Brown BM
Owl BM P1K

Sun, Dec 8, 2013

With: Adam Jantz

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Brown Mtn is a P2K lying within the confines of the China Lake Naval Center in the Mojave Desert. Its location near the boundary with Death Valley NP is far from any significant human presence and it wasn't with much concern that Adam and I made plans to visit it on the first day of my 7-day desert trip. It had been on my radar screen for years but the road to reach it is too rough for my van. From SR127 it is a long 40 mile drive to the trailhead followed by about eight miles of hiking. The drive to reach the meeting spot the night before was going to be long, but made several hours longer because SR58 was closed due to snow. I had to detour south over Tejon Pass and then east on SR138 before getting to the desert. I had some nine hours of driving under my belt before I arrived around midnight at the turnoff, Adam already there in his 4Runner and fast asleep.

We were up and on our way shortly after 7a, taking two hours to make the long drive on the dirt road. The first half until the Navy base entrance was in better condition than the second half which must see less traffic. The route travels through several valleys between obscure desert ranges including the Quail, Owlshead and Granite Mtns. A pair of mules on the road were quick to get off the roadway before we reached them, but they made no particular effort to get further away once they realized our interest in them was minimal. We stopped at the far west end of the road where it turns north to head to a communication tower in the Quail Mtns. We would explore further up the road upon our return. A relatively new sign where we parked blocked access for the last mile of minor road leading to the base boundary. Of course it would have been easy to drive around the sign but that would have been unwise for several reasons - besides being environmentally unfriendly, it would have left our vehicle more obviously visible close to the boundary, something we were happy to walk an extra mile to avoid.

It was 9:15a before we started down the old roadbed, a gentle slope leading down to a broad valley between the Owlshead Mtns and Brown Mountain. The expected gate/fence was found after 20 minutes, and easily breached. Brown Mtn is easily visible to the southwest and presents no navigation difficulties whatsover. A few minutes inside the fence we came across a sign for a Desert Tortoise Management Area - it's good to see the Navy cares about the critters on its land. Sadly, we didn't see any tortoises or signs of them (empty shells, burrows). We spent more than an hour in crossing the open flats, easy hiking over firm ground with only light vegetation. There were a number of interesting relics we found along the way, most commonly empty 50 calibre casings. There were other casings, some more than twice as large, but these were relatively rare. Some other instruments of warfare were found as well, but mostly old, rusting and difficult to distinguish what we were looking at. For the most part the desert floor is relative free of this stuff and without the fence it would be hard to know when you are on the base or in Death Valley NP.

Once across the flats we started up an easy ridgeline leading to the summit from the northeast. We paused from time to time to retie our shoes or remove an annoying pebble from them, but otherwise kept up a steady pace. Not long after 12:30p, about 3.5 hours after starting out, we reached the flatish summit. A large cairn and a benchmark marked the summit, but we found no register. We noted the western summit about a quarter mile away, but didn't visit it. Only later did I realize the two are much closer in height and perhaps should have taken the extra half hour to go over there and back. Oh well. Though the views are expansive, the surrounding area was not altogether familiar to me. I recognized Straw Peak to the west and Telescope to the north, but in other directions were numerous peaks and sub-ranges that I couldn't tell one from the other.

Our return followed a similar route, with the exception that we dropped into an adjacent canyon rather than follow the lower part of our ascent ridge. The reason was purely for the change of venue, neither proving the least difficult. Some hours later we were back across the flats, across the military road, and by 3:30p back at the start where we'd left the 4runner. We would have only about an hour before the sun set, so it was imperative that we wasted little time starting on the bonus objective.

Owl BM is the highpoint of the Owlshead Mountains, conveniently located only about a mile and half north of the radio tower to which the road leads. We tossed our gear into the back and started up the road, rougher now, but no trouble at all for the 4Runner. We reparked the car at a saddle just north of the tower without actually visiting that point. There was no trail leading along the crest to our summit, but again the hiking was easy wtih little vegetation to get in our way. We took almost an hour to hike about two miles, following the zigzagging crest to the summit. The sun set when we were still a few minutes from the summit and the air grew cold even before the last rays of the sun had disappeared from the landscape. We put on all the clothes we had with us and probably could have used more. I loaned a pair of gloves to Adam who had neglected to pack some. Ever concerned about my hands getting cold, I often have three pairs with me and had some to spare. At the summit we found a register that had been left in 1995, containing nearly 20 pages of entries - more than I would have expected for an obscure range. Many of the names were familiar desert rats - Mark Adrian, Richard Carey, Gail Hanna, Bob Sumner, Daryn Dodge, Evan Rasmussen, Shane Smith and others. Sue and Vic Henney had been the last visitors back in March. We quickly signed our own names and beat a hasty retreat. Adam, decked out like a ninja mountaineer, found us a more direct route for the return which cut off more than ten minutes. We got back to the 4Runner just before 5:30p, but would have hours to go before we were done for the night - the long drive in the dark back to pavement, dinner at the Mad Greek in Baker, then hours of driving back to the Ridgecrest area for the next day. Somewhere around 11pm we were bedded down for the night on more BLM land, a long day indeed...

Continued...


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Shane Smith comments on 12/21/13:
Nice report! As always, the register photos sure are enjoyable. Fun to see all the previous summiters!!
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