Sat, Feb 16, 2008
I slept in the van off Highway 164 just outside the California border in Nevada. Sometime in the wee hours Matthew had arrived, having driven some eight or more hours from the Bay Area in the dead of night. We awoke not long before daybreak, ate a quick breakfast, and jumped in Matthew's Suburu for the long ride to the trailhead on dirt roads. We got lost almost from the start by following the DPS guide which says to bear right at a fork after crossing a cattle guard near the start of the drive. This led us east, away from the power lines and our destination, so we came back. What we found was a four-way intersection (one of the paths slightly hidden when we passed it originally) and the correct route is to drive straight through the intersection, down slightly into a broad wash, then up the other side to the powerline road. From this point on we followed the directions and found our way to near the end of the road. We did't find the parking spot described in the text, but pulled off the road at the suggested 2.2mi as indicated on our odometer.
The DPS guide further warns that navigation of this peak is tricky, and from the looks of things ahead, it was spot on. McCullough itself is hidden behind a lower ridge in the foreground, and we couldn't even pick out the navigational aide, Pt. 6,425ft, as suggested. We took a GPS coordinate of the car's location to help us on the way back, then plunged off to find our way to the summit. Though we expected to have some difficulties in the forested washes, we were surprised to find them thrust upon us so quickly. We followed up what we thought was the correct wash, only to find it heading off more to the north than it should have. We climbed out of the small canyon, traversing across hillsides and several more canyons before we found one with a duck and what looked like a lot of footprints in the sand. It would be impossible to describe our route in any detail because much of the landscape looks the same and we had little trouble getting off-route again. So much so that we were a half mile too far to the west when we finally reached the foreground ridge and could view McCullough. It didn't look at all like we expected, and after getting a compass reading it was clear that we were looking at the South Slopes, with a 500-foot drop into an intervening canyon as payment for our poor route-finding skills.
We might have tried to traverse northeast along the ridge to reach the correct saddle, but the easiest route was down into the canyon and up the South Slopes, so that's exactly what we did. We found more ducks as we climbed near the top of the South Slopes, still a good distance off route. The guide wasn't kidding when it mentioned wayward ducks being common on this mountain. We climbed up and over several false summits before heading northeast for the last bit to the true summit. It had taken us longer than expected and we had to admit we were a bit tired. We rested, ate a bit, and perused the summit register while we marshalled our strength for the return. The views were vast, but there was little we could recognize - Potosi far to the north, Kingston to the northwest, and Clark Mtn to the west.
Our return was more direct, now that we could see the easier DPS route as described in the guide. Rather than follow the gully down to the saddle, we took a ridgeline off the southeast side that was fairly straightforward and avoided some of the disorientation found in the washes around here. From the saddle we climbed up and over the front ridge, then dropped down into one of the side canyons on the other side. There were vestiges of a use trail in places, sandy footprints in the dry creekbed, and a few ducks to suggest we were on the correct route. But as we got further down the canyon and things once again started to look confusing, we had to admit we weren't exactly sure where we were. We climbed out of our wash, into another, and started traversing more in a southerly direction to where we thought the car ought to be (we hadn't yet resorted to checking the GPS). Coming upon a road I figured was a quarter mile north of our car, we were only moderately surprised to see a group of five ATVs come up the road, passing us. The last one stopped to ask us if we knew where Pine Spring was as they were having some trouble locating it. Some confusion ensued, because we knew where the spring was (at the end of the road we had driven up), but we weren't where I thought we were. It was cleared up when the rider said our car was just a short distance down the road, having passed it a few seconds ago - apparently east of us, not to the south. We sent them west towards the spring, but guessed there wasn't much there to see since they'd already searched that area once before.
Back at our car in a few minutes, we were glad to have come across those folks to save us some more trouble (the GPS could have done likewise, but then we'd have to admit we couldn't navigate worth beans). We drove back out to the van and the highway, the time about 1:30p. We still wanted to get to the second peak of the day, so we wasted no time hitting the pavement, driving through Searchlight, then south on US95. At the turn off, we left the van at the entrance and once again headed off in Matthew's car, heading east on the dirt road towards Christmas Tree Pass. The road was a good one, and by 2:30p we had found the trailhead for Spirit Mtn. The last 0.4mi of dirt road described in the DPS guide is no longer open to motorized traffic, Wilderness signs blocking the entrance. This change caused us some confusion, but we soon realized the change, parking just off the maintained dirt road coming over the pass.
We followed the closed road to the north for most of its distance until striking cross-country for a low saddle just in front of us. Up and over, we made the mistake of trying to traverse the east side of the canyon rather than dropping some elevation. This led to some bushwhacking, some steep sidehilling, and generally taking about twice as long as it would have if we'd just dropped down initially from the saddle. From our vantage point off-route a bit, we couldn't make out Pt. 4,280ft as described in the guide, its features blending into the background. Eventually we made out what we guessed was the point, and headed for its south side. With the initial bit of nonsense taking about half an hour, we found a well-ducked use trail as we neared the point. In fact, it was the most heavily ducked route we'd ever seen on a DPS peak, looking more like one of the HPS peaks in the Southern Sierra from that standpoint. The ducked trail took us up to a saddle east of Pt. 4,280ft (not west, as described in the guide), followed by a a traverse into the gully to the north, then a steep ascent heading east up the gully. Reaching the summit ridge southeast of the peak, we were impressed by the views to the east over the other side - the Colorado River runs down north to south through the desert, Lake Mohave anchoring the north end, the development around Laughlin, NV at the south end. We had a fine view southeast to the point where three western states come together, California, Nevada, and Arizona. It was truly sublime.
After a brief pause, we continued up the ridge, bypassing the lower east summit as we made our way back to the west towards the true summit. Short sections of what we considered class 3 offered little obstruction on our way to the summit (the DPS guide describes the summit block as "high Class 2", a fair description). It was 4p when we topped out, having taken an hour and 40 minutes for the climb. On examining the summit register, we were somewhat surprised to see that Doug Mantle had summit the same day - apparently in the morning, the closest yet I have come to meeting Doug (Matthew met up with him a few years ago atop Round Top in the Tahoe area). We stayed about 15 minutes, taking in the views and getting a short rest, before starting back down.
The return was fairly uneventful, other than our initial concern that we might be using headlamps on the descent. The faster-than-expected ascent made sure we would have plenty of daylight, though we did have the pleasure of watching the sun set behind hills to the west as we made our way down. We followed the use trail as far as we could (it disappeared down in the canyon below Pt. 4,280ft), but we picked up more recent boot prints (probably Doug's) to take us back up to the saddle before dropping down the last half mile to the car. It was after 5:30p when we finished up, but there was still probably half an hour of daylight left. A good day. We both agreed that Spirit Mtn was far better than McCullough, both for the views and the more interesting scrambling to be had. We drove back out to US95, then continued south to Needles where we took a room for the night. Another day, another couple of peaks...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: McCullough Mountain - Spirit Mountain
This page last updated: Wed Mar 19 20:35:46 2008
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