Sat, Dec 8, 2012
I now had five others joining me in the middle of my nine day desert trip and one of the requests I'd had beforehand was to *not* have the usual generous helpings of driving from one area to the next between days. I had brought us to Hole-in-the-Wall in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve because I had found enough summits to keep us busy for two full days without hardly driving at all. Not all of the summits were named, and not all of them were very good, but most had been climbed by Matthew and CP a few years back. They were in turn inspired by an Andy Smatko TR from the early 1970s, all of which seemed good enough reason for me to follow suit. Today's four summits were all located on the east side of Black Canyon Road, and included a range highpoint, a P1K, and some class 3 scrambling. We left my van at the north end of the area in the early morning, reconvening at the Visitor Center where we'd begin our hike. This would allow us to make a one-way hike, with options to cut out early at the intermediate summits. Karl and I found the others at the Visitor Center when we arrived around 6:20a. This would not be the 6a start I had advertised, which perplexed those not used to a late start when I'm around. I knew Laura would want to enjoy her morning coffee and was not to be rushed. The distance was not long today, and I figured we'd have plenty of time. So it wasn't until after 7a before breakfast was packed away, our day packs were shouldered, and we were on our way.
Across the highway is the entrance to the group camp area and the government housing for the NPS employees. We turned off on an little-used road before passing either of these, going instead past an abandoned home that looks like it was occupied at one time, though never completely finished. Possibly it was a modern version of a miner's cabin, but it has long been left to decay at the hands of the elements and vandals. We left the road and crossed the wide Black Canyon Wash, turning to follow the sand and gravel wash for about a mile to the southeast as it swept around the southwest side of the Woods Mtns. After rounding a buttress between Rustler and Grass Canyons, our first peak of the day came into view, Tortoise Shell Mtn. It is one of the weaker peaks in the area, but also one of the few with an official name. Since Matthew and CP had thought to climb it, so it seemed should we.
Leaving the wash, we traversed across the rocky volcanic slope towards our peak. Cacti in various forms grow in modest numbers throughout the area, though not nearly as prolificly as the nearby Providence Mountains. We would have to be careful to watch where we stepped, but overall the cross-country was no great difficulty. "Pleasant" would be a more accurate adjective to describe it. From the wash we had not seen that Burro Canyon cuts through the slope leading to Tortoise Shell. This would involve a short bit of down climbing, though nothing tricky. There was some looking at maps and contours and discussion about which route was the more direct, but this mattered little - it was just a small canyon to cross in order to get on with the business of climbing Tortoise Shell. Our little band of six took almost two hours at a leisurely pace to reach the easy summit.
A register had been left in 1996 by Mark Adrian and a second one by MacLeod/Lilley in 2006. The peak seems to be climbed about once a year. Shane Smith had visited it in 2009 as part of his AAA Roadmap tour - climbing all the highpoints depicted on the AAA maps. Was Tortoise Shell really one of these points? This seems hard to believe. Unfortunately I don't have a San Bernardino AAA map to check this, and couldn't find one online. Perhaps someone reading this can check their own map collection and let me know for curiosity's sake. CP and Matthew's entry from 2010 was there, though CP had aliased himself as Marco Esquandolas, which itself is an alias for Mark Daubert, the drummer for the band Phish which I would never have known without the wonder that is the Internet. The Wiki article made no mention as to why CP would use this to sign the register. The most recent entry is by Rebecca and David whose TR I later found online when searching for Tortoise Shell Mountain. Interestingly, they visited some cool petroglyphs nearby that we knew nothing about and never saw on our visit.
From Tortoise Shell's summit, we next set our sights on the highpoint of the Woods Mtns about 2.5mi to the northwest. This involved more uphill cross-country following the indistinct ridgeline between Burro Canyon and the adjacent, unnamed canyon to the east. Portions are made easier by the fine burro trails that can be found criss-crossing the region. Characteristic poop piles are found periodically along the way. The last mile grows steeper and our party split up at this point, with Sean leading up a face far to the right ("leading" is a bit misrepresentative - no one actually followed him out that way), myself and most of the others sticking to the left and climbing up through a few easy cliff bands to the east of Pt. 1,675m. As is often the case, Sean's swift scrambling skills made up for any difficulties his route choice might have otherwise made, allowing him to reconvene with the others without losing any time or distance on the rest of us. The two highpoints are found half a mile apart. The SW summit, only two feet higher, is not obvious unless you happen to have a GPS with the proper coordinate (I did). Four of us got to the summit about ten minutes before 11a, with Karl a few minutes back and Laura no longer in sight. She was eventually spotted by Tom climbing halfway to the lower NE summit (guess who didn't have a GPS?). Tom shouted over to her, an unitelligible shout was returned, and eventually our party of six was again back together.
The register found at the summit was a bit of a gem, left in 1970 by RS Fink, of the Angeles Sierra Club (he has an HPS peak named after him in the San Jacinto Mtns). Most of the entries seem to be from park employees (dating from after 1994 when the area came under the custodianship of the NPS). Others are hunters, geology and botany students and of course the usual collection of peakbaggers. Ours was a nice perch atop this small range with views off in all directions. We sat on the slabby south side to take a break out of the wind (which wasn't so much high velocity as it was chilly) and in the sun. There is a good view of Hole-in-the-Wall CG and Barber Peak to the west with the much higher Providence Mtns behind them. To the north was the distinctive shape of Table Top, our last peak for the day. We were not quite halfway through the day and it was time to be moving along. Laura was having blister problems and decided to call it a day, descending down the west side of the range (with a handful of interesting cliff bands to negotiate which she reported as, well, "interesting"). The rest of us turned our attention north and getting back down out of the Woods Mountains.
