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Adam and I had slept off the paved Trona Rd southeast of Ridgecrest. We were on the BLM Savoy Rd, a dirt route in the Red Mountain OHV area in the Mojave Desert. We did not get an early start for several reasons, mostly because the previous day had been a long one and we did not get to bed until late. We were also scheduled to meet up with Shane Smith at 9:30a in Ridgecrest, so could not do much beforehand. Our camp was conveniently located near the highpoint of the Summit Range, one of the very lamest excuses for a range in the state. Not only is it overshadowed on two sides by the higher El Paso Peaks and Lava Range, but it has no real discernable summit. With a mere 40ft of prominence, what passes for the HP is barely demarked by a slight dip before the terrain rises to the south into the Lava Range. All three closely spaced highpoint contenders have an OHV trail running over them, and it was with some embarassment that we discussed whether we have to get out of the car for it to "count". We drove over each in turn using the GPS to measure the relative elevations, and at what we considered the highest we opened the door on either side enough to touch our feet to the ground without actually getting out of the comfortably heated cab. We drove east to another point that looked like a contender, but concluded the highpoint was back further west to the points indicated on the map. A most silly affair.
We drove back to pick up my van. With perhaps another 45 minutes to spare, we caravanned to US395 and then dropped the van off to go explore the El Paso Mountains. The highpoint is El Paso Peaks which I had visited the year before, but Adam had not. Unfortunately I had forgotten that this one was not exactly a drive-up. We got as far as the communication towers west of Laurel Mtn before realizing we'd have to hike the remaining distance to El Paso Peaks which would easily take more time than we had remaining. Back we went. We got to Ridgecrest just before the appointed time and went into the McDonalds where we had planned to meet.
Ridgecrest is a most interesting town. Primarily supported by the adjacent China Lakes Naval Weapons Center, Matthew and I had years ago concluded that its location is at the Triple Divide of the Sierra Club lists, ideally situated for easy access to the SPS, HPS, and DPS list peaks. Unfortunately the place is unbearably hot in the summer and can be terribly cold in winter (it was 27F when we got up this morning). The town appears to be mildly prospering with some new development but also some empty locations. It is not immediately apparent that the Mervyns was closed a few years ago as the signs are all maintained and it is only the deserted parking lot during business hours that gives away the empty building. Ridgecrest has one main commercial strip along China Lake Blvd, with a secondary one running east along Ridgecrest Blvd. Despite its relatively small size, the town seems to have one of every major retailer from Walmart to Starbucks and makes for a nice urban oasis for the desert traveler. I love the place, but wouldn't want to live there.
Still, many have and do, including notable peakbaggers such as Carl Heller, Greg Vernon and others of the loosely organized Occasional Peaks Gang, whose original members worked at the Naval base. Shane, another notable peakbagger, was teaching math in Ridgecrest, having moved from the San Diego area a few years ago. He had connected with a group of hiking enthusiasts on the base that do regular lunchtime workouts to Lone Butte, a P900 inside the base. Shane had worked out arrangements to get Adam and I on the base to join them, what I thought was a unique opportunity to tag a peak on the base without poaching. We would have to pass muster with the post 9-11 security measures to gain access to the base, which is why we were meeting Shane more than an hour before the hike was actually scheduled. This turned out to be much more difficult than any of us had imagined. The problems were two-fold. Adam and I didn't really understand what the procedure was, thinking we had to go up to the main gate with Shane as our sponsor and take maybe five minutes to get a pass. This misconception caused us to be somewhat lackadaisical and we lollygagged (wait a minute and I'll think of another badly outdated word I can use in the same sentence) while Shane waited patiently to take us to the permit center. Once we got there, probably 20-30 minutes later than Shane had intended, we found the place bustling far more than usual. Mondays, it turns out, are definitely not a good day to get quickly on the base. This is the day that contractors show up to get permits to work on the base and the small building was filled with people going through the same process as ourselves. Shane signed his name into a loose-leaf binder and instructed us to take a seat as it would be some time