Mon, Dec 13, 2010
Day 8 of our SoCal desert road trip had us in the east end of the San Bernardino Mtns. We had originally planned to tackle some tier two summits in the Mojave Desert, but during dinner the previous night Adam became interested in some HPS peaks I had yet to do northwest of Yucca Valley. We had spent the night in a large, graded clearing overlooking much of the community, a dusty monument to most recent real estate bust. Though we wouldn't be driving a whole lot of miles today, much of it was on dirt roads, a few quite difficult even with high clearance and 4WD. We left my van parked on a side street near SR62 running through town and took Adam's Escape north to Pioneertown, nearly to Rimrock. Our first stop would be Chaparrosa Peak, a modest summit overlooking Little Morongo Canyon. On my first visit through this area a year earlier, the lands surrounding Chaparrosa were still closed to the public due to fire that had swept through the area in 2006. It was still listed as Suspended on the HPS website, but it seemed worth checking out on our way to the other peaks.
At the junction with Pipes Rd, we noticed there were no longer the Closed signs I had seen previously. What we didn't see was that the Pioneer Mountains Preserve is only open Friday-Sunday though there was a sign clearly indicating this. We parked in the visitor lot, finding the Visitor Center closed to no great surprise since it was not yet 6:30a. We hiked up the road heading south (bus parking area) where we found the start of the Chaparrosa Trail with a sign-in log that we dutifully entered our plans in. We weren't sure who was going to be checking up on us, but it seemed like it wouldn't hurt, either.
I don't quite get what the Pioneer Mountains Preserve is all about, but it seems to be some sort of NGO that purchased the lands around the area and manage it with a dedicated group of volunteers. The area is essentially high desert, looking no different from other desert lands that comprise this side of the San Bernardino Mtns. Whether there are, or were, endangered plants or animals, we couldn't tell. An online search reveals that this is part of the Wildlands Conservancy, the largest non-profit landowner in California, managing approximately 146,000 acres, the largest parcel being the Pioneer Mountains Preserve. The "managing" part appears to be in building Visitor Centers and public education. The lands themselves were burnt over rather completely, a process that undoubtedly happens every 20-50 years as in much of Southern California. Why access has been closed for the past four years is not evident, but possibly due to errosion following the fire.
We had no trouble following Route 1 as described in the HPS guide, a mix of old road and trail. The beginning portion follows a sandy 4x4 road in continuing stages of decline down to a canyon, past a remote homesite with a particularly annoying dog barking its head off, then starting up the other side of the shallow canyon. Sunrise came not long after starting off, allowing us to remove the jackets we had donned earlier to keep the chill of the morning at bay. A wooden post marks the start of the trail, and there are many, many ducks along the way to keep one on route (the ducks seemed wholey unnecessary to us, but we left most of them intact).
The landscape was making its recovery from the fire in a slow but methodical process that has been handed down from one generation of flora to the next. Though seemingly burned to the ground, the joshua trees showed remarkable resiliency, coming to life with new leaves through the charred remains of a previous incarnation. Many of the other plants were doing likewise, though some appear to have given up the ghost for good. It took us all of about an hour to reach the summit, about 2.5mi from the trailhead. There was a cairn, a wooden stake, a benchmark and a register found at the highpoint, the easternmost of two possible points. The register was filled with weekly ascents by the same TKayne for much of the past years since the fire. The closure did not seem to keep him out, leading us to believe he was probably one of the preserve volunteers. Adam walked over to the lower western summit while I milled about taking pictures (S - W - N - E). We had hoped to make a loop out of our hike as described in the HPS guide, but finding a sign at the trail junction indicating the other trail was closed, we simply went back the way we had come. Back at the start we happened upon a nice young lady who had just finished leaving a note on our car. One of the volunteers, she was reminding us that the preserve was closed Mon-Thur. She was very nice about it and not at all upset that we had missed or ignored the sign back on Pioneertown Rd. We appologized for our trespass and thanked her for being so gracious about it. When I asked her who "TK" from the register was, she sort of smiled and then confirmed that he was a local volunteer, an elder gentleman who has adopted the trail as his pet project. Everyone needs a hobby.
Back on the pavement, we drove northwest on Pioneertown Rd to the tiny community of Rimrock, then west on the dirt road leading up Burns Canyon. This road appears to be private with an easement for public use so long as one doesn't stop or park for first seven miles. Two guys with bulldozers were doing some grading work on the road as we drove up it, serious enough to have built up an earthen barrier several feet high that we would be unable to get over. Kindly enough, one of the dozers drove down to make a quick ramp for us and then pulled over to let us pass. Nice! This was not the sort of road one would want to take a standard vehicle up. Some fifty minutes from Rimrock we finally reached Forest Road 2N90, our turnoff for Tip Top Mtn. The road starts off innocuously, but shortly becomes a grueling challenge for even Adam's car. He cut a turn a little too sharply and ended up temporarily stuck with a back tire nearly off the ground and one of the front ones spinning in loose sand. He eventually corrected the situation and a few minutes later we pulled over to park at a turnout about a quarter mile west of the Tip Top's summit.
