Bridge Mountain DPS / LVMC
Potosi Mountain P2K DPS / LVMC

Fri, Feb 15, 2008
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Though my mountaineering skills have plateaued in the past few years, my driving stamina continues to reach new levels. Having mastered the late Sierra drives of 4-5 hours and the longer desert drives of 6-7 hours, it was time to step up the effort - the 8-9 hour drive to Las Vegas. It would seem that the bewildering array of caffeinated beverage choices available at the supermarket was designed for just such efforts. Armed with Java Double Monster Mocha Liquid Energy in the convenient 20-oz cans, a dozen CDs, five of the more annoying Central Valley radio stations programmed into the console's memory, and a sleeping bag and comforter in the back of the van for emergencies, I was off and running. I had started so early from San Jose that I was in evening rush hour for the first hour. Once I hit SR152, things opened up and I was moving. Over the Diablo Range and into the Central Valley, I cruised down Interstate 5 for several hours going straight as an arrow, or at least as straight as they were able to build the highway. At the SR58 turnoff, I stopped for gas and Starbucks with the convenient drive-up window, then continued east, on and on. Through the sprawling urban-suburban mess that is Bakersfield, surprised at the amount of congestion, development, and the continuing addition of traffic lights along the state highway, I crawled my way past. Progress picked up as I flew over the Southern Sierra at Tehachapi Pass, traffic now mostly diminished to the truckers and myself. Bypassing the town of Mojavi, the highway continues east to Kramer Junction and to its terminus at Barstow where I arrived sometime before midnight. I picked up Interstate 15 heading northeast, through Baker and the California border. Preceded by countless billboards virtually guaranteeing one riches beyond belief, the casino lights announce your unmistakable entry into Nevada. Like the desert that surrounds it, humanity seems to come to life here only at night. My brain was abuzz with caffeine and the excitement of reading the billboards describing my impending wealth, looking for my exit described as six miles south of Las Vegas. I exit the freeway as I approach The Strip, thinking I must have missed my turnoff. Little did I realize The Strip starts a full 9 miles from downtown Las Vegas. It is truly a wonder to comprehend how this town has grown over the years in gaudy opulence at the cost of billions while at the same time generously making millionaires of nearly all its visitors. I marvel at the beauty of it all.

Buying my second tank of gas in the dead of night amid the bright lights of The Strip, I eventually find my way past all the glamor (foolishly forgetting to pick up my winnings at the gaming tables on my way through) and find the Blue Diamond/Pahrump exit. I drive for almost an hour west on this road and up the narrow, winding, but thankfully paved Lovell Canyon Road to a small turnout where I planned to start hiking in the morning. It is 2:30a and by now the caffeine has worn off. I'm tired and crawl in the back to sleep. It comes easily.

My alarm has me up at 6a. Though I've only had three and half hours rest, it has done me a world of good. I'm ready to tackle my first peak in the Nevada desert, despite temperatures hovering around 25F outside. For a few moments it is warm inside the car as I had started the engine to heat the interior, a glorious waste of precious fuel for a few moments comfort. I eat a hasty breakfast, dress in all my warm clothes, then throw myself outside. Following the road to Red Rock Summit, it doesn't take long for me to find the rutted, icy conditions that would have made it impossible for me to negotiate the frozen dirt road in the van. The extra three miles each way I have to walk are certainly worth saving the punishment the van would have taken. The sun comes up as I hike along in the shade of the canyon, and I wish I could have been on the other side of the ridge and enjoying the warming rays of the sun. I would have to wait until 7:30a when I reached Red Rock Summit before I could bask in the sun.

When I reach the summit, the highpoint of the road before it drops down the northeast side to the Red Rocks area, I find a trailhead sign for North and Bridge Peaks. I dutifully follow the trail up, climbing a good deal of elevation before reaching the ridgeline west of Bridge Mtn. North Peak is just off to my left at a fork but I decide to save that small excursion for the way back. I turn right and follow the trail along the ridge, now having trouble with snow covering about half of the trail. The snow is icy hard and I have neither snowshoes nor crampons with me, so I must walk carefully in places. Once the trail starts downhill from the ridge most of the snow is gone as it has melted from this southeast-facing portion. The trails winds down to the beginning of slabby sandstone where the trees have given way due to lack of soil. I follow the trail until it ended in these slabs, then pick my way downhill further, dancing around the heaps of icy snow that have built up in the shady areas as I head east towards the saddle. The snow actually makes the route more interesting and I find myself enjoying it a great deal. Picking my way along the slabs, it is impressive to see the deeply carved canyons on either side of the route. Ice Box Canyon drops down to the north, Pine Creek Canyon to the south (actually I think it is a side canyon of Pine Creek, maybe Fern Canyon?). I couldn't imagine routes coming up those canyons to the peak, but sure enough I find evidence of just such routes online later when I get back home.

Once at the saddle, the real route begins. I have been eyeing this first section that the DPS rates as class 3, thinking it looks nearly vertical from afar and more likely impossible. Once at the base of it, I find that looks are deceiving - it's class 3 and fairly easy at that. There is no snow at all on the class 3 section, facing west and getting a good dose of sun since it last snowed more than a week prior. I come across the first of a number of ugly black arrows pointing the way, wondering what bonehead thought this would be a good idea. I have seen similar markings in Colorado and found them later in the week in Arizona. Is it just in California that this is taboo I wonder? (Sadly, I found even worse red arrows on Picacho Peak in California at the end of the trip.) The arrows seem completely unnecessary. In fact one could ignore the arrows and climb past where they indicate a traverse to the left. On the way back I found a half dozen more arrows on the slabby part before the saddle that I had missed on the way east, having found easy enough alternate ways even with the snow. A shame.

