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I was in Southern California with the family for my daughter's club volleyball tournament and had watched volleyball all day Friday. I would miss the next two days since I left Saturday morning at 4a to get myself to Barstow in time to meet Tom Becht and Bob Sumner to carpool onto the base. We met up with the other members of our large party at the Visitor Center just outside the gate on Ft. Irwin Rd well before the 8a meetup time. Nine of the ten who had originally signed up were there, along with two last-minute additions. One of our party was denied entrance because she had not brought her ID which was both unfortunate and capricious. None of the three in our vehicle were asked to show ID and we never took them out of our wallets the whole time we were on the base - seems she just happened to drive in the wrong vehicle and get the wrong guard checking.
Once inside, we drove to the center of the base, a small military town, and headed for Range Control. Here we filled out paperwork (the same paperwork John had us send him electronically beforehand, but apparently never got from wherever John sent them to the gal at Range Control who insisted we fill them out again). Name, Rank, Serial Number and the like, papers turned in, photocopies made, then more paperwork for our group leader, then some instructions on what not to pick up should we find them on our hike, and eventually we were allowed to go. The security check system here is pretty archaic, but as Tom points out, at least they use computers now. As we were piling into our vehicles the gal came out waving another piece of paper - John needed to sign for the paperwork (not kidding). We drove a few miles towards Tiefort from the northwest side on a good gravel/dirt road (any vehicle could manage it), parking just before reaching the gravel pit operation on the side of the mountain.
It was 9:15a when we started out, a good 45min ahead of schedule. Our route was not complicated - one starts on a powerline road running to the base of the mountain, then follows a braided use trail steeply up under the power lines. John had come prepared for some serious work, decked out in heavy gaiters and kneepads, an arrangement he remarked was for desert bushwhacking. This struck the rest of us as odd, but that's probably because we're not from New Mexico. Like Arizona, the desert there is far greener (and brushier) due to monsoonal rains in the summertime. California deserts are the driest in the country and have almost no significant brush. In any event, the heavy gear combined with a black shirt did not help John with the heat we would experience today.
Our group stretched out as we made our way up the steep ridgeline on the north side. Tom was leading the charge, with myself, Bob and Patrick close on his heels. The others were various distances behind. About halfway up we stopped to wait for the others, not really sure what the protocol was - that wasn't discussed that I remember, or if it was, I wasn't paying attention. But it certainly wasn't the Sierra Challenge, an Every Man and Woman for Themselves sort of thing, and I guessed the base folks would like us to stay together or at least within sight. Yet when John came up behind the four frontrunners, he continued up after calling in to Range Control with a status report (yes, they provided a walkie talkie and insisted we check in each hour). So I guessed it wasn't all that critical to stay together.
We followed John in not waiting for the others, then continued up to the main crest where we arrived around 10:30a. It was getting very warm now and there wasn't a lick of breeze to help cool us. We sought shade on the side of one of the shacks found there to service the communication antennae. The highpoint was still about 3/4 mile further east but we'd done the steepest part of the route. We waited for the entire group to catch up here, taking about half an hour for the last to arrive, meanwhile kabitzing, snacking and generally enjoying some fine views. We started off again almost as soon as Laura joined us, "You don't have to wait for me!" I explained we just missed her smiling face.
The braided trail continues to the highpoint. One can follow a branch under the power lines overhead or follow others adjacent to cables that lie on the ground across the ridgeline. The additional elevation gain here isn't much, perhaps 300ft or so. With the summit in view for the rest of the route, Tom set a pretty strong pace that I was working hard to match. I commented about it with something like, "You trying to set a record?", to which Tom's defense was, "Every time I slow down you're right on my heels so I figured I wasn't going fast enough!" We reached the summit at 11:30a, well ahead of even Bob and Patrick. We explored the communication installations found here, wondering if we'd be able to find the benchmark. We climbed to the top of an observation platform to take in more views, but it was too hot and cramped up there to stay while waiting for the others. Down below again, I eventually found the benchmark - seems the crew building the installation dug it up with the encasing concrete and left it on the walkway. Too bad the benchmark itself was so battered as to be unreadable.
It would be another 30min before we had all ten of us at the summit. We found the highpoint to be the NW of two closely spaced rock outcrops. No register was located at either summit. Before starting down we assembled our team for a group photo, an effort that was repeated because Patrick was unable to find a seat before the 10-sec timer went off (I didn't save the photo with a good shot of his butt).
The descent naturally went faster. Starting off last, I was a good distance behind Tom, Bob and Patrick before I was again ahead of the slower folks. As I watched the three reascending the ridge to the first installation site, I turned right and dropped into a gully for a more direct return to the cars. It wasn't a particularly great route, but the rock was mostly solid after the first 100ft of crappy talus and there were some sections of easy class 3 at a few short dry waterfalls that were encountered. The gully becomes a wash which then leads to the gravel pit. From there I walked the road back down to the cars where I arrived just after 1:30p. Tom and Patrick were about 15min behind, coming down the original ascent route. They had waited the same 15min for me at the installation before descending, wondering what had become of me but guessing I had taken a different route down. They had kept an eye out and wondered how I had eluded them, not guessing that I was out of sight in the gully. It would be another 45min before the rest of our crew had descended. The heat had taken its toll and several were not feeling so good. The hike to Brown Mountain the next day no longer seemed like a fine idea. But today's hike had been a success as we all managed the summit (minus those of us that forgot IDs) and a safe return.
We checked back in at Range Control to return the walkie talkie before splitting up and returning our various ways. Bob and I had planned to join the others for Brown the next day, but neither of us wanted to make that long drive just for Brown. We would table it for another time. We poured over some atlases I had in mmy van to see if we couldn't come up with an alternative for the following day. The expected return of high temps did not produce anything the two of us could get excited about. We ended up parting ways. Bob headed to Primm to climb Little Devil (which I had climbed a few months earlier) while I headed to Tecopa to climb some peaks that Bob had climbed years ago. I ended up parked at Tecopa Pass where I had some trouble sleeping due to warm temps. Moths were in abundance flying around outside, keeping me from leaving the doors and windows open. No doubt about it - April is not the time to be in the desert...
This page last updated: Sun Apr 26 21:46:00 2015
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