Thanksgiving Peakbagging in the Mojave

Around last December, we discovered peakbagger.com and quickly began to knock off nearby peaks while learning about prominence, isolation, and some of the lists around the Bay Area. Soon, we began to look at various lists encompassing California and the greater West. CA County Highpoints, CA County Prominence Points, Western States Climbers, and the OGUL Peaks List to name a few. Eventually, we stumbled across the Desert Peaks Section of the Sierra Club and their respective list. The desert has always been a special place for us and this only added to the allure. Throughout the Summer, we did a few of the higher peaks that were free of snow, but with winter coming around, this was the time to dig into the heart of the list.

Scott recently retired and Sean had Thanksgiving Week off from school so we decided to head down to the Mojave for what has become an annual trip. The original plan was to leave Friday, but with all the smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County, Sean had school canceled and we were able to leave midday Friday. We have now become used to packing for these types of trips and pretty much had all our gear nailed down. One thing we did change up for the trip was to bring a bottle of Gatorade each hike to supplement our water and add more sugar. After quite a bit of packing, we left the South Bay at noon and began the 6-hour drive down to Barstow. The plan for the 4 days was to do a DPS peak a day and then spend the night in either a hotel or sleep in the car. The drive down was uneventful and we pulled into our hotel around 8 after traffic, food stops, and a quick cache for a geocaching challenge.

(11/17) Day 1:

East Ord Mountain route and stats

We left the hotel at 6:45, surprised to see it so light outside already. Today’s target was East Ord Mountain, a P1K near Ord Mountain. Interestingly enough, nearby Ord Mountain isn’t on the DPS list despite being a P3K and taller than East Ord Mountain. We headed down Highway 247 before joining east onto Northside Road. A few miles down the road we turned North East onto Camp Rock Road entering the Johnson Valley OHV area. We had no idea that this was an OHV area so it was comforting to see people camped alongside the road and know that we weren’t in the middle of nowhere.

Entering Johnson Valley OHV

After a few wrong turns, we were able to follow Greg Gerlach’s directions to the trailhead.

Our parking spot and “trailhead”

Beyond this spot, the road worsened and there was no way we were going to be taking out car up it. After parking the car, we headed up this part of the road. A short way up, the road turned steeply up the hill to an old mine and we left the road and descended a few feet to the wash. From here the route was laid out before us. We would head up the wash awhile before turning up to climb to the ridgeline. From there, we would simply follow the steep, rocky ridge to the top. We pretty much followed that to a tee.

Our Route
Heading up the wash

Climbing to the ridge was very loose, but we managed to make it.

Scott climbing the loose talus slopes

We took a quick to take few photos on the ridgeline then headed up. It got pretty steep and rocky here, but it was quite a fun scramble. The rock wasn’t too loose and provided many routes which were fun to explore.

The rocky ridgeline

Past this section, we were only a few hundred feet below the peak, but we still had to bypass several rocky towers. We tried to add a few ducks to this section to assist future climbers.

A rocky tower
Bypassing it

After these, it was just a short climb to the top where we enjoyed panoramic views of the surrounding desert. There was a nice register dating back to 2001 along with a geocache that we grabbed. This particular one hadn’t been found in 3.5 years. Cool!

Old summit cairn, register, and our stuff
Made it!
The summit area
Looking back toward our car

We took quick rest up top and then headed down. It was still before noon when we got down and we had more fun in store for the day. On our way out of the canyon in the car, we encountered another 4runner and an FJ coming up the canyon. We caught them right at the roughest and narrowest section of road. We pulled over to the side and they pulled up next to us and we chatted about the usual desert things for a bit. The entire time their car was 3-4 inches from our car up a small embankment. We were constantly frightened and thought they might slide into us! Luckily, both cars passed without injury.

Once back on the graded Camp Rock Road, we drove out the long way back to the highway.

East Ord from Camp Rock Road

About halfway through, we ran into a large truck carrying pipes. It was going painstakingly slow. We had to honk loudly multiple times before he finally heard us and pulled over.

We have places to be, buddy!

On the way out, we drove by the turnoff to Azucar Mine, a historic puzzle cache from the year 2000, that we had found in early 2017. One of those places you think, “Oh, there’s no way we’ll ever get back here,” but there we were!

We were staying tonight in Nipton, a small historic town about 10 miles off I10. On our drive there, we stopped at the Mad Greek cafe in Baker for some food. Just about every billboard we saw on the highway and in Baker pointed to this place, so we figured it must be at least OK. And that’s exactly what it was: just OK. I’d still stop there in the future, but don’t expect any kind of amazing hole in the wall food.

