Wed, Dec 14, 2011
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The morning's program featured a hike to Dome Mountain, the highpoint of the Lava Mountains with a prominence over 1,600ft. Another named summit, Klinker Mountain was between my starting point and destination, so I made a point to visit it as well. The Lava Mountains are located in the Mojave Desert, south of Ridgecrest and west of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. They were more or less on my way to Death Valley, so I stopped for a morning hike to the two summits in the range.
Having spent the night sleeping in the back of the van, I was awake by 6:30a and on my way 45 minutes later. It was fairly cold at this time which was the primary reason for the relatively late start - the sun would be up shortly to take the bite out of the chill. I had tried to drive further east along the poor dirt road leading east into the Lava Mountains, but had backed off when the obstacles caused me more concern than the extra mileage was worth. By day the road didn't appear as bad as I had thought, but it was probably a good thing not to drive the low clearance vehicle in any further.
The road went only another mile before petering out as the canyon narrows. I then climbed north out of the canyon to a small saddle, then followed the steep, rounded ridgeline east to the main crest of Klinker Mountain. Once on this crest the angle eases considerably and the views open up as well. To the south rises Red Mtn, an HPS summit that was sporting fresh snow on its north faces. In his book, Zdon includes Red Mtn as part of the Lava Mountains, but this seems a stretch and isn't supported by the USGS labeling on the 7.5' topo maps. To the southeast a low haze gave a faraway look to the mountains fading off in that direction. Klinker lay to the northeast about half a mile away, with barely a noticeable summit sticking up from the crest.
It was just before 8:30a when I reached the summit, the whole area littered with rocks with some partially piled to make a summit cairn of sorts. A register dated to 1991, with most of the entries made up of local folks from the Ridgecrest area. There were a few names I recognized including Shane Smith (who lives in Ridgecrest) and Sue & Vic Henney from earlier in the year.
Zdon describes the traverse to Dome Mtn as somewhat deceiving, "over seemingly level land to Dome. It looks to be a short distance away but is a 3.5-mile up-and-down walk from Klinker." Zdon gets this partly wrong. The total distance is only 2.5 miles and there is but one saddle about 1/2 mile from Klinker that drops only about 350ft. It took but an hour to cover the distance between the two and for the most part it is a pleasant stroll along a high mesa with views. There was some thin patchy snow on the north-facing slopes, but it was not enough to cause any hindrance. For the most part, these hills have such little vegetation that cross-country travel is a breeze.
A small register on a notepad was left in 1970, with a second one by MacLeod & Lilley left in 1979. There were not many names in either, mostly the usual collection of highpointers. A nearby benchmark had been placed in 1952 by the US Army Corp of Engineers.
The return took two hours, following much the same route I had taken on the way out, getting me back to the van by 11:45a. I drove on to Ridgecrest where I stopped at the Starbucks to send my wife an email and attend to some other issues including some last minute adjustments to the meeting place in Death Valley with Matthew in three days' time. Before heading out of town I grabbed a sandwich at Subway and filled the tank with gas before starting for the remote desert lands of high gas prices.
It was 1:30p when I left Ridgecrest, driving two hours east and north through Trona and then Panamint Valley to Death Valley NP. I had originally not planned to get to Death Valley until the next day, but I was well ahead of schedule thanks to a busier-than-expected day prior. It seemed I might still be able to get a hike to Wildrose in this afternoon, though it was pretty certain I would be descending in the dark. There was a modest amount of fresh snow in the Panamints, and as I drove higher up the road towards the trailhead, snow began to appear on the unpaved road. The van began to slip as the snow was some 3-4 inches deep, though packed some by recent use. With half a mile still to go I could no longer get sufficient traction and had to stop to put chains on. Luckily I had considered this contingency and had come prepared with them. I eventually made it the Charcoal kilns where the TH is located and started from there almost as soon as I was able to turn the van around and park it. There would only be about an hour of sunlight left and it was only 34F as I started out.
I carried extra warm clothes as well as snowshoes in case I found the snow more troublesome higher up. There were only a few sections of trail at the start that were snow-free, and after the first half mile there was snow the entire way. No one had been up the trail since it snowed a few days earlier, giving it a fresh, virgin appearance. It was never more than about five inches deep and for the most part I could walk through it without being slowed too much. Because it was cold to start and would only grow colder, my feet did just fine since the snow would not melt and get my feet or boots wet.
The trail starts just below 7,000ft and rises to over 9,000ft in four miles. Wildrose Peak is two air miles from the TH, but the trail doubles this with a bit of circuitous wandering east to the main crest before it turns back towards Wildrose. As one hikes up Wildrose Canyon the peak can be see rising high on the opposite side of the canyon to the north. Long shadows played through the trees onto the fresh snow, making for a scenic afternoon display. I reached the crest just before sunset, getting a quick glimpse of Badwater some 8,000ft below to the east before darkness overtook the landscape.
It would be another hour before I finally made the last two miles up to Wildrose. It had quickly grown colder with the setting sun and I had to stop to put on the extra clothes I carried with me, including a pair of down mittens to keep my fingers warm. There was no moon this evening and a headlamp was needed to navigate through the trees to the flat, rocky top. A stiff wind was blowing in from the north, not so strong as it was cold and I could only remove my mittens for a short stint to take a long-exposure photograph. There was a benchmark next to an ammo box that held a bunch of registers, the latter so jammed full that I didn't bother to sign in. That and I didn't want to take off my mittens again. There was a sky full of stars, but there were almost no terrestrial lights to be seen anywhere, remote as the peak is.
I beat a hasty retreat back down the trail I had packed on the way up. I used the snowshoes more so that I didn't have them bouncing around on my back than for a real need. Since there was no base under the new snow the snowshoes took a bit of a beating on the underlying rocks. When I got back to the trailhead it was 7p and the temperature had dropped to 19F. That's the coldest I can remember for any hike. The fast descent pace had helped keep me sufficiently warm with surprisingly little discomfort. Perhaps I'm not as big a cold wimp as I had bragged to be. The van warmed up nicely and helped me stay warm as my heart rate decreased. I still had to stop and get out to remove the chains about a mile and a half down the road, but that went fairly quickly.
I had planned to do nearby Bald Peak with Wildrose in a longer outing, but I had no energy or will to put up with the cold wind for the extra couple of hours it would have taken. I figured perhaps I could do that one first thing in the morning. I found a fine place to park not far south of Emigrant Pass around the 5,300-foot level, the temperature there around 28F when I turned off the engine. I had had a large-enough lunch with the Subway sandwich that I didn't mind skipping dinner at all. Getting to bed in a warm sleeping bag under a down comforter was far more inviting and before 9p had arrived I was already asleep...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wildrose Peak
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