Tip Top can be easily combined with nearby Mineral Mtn and it was with this plan in mind that we chose our starting point. Once ready, it took only 15 minutes to hike up the road to the summit. We swapped the last stretch of road for a short bit of scrambling on the north side. There are the remains of a foundation for a building that once stood at the summit, but otherwise a clear view from the top in all directions. There is a fine view to Granite Peaks to the north and of the Mojave Desert to the east. Mineral Mtn stands out as a rather non-plus summit in the foreground to the south. The register was tagged by one of the anti-Sierra Club stickers that are often found slapped on the HPS registers - even in the mountains one can find politics.
We descended the easy way off the west side, past a small concrete block building, then west to the saddle just south of our car. We continued up the other side of the saddle, contouring our way around Pt. 7,462ft, then southeast along the ridge to Mineral Mtn. Though there was no trail that we discerned, the cross-country travel was fairly easy, and we made the two mile journey between the summits in about 40 minutes. We found a register dating to 1999 in the familiar red cans inside a small cairn. After signing in, we returned via the same route back to the saddle, and from there down to the car.
Our last peak of the day, Granite Peaks, was the most interesting. The starting point was a few more miles northwest along the Forest Service roads, following the directions given in the HPS guide. The parking area is no longer exactly as described, but it was good enough. There are three summits to Granite Peaks: Granite Peak to the west, Granite Point in the middle, and East Peak. The HPS summit used to be atop the middle one, but after the last survey it was moved to the highest point, East Peak.
The HPS directions give a compass heading to follow across a forested flats, then ascending a gully at the end of this fixed direction. Though we did a reasonable job of following a straight line through the forest, it is not easy to identify the obvious choice of gully once this is accomplished. We found the SW Slopes of Granite Peaks a confusing blur of possible gullies, none of which seemed to stand out as the obvious choice. In hindsight, I doubt that it really matters as long as one heads generally in the right direction. Once we had climbed up the initial steep slope, we found ourselves in a mix of washes and rocky terrain under forest cover, the summit well out of view. At this point one can appreciate why the HPS says excellent navigation skills are required, though even this isn't necessary if you don't mind scrambling around a bit more than needed. We had found a series of ducks in the ascent gully we chose, leading us to believe we were on the right track, but we lost them in the terrain above. Where to go now?
We headed east in the general direction we figured we needed to go, until we came across a high rocky point visible through the trees in front of us. Taking this for the summit, we scrambled up the west side, an enjoyable class 3 climb that took us up progressively larger boulders until we reached the summit. From atop it was immediately clear that we had scaled the middle point. Granite Peak could be seen to the west, East Peak in the opposite direction. There were the remains of a wooden survey tower about the summit rocks along with the Granite Point benchmark. It was not a significant mistake, however, as East Peak was only a fifteen minute hike from Granite Point. The east side of Granite Point was an easy descent and we soon picked up the ducks going around Granite Point, leading to the HPS summit.
At East Peak we found the remains of another survey tower, the East Peak benchmark and this time, the HPS register. East Peak was not as good a scramble as the middle summit, but decent enough and I really wished we'd had more time and inclination to tackle the westernmost peak as well. We did a much better job of following the ducks and cut limbs on our return, finding where we'd missed them going around the north and east side of Granite Point. Rather than try to follow a compass point on the return across the flats, I simply used Sugarloaf Mtn in the distance as a reference point, aimed for it, and got us within about 50yds of the car once we intersected the road again. Easy as pie, we were back at the car by 4:20p, not long before sunset.
It would be dark before we got back to Yucca Valley. Adam had been struggling a good deal on the descent from Granite Peaks, suffering, as near as we could diagnose, from shin splints in one leg. He had been hobbling noticeaby all day, but didn't really complain until the last descent where the downward pressure was causing the most distress. Having dinner in Yucca Valley, we discussed altering our plans. The original plan had us in the Mojave Desert for the last two days for peaks that would require high clearance to access. Adam did not know if he would be able to hike the next morning, so it made little sense to drive out that way. He appologized several times for "letting me down" though I insisted he had nothing to appologize for - it was out of his control and there were always alternatives to original plans. I had brought my printed LPC peak guide, so I simply shifted focus back to the San Bernardinos, finding plenty of lower peaks to climb in the front range even if the higher peaks were covered in snow. We would drive out to the trailhead for one of these and spend the night. If he didn't feel better in the morning, Adam would then drive home to Sacramento and I would carry on solo.
This page last updated: Wed Jan 26 08:57:17 2011
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