Silver Mountain East
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Today's agenda included a small collection of peaks in the Mojave Desert north of Victorville, including two P1Ks and another that comes up shy by a single foot. Five summits were located in a relatively small area around Quartzite Mtn, a collection of rocky hills tucked between the Mojave River and Interstate 15. The area has been extensively mined over a number of decades, in some cases reducing a few named summits to small shells of their former selves. Mining is still active in the area, though mostly on the west side which I steered clear of. There is a network of BLM roads in the area that give OHVs access to much of the area, particularly from the east and around Silver Mountain. The loop I had in mind would be about 11 miles in length with 2,500ft of elevation gain.
I had spent the night parked on one of the BLM dirt roads about a mile and half northeast of Quartzite. At 4,500ft in height, it was the highest summit in the area and the first one I set out for when I left the van at sunrise. I had a quick introduction to the area's mining history when I tried to follow one of the dirt roads towards Quartzite Mtn. I ended up on irregular ground that proved to be part of old mining operations that quarried a large hole and piled boulders and debris somewhat haphazardly. The rock piles were not entirely stable or safe and I was happy to get through this and onto flatter, undisturbed ground closer to Quartzite. My route followed the sloping desert floor to the base of a subsidiary ridge leading to Quartzite's NE Ridge. The hiking is fairly easy class 2 with little brush to contend with. I came across several mining boundary claims located along the ridge, though there was no sign of any active mining in the vicinity.
The summit is crowned with a series of modern communication towers. Arriving just after 8a, I found the highpoint to be about midway along the ridge amongst a pile of boulders that marked the ridgeline between two of the installations. Two local pals, David and Antonio had come up in December of 1988 and laid waste to the summit boulders with grafitti proudly proclaiming their conquest, repeating the same message on at least half a dozen boulders - each. Clowns, I thought. Being a somewhat isolated desert summit, the views in all directions were restricted only by the mass of towers and the many cables and wires strung along them.
To the west and northwest could be seen (and heard) current mining operations taking place around Grande Canyon. Macks Peak and Sparkhule Mtn are two smaller hills in that direction that have seen much activity over the years. In ordinary circumstance they probably wouldn't have been given names, but seeing how people were spending their working days digging in their bowels, it probably seemed fitting to give them a name if for no other purpose than to distinguish them as work sites. I followed the service road down the northwest and north sides of Quartzite, taking about 20 minutes to cover the two miles from Quartzite's summit to Macks Peak which lay just on the other side of shallow Grande Canyon (there isn't much "grand" about the canyon, so I have no idea why it has such a name). I visited the highpoints of Macks and Sparkhule in quick succession, not wanting to loll about the tops in case some of the quarry personnel wandered up. Neither top was at the historical highpoint of the respective peak, both having been carved up and excavated to a great extent leaving less than half the mountain remaining. It's not really a tragic story as they don't appear to have been so impressive back in the day, either.
Dispensing with the two silly summits, I turned northeast for a visit to Silver Mtn. Not really a single mountain, Silver is a collection of closely spaced hills and ridges. The highpoint is at the southwest end, less than 300ft lower than Quartzite. I crossed the desert floor once again, apparently back on BLM lands. An old, rusty claim boundary marker was found along the way, the contents of which had long disappeared. The climb via the West Ridge was straightforward, taking about 20 minutes. The highpoint was marked by a small cairn with a simple sheet of paper for a register, mine making the third entry in more than twenty years. About a mile further to the northeast is Silver Mtn East, the second most prominent point in Silver Mountain. I hadn't originally planned to pay it a visit, but I was doing well on time and enjoying the easy cross-country found here. A BLM OHV route in the middle section made it pretty easy to cover the distance between the two summits in half an hour (a poorly covered mine shaft suggested this might not be a good place for a nighttime hike). There was no register or marker found on this slightly lower point (by 40ft), just a smaller version of the cairn on the higher point. My van lay about two miles to the south over more easy terrain and I would spend the next 45 minutes on the return. Some desert blooms caught my attention as I crossed this section of desert marked by shallow dry creekbeds between gently rolling terrain, criss-crossed with OHV roads and tracks. Overall, a very pleasant outing.
Sidewinder Mtn is a 4.5 mile-long ridge separating Sidewinder and Fairview Valleys on one side from North Lucerne Valley on the other. It's highpoint is a P1K that can be accessed from either side of the ridge. Both sides have high clearance dirt roads leading to within a mile of the summit and seem of near equal difficulty. The preference on which route to use lies mainly in which way you're coming from. Since I was already on the southwest side for Quartzite, it made more sense to approach from that direction. It took about 45 minutes to drive from one trailhead to the other. I drove northeast on Stoddard Wells Rd to Johnson Rd, taking the latter east in a straight line for more than seven miles. Along the way the pavement changed to dirt road, at first quite excellent but eventually becoming more rugged and difficult for my low slung van. I got to within four miles of the summit before calling a halt. I'd rather beat up my feet than the underside of the van. One was self-healing while the other was not. Any high clearance vehicle could have made it to the end of the side road that stops a mile west of the summit.
