Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hike 16- Whale Peak Of DOOM!

What happens when you pit three online SoCal bloggers/hikers against a mountain in the desert? Adventure, calamity, sunburn! This trip had it all and then some.

I had the pleasure of hiking with two of SoCal's finest bloggers @100Peaks and @TheSoCalHiker down round about San Diego way. The peak- Whale Peak, a god-forsaken rock in the middle of the desert. The trip started off easy enough. A bunch of guys, driving through the desert till we couldn't drive any more, taking out the packs and getting ready for the hike.

Lesson Number One: Know The Route As Best As Possible

I rely on trip reports from the Internet for a lot for my hikes. I also try to supplement them with topo maps and God help me, sometimes even Yelp reviews. In this case, we were relying on an Internet trip report, which after one wrong turn on a desert road

had us scrambling up the wrong ridge and basically trying to cut across that ridge at a perpetual 45 degree angle.

Eventually, we decided to screw the sideways hike and go straight up to the ridge line to see where we were. You think the desert is flat, don't ya? Well not on this hike. Whale Peak hides behind several ridges and while flat in many places, has many boulder scrambles and undulations. 

Lesson Number Two: When Hiking In The Desert, Bring 2x The Water

This was my first desert hike. I learned a lot. One, the cacti are going to get you one way or another.

Their sting lasts about 10 minutes and they leap at you when you stop paying attention so always be on guard. Second, water, water, water. I went through 96 ounces of water and needed every one of them to make it through the desert hike. You can never have enough, even if you start out early in the morning.

(a hiker who didn't have enough water)

Lesson Number Three: Figure Out An Emergency Plan Beforehand (also known as the Sierra Club SD Chapter Sucks)

Why does the Sierra Club suck? Apparently they are the ones who "upkeep" the trails in this region which basically means cutting down a few cacti here and there and maintaining rock cairns that highlight the "trails".

The problem is that when there isn't a definitive trail, the cairns are the only way to find that trail and when there are several overlapping trails and not good maps, well you can get lost.

I got lost and I don't mean being stuck on a time-traveling-its-really-purgatory-island. I mean, separated from the group and miles away from the road lost. And THEN, when we all found each other again, we went down the wrong trail (thanks to the cairns) and ended up having to hike up and over different ridges just to make it back to the right direction toward the road. The big lesson is to talk over with your group what happens if things go wrong. Is there a rally point, are you going to double back? Plan for the worst and hope for the best, especially when desert hiking.

Lesson Number Four: Enjoy The Peaks

Been tramping around the wilderness for hours? Has a 4 mile hike become 10? Well if and when you find the peak, ENJOY IT. Climb up on those rocks

Enjoy the scenery

and enjoy that great mountain air when you get up about 5,000 feet.

I loved the summit, hated the lost-ness and found the desert fascinating. Whale Peak, while supposedly 2 something miles from the desert trailhead, it is a TOUGH 10 miles so be prepared.

I also can't say enough about my hiking companions. Amazing that you can do things outdoors with people that you met indoors and online but these guys made the trip worth it.

They are sure to have their trip reports up soon- check them out here:
100 Peaks


  1. Shoot, now I'm kind of happy I didn't end up going! The adventure sounds exciting, but I doubt I would've packed enough water/snacks for 10mi ;)

    I hope the SD Sierra Club sees this, if three experienced hikers can get a little off-course, imagine first timers!

  2. @Campfire- I don't mean to completely rag SD Sierra but whoever set up "competing" rock cairns will not get my extra Clif bar.

    @Chris- thanks for the props!

  3. I agree that the SD Sierra Club does a lot of hard work and most of these trails are informal use trails that only exist because people use them.

    Some of these people put cairns in the wrong places, but shame on me for not being as prepared as I could.

    I wouldn't blame the Sierra Club at all for our long day, but see my mistakes on my blog.

    The desert is an unforgiving place, but I am glad I shared the adventure with some great new friends.

  4. That sounds like such a great hike. Out of our league this past visit to Anza, but I think Hubby and I are going to attempt it next year.

    -- Colleen @ Greene Adventures


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