Pinto Mountain, Mecca Hill
5-Dec-98 5-Dec-98 5-Dec-98
By: Gary Craig
This trip was a late addition to the schedule, and perhaps due to that, or the proximity of the long Thanksgiving weekend, I didn't get any responses until just a few days before the trip. Not to worry; a group of six started as planned for the summit of Pinto at 8am on Saturday, December 5th. My assistant was Greg Roach, and the other hikers were Mirna Roach, Julie Rush, Jan Brahms, and David Reneric.
The main thing to report regarding the Pinto climb was that it was WINDY. Clear skies at camp on Friday night were replaced with clouds by dawn on Saturday. We were lucky to not actually get any rain, and the clouds had mostly cleared when we summited around noon. From the top we could see snow on San Jacinto and the peaks south all the way to Rabbit, which also had significant snow.
We had ascended via the standard ridge route described in the Peaks Guide, and after lunch started down by retracing our steps. After reaching the 3000' level or so on our return, we dropped into the canyon to the west of the ascent route. This was a fun route, briefly described as an alternate route in the Peaks Guide. The canyon curves around a bit, and a couple short, easy class 3, dryfalls are encountered, but this is quite an enjoyable variation (out of the wind!) from the ridge route.
Skies had cleared completely by the time we returned to the cars, after a 6-1/2 hour hike, but it was still windy. Dave knew of an area in the Mecca Hills, to the South of 1-10, which provided good camping possibilities and might be out of the wind. So, we left the park, crossed the freeway, and followed Box Canyon Road (SR 195) South for several miles to where a sandy road emerged from a wash on the left (East) to meet the pavement. This is at UTM 001186. We drove just a few minutes up the road to a nice campsite where the usual DPS potluck festivities began. Dave and Jan provided barbecued steaks and yams; the Roaches had posole and quesadillas, Julie brought the salad fixings, and your author and leader provided a serious chocolate rush for dessert with the traditional brownies. We had a nice campfire in the secluded canyon and even Julie's dog Ruskie had a nice sleep that night.
Then it started to rain. Huh? But it was clear when we went to bed! Well, we had planned to rise at six, but a light but persistent shower kept us huddled in our vehicles until after seven, when it let up. Breakfast was followed by another brief rain, but we had decided to continue down the canyon to the Painted Canyon road to assess the conditions there. Good thing! By the time we turned onto the (dirt) Painted Canyon road (signed, and shown on the AAA Riverside County map), it had almost completely cleared.
Our hike in the Mecca Hills was a loop, ascending Ladder Canyon to its top, along some ridgetop trails that drop back into Painted Canyon, and then following it back down to the cars (see map). This is about five miles with less than 1000' of elevation gain. I have marked the first portion of this loop on the map, from the cars up to the (signed) Ladder Canyon turn at UTM 932207, and up Ladder Canyon to its end. The name comes from several strategically-placed ladders used to overcome some dry falls, the tallest of which is 15 or feet or so high. Ladder Canyon is, for a short distance, a narrow deep slot like what one might find in Utah, without the red rock. Higher up, the canyon widens and eventually fades into a jumble of hills.
After emerging from the top of Ladder Canyon, we hiked north along a maze of use trails (every ridgeline has one) until we could drop back into Painted Canyon at UTM 939227, where we paused for a break. We were all impressed by the sheer and colorful walls of the canyon, the bottom of which provides easy walking except for one spot, a dry fall with yet another well-placed ladder. We were back at the cars for lunch, having enjoyed our hike of about 3 hours under the nowsunny skies. After lunch, we caravanned out and headed home.
Thanks to Greg and all the other participants for making this trip a success. I particularly enjoyed being introduced to the Mecca Hills, a nearby, low-desert area well suited for adventuring in the cold winter months.
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