before we were called. It was only then that I realized this was a much more serious undertaking. And archaic, too. I felt like we were in a mini version of the DMV where processing methods from the 1950s were still being used today. Every few minutes someone would come out from behind a counter to read the next name in the binder, then assign them to one of four open windows. Soldiers coming in would have priority over the rest of us (that was one of the few things that made actual sense) who were mostly sitting around watching the out-dated video of China Lake highlights which consisted of things moving at insanely fast velocities or blowing up in spectacular fashion, all of it more than 50 years old. Shane paced nervously about the small waiting room, realizing that we were cutting it very close on time while Adam and I, clueless, wondered how this place could even exist. Outside of government interference, someone like Google would have made this place far more efficient. They'd have a website or code you could text to sign into before even arriving at the permit center in place of the binder with names penned in. In fact the whole thing could probably be done online, where someone could do a thorough Internet search to find out if you're a good guy or bad guy and approve or disapprove your admission. But all that would take initiative and innovation, something the military is not particularly good at, and since there's no money in it for a private contractor to overhaul, the quaint permit process continues in much the same fashion as it has for more than half a century. Eventually I looked away from the explosions and rockets tests in the video to see that Shane looking visibly distressed. Though we'd been there almost an hour, we'd moved up only about six places in the queue and still had four in front of us. We'd never be able to get the permit and meet the others on the base when the bus leaves around 11am. So we had to give it up. Shane seemed more disappointed than Adam and myself, but I figured we (or perhaps just me - Adam didn't really care about Lone Butte) could come back at some future time - just not on a Monday.
Back at McDonalds, Adam and I decided to pay a visit to Spangler Hills just east of Ridgecrest. Not that Adam actually had much input on the decision. He hadn't even planned to join me today and was expecting to go home to Riverside to study for finals. The novelty of getting legally onto the base had been his enticement, but with that now a bust he figured he might as well hang out for the rest of the afternoon. Spangler Hills is primarily an OHV area and not of much interest to most peakbaggers. I had identified the two highest points as worthy goals, and with this in mind we drove together in the van out of town to the TH. I figured I could drive us for a change since it didn't involve miles of rough roads. We managed about a mile from the pavement before it got too much for the van. It would be about a 6-7 mile effort from where we started, not the most aggressive of our days in the desert.
Despite the forgoing mundane description, I found the hike through the Spangler Hills enjoyable. It continued to be cold all day, but the air was clear and the views stretched out around us. We visited Spangler BM first, finding a register placed by Mark Adrian and pals two years earlier. Ours was only the second entry. We then sauntered over to the range highpoint, unnamed, but marked with a spot elevation of 3,565ft on the 7.5' topo map. Unlike the Summit Range, this one felt like a true highpoint, taking in the surrounding terrain. To the east was Searles Valley, the Slate Range and snowy Telescope Peak in the background. To the west lay Ridgecrest framed by the even snowier summits of the Sierra crest. We could easily identify Lone Butte not many miles to the northwest. Mark Adrian and pals had left a register here in 2003 and paid a return visit in 2010, with half a dozen other folks signing in before and after. We got back to the van just after 2p, after which I drove Adam back to Ridgecrest where we parted. I would spend the next hour and a half driving back south out of Ridgecrest on US395, then east for 15 miles on an excellent dirt road to Blackwater Spring. I had been in this area the previous year to climb Almond Peak, but was back for a go at Pilot Knob and a few others on the Navy base. The Cuddleback Rd that I traveled took me across dry Cuddleback Lake (often used for speed runs by such enthusiasts), a decommissioned Air Force base and along the boundary of the Grass Valley Wilderness. I found a place to spend the night a few miles northeast of Blackwater Well which I reached after sunset. I would get to bed at a more reasonable hour this night, fortifying me for an early, cold start the next morning which promised to be a much tougher day...
This page last updated: Sat Dec 21 17:10:26 2013
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