Mescal Range HP
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I had half a dozen easy peaks around the Ivanpah Range that I was interested in for the day. Evan had done the first of these, so I got up an hour before him and drove from Kelso Dunes to the Teutonia Peak TH (or near there, more accurately) in order to tag Kessler Peak around sunrise. The sky was already growing lighter when I passed by the Kelso Depot (someday I may actually stop inside for a visit), and the few clouds on the horizon were glowing in shades of orange when I started out across the desert for Kessler around 6a.
The desert here is heavily invested with scrub, joshua trees and cacti, forcing a meandering route across the flats, though for the most part free of bushwhacking. I hiked up the shaded west side of Kessler, all routes looking to be class 2. The sun rose around 6:30a, first lighting up Teutonia Peak behind me, then casting a long shadow behind Kessler towards the west. There are a few false summits on the way up, but the hike is not long nor difficult as I arrived at the top at 6:50a, less than an hour's effort. The oldest scraps in the register dated to 1970 when Sam Fink (who has an HPS peak named after him) paid it a visit. The rest of the register is a collection of loose papers from a small notebook whose spiral binding had disintegrated. After photographing the register and snapping a few others of the views, I beat a hasty retreat off the summit. I had told Evan I'd be done in an hour, but obviously that wasn't going to be the case since it was already 7a. Time to hurry.
I was back shortly after 7:30a, finding Evan's camper parked across the road from my van. He was ready to head out to Teutonia only moments later. We considered reparking the vehicles at the Teutonia Peak Trailhead only a short distance further north along the road, but Evan thought it would be a simple matter to intersect the trail starting from where we were. So we started off, but found no trail along the desert floor. We found other things, including many old tins, a few old roads, a deep mine shaft that was grated over (by the BLM?), and some large joshua trees. It was a nice ramble across the desert, but it puzzled us why we didn't find the trail.
Not having checked any beta on climbing Teutonia, we assumed it was a standard class 2 desert peak like Kessler and so many others. In fact we thought it was even easier since there was a trail. It turns out to be a much trickier affair. We wandered up the north side to reach the main ridge, soon finding the trail that had so far eluded us. We followed the trail for maybe 100yds until it seemed to abruptly end against an enclave of huge boulders. We tried several possibilities, wondering how something called the 'Teutonia Peak Trail' could not end at the summit. Was that even possible? Apparently it was.
Evan decided to take the obvious route by dropping down the east side of the ridge and traversing under a section of large, blocky class 3+ rock that lined the ridge where the trail ended. I chose the bolder move up the blocks themselves, feeling brave and in need of some extra entertainment. I did well for a short while, but soon came to dropoff I could not manage. Evan, meanwhile, was trekking happily along the east side and soon out of sight. I had to admit I was over my head and dropped off the same side, down the spicy face I was presented with and then traversed towards the south and the highpoint. Not knowing where Evan was, I made a few guesses as to how to get to the highpoint and shortly found myself atop it. It was probably good that I didn't follow Evan because he landed on a slightly lower point to the south, maybe 100yds away. He quickly suspected his was on the wrong summit which got a laugh out of me. Finding a register at my summit, I confirmed his suspicions as he then went about finding his not-so-obvious way from one point to the other. The register dated to 1983, placed by MacLeod & Lilley. It had almost 60 pages filled with names over the past 30 years, a fairly popular summit. Matthew and Rick had been to the summit in 2007 (I had seen their names in the Kessler register for the same date). The last party to climb it was only 11 days earlier and included Matthew Hengst, another Challenge participant.
After a short stay at the summit, we descended first to the north, then down a narrow, brushy gully on the west side, complete with a chockstone/crawl-through at it's narrowest point. I let Evan choose the route even though I didn't think it the best choice because I knew once we were down at the base of the west side it would be easy to talk Evan into paying a visit to Cima Dome. Teutonia is actually an outcropping on the east side of Cima Dome. The latter is an incredibly low-angled bump rising up from the desert, the highest point lower than Teutonia. It is hardly recognizable as a highpoint from any angle it is viewed. But since it was only a little more than a mile away, I thought it might be worth a visit. It wasn't.
