Peak 3,192ft P900
North Iron BM P500
Iron Mountain P1K DS

Sat, Nov 8, 2014
Iron Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


On the third day of my desert road trip I was targetting the Iron Mountains, a small range in the Mojave Desert north of SR62 and NE of Joshua Tree NP. I had made an effort to reach the range highpoint from the east side a year earlier, but had been kicked out by security personnel for the Metropolitan Water District. The Colorado River aqueduct runs through a 7.5mi tunnel directly through the range (and almost directly under the highpoint). A pumping station on the east side of the range raises water several hundred feet to allow it to flow downhill through the tunnel and then another 34mi to the next pumping station. As part of this station, the Water District owns the roads and some of the surrounding property found on the east side and don't look fondly on trespassers - at least that was my experience in 2013. On the west side I was happy to find a sign indicating a private right-of-way road running alongside the aqueduct, but public access still permitted. I used this excellent dirt road to drive some 4.5mi north of SR62 which would get me not only close enough to the highpoint, but close enough to a P900 at the north end of the range. I would make a large loop of the day to tag the three highest summits in the range, covering some 18mi. Though the elevation gain and mileage would be similar to the previous day's effort, this one would have less walking across the desert floor and more cross-country along the spine of the range itself.

Starting at 7a, I spent the first hour walking north across the desert flats. Unlike yesterday's outing in BLM Wilderness, this area has no such protection and it appears that one can drive almost where one likes. Still, the roads I came across were old and I didn't see any recent tracks, at least from vehicles. I did see plenty of animal tracks - birds, lizards, small rodents, snakes, rabbits and some larger ones, either deer or sheep. Most of the activity must take place at night when temperatures are cooler as I didn't see much out during the daytime. I had originally planned to hike another 2-3 miles further north to approach the northernmost peak from the west via a broad wash found on that side, but after that first hour I decided that was enough. I had gotten to the base of a ridgeline that looked like it would make a fine alternate and up I went.

Atop the first small rise I found the remains of an old survey tower and a 1932 triangulation station placed by the Metropolitan Water District, undoubtedly during the survey for the aqueduct. This is marked as the CADIZ BM on the 7.5' topo map. Above this the ridgeline continued, a mix of broken rock with sparse desert scrub making for enjoyable and easy cross-country even if not all that exciting. For the most part I found the rock on this range better than that of the two ranges yesterday, the rock being less coarse and crumbly. In all I spent a little over two hours climbing more than 2,000ft up the ridgeline over almost 4mi. There were some small drops along the way and the middle section isn't well-defined, but there were no real route-finding issues.

The summit of Peak 3,192ft features a modest cairn that has become home to some nesting rodents, but I was unable to find a register of any sort. To the north across the desert rise the Old Woman Mountains. In the broad desert valley is the dry Danby Lake with some salt evaporators seen at its west end. To the south stretches the length of the Iron Mountains. I could make out the location of the highpoint 4mi SSE, but it looked much further than that due to the rugged terrain filling the space in between. On the crest of the range to the left of the highpoint was another summit that looked to be worth visiting. Later I found this was North Iron, the second highest peak in the range and sometimes mistaken for the range highpoint. I had planned to follow a route that utlized the drainages and dry canyons, but from my perch atop Peak 3,192ft it seemed like a route following the crest wouldn't be too bad at all, and would allow me to tag North Iron as well.

I spent the next several hours and then some traveling southeast to North Iron. The route was about as straightforward as it had looked and the cross-country travel even easier. There is a large side canyon SE of Peak 3,192ft that needs to be gotten around, but after that the terrain becomes more gentle and its easy to lose one's self in thought without worring about loose or steep terrain. Just north of the summit I had spied a pole on my way up from the west, causing me to make a slight diversion to the north, thinking the rod marked the highpoint. It turned out to be an antenna for an instrument no longer in service with North Iron now obviously higher 1/8mi to the south. Andy Smatko had left a register scrap in 1973 that was signed by a few additional parties before MacLeod left a better register in 1984. The summit did not see many visitors after that - Richard Carey in 1994, Guy Dahms and Evan Rasmussen in 2009. I did not find the North Iron BM, but there were the remains of another wooden survey tower.

The route between North Iron and the range highpoint along the crest is not long at just over a mile and a half, but there are several sharp intermediate summits that look like they could be some trouble. As luck would have it, the sheep that frequent the range had solved this issue long ago, having created a series of quite handy use trails that nicely skirt these troublesome spots. As a result it took barely an hour to make the traverse between the two highpoints which turned out to be the highlight of the day's outing. The register found here was placed by MacLeod in 1984, two weeks after leaving the one on North Iron. I'm guessing he was the first to mistake North Iron for the highpoint. Evan Rasmussen repeated the same error more recently, but took more than a year to correct it. This register was more popular with 11 pages filled, about 1 page for every three years. Incredibly, the most recent entry had been made earlier in the day by Don Raether and I probably missed running into him only because I had spent most of the day chasing down the range highpoints #3 and #2. I looked around to see if I might see him retreating off somewhere, but all was still. No surprise that he'd be long gone - it was after 1:30p, a little late in the day with only about 3hrs before sunset.

Had I been to the highpoint an hour or more earlier, I might have considered continuing SW along the crest another 2.5mi to Pt. 945m before dropping west down to my starting point. Not wanting to get back in the dark and feeling the effects of a long day already, I chose instead to head west down a much shorter section of ridgeline that dropped me into the dry wash west of the highpoint. Though steep in places, there was nothing particularly difficult in this effort that took about an hour. Once in the wash, I had a little more than three miles of hiking which took up another hour. As I neared the aqueduct I found many acres of what look to be piles of gravel - probably the dumpings from when the aqueduct was excavated. I came across an abandoned campsite just before I reached the van. Persons unknown had driven a collection of vehicles out here to spend some time in the desert drinking, shooting, and then a lot more drinking. They left behind the remains of a shade pop-up, manequins and other items riddled with holes, an empty chest of drawers, boxes of empty beer bottles and, oddly, two storage bins of Playboys dating to the early 1990s in at least three languages, among other items. It had redneck written all over it...

Back at the car a few minutes later, it was now almost 4p. In summer this might give me three or four more hours of daylight, but not so much in November. By the time I had showered, driven back out to SR62 and south on SR177 about 20mi, the sun had set. I left the highway to head west on another Metropolitan Water District road used to service the aqueduct as it tunnels through the Coxcomb and Eagle Mountains. This road was not nearly as good as the one for the Iron Mtns and by the time I had driven 4mi it had grown quite dark. I would spend the night here on the edge of Joshua Tree NP south of the Coxcomb Mtns for a hike I planned in these mountains for the next morning. It was a lonely, quiet spot to while away the evening. It was somewhat surprising to find I had cell coverage out here, though I had none anywhere on the highway. Go figure...


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Don Raether comments on 11/26/14:
Sorry I missed you on Iron Bob. I hiked in from the borrow pit on the east side. I didn't realize this was a closed area & I didn't see anyone on my drive in. On returning to my car in the afternoon I called home to check in and my wife told me the MWD security had called her. I leave a contact number in the windshield. They wanted to tow the car, but my wife convinced them to leave it. They said they would be checking later to see that I had left. A steep climb up to the ridge, but nice hike.
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