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I was up early, before sunup, but not for the usual reason to get started on a long hike. The family had a 6a flight back to San Jose, so I needed to drive them to the Las Vegas airport by 5a. Tom and Bill decided to climb something closer to their drive home (Mt. Clark along Interstate 15, in California) in order to get back home that evening in some shape to go to work the next day. That left me by myself. Jobless, and with an extra day to burn, I planned to climb Stirling today and then Tipton on Monday before driving myself back to California. Mt. Stirling is not a difficult hike, nor a very impressive mountain by almost any standard, with the possible exception of the DPS which has this relatively modest summit on its peak list. I would be somewhat handicapped with having to approach the peak without the aid of a high clearance vehicle.
It was a somewhat tedious affair driving in some six miles from US95 along the dirt road, following the directions in the DPS guide. It had apparently been some time since a vehicle with so little clearance had tried to drive the road as I found it necessary to get out more than a dozen times to clear too-large rocks from the roadbed. I came across several horses during the drive that seemed to care little about my presence and I figured they were part of someone's ranch, but later I found they have wild horses in this range and these were likely part of that group. I managed to cross the first of two washes before giving up the effort to drive further - it looked a bit much for the van were I too continue. It didn't help that I was somewhat confused by the roads not matching the written description (as I interpreted them), so I found a place to park while yet some three miles from the standard trailhead. No matter, a nice little hike across the desert.
I started off along the wrong route without the benefit of a map. I hadn't planned to climb Stirling on this trip originally, so I hadn't done the proper beta gathering ahead of time. The night before I had studied the map online and got a coordinate for the summit to enter into my gps. This last bit of info turned out to be the most helpful. Because the summit is not obvious from the surrounding terrain, it was useful to get a bearing and I was able to start correcting my misstart within about 15 minutes of leaving the car. I headed cross-country through some modest brush for about a mile and a half before I finally intercepted the correct road that leads to the TH, and a bit more than an hour after starting out I was at the DPS TH.
I followed the now deteriorating road south up a canyon east of the peak. I looked for a cairn or something marking a use trail heading west up the slopes on that side of the canyon, but I didn't find anything. I eventually just chose to head up a subsidiary ridge at a location that looked to have the least underbrush. Some recent snow lingered on the ground, but there was not enough to be even a nuisance for the balance of the hike. For a desert peak, Stirling is fairly well wooded and the trees help to keep the underbrush from getting too thick. Still, it was necessary to take a circuitous route around the various thickets of brush, all the while I kept hoping to run across a beaten path which never materialized. It took an hour to climb the slopes out of the canyon to the summit ridge and another ten or fifteen minutes to reach the summit further to the southwest along the ridge.
The sun was out but a cold wind was blowing in from the west. It had been fine while climbing the east slopes, but now I was blasted by the chill blowing in over the summit ridge. I ducked behind some rocks to examine the register contents that dated back to 1968. The views were hazy in most directions, dust blown up by the winds lower down. Mt. Charleston was just visible to the southeast with desert views in the other directions. I imagine one can see many of the Death Valley ranges and perhaps to the Sierra beyond on a clear day, but not so today.
I spent another hour making my way back down the slopes on the east side, still not finding anything like a use trail and having to make due with vestiges of animal trails and circuitous meandering to avoid the brush. The weather and travel were much nicer when I returned to the road, the wind having died down and the sun pleasantly warming the cold desert basin. It wasn't until 1p that I returned to the car and another hour before I returned to the highway. With only a few hours' daylight remaining I decided to call it a day and didn't persue any more peaks. I spent the next hours driving back to Las Vegas, showering at the KOA, and then driving into AZ and the TH for Tipton. This was the third time I had driven to Dolan Springs over the past week and hopefully would finally get a chance to climb Tipton after our misadventures with the flat tires on Bill's car. I slept soundly in the back of the van at the TH that night, planning an early start for the morning...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Stirling
This page last updated: Sun Jan 3 10:16:32 2010
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