Peak 2,990ft P1K
Tosco BM P1K

Mon, Dec 14, 2015

With: Tom Becht

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

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The Big Maria Mtns are a fairly large CA desert range on the AZ border, just north of Blythe. The highpoint is a P2K and DPS summit that I had climbed some years before. There are four other summits in the range with more than 900ft of prominence and it was two of these that I had turned my attention today. Karl, Tom and I were parked off paved Midland Rd in one of the long-term camping sites found here for low-budget snowbirds who can't afford the RV parks along the Colorado River or just want a more out-in-the-boondocks experience. When we awoke in the morning Karl decided he'd had enough peakbagging for one trip and would rather start the long drive for home. We bid him goodbye and very quickly were down to just the two of us.

Peak 2,990ft

This summit lies in the center of the range, the fourth highest and third most prominent peak. Using the Jeep, we drove about 4mi on a side road heading north from Midland Rd to the site of what appears to be the abandoned Levys calcium carbonate mine. Pretty much any car can drive to this point. The road continues further north, but it isn't obvious where it drops down into a wash before continuing another mile or so. Eventually we parked where the topo shows roads (no longer viable) driving further into the mouth of a wide wash on either side. From here it was less than 2mi and 2,000ft of gain to the summit. Upon starting out, the sky was partially overcast with a cold wind keeping us covered up much of the morning - fleece, gloves and balaclava for me. We followed the remains of an old road on the south side of the wash to where it was obliterated in a storm event years ago. We then walked in the wash among boulders and sand before climbing onto a ridgeline southwest of the summit. The route ahead looked fairly straightforward with one steep section that showed no obvious route through from a distance. Up close, it proved no more than class 3 and a fun bit of scrambling to boot. Above this the difficulties dissolved to your standard class 2 desert climb over broken rock and talus. It took us just under an hour and a half to reach the top. We found no register (though Vitz had been to the summit, and MacLeod twice according to LoJ), but there were nice views to the west and to the Blythe area looking south. The desert north of Blythe is surprisingly green thanks to irrigation farming. We descended northwest and then west down a subsidiary ridgeline to make a loop of things. A random cairn along this route reminded us that most of these desert places have seen numerous visitors prospecting for minerals over the past hundred years. We eventually dropped off the ridge and descended south to the wash we had started in, getting us back to the Jeep around 11a for a total time of around 3hrs.

Tosco BM

Tosco is the fourth most prominent summit in the range, found about 5mi to the southeast of Peak 2,990ft. We drove back out to Midland Rd, then south to where a gravel pit is shown on the topo. Though most of the land is BLM managed, not all of it is and there was some trouble finding our way to the side road we were interested in. We drove through the refuse station (or gravel pit or whatever it was) only to run up against a gate. We then tried another option just to the north that seems to go through property run by a model airplane group complete with a small airstrip. This ended up working, but only because we had the Jeep and could follow little used tracks across a couple of washes to reach the better road we were interested in. We drove this two miles north to the mouth of a wash reaching into the range. Alternately, had we started from the pavement, it would have added about 2.5mi each way to the six mile roundtrip outing.

It was noon when we started out. The first mile up a shallow canyon was fairly easy, going over a low rise before dropping into a larger wash. This second wash was a most tedious affair that neither of us enjoyed in the least, going on for another mile over rounded rocks and crappy footing. We were happy to finally start out of the wash after an hour, finding loose class 2 slopes of the usual sort until about halfway up to the summit. The face grows steeper with some class 3 and non-obvious route-finding. We got turned back at several attempts to get higher before we found a most fortunate gully hidden behind a turn in the rock that climbs up and across significant cliffs that had caught us unexpectedly. The ramp narrowed but continued across a near-vertical stretch before opening up to more possibilities and getting us to the summit in short order, keeping the scrambling to no more than class 3. We both agreed that the wash had sucked but the scramble was a good one. Vitz had left a register in 2007 with only a single visitor, Bob Greer, signing it in early 2009. We photographed the benchmark and improving views before starting down the NW Ridge. This had some fun class 3 before reaching a saddle that offered a straightforward class 2 route down the rest of the way into the ugly wash. Braving that a second time, we then popped out onto a low ridgeline separating it from the initial wash used on the ascent, and for a change of pace we followed this ridgeline with modest ups and downs back to the Jeep. Along the way we came across a memorial cross to a Willis Cawley who had died in 2011 at the age of 80. A register here was filled with entries from family members who have come back periodically to pay him a visit.

Our 3:40p return left us with about an hour of daylight which wasn't enough to try something else so we called it a day. We spent the last hour of sunshine showering and driving some 30mi west to our next campsite found south of Wileys Rest Stop on Interstate 10. There is a state prison found three miles south of the interstate. The paved road leading to the prison gives way to a good dirt/sand BLM road heading south to Wileys Well. We drove only another 2mi to a BLM kiosk and a large turnout where we spent the night. While eating dinner we watched Meru, a mountaineering film about a most difficult Himilayan climb by Conrad Anker and pals in 2011. Watching them freeze their butts off, get trenchfoot, survive an avalanche and other hazards gave us a great appreciation for the relatively benign climbing pursuits the California desert offers. I'll take this any day of the week...

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