Tue, Mar 20, 2007
The Avawatz Mountains are a non-descript collection of peaks in a range found north of I-15 in the desert region of California, much of it inside the Fort Irwin Military Reservation. The highpoint rises to bit over 6,000ft, about in the mid-range for California ranges. We had been warned ahead of time that the peak was not terribly interesting, mostly a long slog with few redeeming qualities. However, because it is both a DPS peak (my interest) and a California range highpoint (Evan's interest), the two of us wanted to add this one in our tour if for no other reason than to avoid coming back sometime in the future. It was also picked as being on our way home through Baker and I-15 after the previous days of climbing in Death Valley and around the Shoshone area.
Parked about 100 yards off SR178, we got up before sunrise as the sky was starting to come to life, around 6:30a. We collected Evan's belongings that had been blown about by the strong wind during the night. The wind was still blowing, but much less now. High clouds covered more than half of the sky, fortelling of a change in the weather and providing some photographic opportunites just before sunrise around 7a. We got our photos and watched the sun hit the eastern slopes of the Avawatz Mtns before packing up and heading out in Evan's truck. My van was far too low slung to even make it over the berm onto the dirt road, so we left it parked and headed out. We probably should have detached Evan's camper as well and just taken the truck, but we didn't expect any more trouble than we'd found on the varied roads we'd already traveled on through the week.
That first dip in the road as we left the highway caused a jolt to the truck that left us wincing. Evan wasn't too concerned, as he'd bottomed out on such roads in the past without any significant damage. We continued along the road that we found to be in fair condition, but it certainly did require attention. Numerous rocks and dips were encountered and at one point we got out to fill in a particularly nasty dip utilizing the shovel Evan had conveniently found out in the Chicago Valley the day before. It took nearly 45 minutes to travel the six miles to Old Mormon Spring. We started continuing a short ways past this, but quickly thought better of it. Evan backed the truck up to the junction at Old Mormon Spring, and there we parked it. Only after we'd parked and were getting our gear ready did it become evident that that first whack the truck took off the highway had caused some damage. The posts for the camper had not been fully retracted, and the jolt had been caused when one of these had struck the ground. Instead of digging into the dirt as had been the case in previous jolts that Evan commented on, it had struck hard ground and partially ripped out the bracket that fastens the post to the camper body. It had also broken the bracket that secures it to the back bumper. To me the damage looked somewhat serious, though there was no danger of the camper coming off the truck. Evan's reaction was somewhat unexpected, amusing, and inspiring at the same time. Instead of lamenting over the damage and second-guessing the decision to drive in with the camper, almost immediately he began working out a plan to not only fix it, but make it stronger. It sounded like he was going to enjoy getting out his aluminum arc welder and fixing new brackets for the thing. After going through his initial plan on how to fix it, he summed it up with a confident, "Two hours, and she's better than new." Now, it would have taken me that long just to survey the damage more extensively without even beginning the repair job, but Evan was no ordinary fix-it hack. He was a true Rennaisance Man who could probably fix just about anything. He'd already done a great deal of customization to the camper to add many features, and this was almost a trivial matter in his mind.
We left Old Mormon Springs shortly before 8a, heading up the battered road that winds its way up the canyon on the east side of the range. The road quickly deteriorated and grew steep and rocky in places - surely we would never have gotten the truck up that section even with the camper removed. Still, we knew others had driven up the length of the road, even as recently as a few weeks earlier. They must have had some impressive vehicles, brave driving skills, or some combination of both. It took almost an hour and a half to hike the length of the road. The route-finding was not as tricky as suggested in some of the route descriptions. There is a solar-powered station at a small saddle where the road tops out, and it is easy to navigate to there. From that point, one can see west across the adjacent canyon (the one the DPS describes as having extensive mining activity in the past). The road continues along the south side of the canyon, cutting a traversing path across the hillside. Follow the road to its conclusion. From there, one heads up to the ridge on the left. For a small shortcut, you can exit left off the road about 100 yards before the road's end - it's not a big difference either way.
Once on the ridge, the route continued in an obvious fashion along an undulating ridgeline. There isn't much downhill in the undulations, but there are unrelenting uphill sections. It was steep in only one section where there was much loose scree, the rest was fairly tame with a good use trail along most of it. Mostly, it just kept going on and on. And on. It was just before 11a when we finally reached the summit after being fooled by several false summits. It didn't seem right for a wimpy peak to be so hard. Maybe we were just getting worn out after six days. In any event, we were glad to reach the summit and took our customary break to sign the register and take a few photos. The views were poor due to haze - probably dust kicked up by the stiff wind. It was starting to look like it might actually rain, which seemed strange after a week of unrelenting sunshine. In fact we could see it was periodically raining about 15 miles to the east, and probably time for us to leave.
The return was easier than the ascent naturally, and we got no rain for our effort as an extra blessing. It was 1p by the time we made it back to the car via the same route. Without further incident or damage to the camper, we made it back out to SR178. We had showers and changed clothes before parting ways, Evan heading to San Diego, myself to the Bay Area. Evan needed to be in San Diego to pick up his wife from the airport at 9:30p that night. We had thought that Avawatz was going to be easier than it turned out to be, expecting Evan would have plenty of time to get to San Diego. He still had more than six hours to get there, but no longer the extra margin we'd expected. As it turned out, he didn't get to the airport in time. Forgoing gas in Baker, Evan ran out of diesel before reaching Barstow. As he explained it, once the engine has run dry of fuel, it's not so easy getting a diesel engine back to life. It was more than two hours before he was on his way again. Fortunately he was able to call his son-in-law to make the airport appointment for him. And the funny thing was, Evan's wife had warned him against hiking on that last day for just that reason.
About a week later I emailed Evan asking him about the camper. I let him know I doubted his time estimate for fixing it, but admired his gung-ho attitude concerning it. Evan wrote back explaining in some detail about the larger bracket and bolts he installed, the Gorilla Glue utilized, and other details. Total time to fix: 2hrs.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Avawatz Mountains HP
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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