It was early in the season, but we were looking for somewhere in the Sierras where we could get some altitude in. Virtually everywhere above 8000 feet was socked in with snow, but surprisingly, despite the big snow year, Olancha Peak in the Southern Sierras was free of snow. We had been eyeing it from various nearby peaks for a few years and now seemed like a good time to climb it.
The day before, we headed over Sonora Pass which had just recently opened up.
We got into our motel in Lone Pine in the mid-evening and went to sleep early.
The next morning we left right after breakfast and drove out to the trailhead at Sage Flats.
By 7am, we were on the trail. Since the trailhead was on the edge of the Owens Valley, it was quite hot when we started out. After many of our recent hikes, we were thankful to be on a trail. It was not in the best shape, but for us, it was just fine. After only a few minutes, we entered the South Sierra wilderness.
The trail stayed in the creek bed for the first few miles on the side of the hillside under a canopy of bushes where the heat got trapped inside. In addition, the trail was rocky and a little loose. This coupled with our heavy packs made this first section a little tedious. We pushed through this first section and soon came to an interesting sign.
Apparently, we had been hiking up a cattle driveway thus far. We reasoned that the ground had been torn up by the multitude of cattle that the ranchers must drive up to the alpine meadows high above. One would think that the ranchers could find easier access to a meadow as opposed to driving hundreds of cattle 4000 feet up into the high sierra, but I digress. Anyways, once we split off from the cattle driveway, the trail became more pleasant. It certainly helped that it also began to climb up the sides of the ridge now which enabled us to get out of the heat of the Owen’s Valley.
As we made it onto the ridge, we were treated to views of Olancha pass which we had to eclipse. In the photo below, its that notch between the two bumps.
We put our heads down and continued to motor up the hill towards the pass.
The higher we got, the more enjoyable the climb became and soon enough, we reached the pass. It had taken us 2.5 hours to go 5 miles and 3500 vertical feet to the 9200 foot pass. We were both feeling very strong and were proud of this time considering our lack of acclimatization.
From the pass, we had a nice couple mile walk along Summit Meadow.
We passed by a wrangler’s camp used by the cattle drivers and took our first rest.
A few minutes later we reached a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Naturally, we headed north on it, but the trail seemed quite vague and we had trouble with routefinding. This was uncharacteristic of the PCT which has hundreds if not thousands of hikers each year even in the remote areas.
Not 10 minutes up this trail, we came to another junction with signs marking another trail as the PCT. This new one seemed much more official and the trail was very well-defined.
In classic PCT fashion, it took all of about 30 seconds before we ran into some thru-hikers. They were a nice couple from Germany who were heading to Canada. It felt very satisfying as we passed them and continued to gain more and more ground on them as we headed up the trail. The trail began to snake it’s way up some pleasant alpine meadows while crossing several rushing creeks.
As we rounded a bend in the trail, we spotted a large, black moving blob a couple hundred feet away. It took a few seconds to register, but it was a bear!
We were tired of lugging our overnight gear all the way up here, so we decided to camp at the first spot we saw. Eventually, we came upon a nice one just alongside the trail at 9800 feet and threw down our stuff. It felt good to get our heavy packs off our backs.
We consolidated the necessary stuff for our summit push into a daypack and then took a short rest. While eating a few bars on a nearby rock, 6 or 7 more thru-hikers passed us. 4 of these people were completely naked. It was a little awkward as they passed and we only said quick hello’s to them compared to a few lengthy conversations with the fully-clothed hikers. Most of the thru-hikers seemed to be holding up very well and most everybody we met was in good spirits. Soon enough, we resumed our upward assault of the trail.
Higher up, ran into our first patches of snow, but nothing presented too much of a challenge for trail-runners and hiking poles.
We also got our first views of the summit which appeared quite close by, but also very high above us.
Having come up from sea level the day before and only sleeping at 4,000 feet, I was feeling the elevation. We traversed about three miles at 10,000 feet and I felt the worst that I did all trip. I trudged through this section with a headache and sluggish legs, but soon enough, we reached our turnoff for the peak. Surprisingly, it had taken us an hour to cover this distance meaning we had been hiking at 3mph which is a good pace. At this point, we were only a half mile from the peak, but it was still 1600 feet above us. The only way to the summit was straight up so that’s where we headed.