There is no obivious highpoint to Cima Dome, not all that surprising. We first went to the point I had identified on the GPS, then walked around looking for other possible highpoints, checking the elevation difference with the GPS. The large number of Joshua Trees makes it hard to get any sort of line-of-sight, but the GPS seemed to confirm that there were no points higher than the one we had first visited. Though we looked around, we never did find a register at any of the various locations. The best we could do was find the rusting remains of an old shovel. After leaving our brownian motion tracks around the top of Cima Dome, we headed back to the northwest side of Teutonia where we intercepted the trail and took that all the way back to the trailhead and then to our cars. Near where we parked was the Mojave Cross, a small square of private land owned by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) with a white cross erected in 1934 at the top of the highest rock as a memorial for those that have died in all wars.
We drove both vehicles a few miles north, left the van parked alongside Cima Rd, and proceded in Evan's camper almost due east on a sandy dirt road. There were three summits described in Zdon's book found in the area, and it was to these we were heading to next. We passed by (and briefly stopped at) a desert gravesite before driving to within a mile of Striped Mtn's summit following the directions given by Zdon. All three of these peaks are primarily composed of limestone and have had significant mining operations in the past. Where we parked was a large pile of white rock (quartz?) mined from the nearby hills. The bed of the rough, rocky road we started up was made of the same material. The road ended at a saddle where we turned right to head up the SE Ridge of Striped. There were wooden posts at several locations along the ridgeline, each with small plastic film cannisters attached containing mining claims for the Georgia Marble Co. It was not obvious that there was any signficant marble to be found and it appears the mountain was only lightly mined.
It did not take long to climb the mountain, slightly more than half an hour. We found there were two summits, the higher one to the northwest and the second we visited. In the register we found the oldest scrap to be from MacLeod/Lilley, dated Nov 5, 1983, the day before they climbed Kessler and Teutonia. There was a 1992 entry from Andy Smatko as well as other recognizable names such as Vitz, Flood, Palmer and Holliman. The view from the summit takes in most of the Ivanpah Mountains to the east and south, the Mescal Range to the north and the broad Shadow Valley to the west. We took a slightly shorter route back, down the NE Ridge off the SE summit, making for a nice loop. It was barely 12:30p, having taken only an hour for this easy peak.
Back in the truck, we motored north into Piute Valley, the road decent (assuming a modicum of high clearance) for all but a short section of the road where it had been partially washed out. It would have been easy enough had it not been for the unwieldy camper that was swaying markedly above our heads. After a couple of miles we joined the approach route for Mescal from I-15 described by Zdon, saving us a good bit of driving by taking a chance on the unknown section of road through Piute Valley. We reached an elevation of 5,300ft near the Iron Horse Mine on the southeast flank of the Mescal Range before parking. Evan had already been to this small range's highpoint, so he took a break while I headed up the old 4WD road leading to the Blue Buzzard Mine near the crest. Along the way I investigated a vertical shaft dug into the hillside with tons of debris littering the opening. Climbing above this to the crest, I found a mile-long undulating ridgeline leading to the highpoint to the southwest. There was other detritus from the mining days, including the odd can of rusty nails with some short sections of rebar lying nearby. Another 20 minutes along the ridge brought me to the summit by 1:45p. There was a typical set of nested red cans with several register books, the oldest left by John Vitz in 1988, consisting of nine pages over 20 years. A newer booklet was left earlier this year by Richard Carey.
