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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

The Third Peak Is The Charm

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Date: May 26, 2021

Distance: 4.0 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 20m

Total Moving Time: 1h 44m

Summit Elevation: 3,015 feet

Elevation Gain: 698 feet

Trailhead: Blair Valley Campground

Previous Ascent(s): N/A


  1. Peakbagger Peaks - 3

  2. Survey Marks

    1. Found: 3

    2. Damaged/Lost/Removed: 4

The Hills Above Blair and Little Blair Valley

Today's outing was more about hunting for survey marks than hiking, I had spent the morning collecting Drive-By Recoveries and finding marks on my GPS on Bench Marks priority list. The last GPSonBM recovery for the day was on a little bump just above Blair Valley Primitive Camp and below Mescal Peak. There are a string of small peaks that define the northern border of Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley, each one of those peaks promised survey marks to be recovered.

Generally speaking, when I'm on a pure scavenger hunt, I don't bother with my full pack, I'll take a belt clip carrier for my water bottle and grab either my recon bag or a hip pouch to carry my "recovery" tools. Today's trip around the hills overlooking Blair Valley was less distance than a typical stroller hike I do with my granddaughter around our neighborhood and maybe twice the vertical gain.

It was a beautiful desert day and I was on a roll with all the Drive-By recoveries I'd made on my way out here. In addition to checking the NGS Data Explorer for registered survey marks, I used Robin Halford's book, Hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert, Volume 3: Over 205 Half-Day Hikes to Survey Marks to get a general idea of what other survey marks may be in the area. The hike on page 144: Foot & Walker + Shake + Quake + 2 Corners, sounded like a good basic route, I tweaked it a little by adding Mescal and dropping Quake and the two corners.

There really wasn't a trail heading up to Mescal, it was more just picking a path through the Cholla, and doing a bit of rock hopping. Overall, it wasn't too bad but I did come across a plastic shopping bag twisted up in a Cholla. Chollas are best looked at but not touched, however, I needed to pick this bag out of the cactus. I very carefully removed as much of it as I possibly could and was rewarded for my good deed by NOT being poked the plant, perhaps on some level it was grateful for my assistance.

DX4927: MESCAL + 2 Reference Marks (Lost/Destroyed)

I worked my way up the western ridge dodging cholla then headed SSE scrambling over rocks and small boulders to the high point where the Mescal Station was supposed to be. Unfortunately, all that remains of the Station and two Reference Marks is a thin layer of concrete smudged across the boulders where the discs were mounted. Unlike traditional disc mounting procedures requiring a drill hole into the rock, many of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer control marks out here were mounted on a mound of built-up concrete (see the images of the Shake RM 1 and RM 2 below). The problem with this method is that they are more susceptible to vandalism and the elements. Poor mounting techniques, the proximity of this peak to the main road and the campground below were likely contributing factors to all three marks on this peak being lost/destroyed.

FOOT & WALKER PASS (Damaged - Stem Only)

From Mescal, I descended directly down the East slope to Little Blair Valley Road below and followed it to the base of the next peak, at this point the road continued ENE and a trail branched off from the road, I took the trail and quickly came upon a sign marked "historical marker" with a small directional arrow on it pointing up to the summit. I went down the southern spur of the trail for a couple of hundred feet and it was clear it led back to Blair Valley, I returned to the signpost and headed up to the summit.

Someone had obviously changed the directional arrow on the signpost as the historical marker for Foot & Walker Pass was located on the trail to Blair Valley and not on the way to the summit.

Apparently, this Pass was given its name because it was on the Southern Overland Stage Route; due to the rocky terrain through the Pass, passengers had to get out of the stagecoach and walk through the pass on foot. Hence the name: Foot And Walker Pass! (Real or myth? Who knows for sure, but it sounds plausible enough.)

Upon reaching the summit I found the high point and quickly located the remains of a survey mark. The Topo map had a triangle symbol with a dot in the center, next to the elevation for the peak, indicating the location of a Horizontal Control, with third-order or better accuracy, and a permanent mark. The screenshots below (from my GAIA GPS App) show the peak on the USGS Topo map. The first image is without my track and waypoints, the second has my actual GPX track, including the waypoint I created based on the actual latitude and longitude from the photo I took directly over the stem mounted in the boulder. I often use screenshots from my GAIA as social proof of my route and peaks that I've bagged if there are no survey marks to be found, in that case, I'll capture distance traveled, time, elevation gain, and the track with the pointer in real-real time.

In this case, in addition to the GPX track that shows I crossed over the summit point, I do have pictures of what is left of the Foot and Walker Pass survey mark. The interesting thing about this mark is that I could not find any record of it, anywhere.