After spending a few hours chasing Delorme pages (explained here), we arrived in Nipton for the night. The motel feels like its straight out of the 1950s, but with style. Super cool place! Our room was comfy and had a nice wood burning fireplace which we used to warm ourselves up.

Nipton Trading Post
Our “eco-cabin”
Sean doing that millennial thing in our eco-cabin

We went to sleep around 8:30 to be ready for another big day tomorrow:

(11/18) Day 2:

Clark Mountain

We rose early and packed up all our things in the Eco-Cabin. It had gotten pretty cold overnight once our fire went out, but we were all layered up in our blankets and clothes. Today’s peak was Clark Mountain, a P4K on the DPS list. It is a heavily-viewed peak as I10 climbs up its flank as it heads to Vegas but rarely climbed except by peakbaggers. This is evident on the road into the trailhead. Access is from Mountain Pass, a small “town” with some 30 residents, mostly taken up by various salt ponds and a CHP facility. The only public road in the area winds it’s way around the area through a few gates to the trailhead. It is signed for Clark Mountain road, but the signage is small and the road is rough – high-clearance 4×4 only. Amusingly, the speed limit is 14.875mph. Wonder what that’s for?

Clark Mountain Road
Huh!?!

The usual route of Clark Mountain involves class 3/4. While Sean highly enjoys climbing like this, it makes Scott quite nervous and ends up ruining an outing. Fortunately, a new route had just been discovered up this peak. Instead of heading up a ridge right below the summit, it winds it’s way around a few other ridges while staying to high class 2. It is described in detail here. When arrived at 7:50, it was blustery and cold. We bundled up hoping to stay warm, but it wasn’t needed as it sooned warmed up on the ridges. Since we had raced out of Nipton, we hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast so we sat in the trunk of the car and ate some food.

Eating food and getting ready

While we were eating, Kathy Wing came up the road in her Tacoma. She was to be climbing the same route as us. It was nice to have somebody else doing the same thing in case either of us got stuck or needed help.

We started out at 8:10 and quickly headed up the hillside to reach the ridgeline. This was steep and brushy affair that only relented once we gained the ridge. Once on the ridge, it was still brushy, but less steep and less rocky.

Climbing the ridgeline
Looking across the canyon to the main route

Once we reached the high point of the ridge, had to bypass a few small peaks to reach our next intended ridgeline. We sidehilled this portion while the route as described on PB went up and over this peak. It was difficult sidehilling, but likely not much harder than the ridge which looked steep and rocky.

The first saddle below with the ridge route to the left and ours to the right
Side-hilling

From this second saddle, we were now on the uninterrupted ridge that would take us to the summit. After an initial steep section, we were only a few hundred feet below the summit but had to deal with a ridge walk that had exposure and required rocky bypasses.

Climbing the initial steep section
The final ridge with the summit in the left center
Traversing over
Taking a rest (and pictures!)
Getting closer…
and closer…
Made it! You can see both of us sporting “red Gatorade lipstick”

After lots of route-finding (made easier by a few ducks) and scrambling, we reached the top! There were expansive views of the surrounding desert and the rest of the Clark Mountains.

Looking back at where we came from
Desert views
North Ridge
I10 in the distance and the car somewhere down there

After signing the register and drinking some Gatorade, we headed back down across the ridgeline and the same route as before.

Narrow, rocky ridge

We found two mylar balloons on the way down. Who invented those damn things….? arghhhh

Once down the mountain, we drove back onto I10 and gassed up at Cima. Then we headed across the Mojave National Preserve. It wasn’t on the list to stop for any major things here, but we got a good taste of the land for when we do spend some time. Beautiful country! About halfway through the Preserve, we stopped at the historic Kelso Depot. The visitor center was closed, but we had a fun time wandering around and watching a train pass by.

Kelso Depot

Once we crossed I40, we headed down to Route 66. We were supposed to turn east and head to the trailhead for tomorrow at Old Woman Mountain, but the road was closed for an unknown reason. With a quick check of the maps, we hit upon a new plan. We would move Tuesday’s peak (Pinto Mountain) to Monday and add a different peak on Tuesday. An unexpected upside was that we would get to stay in a hotel tonight in Twenty Nine Palms.

Sunset from a geocache location while heading down to 29 Palms

Day #2 was another full day! We drifted off to sleep in our hotel at 9 after some good Mediterranean food from a local hole-in-the-wall.