Above the class 3 section I move onto the NW side of the peak, found more snow that could be bypassed, and came upon the 25-foot arch through which the route passes. Only later did I discover this was the arch for which Bridge Mtn is named (I had mistakenly thought the lower saddle was a huge arch, but found to the contrary when I examined it more carefully on the descent). The arch is impressive and I stop to take pictures and marvel at it. Passing through the arch, I find the pool of water on the other side, which they say holds drinkable water year-round, to be completely frozen over. On the far side of the circular ice pond a large tree, still alive and thriving has partially fallen over and leans against the far wall. Another tree, long dead with just the main trunk remaining, leans next to the other tree, offering help to climb the far wall. I briefly considered climbing the nearside wall to allow me to climb up and over the arch itself, but it looks like class 4 and a fall on the hard ice discourages me. I take the route up alongside the dead tree.

Above the arch, I turn for a few more pictures, then continue east up to a ridge, over which the hidden forest comes into view. An improbable stand of several dozen ponderosas occupies a small, flat area of two or three acres high up on this rock monolith. It seems totally out of place in the desert surroundings. Much of the ground is covered in ice and I decide to stay high on the west side rock to avoid slipping on it. I move to the south side of the forest where a small saddle provides access to the main summit rocks. With a few hundred feet to go I climb more slabs, again moving to the shady northwest side where I encounter more snow. Here there are some patches covering the only logical (easy) way across the slabs. I step gingerly and hold my breath to give my boots more grip on the hard snow. It works. The last 80-100 feet are easy with no snow and by 9a I am on the summit. Success!

The register is chock full of names on this popular peak, but the last entries were from 2007. I later learn that the local folks who judge these things have been telling climbers it isn't safe due to the snow conditions. Thus no recent visitors. Sometimes it pays not to get too much beta ahead of time. I have a snack while I peruse the register and take in the views, Rainbow and Potosi Mtns to the south, Red Rocks spread out below me to the east and northeast. Las Vegas beckons through the haze far in the distance. The weather has steadily improved through the morning and I am now quite comfortable in just a tshirt. It is a grand day.

Heading back down, I take mostly the same route with a few variations on the class 3 sections. Once back up on the high ridge above where I rejoined the trail, I take the side branch heading over to North Peak. It is a fairly tame and unassuming summit, but has a fine view of Bridge Mtn to the east, Charleston Peak to the northwest, Red Rock Summit to the west, and Potosi (my next destination) to the south. Another hour and 15 minutes and I am back at the van, just before noon.

Wasting no time, I hop in the van and head off towards Potosi. It takes only 40 minutes to make it from one trailhead to the next. Several miles of dirt road at the end are mostly in excellent condition, but the last half mile has some steeper parts along with some tougher sections that have me cringing. I managed to get the van in one piece to Potosi Spring. What looks like a recently built home lies on one side of the road, across from one of many spots available to park. I hope I'm not infringing on private property as I leave the van in easy sight of the home.

In contrast to Bridge Mtn, Potosi is exceedingly inferior in just about every category aside from elevation gain. I started up the trail to Potosi Mine which is lined with yellow arrows (the trail is fairly well developed making them unwarranted) along with occasional broken glass and aluminum cans. Ah, the wilderness! When the mine comes into view, I pause for a picture then leave the road ("Where did this road come from?" I wonder) and start up the main west-trending ridgeline. I followed this ridgeline for two hours of easy hiking, gaining elevation almost the whole time. Part of it travels through a section that burned on the south-facing slopes some time in the past few years. Ahead to the east I spot what I think is the summit, crowned with a bunch of radio towers and looking very far away. Luckily this turns out to be a lower peak to the south of Potosi Mtn. It is 3p when I finally reach the summit, having traveled the last quarter mile over some surprising patches of snow that I easily punched through in the warm afternoon sun. Several antennae are found nearby, but thankfully the highest point is saved the disgrace of a barbed-wire fence. I find a makeshift register in a plastic container, dating back only to the previous year. It would seem the registers don't last long on this easily accessible peak. Though I've climbed 3,000ft to reach the summit, a service road makes its way to the top along the South Ridge with several other installations along the way - the easy way up, if you're an authorized service technician.

I return by nearly the same route, taking the DPS alternate to Route "A," which is a more direct but steeper return to Potosi Spring off the West Ridge. I return to the van just before 5p as the sun is preparing to call it a day. My first forray into the Nevada desert had been picked out at the last minute as my plans had changed several times in the preceding days, but it turns out to be a fine day. I drive into Las Vegas, through the outer suburbs along Blue Diamond Rd, wondering who is going to buy the hundreds upon hundreds of homes continuing to be built across the desert flats in this area. There is no sign of a housing slump judging by all the construction going on. Back on Interstate 15 I am rudely introduced to Las Vegas traffic. The radio announcer describes no less than five accidents around the major freeways tying up every one of them in all directions. The funny part about it was his voice, sounding so casual, as if this was an everyday occurrence. Maybe it was. I suspect all these high-contrast video billboards that are both annoying and distracting at the same time have something to do with it. Gotta love Sin City.

For the low-budget camper in Las Vegas: I pulled into the Circus Circus/KOA RV campground hoping to snag a free shower, but I find the doors are all locked and needed a code. Inquiring at the desk, I'm told a campsite with no hookups is $55. Yikes. But a shower costs only $6 so I fork over the money. A cheaper route would have been to ask one of the other campers what the code was, and get a free one.

Continued...


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