  • It's not listed in the NGS database, but that's not uncommon.

  • I checked the San Diego County Online Survey Report System for old surveys and came up empty. Admittedly, the SD County Online SRS is not all-inclusive, perhaps one day I'll go to their office with a list of things I want to find and look through microfiche or microfilm archives.

  • I performed multiple image searches of the Geocache and Waymarking websites, as well as general Google searches for anything related to Foot and Walker Pass.

I found a LITTLE bit of history about the Pass in general, but in the terms of a survey mark, zero, zilch, zip! 🤷🏻‍♂️ However, you can't argue physical evidence. There was clearly a survey mark mounted here at some point, as evidenced by the remaining stem and the residual concrete or epoxy surrounding the mounting sight.

So, two peaks down and still no survey marks. Grrrrr, I NEED to have a recovery! 😶

SHAKE Spoiler Alert: The Third Peak Is The Charm

Dropping back down to Little Blair Valley Road, I was headed to my third peak with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I was 0 for 2 on finding station marks, this was not looking good. It's not uncommon in highly trafficked areas for marks to be removed as souvenirs or just vandalized, since none of these peaks are really difficult to access and are close by popular and accessible camping areas, I wasn't holding out much hope for finding the Shake survey marks.

It was an easy walk along the dirt road to the base of the ridge that led up to Shake, after a quick Class II scramble up to the top I came across Reference Mark 1 mounted on a boulder. Standing over the mark looking in the direction the arrow was pointing, the station disc wasn't readily visible, however, I could see a potential marker on a boulder just to the left of where the arrow was pointing. I prepped RM 1 and took my photos, then hopping rock-to-rock, made my way to the station disc following the direction of the arrow on RM 1.

Shake Tri Station Success! Not only had I easily located the station disc, but right next to it was the customary red tin can that would hold the register. I had not found registers on the previous two summits, so I made sure to sign in here. This particular register hasn't seen a whole lot of activity for being placed here in 2002, it was still in good shape with lots of blank pages. This disc seemed to be mounted slightly better than the reference marks but it was still not what I would consider "by the books". You can see in the third picture below, the disc is actually set between two larger rock outcrops and is filled in with concrete and some smaller rocks, not optimal but better than sitting atop a mound of concrete.

After finishing up with the register, I put it back in the jar, slid the can over the top, and placed it back between the rocks. I checked out the boulder NE of the station and sure enough, there was Reference Mark 2 mounted in the same funky, haphazard way similar to RM 1.

After seeing how the two Shake reference marks were mounted; what I found at the summit of Mescal made perfect sense. Based on the thin veneer of concrete left on the boulders, all the Mescal marks had been surface mounted and had long since been removed. Mescal was a lesser peak, and even though the survey marks were assigned a permanent ID and were recorded in the NGS database, the peak wasn't identified by name or elevation on the USGS Topo map. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Should I Shake & Quake?

That is the question! 🤣😂 The hike defined in Robin Halford's book included two corner marks and Quake, should I press on and do those as well? From my vantage point of standing on top of the boulder with Shake RM 2, I had an amazing view of Little Blair Valley spreading out below me, I could see the low ridgeline that separated it from Blair Valley, and at the southern end of that spur was the peak Quake. The easiest way to get there was to drop back down to Little Blair Valley road and follow it to the base of the peak, then hike up the eastern slope to bag Quake.

The dirt road (Little Blair Valley Road/Blair Valley Road) loops around through a pass between Quake and Ghost Mountain and heads back to the Blair Valley Primitive Camp. I'd driven to the trailhead for Ghost Mountain last year when I was working on my SD 100 Peak Challenge, of course, I didn't know about Quake at that time, so it wasn't on my radar. Adding the two corner marks would not have been a big deal, adding less than a half-mile to my total distance, but adding Quake would have added a couple of miles and maybe another hour, I really didn't have enough water with me for that extra bit. I'll go back another day to recover the corners and Quake, probably visiting the nearby Pictograph and Mortero trails as well. For me, that return trip will be a good opportunity to acclimate to hiking in the rising temperatures as the traditional desert hiking season winds down. I worked my way back down the slope to Little Blair Valley Road and headed back to Foot and Walker Pass where I crossed over to Blair Valley Road and returned to the truck.

When I factor in ALL of my recoveries for the day, it had been a good effort. I'd located 2 marks for the GPSonBM project, 4 Drive-Bys, 2 Section Corners, and the various marks on this hike 4 lost/destroyed and the 3 for Shake.

Relive® 3D Video of Today Survey Mark Scavenger Hunt

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