Almost as soon as we began this near-vertical push, all my energy came back and I once again felt very strong on this section. It was the first time we didn’t have a trail during the trip, so it was fun to once again have to pick my own route. It didn’t take long for the pine and low scrub to turn into large chunks of granite and snow.
Surprisingly, the talus was quite solid and it made for good climbing. I made time on Scott during this section, but I always looked down to make sure he was still in my sight. The snow was very patchy and didn’t hinder us at all.
As I neared the top, I spotted someone coming down, so I increased my pace in an effort to catch up to him before he veered off onto another route down the talus. It’s always fun to meet people on these remote peaks. Unfortunately, I never could find him again during my upward scramble. Near the top, the climbing got a little steeper and I picked out a fun class 3 route to the top although the peak can easily be kept to class 2. Finally, 8 hours after we started out, I stood on top of Olancha Peak.
We spent awhile up top admiring the views in the perfect weather. Several PCTers had signed the register earlier that day and the man I had seen coming down signed in as Badass James. This also marked the most altitude we have ever gained in a day. From the trailhead at Sage Flats (5,800 feet) to the top (12,123) we had gained a total of 6,500 with a couple up and downs thrown in the mix. We were both happy with how we had held up. Our previous “record” was 5,500 feet of total elevation gain (lotsss of up and down) at sea-level in the Bay Area. After half an hour, we headed back down the same way we came up.
We retraced our steps back down to our campsite. Along the way, we passed about 20 other thru-hikers. One of them informed us that today was the summer solstice which was apparently PCT nude hiking day. Lucky us….! Thankfully, the sun had gone behind the clouds and the evening had crept onto the mountain. The resulting cold scared away any other Birthday Suit-ers.
Back at camp, we finished setting up our tent and had dinner. The mosquito had a better dinner than us that night as we both got bit up pretty bad.
We dozed off around 8pm and had a nice long sleep until 7am the next day. The sun woke us up and we quickly packed up and headed down.
The rocky trail down from the pass was a little tedious, but we all made it back in one piece.
Over the two days, we totaled 7000 feet of elevation gain/loss and 23 miles. This is definitely doable as a dayhike (we even had time for it, but decided to stay the night “cause we could”), but if you have the time, I’d recommend staying the night to full appreciate the area.
For the second year in a row, we were going to have to miss backcountry weekend at Coe. This year, Scott had to go to a wedding on the Big Island – so sad I know 🙁 Anyways, to make up for this we decided to head out for 3 days of bikepacking to hit some remote eastern parts of the park. We thought about doing Robison Mountain, but the possibility of poison oak in the bushwack portion made us save it for next year as a dayhike during BCW when we could go home and wash off.
Our plan was to head 24 miles in to Jackrabbit Lake the first day. The second day would be a relatively easy day into Raven Pond and then we would head out on the third. Being our first time bikepacking, we had to gather a lot of gear, but we ended up with a pretty good system. We both had handlebar holders where we were able to clamp down our tents and sleeping bags. Sean, who has a hardtail was able to also fit in a frame pack where he carried some food and smaller items. To round things out, we both carried our backpacking packs where we threw in whatever else didn’t fit.
Now on to the good stuff… Katie dropped us off at Bell Station at 9AM on 3/31. After a few minutes to get ready, we headed off. The initial climb up Kaiser Aetna road was killer and the sun was already out in full force. What a great warmup!
Once we crested the first big hill, we were able to ride most of the way to Dowdy Ranch. Along the way, we were passed by Ranger Paul whom we have volunteered for many times. We talked to him about the usual Coe happenings for a bit before moving on. An hour and 45 minutes after starting, we cruised into Dowdy Ranch. We filled out a backpacking permit here and dropped it into the Iron Ranger.
Right after Dowdy Ranch was the demoralizing hill that everybody has to descend after the ranch. We knew we would have to ride up it again in a few days, but it was fun to descend now. Pacheco Creek was a flowing well – a testament to the torrential rain we have received in the last few months. More meandering brought us up the final hill before Orestimba Corral where we took a short rest.
Despite the heat, we were happy to know we had crested the last major hill of the day. We quickly descended down to the intersection with County Line Road and Orestimba Creek Road.
Once we got onto Orestimba Creek Road, our progress began to slow due to the multitude of creek crossings. We counted somewhere between 35 and 40 creek crossing in total. One got the best of Scott who took a minor tumble into the creek during a rocky section.
