Combs Peak is the highest point in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, at 6,193 feet (also good for eighth tallest summit in San Diego County). Located in a small range called the Bucksnorts in the northwestern corner of the park just within the boundaries, the peak features some outstanding views–and a very steep climb to reach them.
Not at the beginning, however: the hike starts with an enjoyable 1.9 mile jaunt northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail. Afte a moderate ascent, the trail levels out, taking in views of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the east. The vegetation is primarily chaparral, scrub oak and manzanita; Coulter pines that once grew here burned in a 2003 fire.
At 0.6 miles, you get your first look at Combs’s imposing shape. At one mile, the trail makes a sharp left and skirts the upper edges of Alder Canyon, with Combs towering above the north side. You’ll also see the saddle below the peak where the real climbing begins. You reach the saddle at 1.8 miles where you can enjoy views of the San Jacinto range, perhaps with a distant San Gorgonio also visible if the weather is clear. Here the P.C.T. bends to the west and you soon reach a large trail duck, marking the beginning of the use trail on the left. (If the trail duck is gone, look for a large dead tree; the use trail leaves a few dozen yards before meeting this tree. If you find yourself heading north again, you’ve come too far).
Now comes the hard part. Follow the use trail southwest as it climbs a steep ridge. The route is a little ambiguous in spots but (as of this writing) is heavily marked with trail ducks. Though overgrown in places, no real bushwhacking is involved; if you find yourself having to fight vegetation, retrace your steps. When in doubt, go up. Despite the unforgiving grade, no special rock climbing skills or gear (other than hiking poles, which will be essential on the descent) is required; solo hikers in good enough shape will be able to do it. Dogs that have some trail experience will also be able to do it, although they may need a boost at times. The most difficult spot is a treacherous stretch of loose rocks right below a giant granite boulder, requiring the use of hands as well as feet. After negotiating it, you reach the base of the summit, where a short and relatively easy final stretch leads to the actual peak.
Views from Combs include the desert, the Salton Sea, the Palomar Mountains, the Santa Anas, the San Jacintos, Santa Rosas and the various coastal ranges of San Diego County. After enjoying the 360-degree panorama, cautiously retrace your steps down the steep grade and enjoy the easy return on the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you were wondering, Combs Peak is named for Jim Combs, a local 19th century miner.
Text and photography copyright 2016 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.