Day 3: Sandstone Canyon and June Wash

Alma Wash to June Wash
(15 miles, +3,400/-2,400 feet).

Today was quite the cross-country adventure!  We started it from our lovely campsite at the mouth of Alma Canyon.

Morning glow
Guardians of Alma Canyon
Quercus on the rocks
Gorgeous alpenglow

It has been surprising to see so much water out here and this morning was no exception.  I actually almost stopped to collect some water on the way up the canyon.

Getting brighter

We saw lots more elephant trees on the way up.

It never forgets

Soon we made it up to Starfish Cove, an enclosed valley with 5 ravines that radiate outward from the center.

Starfish Cove
Break time!

I was a little nervous about climbing out of Starfish Cove because all the routes via washes and ridges had at least some steepness above 35 degrees.  And the route with the least elevation gain was a wash that might contain a steep drop off between sheer canyon walls.  But when we started up, it looked like it would be passable with some patience.


And then half a mile up I realized we were in the wrong wash!


But it was okay.  We followed the nearest ridge up about 800 feet and it was all class 2+ except one little (voluntary) move at the end.  A headwall at the top of a wash I was in turned out to be class 4, and I got myself a bit stuck in the middle with no choice to continue up.  But it was fine, and Quercus found a safe class 2 route on an adjacent ridge above the wash.

There was only one casualty: my left trekking pole!

But the price was worth the views.

Hey, it DOES look like a starfish!
Quercus finishes up the better route
The view towards the correct wash 
Looking back on the Salton Sea

One advantage of going straight up out of Starfish Cove was that it made for mellow terrain the next couple of hours as we followed flat ridges, washes, and wide valleys at the apex of the Vallecito Mountains.  The terrain was complex and I got a little turned around a couple of times, but the walking was pretty easy.

Our friends at the top
I could get used to this!
Easy walking

And then the party ended.  With a sheer drop-off to Fish Creek Wash.

The drop off

No pictures really did it justice, but it was a steep 700 feet to get down.  At no time did it ever feel dangerous — nothing more than class 2+ — but we did have to be careful with our momentum and with the occasional slippery scree that might send us into a cactus.

Soon we were at the bottom.

Fish Creek Wash
Formations along Fish Creek Wash
An unusual inverted rainbow in the cirrus straight overhead

I had a bit of a meltdown when I realized that it took us so long to get through the cross country today that we would not be able to reach Agua Caliente before dark.  But then I recomposed and we made a plan to make it as far as possible before dark and then finish up in the morning.  

The main problem was a lack of water.  But then a jeep passed by, and a friendly guy offered us half a gallon!

Problem solved!

He also offered for us to come to his camp for “Chicken Dip.”

We had no idea what that was.  And his camp was in the wrong direction.  But we had fun imagining what Chicken Dip might be as we turned up Sandstone Canyon.

No Chicken Dip here

The canyon was unexpectedly beautiful with its narrow and sheer sandstone walls.  Damp from recent rains, it even sported the occasional precocious flower blooming well ahead of schedule.

Brown eyed primrose

A couple passed us and asked if we were going to watch the meteor shower tonight.  I totally forgot that the Quadrantids were peaking tonight!  Suddenly I was really happy that we were a little behind schedule because it would be much easier to see the stars in a remote campsite than it would under the lights at Agua Caliente.

Jeep tracks continued far up the canyon — much farther than we thought possible given all the obstacles and the narrowness of the walls.


The tracks ran out about half a mile before the canyon ended and shortly after that we started a climb up and out of the canyon to make our way down to June Wash.  The timing of arrival at the saddle was perfect!

Sunset from the saddle between Sandstone Canyon and June Wash
Quercus wends his way in the dimming light
Under the Ocotillo canopy
Looking up June Wash

We found a lovely wide spot in upper June Wash to camp. I was out of food, but Quercus gave me some delicious beef stew, and then we settled in to our sleeping bags under the half moon.

Hopefully I will be awake after the moon sets to watch nature’s fireworks in the sky.

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