We found at the uppermost cliff band extending around to the north side and this proved to be a little tricky to get through. I watched Sean and Jen drop down a small chimney before making a final class 4-ish move to the easier ground below before following them. Karl and Tom simply moved further east along the cliff band and found a much easier way through. More vegetated than the other sides, the north side sported thicker brush and even some trees, but almost no cacti. We dropped into a small drainage that provided a little bit of fun canyon scrambling, making our way about halfway down that side of the range before moving right out of the canyon and onto easier slopes that we took to the flats below. We reached a road on the north side of Woods Mtns shortly before 12:30p, a fiberglass signpost indicating the Wilderness boundary. This road goes east to Woods Wash where I suspect the petroglyphs can be found.
Our next peak was scheduled to be the highpoint of Twin Buttes, lying between the road and Table Top further north. We knew the highpoint was the northernmost of the two buttes, and the others had assumed we would hike west around the southern butte to tackle the northern one. Knowing we had plenty of daylight left, I had other plans and announced that I was going to climb the southern butte first. The others of the less-will persuasion might have mutinied had I not had a few eager takers who I had more easily convinced it would provide some good scrambling. It also helped that I held the keys to the vehicle that would take us back at the end of the day. We followed the road northeast for a short distance before leaving it to follow a fenceline up to the base of the southern butte where things get steeper. Once again our party split up as we began to ascend the south side, characterized by some huge boulders that made for some fun scrambling as advertised. Sean and Jen were out in front tackling one line while I was somewhere in the middle to the east of them, Tom and Karl somewhere below out of view. Jen and Sean were the first to arrive at the rocky summit shortly after 1p, the rest of us following soon after.
There were only three parties to sign the tiny register before us, starting with Smatko's party in 1969. He dubbed this summit "Woota Peak" and the northern summit "Tawoo Peak". An NPS ranger had visited in 1994 and CP had done so, sans Matthew, in 2010. Our party of five had doubled the number of visitors in one fell swoop. Getting off the north side of the southern butte was easy enough. A loud, braying burro that was grazing on the saddle between the two buttes was not happy with our approach. When its loud display failed to deter us (in fact it may have gone unnoticed if it had just stayed quiet), it took off towards the east, looking back once or twice to see if we might not have changed our minds (we hadn't). It took only half an hour to make it from one summit to the other. The hardest part was the last 80ft or so up the south side of the northern butte. Sean was there again first, myself second via a variation that went class 3. Spotting Jen below, Sean suggested she try the "interesting" direct line up. It was probably closer to class 4 and a bit spicy, but she made it without incident. Tom and Karl came up to the base of rock in turn, after which I directed them to the easier route I had taken to the east. Bringing up the rear, Karl was beginning to show a lttle wear as he sat down to take a drink. Only one more to go...
The register on the northern butte was similar to the previous one, found in the small film cannister favored by Smatko back in the day. CP and Matthew's entry 41 years after Smatko had left the register was the only other one until our arrival. After a short break we left the summit via some class 3 scrambling off the easier north side, enroute to our final peak, Table Top. It would take us another hour to get to Table Top, which aside from the initial scrambling off the north side of Twin Buttes had no particular difficulties. The plateau atop Table Top was an eerie, other-worldly scene. Trees had grown across the top in the past, but a not-too-distant fire had burned across the terrain leaving little besides the charred remains of the trees. The highpoint was found at the northwestern end of the plateau just before it drops off in a cliff band on that side. A register found in a small cairn was fairly busy for a desert peak, probably because it is the highest summit in the area. Less than a mile away on the north side is a small community of private homes that Evan and I had used on an ill-fated attempt to reach the summit earlier in the season (a homeowner had run us out). Black Canyon Road lay about two miles to the west.
It took us until almost 4p to find our way back to the road and the van we had left there. Getting off the summit of Table Top worked out to be no more than class 2, though the cliff band at the top had looked like it might pose a problem. Turns out the West Ridge dropping down from the summit took care of this little problem quite nicely and we found ourselves soon enjoying a nice jaunt across the flats of Gold Valley. There was some fencing and cattle from a nearby ranch that we encountered shortly before finding the road, but they proved no more impediment than the cacti (which were largely absent north of the Woods Mtns) had earlier. We had maybe half hour of daylight left which gave barely enough time to drive back to the campground and to get a lukewarm shower before the evening chill set in.
Having gotten back hours earlier, Laura had begun preparing the anticipated birthday burger feast. I had tried to keep things simple when she asked what I wanted for a birthday dinner, not dreaming she'd go to the length of baking her own hamburger buns and other "extras." Along with roasted asparagus, homemade backed beans, she had prepared a potato dish and two types of burgers - the cow flesh lovers variety and the white meat, turkey variety - no room for vegetarians at this one, sorry. We even had a campfire to go along with wine and song (ok, no song) and great food which all would have been that much better if it hadn't been so damned cold out. Though I had four layers on, I was still cold and had to sneak away for half an hour at one point to warm myself inside the van. I can really be a wuss that way...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Table Top
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