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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

A "Stabby" day at Quake

Updated: May 1, 2022

Here are the two hikes that I managed to complete today (October 30, 2021), I had a list of seven peaks or benchmarks to complete, but the desert had other things in mind for me.

Two small hikes and 4 physical markers found and 3 lost/destroyed

Are you kidding me?!

"You ain't having fun unless the trip ends in the hospital" 😳 LOL, just one of the many comments I heard after sharing my story of today's abbreviated Survey MArk Scavenger Hunt (SMASH) to Blair Valley. While I disagree and firmly believe you should do everything within your power to stay safe and avoid the necessity of emergency services, legit accidents happen. To be upfront and honest, this wasn't a big deal, it ended up as a "simple" poke with an agave spike, but given the nature of the injury, it took a team of professionals to fix it. More on that later.

Getting There - Drive-By Recoveries

Drive-By Recoveries (DBRs) are like bonuses and are truly fun to come across. Each one of today's DBRs was a mark that I'd previously driven past countless times but neither never noticed nor was unable to stop for. Today I was able to stop and recover all three of these on my way out to Blair Valley.

G 308 (PID: DX0229) is on the south side of the 78 not too far after you go through Wynola, it's about 150 yards from a pipe cap USGS Benchmark that I found in March of 2021. Today I happened to have my topo map up and saw the map symbol for the benchmark, with no traffic behind me, I pulled over about 50 feet past the witness stake and backtracked for an easy recovery.

N 521 (PID: DX0209) is located on a boulder just off the side of Banner Grade and was marked with a traditional Witness Post sign. Surprisingly, as many times as I've driven past this mark, this was the first time I noticed the sign! Again, given the lack of traffic, I was able to pull over and make this recovery.

The final Drive-By Recovery for the day was T 580 (PID: DX0222) another topo map sighting along the long stretch of the 78 after descending Banner Grade. I'd already recovered a few of the 580 series of benchmarks, and they tended to be easy to find, set in concrete monuments with old 4 x 4 witness posts nearby. Once I turned onto the S2 at Scissors Crossings, I headed straight out to Blair Valley as I had already recovered so many marks on/near the S2 last weekend.

Found Corners - An Added Bonus!

The first corner pictured above, was not too far off the S2 in Earthquake Valley just before I reached Blair Valley, it was an easy recovery so I added it to my growing list. The second mark is right by the side of Blair Valley Road as I drove through the campground area, it's a cool old quarter-quarter section (1/16) stamped with the name of the Surveyor who set it, Earl L. McCray.

RICH (PID: DX4928)

Date: October 30, 2021

Distance: 2.20 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 1h 19m

Total Moving Time: 1h 04m

Highest Elevation: 2,671 feet

Elevation Gain: 62 feet

Trailhead: Blair Valley Road

Previous Ascent(s): N/A

Today was one of those "in-between" days, my primary goal was to locate specific survey marks, but the marks that I chose offered the opportunity to stretch my legs a bit. It's not uncommon on SMASHs like this one, that I can finish the day with 10-15 miles even though no single hike is more than a couple of miles. When I was out here last May to explore Foot & Walker Pass, I parked at the campground and chose to hike around looking for marks while checking out the trails, today, I'd drive to the nearest point to make it a straight shot to each mark on my list.

My first "named" station was RICH (PID: DX4928), located in the center of Blair Valley and it was an easy walk across the valley floor from Blair Valley Road. I was disappointed to find that the station and one of the reference marks had been destroyed and were missing. However, RM 1 was intact and in good shape. I should have known something was up as I approached the coordinates that marked the station and I could see the old register can laying several feet away from the remnants of a cairn, midway between the cairn and pieces of a concrete monument.

I checked the smaller piece of the monument to 1) see if the disc was mounted on the other side of it (it wasn't), and 2) see if the small piece was actually broken off from the larger piece (it didn't fit neatly). It's hard to say how long ago the monument was vandalized so it was no surprise that the pieces didn't fit together, the effects of being exposed to the elements could have eroded each piece, and/or there could be other pieces that are no longer in the immediate area. Unfortunately, the combination of being easy to access, but not in high visibility or high traffic area, made this survey mark a prime target for vandals.

