By: John McCully, Ron Jones
Toro Peak (8,716') South East of Palm Springs looks down on Rabbit peak (6,640'). Toro is quite prominent when viewed from Interstate 10. A road to the microwave facility on the top of Toro is gated several hundred feet from the summit. Until it was removed from the HPS list in the 70's the usual approach to it was from the North. It's not much of a hike from the North, but from the South, Toro is a dynamite peak, with about 7,000 feet of gain in less 15 miles. To get up and down such a thing in a two day weekend is a bit much for most of us, but a traverse is another matter, so that is what we did on this trip.
The Anza Borrego Desert Region guidebook, put out by Wilderness Press, describes how to get close to Hidden Springs, and the San Diego County auto club map shows the 4WD road which is blocked at 1,800 feet. We arrived at the trailhead about 7 AM. Rock House Canyon is named after, you got it, some rock houses, which are shown as ruins at 3,000 feet on Clark Lake NE quad. We easily found these ruins, which are discussed in some detail in the book, and where Indians lived in the early part of this century.
From the book and a 1901 1/250,000 map that Bruce Trotter brought along we were able to find the old Santa Rosa Indian ruins on the North Side of the huge bowl that is Rock House Canyon. A compass bearing of 342 degrees from the Rock Houses should do the trick. These ruins are ancient, complete with pottery shards and depressions in rocks where Indians ground their corn. From these ruins we made the mistake of trying to contour to the West to get to Nicholias Canyon. We should have dropped down several hundred feet and gone up a wash, too many ups and downs trying to maintain our altitude.
The Collins Valley 7 1/2 minute map shows a seep on the West Side of Nicholias Canyon at 4,800 feet. We didn't find that seep but there was a good spring directly across Nicholias Canyon at the same altitude, along with a lovely campground in a saddle at 4,850 about 10 minutes to the SE of the spring an a good trail. Next time we'll camp in this saddle and get water from the spring. We weren't sure what lay ahead, however, so we filled our water bottles and started up Nicholias Canyon until we found a campsite in the bottom of the canyon at about 5,400 feet.
The next morning we discovered an abandoned farming operation about 6,200 feet, (near the first yellow pine on the left of the canyon) complete with irrigation pipes and chinning bar to pass the long summer days of the growing season. At about 6,600 feet, we climbed out of the Canyon to the right, a mistake as the brush was fairly thick. We reached the road to the microwave station just before 1 PM where we signed everybody out so I could get back to the truck at Hidden Spring that day. Everyone else went on to get the peak and then met Leora Jones for the ride home, thus we avoided the long shuttle back to the truck.
I decided to return via the ridge that runs N and then NNE from the saddle at 4,850 and which ends on the plateau to the south of the bump at 7,620. This route worked out well, with a good usage trail through the brush the whole way, and I got to the truck about 6:30 PM.
It is virtually impossible, not to mention illegal, to get a vehicle in Rock House Canyon, although it was occasionally done using wenches in the 1970's. The lack of access gives the canyon a real sense of isolation that is unusual for an area so close to LA. This hike was quite an adventure. The participants were Mario Gonzalez and Bruce Trotter. Thanks to Ron Jones for checking me off on my provisional lead.
Sage editors note: "I guess they don't make wenches like they use to." (grin)
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