(11/19) Day 3:

Pinto Mountain

Day #3 started off bright and early with hotel breakfast around 5:30AM. After that, it was off to go adventure! We headed east on Highway 62 toward the Old Dale mining district. This was a very prosperous mining town from the late 1800s.

From goldrushnuggets.com:

“The historic Dale Mining District is today one of California’s most well-known ghost towns. For several years it was one of the most active gold mining towns in the country. Located roughly 15 miles southeast of Twentynine Palms in the hot desert region of California, the Dale Mining District got its name from the nearby town of Dale City.

The Dale Mining District stands as a lesson of how gold can create nearly instant wealth and opportunities that dry up as quickly as the gold is mined. The remaining buildings and equipment stand as a testament to what was once a very prosperous area in a place that otherwise people would not be. The climate in the summer here is harsh and unforgiving.

The Dale Mining District came to life in 1881 when the first reports of gold came from an area located in the Pinto Mountains. It did not take long for people to hear of these reports and from all over the country they came to strike it rich

By 1898, the gold production reached its peak with up to 3,000 miners in the district digging for gold. In addition, there were thousands more who came to support the miners with their stores, wares and supplies that helped form the first town.

Dale City came to life in 1884 as it was formed around a well that had been dug to provide water. Dale City continued to grow until water was being pumped to the mines in 1899. This was an important turning point for the town itself, since with the water being pumped to the mine owners there was no reason for them to bring their gold ore to Dale City for milling purposes. Because of this, the town itself uprooted and moved to a new site just six miles south and formed was called New Dale.

The location was smartly chosen as the location was between the two largest producing mines in the region, the OK and Supply mines. The town of New Dale continued to prosper until 1917 when the gold productions started to diminish, and the OK and Supply mines were closed down.

At that point, New Dale was abandoned along with the thousands of miners that had occupied the area. As with most mining districts across California and the western United States, the area boomed for a short time, then slowly shrunk as miners left to explore new areas. Only a few small mining operations remained and they continued until the outbreak of World War II when all mines were ordered closed by the President of the United States, ending an era in gold mining in the region.

The Dale Mining District is once again attracting the attention of modern day prospectors searching for gold. Modern drywashers and metal detectors will still produce gold here, and it is a popular area for prospectors in Southern California. The remains of the two separate towns that were constructed along with the mining areas consist of foundations, rotting wooden structures and even some of the old mining equipment that was used along with the mine shafts that stand empty.

Along with the recreational mining that takes place in the region, the area is also a spot for tourists to learn about the history of gold mining here, and to see a glimpse of its past still preserved in the dry, scorching heat that is the Dale Mining District.”

 

We turned South onto Gold Crown Road and took that all the way into the Joshua Tree National Park. Along the way there were some, shall we say, challenges. It started off as an easy dirt road that looked like it had even been graded in years past.

Meandering through Old Dale

However, as we began to make the drop towards Joshua Tree National Park, things got rougher and rougher. I won’t post all about as it would take up way too much space. However, I will explain a little bit of it.

Turning into a shelf road…

There were a several bad sections that had to be negotiated. With some spotting from Sean, we only managed to ding the underside of the car a couple times. For Scott, this was quite nerve-racking and tested the boundaries of his car and his 4WD skills.

Rough Section Ahead!

A few moments caused the car too “flex” a little bit.

Just some casual morning flexin’

While others made us hope as pray as the car went off short drop offs…

Don’t whack the bumper!

But finally, we made it down to the bottom and were greeted with an old mining camp!

Backside of old building and vertical mine shaft. We tossed some rocks in the shaft and they fell much too long for our liking…

Once we got down to the valley floor, the road greatly improved and we made good time to the pavement. It was so awesome to finally see pavement again that we almost kissed it. We had just completed one challenge, but another lay ahead: Pinto Mountain, the main goal of the day. We hadn’t expected Old Dale Road to be as rough as it was so we had to start Pinto Mountain later in the day. than planned.

Statwise, Pinto Mountain was the toughest of the trip, but there was supposed to be a pretty good use trail most of way up. Despite a late start (10:30), we figured we could make it all the way up and down by dark. The area was very rocky and remote so we didn’t want to risk being up there after dark.

Heading out across the flats with Pinto in the background.

The hike started out with a few mind-numbing miles across the flat, sandy desert. After that, an alluvial fan is reach that can be climbed until the rocky slopes begin. From there, a series of ridges and small plateaus is traversed to reach the summit. We didn’t take many photos on the climb as we were motoring up to the top.