I had noted a potential Section Corner less than a half-mile NW of RICH so that was an easy decision to check that out. To be honest, this one was like shooting fish in a barrel, the witness pole was almost visible from where I was standing at RICH! I do enjoy well-marked flat-land section corners! 😂

Whoever set this witness pole had connected two pieces of 2" pipe to ensure this would be easy to find! From here, it was a quick walk back to the truck to decide on the best route to Quake Benchmark. I was parked right below it, and while it wouldn't have been a problem to take the direct route up the steep western slope, the topo map showed a much easier route following the ridge on the SE side. I made the short drive to the Pictograph Access Road and set out.


Date: October 30, 2021

Distance: 1.38 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 1h 25m

Total Moving Time: 0h 52m

Highest Elevation: 3,171 feet

Elevation Gain: 271 feet

Trailhead: Pictograph Access Road

Previous Ascent(s): N/A

As you can see from the topo map image at the top of the story, this was a very simple route, and by all accounts an easy walk. The main obstacles were dodging Agave and Cholla while "rock hopping", actually kind of fun. The station was easy to spot and I set about preparing the survey disc for photos. It didn't take long to find RM 2 and document it, but I had a more difficult time finding RM 1, eventually locating the rock outcropping where it had originally been set. Sometimes the best you get is a drill hole in the rock with some obvious concrete or epoxy around the edges of where the disc WAS 🤷🏻‍♂️.

The Stabby Bits

Having finished documenting everything at QUAKE, I headed back the way I came and was planning to go check out the Pictograph Trail next, I'd been out this way several times and still have not seen the pictographs. As I traversed the ridge, I was stepping over/through some downed Agave stalks when I must have stepped on one while slamming my ankle into another. They were set in such a way that when I stepped on the one, both of them were locked in place, as my ankle hit the second, it was like running into a wall and I had to use my trekking poles to catch my balance and avoid face-planting! 😳

With all my knee issues, I was extremely happy that I didn't fall, but my ankle was throbbing due to the blunt force trauma. It was weird, I was just walking and I hit a partially dead Agave stalk, yet it felt like someone took a sledgehammer to my ankle. I shrugged it off and finished the half-mile back to the truck, the pain increasing as I went. Once at the truck, I pulled my gaiter and boot off to check out the area that I hit, it was beginning to swell and I could detect something that had broken the skin. It was small and rough to the touch but was at skin level and I couldn't grab it with my tweezers from my first aid kit. It wasn't bleeding, but it hurt like hell. Having only completed 2 of the peaks on my list of 7, I grudgingly called it quits for the day and headed to urgent care to get it looked at.

It was about an hour and a half drive to Urgent Care and by the time I arrived, every step was sending shooting pains through my leg. They took x-rays to make sure I hadn't broken anything (I hadn't) then they set to trying to extract whatever it was that was in my leg. The kick was, I never felt like I'd been stabbed by anything, I thought the injury was related to the hit that I took.

Well, after three different nurses tried to extract the spike embedded in my leg, the last one was successful, cutting out a rectangle of skin and finally pulling out a ¾" spike from the Agave I hit! It had driven straight into my leg, going through my gaiters, pant leg, wool hiking sock, and breaking off at skin level! Based on the pain I had experienced, it must have hit a nerve just right. They had given me a local before they started cutting and digging around, so while I could feel the pressure of their instruments and efforts, it didn't hurt. Naturally, they gave me the spike in a small specimen cup as a "souvenir" (yes, I still have it 🤣) and I walked out with 4 stitches.

Given how hard it was for them to get that spike out of my leg, I felt totally justified in calling it quits on the hike and going to Urgent Care. There was no way I was going to be able to remove that myself, and once I knew what it was, I was concerned about the potential for infection. They gave me a course of antibiotics and I removed my stitches 10 days later. What an adventure 🙄. It's times like this that I am SO happy I have AFLAC Accident Insurance! 🤪💰😉


At the end of the day, you have to know when to call it. Dealing with injuries is like dealing with variable weather conditions, it's best to err on the side of caution and good judgment. Everything you're trying to achieve will be there for another day. Today, I left 5 peaks and/or benchmarks "on the table" and chose to seek medical care for something that I could not fix by myself. Sometimes the weather; snow, lightning, heat, etc. prevents you from reaching your summit or completing your hike, the mountains/desert/trail will always be there. Regardless of the obstacle, be smart and stay safe. 😊

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