Lookout Mountain DS / DPG
Ash Hill
Peak 4,122ft P500
Trona Peak P500 DPG

Wed, Feb 11, 2015
Trona Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


On the last day of my desert roadtrip I planned to do a few more peaks from Walt Wheelock's Desert Peaks Guide. I had spent the night parked at the Minietta Mine located at the base of Lookout Mountain on the west side of the Argus Range, above Panamint Valley. It was from here that I would start the first of the day's hikes.

Lookout Mountain

Really just a subpeak on the side of the range, Lookout Mountain is an interesting pile of rock that drew the attention of prospectors starting in the 19th century. Jack Gunn operated the mine here for more than 30yrs, finally calling it quits in 1918, but not before various portions of the mountain had been drilled, crushed and extracted. 4x4 roads allow one to drive virtually to the summit but without such a vehicle I would have to be content with hiking it from the tamer gravel road I had driven in on. The route I took up the East Ridge starting before sunrise was a decent enough one, with moderate scrambling and no real issues. At the top of the ridge in about half an hour, I passed by the Modoc mine which had a number of crumbling rock cabin ruins situated at the top with a fine view. Several prospect sites were located nearby. The highpoint is located almost a mile further west, following a mundane hike along one of the aforementioned 4x4 roads I came across. Thomas Gossett had left a register here in 2009 with a few pages filled during the interim. Somewhat surprising, the last entry was in 2010. The view of the Panamints to the east might be quite fine in the later afternoon, but this early in the morning there was only bright sunshine in that direction. Behind me rose the Argus Range, part of whose crest I had hiked the previous day. To make a loop of things, I dropped down the short, steep North Ridge into Stone Canyon where I picked up an old, rough road following down the wash. I stopped along the way to visit a mine site that looks to have suffered a cave-in on one of its shafts. A secondary shaft was put in around the corner without seeming to bother with salvaging the original one. Back down at Nadeau Road, about 3/4mi north of where I'd parked, I made the short hike up to visit the highpoint of Ash Hill as an easy bonus. A road, now washed out, used to run up to the plateau that forms the ill-defined highpoint. I was back at the van by 9a, the whole outing taking less than two and half hours.

Trona Peak

This officially unnamed summit lies at the southernmost end of the Argus Range. Along with nearby Wilson Peak, it is found in Wheelock's guidebook. I had climbed Wilson Peak earlier because it was a P1K - I wish I had known about Trona at that time because it makes better sense to do both together. This time I studied the maps a bit better and found another unnamed P500 that I could do on the way to Trona. If you're not interested in Peak 4,122ft, mine would hardly be the best route to Trona since it involves losing 500ft of gain along the way.

I started from the same inactive quarry I had used for Wilson Peak about 2mi NW of Trona. This time I ignored the No Trespassing signs to allow me to drive another 1/3mi into the quarry for a slightly shorter hike. Judging from some of the signs one finds at the quarry periphery, I'd guess that at one time trespassing was highly discouraged, but no one seems to care these days. After walking through the quarry I followed a burro trail across Wilson Canyon Wash to the start of the East Ridge for Peak 4,122ft. This was a fairly tame climb, not too steep, good footing and views opening up across Searles Valley very soon after starting up. There was more green in this part of the range than I had seen elsewhere, some flowers even, and I found it quite pleasing to the eye. It took about an hour and twenty minutes to reach the top of Peak 4,122ft. There were several rocky points competing for the highpoint and I visited each in turn, not really surprised to find no register. There were, however, the usual areas of disturbed earth where a prospector of old had dug into the earth to examine a curious bit of rock, perhaps hoping for that next big find.

As expected, there was a 500-foot drop to the saddle with Trona Peak, another mile and a half to the southwest. My route to Trona followed the most obvious and direct path up the NE Ridge, taking another hour and ten minutes from the top of Peak 4,122ft. Arriving at 12:30a, about 2.5hrs after starting out, the summit of Trona is not hard to find. The Gossett brothers of Trona had fashioned a sign of aluminum and affixed it in the summit rocks. The summit is just visible from the town almost 5mi to the east. It's a nice perch overlooking both the Searles Valley and China Lake areas. To the northwest rises the higher Wilson Peak with the even higher Argus Peak dominating the view to the north. Register scraps found at the summit dated to 1968, left by members of the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group from which the Occasional Peaks Gang (OPG) derived. The Gossett's left a register in 1992 and most of the entries are from other Trona and Ridgecrest locals. The last entry was dated 2009 but the lack of more recent entries may have been due to the difficulty in opening the container. It took me some time to open it, tapping the rusty lid against a rock so as not to break the glass jar.

I still had most of the afternoon available and decided to take a bit of a roundabout return. I had been eyeing the next ridge to the south and thought it would make a nice loop return even if somewhat longer (the fastest return is likely to the NE down to Wilson Canyon). There were some fairly green areas found along the easy route and I enjoyed the extra time in the hills a great deal. I spent about 2hr15m on the return, getting back just before 3p. After showering I drove to Ridgecrest for gas and caffeine before starting the long drive back to San Jose. I hope to get in several more desert trips before things start to heat up - I'm very interested to see just how green the desert might get this year...

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