After about 7 or 8 easy creek crossings, we reached Orestimba Corral. It was deserted now, but in a month or so, it would be buzzing with a few hundred people.
We had thought the next six or so miles to Paradise Flat would be quick since it was all on a road and going the same direction as the creek so it should be a slight downhill. With the hundreds of miles of experience in Coe, I don’t know what we were thinking in assuming that a remote road would stay out of the creek. The first couple miles weren’t bad, but it quickly turned into a constant battle with the creek.
The road included many creek crossing that got our feet soaked while riding through them.
Even the sections that weren’t the creek bed seemed to be all uphill.
Finally, the road left the creek for a mile or so and it was actually quite nice and mellow – what I thought the whole thing would be. Right before we left the creek, we were treated to a field full of wildflowers.
On this short section, we took a short half mile spur trail to Mustang Pond. Others have reported the trail to be invisible, but we found it well-defined the flagged.
Back on Orestimba Creek Road, we dropped down to the creek and kept going for about 10 minutes until we reached the junction with Long Ridge Road.
We wanted to get a good view of Rooster Comb, so we dropped our heavy overnight gear at this intersection and continued north for awhile before hitting the Rooster Comb Trail. Along the way, there was a large field full of wildflowers. The remoteness, the green hillsides, and wildflowers under the towering Rooster Comb made this one of the prettiest spots in Coe.
With no signpost, we had some trouble finding the Rooster Comb Trail, but we saw some flagging on the tree and we soon found the overgrown trail.
After this short jaunt on the trail, we headed back to the road and went back to Long Ridge Road.
Scott took a nice video of Sean crossing the creek here.
We were dead tired by this time, so we didn’t take any photos on the way to Jackrabbit Lake, but there were only a few minor hills and we rode the whole way. We arrived at the lake around 6 and quickly began to set up our campsite. There were a lot of reeds around the lake, but with a little looking, we found some good places to get water.
As evening faded to night, it began to cloud up and we had our first concerns about weather. We knew that tonight would be OK, but we had seen a chance of rain tomorrow night and the next day. Our tent isn’t exactly waterproof and we aren’t sure about our packs. In short, we weren’t very prepared for rain. Oh well, we would deal with it when the time came; now it was time for sleep. Around 10, we dozed off for a nice sleep after a long day on the bikes.
The next morning we woke up around 6:30AM, but we didn’t get out of ten until around 8AM. Our tent had an incredible amount of condensation on it and the top had sagged down a few inches. It was a little humorous and we joked about how the impending rain couldn’t be worse than this. If either one of us even sat up a few inches, we knocked down a mini downpour of water.
After a lazy morning, we left the lake around 10AM. Without much warmup, we were climbing the road up to Long Ridge.
We finally crested the ridge and had a few more miles to traverse over to Mustang Peak. There were some great views off this ridge.
The ridge was a classic COE rollercoaster, but we were able to ride most of it and made quick progress…. until we reached the last hill before Mustang Peak. This was easily the steepest hill I had ever seen in Coe other than maybe the famous “Shortcut”. It was much shorter than the shortcut, but even pushing the bikes up it was almost impossible. On some sections, I couldn’t take a break as the bike would slide down the hill even with both breaks fully pressed.
Once we topped out of this soul-sucking hill, we took a rest where we intersected with another portion of County Line Road.
From here we headed east of Mustang Peak to the eastern boundary of the park that was rarely visited even by Coe standards. Well, I’m not even sure if it was still in the park. We had to cross a lot of gates as we headed east. Only the first and last were locked and a few others had “No Trespassing” signs. The rest had clips that we could undo to open the gates
However, we kept going since the park map has this road mapped out, but even on the park map, the road seems to leave the park. Our best guess is that they were left over from before the park owned the land. But you would think they would remove the gates….Oh well, we had a good enough reason for a rancher to not shoot us so we kept going.
We hoisted our bikes over this first gate and headed on down the road.
About halfway to Raven Pond, we had stopped at another gate and noticed we had cell reception. We checked the weather and noticed there was a relatively high chance of rain tonight and tomorrow. We quickly decided to get out of here today. This would require a semi-herculean effort of some 40 miles and 5500 feet of elevation gain while carrying 20+ pounds of overnight gear, but we really didn’t want to be miserable in the rain. Since we still wanted to get to Raven Pond and the eastern boundary, we dropped our gear at this gate and headed out with just our bikes and some water.