On my return, I dropped off the ridge earlier, intending to take a shortcut down the steep southeast slopes. The ground was too loose and too brushy to make things any faster and I very quickly lost interest in continuing down. But my diversion took me past another mine opening which I stopped to explore. This one had more debris outside, a winch mounted above the entrance, and all kinds of stuff on the inside. Shelving held water, food, a helmet, gloves, various bits of hardware and other stuff. Electricity had been run into the mine at one time as well. It looked as though whoever was working the mine had walked out one day, perhaps intending to return the next, but never came back. I half expected to find his skeletal remains about the mine wreckage. Though I had a headlamp with me, I didn't explore further into the mine - the old wooden ladders looked a bit too untrustworthy.
It was 2:40p by the time I returned to Evan's camper. He had spent the last hour and a half exploring the Iron Horse Mine just above to the south off a side road. Back in the truck, we rambled over to the last peak of the day, Kokoweef. The old Carbonate King Mine and the small "town" of Kokoweef are located on the northwest side of the mountain. The area is ground zero for the legend of the "Lost River of Gold". A man named Earl Dorr started the legend in 1935 with a sworn affidavit describing a most fabulous cave system some 5,000ft deep in all, rich with placer gold. Folks have been trying to find this cave ever since. There is indeed a natural cave on Kokoweef where the mine is located, but it has never produced anything of value and is not very extensive. Most of the rock here appears to be limestone, but the lack of significant rainfall has kept cave-making to a minimum over the eons. Various parties have tried to mine the mountain, make a tourist attraction of the cave and other efforts, but mostly it seems to have duped a handful of greedy and unsophisticated investors.
Our approach took us to the north side of the mountain where we hiked the North Ridge, about 3/4 mile in length. Any car could navigate the well-graded road we traveled. The hike took us all of 30 minutes, gaining about 800ft as we climbed above the town, noting at least one caretaker/resident riding an ATV about the place. The summit rocks contained a 1955 benchmark from the US Coast and Geodetic Survey. It was visited by the USGS too, though apparently they only left some scratchings on the rock. A register dated to only 2009 and contained only one name that I reckognized - Cori Newton, aka "Snow Nymph" from 2010. While I thought it best to avoid the mine and town, Evan wanted to drop down the northwest side and explore both. And so we did. What's the worst that can happen to a couple of old guys wandering onto private property in the desert? Zinc had been mined during WWII according to the Kokoweef.com website, but the stuff we examined was far more recent than that, probably from the 1970s or 1980s. Lots and lots of debris is left scattered about, miles of plastic tubing and steel, incomplete roads barriers, partial drillings, blast holes and other mostly wasted efforts. Lower down the mountain is the natural cave entrance, locked tight. A huge ventilation system was set up for the tourist business that never really took off. It looks to have been more than a decade since anyone opened it for tours. A large building nearby had rocks samples outside (if nothing else, there are all sorts of interesting mineral objects about this range). Inside is a large meeting room, perhaps for tour presentations? At this point it seemed clear that we were probably wandering about areas closed to the public, but no one observed us or came up to see what we were doing. We continued down the road to the town site. I suggested a cross-country jaunt to the right to bypass the town. Evan voted we go right through town. And so we did. The town is a mostly a collection of old trucks with various trailers, some habitable, others less so. There were plenty of signs of recent activity, but mostly the town is a heap of shambles, slowly decaying back into the desert. We saw an ATV parked outside the newest of the trailers, but again no one came outside to greet or confront us. Either they never detected us, or simply didn't care. After returning to the camper, we drove the alternate route going right through town. Still no one. There was a confusing mix of No Trespassing and tourist-related signs about the place. On the drive out we noted at least four wooden signs directing traffic to Kokoweef - so it seems there is still some effort at tourism, however weak.
We drove Zdon's route out to Mountain Pass at Interstate 15, then back to Cima Rd to pick up my van. After more driving on I-15, we gassed up at Baker and spent the night parked southwest of Baker a few miles, just off the Rasor Road exit. We supped in the luxury of Evan's camper and watched an old John Wayne Movie (The Quiet Man) before retiring. Rough life in the desert...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Teutonia Peak
This page last updated: Sun Dec 2 10:01:40 2012
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