Craig Wisner

Anza Borrego XC, 11/19-20/2012

The trip began for me with the alarm ringing at 3AM on Saturday morning, giving enough time to make a fast breakfast, brew some coffee, and jump in the car for the 100 mile drive to meet Nick in Palm Springs.  My days as a fisherman have prepared me well for this sort of predawn nonsense and the drive went by with ease.  One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Nick as a partner is his efficient timing and planning.  Both times I’ve backpacked with him we haven’t missed a beat hitting the trail or getting in the car.  After a quick coffee stop, we were on our way further south to Anza Borrego.  The plan was a roughly 20 mile loop trip, primarily cross country, over ridges and mountains and through canyons, the majority of the mileage being hiked on Saturday.  Clear desert skies greeted me, leaving the rain of Los Angeles behind.

Looking northwest from beneath Alcoholic Pass up Coyote Canyon. The trip started with an immediate climb in cool, gusting winds.

Nick Gatel, Super Ultralight aficionado. I've yet to see Nick ever carry more than a 5 pound full skin-out kit; he's got a pretty good system worked out for himself. This time it primarily consisted of cuben Z-Packs gear: a custom Zero pack, Hexamid, and poncho groundsheet with a Tim Marshall cuben quilt. Impressive wares. He's not just a fair-weather SUL hiker though; he had the same kit a week or so ago on a 50 mile trip with a couple nights of 40 degree rain.

Looking ~east from Alcoholic Pass.

Further into Alcoholic Pass. Easy to imagine people walking this route between canyons for millennia...

Entering and climbing Butler Canyon. The next few miles would be spent boulder scrambling and walking sandy washes within its walls.

It was somewhere in Butler Canyon that I realized that when Nick says to bring 2 liters of water, I should bring 3 and a half. He's far better acclimated to the dry air than I am (Though I'll wager I'd outlast him in the cold!).

Climbing out of Butler Canyon, cross country up the slopes. In order to avoid a really steep gully, we opted to stay on a really faint, overgrown, and seemingly ancient trail. We found the occasional stack of rocks pointing the way and figured we'd just follow- assuming the duck-builders were going the same place we were. That assumption eventually led us to the summit plateu and surrounding ridges, but about 2-3 miles off course (~4-6 total). No worries, as the extra miles were still filled with some great terrain and flora.

Looking back towards Coyote Canyon (in the distance). At this point I'd guess we were about 14 miles into the day. The dilemma now at hand: which ridge to take to get into Box Canyon, one of the larger ones that feed into Coyote Canyon. Pick the wrong ridge and you're faced with drops too steep to hike. The topo wasn't of much help here as the size didn't quite show enough detail to see which canyons would work. A cold afternoon wind had kicked up, strong enough to make me lose my balance at times. Not the most favorable conditions for ridge hiking.

We ended up taking this canyon down, hoping there would be no surprise dropoffs or dry waterfalls beyond our sight. It was far steeper than it appears here, but eventually got us into Box Canyon.

Jumpin' Cholla! They're eager hitchikers and minimalist shoe destroyers.

Still descending into Box Canyon.

Outside box canyon, hiking a large alluvial fan down into Coyote Canyon. We would camp a few miles from here near a spring. I was down to about 12 ounces of water at this point, glad we found our way out and didn't have to stay in the canyons with a dry dinner after dark.

A pretty high volume spring in Coyote Canyon on Sunday morning. It provided a good muck-flavored broth for my ramen the night before.

Saturday night was spent in conversation on a small sand bar by the spring and willows, followed by fitful sleep (for me, anyway) due to the high winds that picked up in the night.  Always fun awakening with grit in your teeth, hair, ears, and coating all your gear.  After breakfast and sunrise,  a quick hike out the jeep trail on Sunday morning had us back at Nick’s car by about 9AM, allowing me to get back to L.A. by 1PM after hanging at his house for a bit.  A great couple of days in the desert, thanks to Nick for planning the route and sharing a bit of his backyard with me.  Total mileage was probably around 20, most of it on Saturday.


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