Cresting the summit plateau

There were nice, panoramic views from the top of all the surrounding. However, there was a bit of haze so the likes of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were merely small blobs in the distance.

Looking back at our route up

The use trail made things easier on the way up and down. There were often many bumps/knobs that needed to be bypassed and the use trail did a good job of not gaining any extra elevation on these. However, like always with these kind of peaks, the way down is better than the way up and we found some better use trail segments as we headed down.

Looking back up at the top
There were lots of wonderful barrel cactus specimens on the way down

We had a little bit of fun on the way down having a photo shoot with a barrel cactus that we spotted in a perfect location.

Pointing out tomorrow’s peak to our new friend…
Heading down the rocky slopes

After taking our time on the downhill, we finally reached the end of the rock and headed back down to the flats.

The final point

In a wash in the canyon, we spotted a number of super cool mud curls.

Mud flaps!
The sky showing off its stuff!

We made it back to the car around 4:30 and headed off to find camping for the night. The road out the south end of the park was very beautiful, but also washed out from some flash floods recently. Fortunately for us, they had just barely cleared the road enough to pass, but it will be some time before the road is fully repaired. We finally found some good dispersed camping in the BLM land just south of the park along with a couple dozen other folks.

Dinner: Pulled Pork, Asparagus, and Tortellini! Mmmm

Day #3 had been a great day full of adventure! Unfortunately, there was only one more day left in our trip, but it was going to be a fun one!

Day #4

Orocopia Mountains Highpoint

As with all the previous days, we started off Day #4 bright and early. After packing up the camping stuff, we headed out for the day’s adventures.

Sunrise from camp

We hopped onto I10 and headed east a bit toward Chiriaco Summit to visit the General Patton Memorial Museum for a virtual geocache.

Tanks!

After the museum, we headed out for the day’s peak! Today we were headed to the Orocopia Mountains Highpoint, a P2K and DPS peak. We exited I10 at Box Canyon Road which was closed soon after. However, our turnoff from this road was soon after the closure but before any danger so we proceeded through.

Closure? What closure?

This took us to Pinto Road after which we followed a series of miscellaneous 4WD roads to the trailhead. We were surprised to see some folks camping here. After talking with them for a bit, we learned that they had been there for 4 days and were just heading out. Must be fun to spend so many days totally off the grid back here.

Our car with the wilderness signs indicating that vehicle travel was not allowed’

Now on foot, we followed the old road past these signs. At one point, the road crossed a wash and left us confused for a bit as to where it had gone. We soon found it although it was interesting to note how much the desert will reclaim roads.

Looking back at the washed out section

Eventually, we left the old road and began climbing the hillside. There wasn’t much talus and we made pretty good time up this section.

Starting to climb up to the ridge

There was a pretty good use trail that climbed up without gaining any extra elevation which we followed most of the way to the top.

Heading up and up…

Right before the final push to the top, we encountered a nice section of Ocotillo bushes that Scott posed for a photo in.

Do I blend in?

A couple hours after starting out, we summitted and were rewarded with expansive views in all directions. Most of surrounding terrain we didn’t know, but we were able to make out Pinto Mountain from yesterday, San Jacinto, and San Gorgonio.

Summit Cairn!
The Salton Sea

After a rest up top, we headed back down at a leisurely pace – we were in no hurry to finish this easy hike. Since we were near a military base, it was no surprise when a few helicopters emerged from behind a hillside not too far away.

After we got back to our car, we drove back out to I10 and headed off to visit one last spectacle before arriving at the Mother-in-Law’s house for the night.

This was known as “Slab City”. Supposedly, it is California’s “last lawless town”. I’m not sure how true that it, but it is still cool and worth checking out. We headed south alongside the Salton Sea for about an hour before arriving. The first place we stopped in this town was called “Salvation Mountain”. It is already well-documented on the Internet by people more professional than us, but we will add a few photos of our visit regardless.

Shrine area?
Um, What?
It may look small in the photo, but trust me, this thing is huge!

After Salvation Mountain, we headed over to the East Jesus sculpture garden. This is pretty much a super cool, glorified junk yard full of art. We had a blast wandering around this place for an hour or so.

Elephant!
Totally normal for East Jesus
Television anyone?

The front of East Jesus

After our visit, we drove 2 hours to the Coachella Valley where my Mother-in-Law lives, so we stayed with her for the night. The next morning, we packed up and headed home.

Well, that’s about it for this trip! We had a blast and hope to come back to the desert again soon. The DPS peaks were so much fun and there’s so many more waiting for us out there!

 

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