Wed, Dec 16, 2015
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Day 8 of a 10-day desert road trip found me solo for the first time in seven days. It's always more enjoyable to have others to share in the fun but sadly they had all gone home one by one. For the solo outings I try to save the really long outings to really obscure peaks, ones that others may not be so interested in. I had camped just north of Wileys Well Rest Stop on Interstate 10, at the start of a road leading into BLM lands around the McCoy Mtns. The road grows extremely sandy for a short stretch right near the start (only suitable for passage by 4WD, high-clearance) so I would be starting from where I'd peacefully spent the night. The McCoy Mtns are a moderate desert range, perched roughly halfway between the Palen Mtns to the west and the Big Maria Mtns to the east. The northern half is protected as part of the Palen Mtns Wilderness, but there is no such designation for the southern half where I would be hiking today. The 1st and 3rd most prominent summits are McCoy Mtn and McCoy Peak, both in the southern portion. I mapped out a route traveling over both of these plus a few bonus peaks along the way.
Starting shortly after 7a, the first hour was taken up in crossing 2.5mi of desert flats, lightly vegetated and easy walking. I then climbed onto the SW Ridge of McCoy Peak which starts off tamely, leading to some rock windbreaks built along the ridge by past overnight visitors. From here the ridge begins to grow steeper and grow more difficult, mostly class 2 until the final third where some class 3 is encountered. I stuck to the ridgeline for the most part, deviating periodically to one side or the other to shorten the route or avoid difficulties. The final summit stretch I turned on the northwest (left) side of the ridge to avoid problems, taking about two and a quarter hours to reach the top of McCoy Peak.
A MacLeod/Lilley register found atop the summit dated to Jan 1979. Smatko & Yates had visited a month later but left their own loose page. Perhaps they didn't find the earlier register, but the two were later combined? There were 10 pages to the register, but Vitz's was the only other name I recognized among them. I continued north and northeast along the ridge, almost 1.5mi over the next hour to reach the higher summit of unnamed Peak 2,365ft. This required a drop of more than 700ft to a saddle, but the scrambling was fairly standard. A register here was placed the same day in 1979 by the dynamic duo, but there were no other entries until my own - almost 37yrs between them. Not bad.
The next summit in line along the crest is the range highpoint, McCoy Mtn, more than two miles further north along the undulating ridgeline, each bump higher than the last. Like the previous segment, this one was pretty much all class 2 scrambling, taking an hour and 40min. The views from the summit are really outstanding. One can look northeast across the broad MCCoy Wash (valley, really) to the Big Maria Mtns. A large solar farm is under construction on the desert floor to the east. The Palen Mtns, Little Maria Mtns and the northern half of the McCoy Mtns stretch out across the scene to the north. John Vitz was among the oldest recorded party from a 1974 visit. Wes Shelberg placed a register in 1977, now in poor condition. Gordon & Barbara visited in 1978 ( a year before their visit to the first two peaks). The Smatko/Yates party visited the same day as McCoy Peak. Apparently I was just repeating a route they had already pioneered and considering the history behind the names, I was okay with that. There were other familiar names as well, not surprising since it's a range highpoint.
Having invested five and a half hours to this point, it was time to head back. I made my way back to a lower point half a mile to the south before turning west and dropping down a subsidiary ridgeline. After descending to a saddle, this route would allow me to climb a last bonus, Peak 1,729ft, with just over 300ft of prominence. Finding no register at the highpoint, I continued west over the summit before dropping back into the desert floor, leaving me with more than five miles of easy hiking across Chuckwalla Valley to return to Wileys Well Rest Stop and the van. As the sun dropped in the afternoon sky the small dunes in the area took on wonderful patterns that I paused to admire. It would be 4p by the time I returned, a full day to be sure. I showered and waited for the sun to set before driving 30mi west on I-10 to Desert Center. Another 30mi north on SR177 and west on SR62 got me to the northeast corner of Joshua Tree and the Coxcomb Mtns where I planned to hike the next day.
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