Amboy Crater
Mercury Mountain P500 DS
Carbonate Peak P900

Dec 10, 2015

With: Karl Fieberling

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Karl had arrived sometime during the night, joining me at the Amboy Crater parking lot off old US Route 66 in the Mojave Desert. He'd come out to join me for 4-5 days on my birthday desert trip. Others would be joining come the weekend, but for today it would be just Karl and myself.

Amboy Crater

Bob Sumner had been the one to suggest this one. Though it has little prominence, it is a named summit, has a trail leading to the top and is rather easy to boot. Unfortunately Bob had to cancel on the trip due to a family emergency and wouldn't be joining us, but we kept this one on the schedule since it was near the meeting spot and practically a freebie. The 250-foot high crater is estimated to be a relatively young 80,000 years old. In its prime, large volumes of basaltic lava split out from its crater and covered an area of more than 24 sq. miles. The BLM day use area appears to be relatively new, consisting of two paved parking areas, shaded and unshaded picnic sites and clean pit toilets of modern construction. The trail leads to the summit in about 1.5mi, crossing some rough volcanic terrain on its way. There appears to be several threads of what was once a use trail with BLM trail markers used to periodically show the preferred route of travel. The trail eventually climbs up the west side of the cinder cone where the crater was breached on that side. The use trail continues down into the crater's bottom with various branches connecting it to another use trail that circumnavigates the crater rim. The highpoint is on the south side of the feature without much to distinguish it from its surroundings. Though we had started before 7a on a Thursday morning, there were several other parties that reached it around the same time, a testament to its popularity. Our whole outing came in at almost exactly an hour.

Mercury Mountain

33mi east of Amboy Crater lies Mercury Mtn, a not-so-impressive standalone summit at the north end of the Old Woman Mtns. It is included in Zdon's Desert Summits which is what had brought it to my attention, though I can't say I'd recommend it for any other reason. We drove our cars to Essex along Route 66 where we left my van to carpool in Karl's Element. The sometimes sandy route was not difficult to manage in his medium-clearance, all-wheel drive vehicle. We drove about 10mi to the Golden Fleece mine east of the peak and hiked from there. It's fairly easy from this side (and probably every other side as well), covering less than three miles roundtrip with the first half mile along the roadway we had thought it was getting a bit too rough, but found afterwards that we could drive it all the way to the Wilderness boundary). We passed by an old, vertical mineshaft, partially boarded up, shortly after leaving the road. We headed up one of several possible ridgelines on the east side, finding some easy (and avoidable) class 3 to entertain us on what was otherwise a ho-hum ascent. Reaching the top in about 45min, we found a pair of nested red tin cans holding a MacLeod/Lilley register dating to 1984. The second entry was more than 20yrs later with most of the register's six pages filled by the usual suspects. We descended an alternate ridgeline south of the one used for ascent, dropping into a wash before finally rejoining our original route back to where we'd parked the car, taking about an hour and 45min all told.

Carbonate Peak

This summit is the second highest and third most prominent peak in the Old Woman Mtns. It is upstaged by Old Woman Mtn, a DPS summit with more than 2,000ft of prominence that lies across Carbonate Gulch from Carbonate Peak. A rough Jeep road reaches into Carbonate Gulch and the Wilderness from the west but I wasn't about to suggest we abuse Karl's Element with that effort. Instead, we approached from the north starting at the gated Wilderness boundary along the same road we had driven to Mercury Mtn. This was a far more significant effort than either of the first two peaks, more than 5mi one-way with 2,000ft of gain. It turned out to be easier than the stats would indicate because the first two miles followed an old mining road and the second two were along a wide, sandy wash that made for an easy walk. The last mile was where we earned our keep, an interesting combination of rocky gully and steeper climbing on more open slopes. The gully was somewhat brushy, particularly with catclaw that managed to draw blood as it raked across Karl's face at one point (it's not an adventure until someone bleeds). A few dry waterfalls provided some easy class 3 scrambling. It was nearly 2p before we reached the summit with a fine view of this rugged range looking both north and south. It was interesting to find that we were less than 100ft lower than Old Woman Mtn to the northwest and that several candidates to the south were of nearly the same height as ourselves - surely there was more to explore in this range.

The register we found was more interesting than that on Mercury Mtn. This one dated to 1970, left by RS Fink, a noteworthy HPS climber in decades past. More than seven pages were filled with various names until Gordon and Barbara left their entry in 1984, the day before their visit to Mercury Mtn. More pages of entries followed, 19 in all and far more than one might expect from a remote desert peak. It seems that the road in Carbonate Gulch was the starting point for many of the visitors - hunters, geologists and peakbaggers alike. Most surprising was the previous party had arrived sometime this very day, unseen by us, where it had been more than two years since the party before them. Our descent route was a modest variation, dropping off the east side of the summit and into the adjacent wash that led back out to the main wash we had come in on. The topo map shows a Sweetwater Spring along this route near the base of the mountain but we found no flowing (or sitting) water anywhere. After another long but enjoyable walk in the sandy wash, we returned to our car at the Wilderness boundary around 4:15p, not long before sunset.

It would be nearly dark before we'd driven the 10mi back to Essex and my van. After showering roadside (there are very few cars driving by this lonely stretch of Route 66), we drove north to Interstate 40 and then east to Needles where we met up with Evan for dinner. It had been nearly two year since I'd last seen Evan, even longer for Karl, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We spent the night parked northwest of Needles, at the end of a short stretch of gravel/dirt road west of the intersection of W Park Rd & River Rd, a very quiet spot as it turned out...


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