Last weekend I completed a hike I have been wanting to do for a while across Anza Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County. This two-day hike took me across thirty-three miles of diverse desert landscape and was challenging and rewarding with some great solo hiking and amazing views.
We had attempted it last year from the. East to west but had to turn back for some gear issues but that trip there gave me the knowledge I needed to plan and execute this hike, “success is built on a mountain of failures”. With spring in full swing and it getting warmer I wanted to get this knocked out before the weather window closed. I had completed some warmup desert hikes in Joshua Tree with the Mikes and my Mom, so I had a good opportunity to dial in my gear before setting out on this hike.
Safety is always paramount and a solo unsupported hike across the desert would take some considerable planning and coordination. The distance was not as big an issue as the remote area and my need to carry all of my water. Having explored out here I also knew the area had limited connectivity for my cell phone and coordinating a pickup if I needed one.
Planning I was Hiking from the S2 across the stagecoach RV resort and would be traveling along jeep trails to the eastern end of the park by elephant trees. I set up a solid itinerary with Steph and she had a written plan a map overlay and lists of emergency contacts. I also set up a pickup crew with David and Gary to meet me at Fish Creek a local primitive camp site. Gino from Spool Tool who has an epic Jeep was on call if I needed pick up in the backcountry.
I gave myself three days and two nights to accomplish this and was hoping for two days and a night, but this meant I needed enough water to support me for the longer timeline. I believe water consumption is a personal thing, so it was important to note how much I was using on my warmup hikes then adjust accordingly. I also made sure that my food and hygiene needs required as little water as possible. As a standard I carry five liters on my belt and pack with two Nalgene one and a half liter bottles and two Nalgene GI canteens. I figured I would need an additional fifteen liters, so I added a three- and two-liter Hydropack as well as a ten-liter MSR dromedary to the inside of my pack. My soft gear like sleeping system was packed on the outside of my pack and as I used water that gear would go into my backpack to make up for the space. The water weight was a little over forty pounds.
Communications would also be a key part of my safety net, first and foremost was my itinerary with Steph so she knew when to send someone looking for me and who to send where. I had my cell which was also my GPS and Camera, so I had to make sure to have a charger for that as well as my Garmin InReach which was an emergency device and also gave me the ability to text via their app with the satellite for minor issues along the way. I also brough my HAM radio with a list of local repeaters as well. Then I also had my standard emergency signaling gear with my mirror and whistle and a small signal panel.
With all of this in place it was time to step off, on Friday Dad dropped me off at six am and I started my hike up towards Whale Peak along the road. The first few miles were a decent gain with a heavy pack, but I had an awesome sun rise to watch. This are is really unique with high desert plants some juniper and pine trees and I was making good time. Towards the mountain it started to level out which was a nice break and I headed though the squeeze a local off rod landmark, it was all downhill from here, haha.
While the hike up was a gradual incline the hike down the mountain had some definite step parts and it was almost climbing down the road in some spots. Using the existing Jeep roads made navigation easier and I was surprised Friday to see a convoy headed past me, they asked if I was ok and needed anything which was pretty cool. I did take one trail detour to go check out Harper’s Cabin which I am assuming was an old mining operation. The detour down the “trail” turned out to be a dry was and a mini adventure while I climbed down rocks with a still very heavy pack. I definitely questioned why I chose to do this a couple of times, but it was a trail on my map, so I don’t feel I went too far off the plan and it paralleled the road, so I wasn’t too far off my plan. It did cost me some time and energy though.
My plan was basically to hike twenty miles day one, well this was early in my hike and I was a little overconfident, haha. My schedule had me hiking in the morning until around eleven then taking a nap under my sunshade until one. Day one I actually set up the shelter around ten thirty and took a break until close to two, with the heat while not bad I did not see the point in pushing it to hard and was ready to step off rested and watered. I was still up in the higher elevation and had a ways to go.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with a leisurely stroll down the road and a break to check out a native site that had grinding stones and some faded pictographs. This valley I was in was very similar to Blair Valley so this location made sense for the spot and it was neat to try to imagine what it was like when they were here. I was still making good time, so this was a welcome pit stop.
I could definitely see the difference in the landscape as I descended down the mountain and was beginning to feel the weight of my pack, I kept telling myself I would stop at twenty miles or six pm. I ultimately though found a great spot with some shade and a nice breeze around mile seventeen and I also had cell phone reception! I figured instead of chasing an artificial timeline and distance I would camp here rest and be ready for the morning. It was on a bluff that overlooked the valley, and I could see the Lagunas to my west, so I was in a good place.
It was relaxing and I set up camp and made some phone calls, I was even able to go live on Facebook. This was cool for a couple reasons; I like talking to Stephanie and it was a visual marker of where I was at and a good starting point if someone had to come get me. In the desert it gets chilly quick and right after the sun went down, I was in my bag ready for the next day, but I will share the rest of my adventure next week. Thanks for taking the time to check out my story and can’t wait to share the conclusion!