Fri, Nov 20, 2009
It was just before 6:30a when we reached the locked gate on the road leading up the north side of Ord Mtn. We had been in the area a few years earlier to climb the nearby (but lower) East Ord, a DPS peak. The higher Ord Mtn had all the challenges of hiking up a dirt road which amounted to a couple of miles that took us all of 45 minutes. A lone cow alongside the road was the only wildlife we saw along the way. The Ord Mtns are particularly dry and parched, even for desert peaks, and support little vegetation (but enough for a cow, apparently). We hiked initially in the chilly shade on the north side, eventually popping out into the welcome sun for the last five minutes before reaching the top.
A small array of telecom equipment was perched on the summit along with a battery of solar panels to power them. There was no summit register, but we did find an old benchmark from 1929, one of the oldest ones to be found in the Mojave desert. After a brief stay to take in the views, we beat a retreat via the same route, jogging most the entire way, and returning to the car by 7:45a.
On our way to the next stop at Rodman, we took a shortcut over a rough road to save a few miles that fortunately worked out. A locked gate across the road just before the junction with the main road almost foiled our efforts, but there was a bypass track beaten into the desert wash by numerous other vehicles that allowed us a way around. The highpoint of the Rodman Mtns was even more of a drive up than Ord, and we were able to negotiate the entire route to the antennae array within a hundred yards of the highpoint. There were three technicians not far away from our Subaru, discussing things I suppose technicians discuss, unconcerned with our arrival. The summit had been left unmolested and it was an easy walk to climb atop the pile of rocks marking the highpoint. We found a benchmark along with a register dating to 2007 tucked inside a pair of yellow cans. Well-known highpointer Bob Packard had been the last person to sign the register almost two years earlier.
So much for our morning's work. We got Matthew back to the Starbucks where I left him to tackle some even lower summits in the area immediately around Barstow. All three of them had come from Evan Rasmussen's list of range highpoints that had moved higher in my "peaks of interest" list now that all the DPS peaks in the area had been climbed. Of the three, the first, Calico, was the most interesting.
Calico Peak is the highpoint of the Calico Mtns. A touristy ghost town is located on the southern slopes of the range about 10 miles from Barstow. The area was extensively mined for some time, then dried up leaving just the ghost town as the last means to extract dollars. Along with the plentiful white and orange rock that gave the hills their name, there is a mix of green and gray rock along with other colors as well. I drove up the dirt road just east of the ghost town, labeled Odessa Canyon on the map. I did not get very far before the road I traveled became unmanagable in my low clearance van. I was 30-40ft above the main wash on the east side, and could probably have found a better road heading further up the wash, but I wouldn't have gotten much further in retrospect.
Ten minutes after starting out shortly after 10a, I came to a narrowing in the canyon that was impressive for not just the vertical walls that closed in on both sides, but more so that the road was forced through this narrow opening. A fiberglass marker on the side of the road indicated it was "open" for OHV traffic, but after hiking up the canyon a short ways it was soon evident that only the most highly modified 4x4 vehicles could possibly manage to negotiate the washed out conditions of the road. Large boulders blocked all ordinary traffic, but tread marks in the sand showed that a few brave souls still managed to make it up. Various broken pieces of plastic along the way gave evidence to the various attempts and those that did not make it through unscathed.
Further up as the slot canyon gives way to more open terrain, the road improves and meets with a junction for a second road that bypasses this narrow canyon to the west. I hiked up the easier road for another mile and a half before coming to a locked gate beyond which public vehicle access is prohibited. This is the gate described in Zdon's book for an approach coming up from the west. Though significantly easier, Zdon's route makes for a far less-interesting hike as it bypasses both Odessa Canyon and the even more interesting Wall Street Canyon that I took on the return. Past the gate, the road begins to climb quite steeply up the Southwest Ridge before cutting left on a traversing route up a cut in the mountainside that is visible from many miles away (it helped Matthew and I identify the peak on our drive back from Rodman).
By 11:45a I had found my way to the summit. There was a tall radio tower atop the summit, but no register or benchmark that I could find. I hung out in the warm sun for a short time before starting my descent. When I got to the road junction I headed west on the route labeled "Doran Scenic Drive" on my map, intending to take this bypass route back to the start as an alternative. But when I reached another junction about a mile further on, I decided to take a small risk in descending Wall Street Canyon to the west, a feature that looked "interesting" judging from the closely spaced lines of the topo. The topo map did not show any additional roads off in that direction, but from what I could see on the ground there were clearly a number of alternate roads. I was able to follow a poorly degraded road for another mile to a point near the St. Louis Mine marked on the topo. Here the road turned right to head upstream, out of the canyon and away from my intended direction of travel. There was little evidence of foot traffic below this point, the reason for which I was soon to discover.