Some 200 feet past this gate was the turnoff to Raven Pond. We were originally supposed to have camped here, but we realized it was a good thing that we were heading out tonight as Raven Pond wasn’t really the best place to camp. There wasn’t a good place for a tent and we would have had to drag loaded bikes down a steep and overgrown trail. We left our bikes on the road and headed down to the pond with only the camera.
The Raven Pond trail could have used some maintenance, but for a remote Coe trail, it wasn’t bad.
The only tricky part was where we had to drop off ridge and we didn’t realize. Another old ranch road must have stayed on the ridge as the bushwacking wasn’t too bad, but we soon realized with the help of the phone that we were supposed to leave the ridge.
About a half-mile down the trail, we hit Raven Pond. It was cool to have finally visited this remote place, but we were glad we weren’t staying here.
We took a few photos then headed out.
We headed east for 3 more miles coming across 3 more gates. The first was had old “No Trespassing” signs, but it was open so we passed through.
Not 5 minutes past this one, we came upon another gate. We easily passed through this one that had no signage.
A little more climbing brought us to a funny sign.
We continued heading east taking some time to appreciate just how remote we were. So few humans ever made it out here so private property be damned, we were gonna go to the edge of Coe!
We finally made it to the last gate before the end.
We crossed a few more ridges and descended a few more bumps on our quest to the end.
Finally, we reached the edge of Coe! We would have loved a sign to welcome us, but we were content to sign a remote geocache that nobody had found since 2013. It was muggy out and we were both low on fluids and food. We had some water and ate some dried oranges and gummies. These greatly helped and we felt a lot better.
After this small rest, we rode back to our stuff at the gate near Raven Pond and headed down. We alerted Katie that we were going to be heading out today. We had told her we would be out by 7:30PM so we had to hustle. We passed Mustang Peak again and headed down County Line Road to Kaiser Aetna Road. Along the way, we passed our first human of the day: the Coe pigcatcher! If you don’t know, Coe has a big problem with feral pigs tearing up the land so they has several traps out to catch them. He was setting the traps along County Line Road and Kaiser Aetna Road. We chatted a little bit and he ended up giving us some Dr. Pepper from his cooler.
A few hours of determined riding brought us to the Pacheco Creek Crossing where we enjoyed the Dr. Peppers before the huge climb back to Dowdy.
Sean was able to ride the entire hill in about 25 minutes while Scott trudged up in about 45 minutes. We’ll have to beat these times next trip! During the upper half of the climb, we started to get rained on and we could see the rest of Coe was in heavy rain. We felt we had definitely made the right decision as not only had the rain come early, but was a little harder than expected.
We rode past Dowdy Ranch and finally crested a short hill which meant the next seven were downhill. And it was only 5:45! We were going to survive! The rain got hard enough that we had to put on rain jackets half way through, but we got back to Bell Station at 6:45!
Whew! 65 miles and 9000 feet of elevation gain in 2 days! A tough trip, but one to remember nonetheless.
In preparation for a bikepacking trip out to Henry Coe SP next weekend, we came to Big Basin to do a little shakedown of our bikes. Bikes are only allowed on double-track trails in Big Basin so we stuck to fireroads for the day. There was the usual crowds at Big Basin, but we were able to find parking close to Gazos Creek Road.
Only some 30 minutes in to our ride, we came across the first of several downed trees we would encounter on the ride. They obviously had not maintained the road since the winter rains.
We had only gone some 2 minutes down the trail before we ran into another, bigger tree. We had to crawl through a crack in this one to get by.
We continued down Gazos Creek Road through some smaller downed tress, and finally made it to Johansen Road. We were really enjoying the coastal redwoods and accompanying vegetation, but we were treated to a special surprise here. Karl (geocaching: Alpharoaming) had told us about this secluded and elaborate treehouse and boxcar somewhere back in this part of Big Basin, but we had no idea it was here. We were treated to views of a large and tall treehouse that somebody was living in along with 3 boxcars from 1973. Super cool!
We continued along Johannsen road for several more miles until we hit Middle Ridge Fire Road.
We didn’t take any photos on Middle Ridge trail since it was a a super fast, but fun descent on our bikes. We did stop off at Ocean View Summit to “bag” it for peakbagger.
All in all, it was 13 miles and 2000 feet of climbing in a leisurely 3.5 hours. Definitely recommended for a short afternoon outing!
Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of tough, but short outings and we knew we needed to do something tough. Luckily, we were invited by a geocaching friend to climb Rose Peak from Del Valle. Another geocacher, Kass joined us to round out the group to four. We are all on the downward spiral of our geocaching interest, but that is still how we all met.
We had done Rose Peak last year from the Sunol and we had hiked Discovery Peak from Del Valle last year, so we had completed all of our objectives for the Ohlone Wilderness, but we were more than happy to go out and get some exercise and have some good chatter.
We met at Del Valle at 8am since the park opened late. We soon huffing and puffing up the first big hill.
As soon a we crested the first hill (which is the Rocky Ridge HP that we tagged last time), we had to go right back down into another canyon.
To climb out of here, we had to go up the famous “Big Burn”. It is really nothing more than a Coe-like steep hill, but it is one of the steepest Bay Area trails outside of Coe so I can see where it gets its name. On the climb out, we could already tell that we were not going to make it to Rose Peak today. It was a hot day and the hills were steeeep! No matter, we were only out for exercise and good company – which we definitely got. Finally cresting the Big Burn, we dropped down yet another smaller ridge to the falls.
There were several groups sat around, but we easily found a secluded spot a little bit uphill from the falls to eat some lunch. While there, we revisited the cache at Murietta Falls.
The flow of the falls was pretty good, but unfortunately, we didn’t get any snow like our last visit. From here, we bade goodbye to Kass who was feeling pretty beat after the hike to falls and he headed back on his own. We headed out for Rose Peak with Karl. We had our doubts about getting there, but we wanted to at least try. Awhile later, we passed the turnoff for Discovery Peak. I had forgotten if it was negatively signed or not so I went to investigate.
Not long past this turn, we could see Rose Peak, but we were dismayed to see a large canyon in between us and the peak. With daylight fading, we turned back and headed to the cars. We had seen this coming for a long time and fortunately, Karl didn’t seem too disappointed either as he had also climbed the peak from Sunol a few months earlier.
We retraced our steps, but taking the ridge around the falls to avoid having to drop back down again. Right before the burn, we stopped off at Schielepper Rock so we would have something to put on peakbagger.
19.5 miles and 5200 feet of climbing. A great day with some fine people!
This peak has been on our radar for about a year now – ever since we got into peakbagging. It was always in the back of our mind, but David and Lisa’s report made this shoot to the top of our list, so we had a chance to summit before the bush totally grew back. Sean doen’t mind a good bushwack every now and then, but he seems to deathly allergic to poison oak. He has had 5 or so cases of eyes swollen shut and the kind only fixed by oral steroids along with countless other more minor cases. In the past year, we have gotten much more careful and he hasn’t had a spot of PO, but the memory of those terrible cases has left some psychological scars. However, we figured it was either now when the brush wasn’t too bad or later when it was insane as CA CoHPs are an important list for us.
We drove up 3/10 as the peak is a lengthy 3 hour drive from our house. We were hoping to get in Mt. Konocti on 3/10, but we left too late and had to settle with just a pretty drive. We stayed at the America’s Best Value Inn in Lower Lake and I would highly recommend it. On 3/11, we drove to the trailhead. It had rained consistently the past week and the road had only had about one day to dry out. This made the drive a little interesting, but the 4WD on the 4runner got us there safely. We quickly packed up and headed out.
The beginning was fairly simple as we followed the old road/firebreak.
At about a 0.9 miles in, we saw a fresh motorcycle track coming in from the firebreak to the southwest. It had to have been the previous day since it was fresh since the rains. Surprisingly, we would never stray from this track until we had finished the bushwack. At about 1.2 miles in, there was PO across the road for about 20 feet and the old road narrowed into a singletrack trail for a few hundred feet. With a bit a sidestepping, this was easy to avoid as the PO hadn’t leafed out yet, but it might be more tricky once it does. However, a few small snips with some loppers would be all thats needed to get rid of these several strands. Past this, the road widened once again and we were continually amazed at the skill of the motorcyclist as they had managed to naviagte several nasty washouts and deep puddles of water that had us hopping back and forth to avoid.
We soon crossed a small creek and headed up the start of the bushwack. So far, we had been impressed with the motorcyclist, but we were pleasantly surprised and thankful that they had rode through the bushwack section as well. They seemed to follow the flagged track as we saw several faded pink flags on our route. There was hardly any poison oak in the bushwack and with the help of the motorcycle track, we had little trouble with this section. If future climbers could bring some loppers or equivalent, it might be possible to catch this section before it grows all the way back and turn it into a good use trail!
