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I spent the night sleeping in the van parked on the western flanks of Fremont Peak in the Mojave Desert. I had driven there the previous night after I had finished up on Searles Peak, eating a quick dinner and hitting the sack before 9p. It felt good to get more than nine hours of sleep. It was the second day of a nine day road trip and I was content - desert life agrees with me. I was up by 6a and out the door half an hour later. I had used Zdon's directions to find my way to Fremont, but it's not very complicated - it's almost a direct shot due east from US395 to where I parked near the abandoned Monarch Rand Mine. I didn't manage the last quarter mile to the mine due to the rutted nature of this last part, but until that point the road was good enough for pretty much any vehicle. It was maybe 3/4 of a mile to the summit from where I parked and would not take much time. I didn't quite make it to the top before sunrise as I'd hoped, but it was pretty close. High clouds to the east blocked the sun for the few minutes I spent at the summit just before 7a. Looking north across Cuddleback Lake (dry), I mistook Red Mountain for my next objective, Almond Mountain which was further to the east. I hope I can be forgiven for not recognizing a peak I'd already climbed - it's been eight years since I was up Red Mtn. Back down at the Ophir Mine I came across a huge number of tins cans strewn about this one area. Miners do not seem to be the tidiest of folks.
Having spent less than an hour at Fremont Peak, I drove back out to US395 north towards Randsburg, then east again on a long stretch of desert backroads that went on for miles. I had been dreading this long drive in my low clearance vehicle and had even passed it by the night before, figuring I'd save it for another time when I was with someone in a high clearance car. But the drive to Fremont was pretty smooth on a compacted sand road, so I thought I'd give this longer drive to Almond a try, and I'm glad I did. It was really quite nice being miles off the main highway, enjoying a pleasant drive through the desert. It was not hard to see the allure to OHV and backroad enthusiasts. Much of this vast area east of US395 is part of a large BLM OHV area. It's well-signed and while I possessed no map to decipher road numbers, I had the advantage of navigating by GPS along a route I'd picked out from the satellite view that seemed to offer the straighest and widest routes to my destination. Starting from Atolia along US395, the route was 9.5mi in length, running past Blackhawk Well and then along the southern edge of the Golden Valley Wilderness. The latter covers most of the Lava Mountains of which Almond and Big Almond Mtns are a part of.
There is a fairly new fence running along the south side of the wilderness that admirably performs its purpose of keeping OHVs out. To the south is the broad sink that is dry Cuddleback Lake. I could see RVs parked on the lake and dust clouds rising along its length indicating that it is used for some sort of recreational proving grounds along the lines of the Bonneville Salt Flats. I parked at a corner in the fence where equestrian and pedestrian access is provided, not far from the base of Almond Mtn's SW Ridge. It was nearly 9a and had become a most beautiful day with clear skies and temperatures in the 50s, excellent for hiking. The SW Ridge made an obvious and straightforward route to the top of Almond Mtn, taking a bit more than an hour. Though rocky, the terrain is only sparsely vegetated and easy to navigate. The summit of Almond Mtn sits at the southern end of a long, arcing ridgeline that rises to the unnamed higher point several miles away. It is this second point that is the P1K I was interested in, one of two in the Lava Mtns (the other is Dome Mtn which I'd climbed the previous year).
In starting across the small plateau found at the lower summit, I thought I could avoid some of the ups and downs along the ridgeline by traversing the eastern slopes of the ridge and making a shorter route to Big Almond. This turned out to be a mistake as I found numerous small canyons cutting the ridge on this side, entailing more up and down than would have been found on the ridge itself. Eventually I clued into this, and after retrieving a wayward balloon that served to provide a purpose for this ill-chosen route, I returned to the ridge and followed it closer to the top (though still sidehilling around Pt. 4,289ft - sorry, I can't help myself). It was 11:20a before I reached the summit, the highest point around for many miles (well, at least for the five miles it takes to reach the higher Dome Mountain). The register consisted of some loose index cards dating to 1982 along with a few pages of John Vitz's TRW note paper. Tom Gossett had made three ascents and was the inspiration for the name "Big Almond". It is easy to argue that the USGS label for Almond Mtn is simply misplaced on the 7.5' topo, and indeed most of the entries seem to consider this higher summit to be Almond Mtn. Regardless, it made for a nice hike. Some of the more interesting peaks in the surrounding area are to the east, inside the China Lake Weapons Center - Straw Peak, Robbers Mtn, Pilot Knob. I continue to wonder how hard it would be to breach their security or whether anyone would care if I stepped over the periphery by a few miles. From where I stood there didn't seem to be any installations or people around this vast track that would care.
Upon leaving the summit, I returned west along the same ridgeline route until I was at the saddle between Pts. 4,110ft and 4,289ft. Here I decided to take more time and make a larger loop of the outing by dropping northwest from the saddle down to the flatter portions of the desert on the west side of the ridge. It made for an enjoyable alternative and a pleasant hike for the return. I had only a small bit of extra elevation to go over a low saddle on my way south. I eventually made my way back to the van before 2p, with Fremont Peak and the racers on Cuddlefish lake visible behind it.
I still had a few hours of daylight left, but not enough for any of the other summits I had prepared for. I found a few in Zdon's book that might work, but were closer to Barstow, several hours' drive away. I finally found an easy one using my CA road atlas, Saddleback Mtn, located northwest of Kramer Junction. Though only 33 miles apart, it took me almost an hour and half to drive between the two THs by a combination of more sandy dirt roads with a swift stretch down US395 in the middle. I managed to find a decent road that passes by the north side of Saddleback within 3/4 of a mile and started from there - it would be a quick outing, to be sure.
As the name suggests, there are two summits with a high saddle between them, leading to the given name. I climbed the north side of this rocky formation to the higher north summit in about 20 minutes. I looked over at the lower south summit and noted OHV roads leading up to the saddle - an even shorter ascent route for the mechanically motivated. I was surprised to find a MacLeod/Lilley register from 2006. Up until this time I had supposed that the famous duo had higher standards than myself in summit selections. Apparently this was not true. The other entries since then appear to be those seeking a terracache placed around the same time. The summit provides views to a large solar array farm to the southeast (closer to Kramer Junction), to the Boron Air Force Station to the northeast, and the massive Baker Mine to the southwest, the largest open-pit mine in the state (borate minerals are extracted here). I had a few other sights to keep me occupied on the return, a fractured coyote skull and a cache of cow bones, along with a low-flying Air Force plane directly overhead (Edwards AF Base is just across SR58). I was back at the van to shower and change into fresh clothes with enough time left to leisurely watch the sun set over the Tehachapi Mtns to the southwest. It had been a good two days exploring this part of the Mojave by myself. And though today was my birthday, I felt contented rather than lonely. Is that normal?
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Fremont Peak
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