I continued down the wash starting into the narrowing Wall Street Canyon, but within a few hundred yards came to 80-foot dry waterfall. I found a way to the right that let me drop an additional 30ft or so, but was soon confronted with a 50-foot drop that would be equally deadly. A bolted anchor and chain setup had been drilled into the rock at the top of this drop, but I had neither rope and gear to make use of it, nor faith in the generally crappy rock that composes this range to trust it to hold me.
Finding no other way to continue my descent, I hiked back out to the higher dry waterfall, then about 50 yards further east where I found a way to climb up to the wall of the canyon on the left side. I didn't really expect to have much luck with this effort and thought I would find impossibly steep cliffs making it more practical to return to Odessa Canyon from whence I had come. But to my happy surprise I spied a thin use trail traversing off through the hillsides above the canyon and eventually leading down to where the canyon bottom could be accessed about a mile further on. The trail went by several open shafts and other areas where the rock had been heavily worked before abandonment, and at one point the trail went through a short tunnel cut into the rock. Once down in the main wash again, it was an easy matter to hike out the rest of the way through the canyon.
I climbed back out of the canyon when I spied the church and other buildings of the Calico Ghost Town. Numerous warning signs along my path indicated I had just emerged from a most hazardous area of open mines and countless dangers. I found the ghost town alive with tourists, though not so many on a weekday as I'm sure they get on weekends. It was an eclectic collection of renovated original buildings along with kitschy additions, complete with snack and gift shops, gold panning (never mind that silver was mined at Calico, not gold), mine shaft tours, a small-guage railroad, and other tours of an historical nature that could be procurred for a few bucks more than the original $6 entry fee. I found a sign indicating a trail north of the railroad and followed this as far east as I could back towards Odessa Canyon. Where the trail turned south to return to the town, I followed a use trail continuing east that took me neatly back to Odessa Canyon and the van. This little trick saved me the trouble of hiking back down to the paved road and the entrance to the ghost town and then up Odessa Canyon on the road I had driven in on. Saved me a few miles hiking and I got a short tour of the ghost town for free, to boot.
It was 2:15p before I had gotten back to the car and I was looking at only a few more hours before the sun would set. Luckily the remaining two peaks were rather easy.
It took but 20 minutes to drive back to SR58 and then turn off on Jamiaca Rd, the nearest approach to the highpoint of the Mitchel Range. This short hike from the south used a combination of dirt roads and modest cross-country to climb about 900ft in less than two miles. It took 35 minutes to climb to the highpoint found at the northwest end of the summit ridgeline. Roads near the summit and an overlook bench at the southeast side of the ridge suggested this was a somewhat popular OHV or 4x4 destination for the local population. There was not much to recommend it other than a hazy view of Barstow to the south. I found no register or benchmark at the highpoint and I was back down to the van by 3:45p.
Waterman Hills was the easiest highpoint of the day, a decent dirt road off the nearby paved Fort Irwin Rd that even the van could negotiate. It took only 20 minutes to drive to the summit, another set of communication towers erected about the place. Afternoon winds had made the place chilly and uncomfortable in just a t-shirt. I used the wind-protected backside of one of the buildings to take a shower using the jug of water I had left on the dash during the day to warm. Not the most comfortable shower with the chilly eddies nipping me from around the sides of the building, but it was refreshing when completed. I stayed at the summit for more than half an hour to watch the sun set behind the Tehachapi Range to the west. It seemed a fitting end to an easy day of chasing down silly little peaks.
I thought I was done for the day when I drove back to Starbucks to collect Matthew and have dinner. But it seems he had in mind a night hike of Lane Mtn, described in Zdon's book. This turned out to be the silliest of the day's effort by a long shot. Not only was it a drive up after a moderate drive back out on the Fort Irwin Rd and some sandy dirt roads, but there was absolutely no views of anything from the summit. There was no moon, no city lights, just inky blackness and a sky full of stars with a strong, cold wind blowing across the summit. We ran around the fenced enclosure to the highpoint on the backside of the fence, took a few pictures, and beat a retreat. This was peakbagging at its lowest, to be sure.
We drove back out to Barstow, then east on I40 to the Hector exit. We found a dirt road and a place to spend the night away from the highway and the noise it brings with it. We were heading to Cady Peak the next day and this seemed as good a place as any to spend the night, so off to sleep we went not long after 8p...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ord Mountain - Rodman Mountains HP
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