It took an hour to cover the three miles along the dirt roads. There were more flowers in bloom on the desert floor, particularly those painted yellow. Overhead the sky was partially filled with high clouds that helped provide some relief to what otherwise might have been an overly warm noonday sun. Near the end of the road was a small concrete catchbasin for water to slake the thirst of wildlife, perhaps saving a few lives and allowing proliferation of the local fauna in the name of shooting them for sport at a later date. I headed up the slopes directly behind the turnaround at the road's end, finding no significant obstacles in the terrain or the smattering of brush that carpeted it. It took another 35 minutes to cover that last mile of cross-country to the summit at over 5,200ft. In addition to the benchmark, there was a register dating to 1994 with almost 20 pages of entries. The first eight pages are mostly taken up by two friends who had the summit to themselves in the early years. Shane Smith visited in 2002 (probably as part of his "named summits on AAA maps" quest), and a number of others since that time, including Evan Rasmussen's 2008 visit that I had expected. There was a note about the register being left to the elements, so it seems likely that much earlier visits by Smatko, MacLeod and others were lost to the weather. There are scattered remains of a wooden survey tower about the summit along with fine views to both Sidewinder Valley to the west and North Lucerne Valley to the northeast. I spent about an hour and a quarter on the return, getting back to the car not long after 3p.
Fairview Mtn lies about six miles southwest of Sidewinder, at the northeast corner of Apple Valley. Almost 1,000ft lower than Sidewinder and several hundred feet lower than Quartzite, it has a prominence that come in at just under 1,000ft. I didn't feel like I could cruise through the area for P1Ks and simply ignore it, close as it was. It turns out it was the best summit of the day, in fact the best one of the trip. Unlike the more bland summits in the area, this one is an intricate arrangement of rocky slopes and narrow, dry creekbeds, making for much scrambling fun. In fact there is very little non-scrambling about it, save for the very beginning.
I started on the southwest side of the mountain where the pavement reaches to within a mile of the summit. The Sunset Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary is located here and it was easiest to hike through the park grounds. It's an interesting place with different types of memorials, from traditional ground plaques, to aboveground condo-type arrangements (with fake rock), to custom tombs hewn into the surrounding rock. There are pools, fountains, artificial streams with bronze bighorn sheep sipping from them. By the presence of an outdoor gazebo and an old horse-drawn carraige, I guessed they do weddings and receptions here, too. I didn't appear to attract any attention as I reverently walked through the grounds, aiming for the opposite side facing Fairview Mountain. There is no fence around this side of the park, so one simply leaves the more manicured lawns and surroundings into the more rugged hillsides. It was somewhat amusing and sad at the same time to see flowers, both real and artificial strewn about the outside of the park, evidently the result of winds blowing them from where they'd been placed. The meticulous care that the park received did not extend to the wilderness 50ft away.
The mountain is a rock scramblers playground, short and simple. Almost any route could be used to get one to the summit and in point of fact I doubt any two parties have ever taken the same route. The highpoint is set back behind the main face of the mountain and without utilizing the GPS I would only have a half-wild guess as to where the highpoint was. Even with the GPS I had some trouble. Not that it mattered. It was a delightful romp up granite boulders punctuated by colorful desert flowers in spring bloom. I spent about 40 minutes in reaching the benchmark and the remains of a survey tower. This was not the highpoint, however, which was found a short distance to the southeast. From the benchmark, the highpoint appears to be a formidable class 3 effort, but in fact it's fairly easy class 3 and the opposite side is even easier class 2. I found no register at either location, look around as I may.
The descent proved even more fun than the ascent, thanks to the route I chose which followed southwest from the summit following the same course a drop of water would take in descending the mountain. There were narrow cleavages in the rock and confusing caves to clamber through. The best of these had three levels to choose from with several possibilities for descent through a jumble of huge chockstones that were collected in the narrow channel. This more interesting route was no timesaver, taking just as long for the descent as I had taken going up, but as my 14yr-old daughter might say, "Way funner!" I returned back through the memorial park and back to my car by 5:45p.
I had one other summit in the area that I was interested in for this trip, Feldspar BM (another P1K), but would not have enough time to even reach the summit before sunset. I decided to call it a day, find an out of the way place to shower and change, then spend some time online before heading to the east side of Apple Valley and the end of Loma Yucca Road where I spent the night at the western base of Feldspar BM. This was actually the second time I'd spent the night at this same locale - the previous fall I had planned to climb this summit in the morning, only to wake to the rare desert rain and low, overcast conditions that offered no views. The forecast was more promising this time...
This page last updated: Thu Dec 18 10:46:53 2014
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