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We'd spent the night camped off Midland Rd, just west of the Big Maria Mtns north of Blythe, with plans to tackle a few DPS peaks the next day, including the highpoint of the Granite Mtns It was dark when we got up and headed off, the three of us snuggly loaded into Evan's pickup truck. Portions of the long drive in are described as "poor dirt" in the DPS guide which usually means trouble. We were not disappointed. The initial drive in through the abandoned rail town of Inca and further towards the active mine on the south side of the Little Maria Mtns was in excellent condition, a necessity for the huge tractor trailers that drive in to haul the ore back out. Beyond this the road slowly degrades, some parts rock, some sandy, some both. We got out several times in the early morning hour to trim back the brush encroaching on the road, a few more times to pull large rocks off to the side, and even a little trail leveling with the shovel where the road dropped sharply into a wash. Evan has become so used to these desert excursions over the last year that he has all the tools necessary nicely stowed behind the seat, along with a bunch more "just in case" that would make MacGyver proud. We found a side road before reaching Palen Pass, taking this as described in the DPS guide. Our intent was to drive to Packard Well, the shorter of two approaches, but came up a few miles short. The road deteriorated rapidly in the dry wash and we had to eventually give up the effort. Evan's valiant truck and considerable off-road skills were no match for this so-called road.
From where we parked, it would have been better to follow the road to Packard Well (as we did on the return), but not being familiar with the area we muddled through an alternative route. We followed the road intially from where we parked, but failed to follow the road as it climbed out of the south side of the dry streambed. We followed up the wash another mile, then climbed out onto the flatter plains on the south side of the mountain. Only it wasn't as flat as it had first looked. We found ourselves dropping into one side wash after another, working our way around the south side of the range looking for the main wash described in the DPS directions. It seemed we were on track as we rounded the east side of Pt. 773m, but promptly got off again by following the wash north of the point. We were almost half a mile up this wash before we stopped to consult the map to find our mistake. Drats.
Our next move was to head west out of our wash via a saddle on the ridgeline between our canyon and the intended one further west. This was followed by more ups and downs over smaller washes to get on the intended route, but eventually we found ourselves heading north on the correct line. Only later did we find that there was no need to be so precise, as one ridgeline or canyon would probably work as well as the next to get to the summit. We found a tarantula (with a missing leg) in the canyon though it was nearly crushed under Evan's foot as he walked up to join Matthew and I as we stooped to investigate the creature. "Oh, sorry." Evan was a bit tired by this time, only a few hours into our hike, evidently still worn from the previous day's adventure. He started to drag behind us, and missed the sighting of a bighorn sheep that appeared on the crags above Matthew and I. It had a full curl to its horns, looked rather majestic as it gazed down on us, and left us to our pitiful human legs after but a few moments. It was the first time I had actually seen a desert bighorn sheep in the desert. First tarantula, too.
Abandoning our rocky canyon scramble before reaching its terminus, I led us out onto the class 2-3 rock on the right side of the wash in a more direct line for the summit. This led to the easy summit ridge and another ten minutes or so to the summit. It had taken a bit over three hours to reach the summit, a bit behind schedule if we were going to reach the Palen Mtns highpoint in the afternoon as planned. A summit benchmark labeled GRANITE had been placed in 1931, the nearby DPS register much younger. We signed our names in the book, took in the views and had a break to let Evan catch his breath.
We decided to descend the steep ridgeline directly south of the summit, having observed it during our ascent up the DPS canyon immediately to the west. This was a more enjoyable route with some fun scrambling up to easy class 3 on generally good rock. There was no tricky route-finding. Once off the ridge we followed the main wash down to Packard Well, then followed the road for some miles back to where we'd parked the truck. It was 1:10p when Evan hobbled in, only a few minutes behind Matthew and I, but he was spent for the day.
Evan announced he could climb no more, but graciously offered to wait in the truck if Matthew and I wanted to do nearby Palen. From a logistical standpoint it makes sense to do these together since they share the same long drive from Midland Rd, and we had hoped we could do them both on the same day. The drive in had taken longer than planned and we probably should have started earlier. Still, it would have been possible we thought to knock off Palen before dark, or at least not long after dark. But we would have felt bad to have Evan sitting there for four or more hours while we were off hiking, and decided to leave it for another day. If he'd had the camper on the back of the truck it would have made a world of difference since he could live in relative luxury, but we'd left it back at the paved road as a necessity in negotiating the poor access road.
We drove back to our other vehicles at Midland Rd, Matthew leaving us to head back home. Evan and I still had one more day before returning, and would use it to drive back out for the Palen Mtns highpoint, sans Matthew.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Granite Mountains HP
This page last updated: Sat Jan 10 08:47:11 2009
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