

On a side note, and I posted this in the planning thread, pistachios do spontaneously combust, but thats not why they are expensive.

I hope that we get to do this again sometime!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Anza Borrego 2012 on 02/22/2012 02:01:56 MST Print View

Nice report Andy. Hopefully the other guys can post some pictures. I only took 4 pictures.

Snapshot 1
"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.

Snapshot 4
Century Plant

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.

Snapshot 2
Jace and Jim. Andy and Chad are higher up.

Snapshot 3
"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!!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: "Anza Borrego 2012" on 02/22/2012 02:05:37 MST Print View

Thanks, Eugene. You know the feeling is mutual. I am sure we will get that hike in one of these days.

James Block
(jsblock11) - F

Locale: Southern California
Great time! on 02/22/2012 08:12:36 MST Print View

Great trip reports! Extra thanks to Nick for taking us out to such a special place (and Chad for finding my pillow in the morning!), I loved the fact that on a holiday weekend on Southern California, there are still places you can go and not see anyone for days.

I think I earned the "silent man" nickname on this trip because to be honest, I was really just trying to soak up the collective knowledge of such an experienced group. I've been backpacking for a few years now, but am really just beginning my journey toward ultralight gear and it was great to just listen in to the gear discussions and check out everyone's setup. I've already got a few great ideas of things to improve, and new destinations to explore. My wife would also tell you there are definitely times when I won't shut up!

The wind was a challenge, but I think it also ended up being the most memorable part of the trip. After getting up around 2am to adjust the tarptent, I climbed back in only to find that my pillow had disappeared! I couldn't help but just laugh to myself, and not 5 minutes later the Squall2 completely collapsed around me, and I just decided to pull the bag over my head face down and wait until morning. Things like that end up being my favorite memories.

The Squall2 took a little bit of damage (broken line tightener that ripped out of the fabric, grommet insert for trekking pole was ripped out, and ridgeline lost all tension holding capability) so that is out for repair. I think I'm going to try and move to a tarp/bivy setup and save the Squall2 for when my wife comes along, or summertime trips when I want the bug netting.

Thanks again for letting me join in on my first BPL outing, I had a great time and can't wait to get back out there.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Nice job on 02/22/2012 08:46:11 MST Print View

Wow. The scenery out there is a little bit different than what I'm looking at right now in Michigan. Looks like you guys had an awesome time. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Anza Borrego on 02/22/2012 10:18:13 MST Print View

Another great trip report coming out of the deserts of southern CA. Thanks everyone for sharing your photos and stories.

The desert is calling...

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Anza Borrego on 02/22/2012 11:40:43 MST Print View

I did this trip with Nick a while back; great country, can't beat the wide open skies. I've been itching to get out there and do the same loop as a run in a day.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Anza Borrego on 02/22/2012 11:42:24 MST Print View

Your bicycle trailer is still in the canyon :)

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Anza Borrego on 02/22/2012 18:13:42 MST Print View

A very nice trip, guys. My compliments to Nick on route selection.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Anza Borrego on 02/22/2012 18:18:31 MST Print View

Very nice trip Nick. I have spent a lot of time in that area. Wonder if we ever bumped into each other. It does get windy. Love the names you've given out.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Thanks on 02/23/2012 13:07:46 MST Print View

Thanks for the trip report.
Makes me long to get back in the desert again.

A great place to hike.

Glen Van Peski
(gvanpeski) - F - M

Locale: San Diego
Nice Trip on 02/23/2012 18:35:42 MST Print View


Sounds like a great trip! Sorry I missed our traditional annual meeting last year, the Memorial Day trip got scrubbed due to lack of signups. Looks like we'll miss this year to, we had to change the dates since I had a schedule conflict. Good to see you're still getting out. I'm sure our paths will cross again sometime in the backcountry.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Anza Borrego on 02/23/2012 18:56:36 MST Print View

Thanks everyone. Just shows there are a lot of gems out there... only you have to get out a map and create the route.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
@ Glen VP on 02/23/2012 19:00:46 MST Print View


Probably best you didn't go last year. Saturday night had wind gusts over 90 mph on San J. Sunday icicles were forming parallel to the ground around Apache Springs.

I am going to do the big loop again if your are interested in going :)

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: @ Glen VP on 02/23/2012 19:04:15 MST Print View

Depending on what else I have going, I wouldn't mind the C2C loop again.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Anza Borrego 2012" on 02/23/2012 19:15:07 MST Print View

What is the "big loop" Nick?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: "Anza Borrego 2012" on 02/23/2012 19:25:24 MST Print View


2009 San Jacinto Loop Trip Report

2010 San Jacinto Loop Trip Report

2011 San Jacinto Loop Trip Report

I am probably going to do it again this Memorial Day and some folks have expressed an interest. You wanna go?

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Anza Borrego 2012" on 02/23/2012 19:46:06 MST Print View

Yes, I wanna go Nick! I have tentative plans to do a challenging loop in the Gila Wilderness the same weekend with some other BPL'ers, but could maybe change some things around. Keep me in the loop if you and your posse make plans. Or we could join forces, flip a coin, and meet up in your neck of the woods or mine.