At the end of this section, we caught a firebreak heading west and we followed this before making a beeline across a usually pleasant grassy field to reach the ranch road. Due to recent rains, we ended up wading knee deep to pass through this impromptu lake.
The ranch road looked to be used somewhat frequently until we reached a gate about 3 miles in.
This gate looked very new and didn’t have any locks on it, just a chain looped around holding it shut. On the other side of this gate, the road was still very easy to follow, but it was definitely not used by vehicles and our worries of being caught greatly decreased.
We followed this road for another 1.5 miles or so taking care to avoid the random PO shoots sprouting in the middle of the road. Along the way, we had a great view of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.
We finally reached the final saddle where the firebreak heads right up the summit. Sounds easy right? No. There was an enormous amount of downfall and within all of this there was a lot of PO – the most we had seen all day.
We considered turning around, but we figured this was the easiest this hike would ever be and we better finish it out. We persevered and finally summitted.
We didn’t take much time up top other than to sign the register left by David and Lisa and take some photos.
Once we returned back the below the downfall, we Tecnu-ed all over and set out for the car. We were feeling a little better by this point thanks to the Tecnu we had applied. On the way back, we stopped at the “famous” white couch.
We finally got back to the car after a little over 5 hours on the “trail”. From here, our new PO Prevention process commenced. Gloves and plastic bags were used in excess and Fast Orange motor oil was readily applied. Finally, we drove back down on the now completely dried out road and back home.
And good news: As of writing this on 3/15, Sean doesn’t have a single spot of poison oak. Maybe he has immunity,*wait*…that’s a scary idea he probably should NOT test out! 😉
In perusing the maps, we realized that we had missed an easy P1K near our house. We headed out early one morning to rectify this situation. The peak is owned by American Tower Corporation and is not technically open to the public, so we hoped the fog and heavy rain the past few days would help us stay undercover.
We found a parking spot just down the road from the classic Palomares Road entrance.
After a short but semi-unsafe road walk, we arrived at a gate which we hopped and began our hike.
The whole hike turned out to be a road walk. We were correct in assuming no cars would go up the road in this weather since there was running water and heavy mud on much of the road. After a short walk in the canyon, the road began to steeply switchback up the hill.
Soon, we crested the ridge where we walked for awhile to the top.
Since we couldn’t see the top, we always assumed it was around the next corner so this ridge walk turned out to be a lot longer than we though it would be. Finally, we made it to the top. With the heavy fog, we could only tell it was the top because of the towers on top.
Even with the fog, we didn’t want to linger too long on top so we headed back down. It cleared up for a bit and we got some nice views.
A quick, but rewarding hike that I’m sure has some great views. 4.5 miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain in 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down.
We had an hour or so to kill in the South San Jose area, so we decided to knock out this easy peak. A short drive brought us to the trailead on Bernal Road where we parked and began our hike. Taking a few easy trails, we were soon about 1000 feet from the peak. The last little bit is on private land with no real chance of hiding so we just walked fast and hoped nobody came by.
After a short walk on the open field, we topped out.
We could see down into the IBM lot far below and realized nobody would really ever come up here except to service the towers. We quickly headed down and back to the car for a short, but successful hike.
The whole hike was 2.5 miles and 370 feet of elevation gain.
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:
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.
After a few wrong turns, we were able to follow Greg Gerlach’s directions to the 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.
Climbing to the ridge was very loose, but we managed to make it.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We went to sleep around 8:30 to be ready for another big day tomorrow:
(11/18) Day 2:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After signing the register and drinking some Gatorade, we headed back down across the ridgeline and the same route as before.
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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
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.
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.
A few moments caused the car too “flex” a little bit.
While others made us hope as pray as the car went off short drop offs…
But finally, we made it down to the bottom and were greeted with an old mining camp!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After taking our time on the downhill, we finally reached the end of the rock and headed back down to the flats.
In a wash in the canyon, we spotted a number of super cool mud curls.
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.
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!
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.
We hopped onto I10 and headed east a bit toward Chiriaco Summit to visit the General Patton Memorial Museum for a virtual geocache.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Right before the final push to the top, we encountered a nice section of Ocotillo bushes that Scott posed for a photo 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.
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.
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.
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!