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Camped at a turnout where the dirt road heads east to the Palen Mtns, Evan and I awoke to find the weather decidedly changed. Blue skies with occasional clouds had given way to complete overcast, poor visibility and the threat of rain. It came as a surprise only because one doesn't expect precipitation in the desert, but of course we know that even the desert gets some rain. We decided not to do the longer outing to the Palen Mountains because we weren't certain we'd be able to negotiate the dirt road return should it really start to rain. Instead we decided on the relatively short outing to the highpoint of the Big Maria Mountains just to the east of us. This involved a bumpy, but thankfully short drive to the trailhead along a beat-up dirt road that follows some powerlines. We made it only as far as the 2WD spot indicated in the DPS guide, deeper ruts in the wash making further driving unadviseable.
It was after 7a before we started out, following the route from the DPS guide. The later than usual start was of little concern since it didn't seem likely we would be doing a second peak for the day, and this one was only about eight miles roundtrip with less than 3,000ft of gain. After following the road north for a mile and half, we turned right into the canyon at the indicated pole (conveniently numbered both for the telephone repairmen as well as peakbaggers), and started up. At the first fork, only a short distance into the canyon, we turned left and got off route (we were supposed to have taken the right fork). It took us a good deal of time to realize this. In fact, we had climbed all the way to the ridge above, couldn't find the highpoint we were looking for, and only after following the ridge for some distance did I realize what we had done wrong. The rain did not hold off as we'd hoped, starting to come down in a light drizzle as we started up the canyon. It would stop and start for the next several hours, at times heavy enough to have us grabbing for our rain jackets, other times just light enough to be a nuisance. The rocks were wetted through and we had to be careful when clambering over some of the slabby sections as well as a few talus fields encountered along the way.
It was only after climbing up and over Pt. 2,546ft that we could see the higher summit. In fact, there are three points in the range, each about a mile apart, that are all within a foot of each other in vying for the highpoint. We had started up the lower one to the south before spotting the correct one further north. It was cold on the ridgeline connecting these two summits, the wind blowing up from the east and creating clouds and mist about the summit area, more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest than of the Southern California desert. It was 10a before we reached the top, the DPS register assuring us that we'd gotten to the correct summit. The third summit, yet further north, actually looked more impressive than the one we stood upon, but neither of us had any desire to chase after it in the current weather conditions.
Retracing our steps, we dropped down into the DPS canyon a little earlier than indicated on the map, but the route worked just as well. Other than the usual caution on wet rock, there were no real impediments to our descent and we made decent time getting back, just before 12:30p.
I was to meet Matthew again the following day to climb a few DPS peaks in Arizona, so I said goodbye to Evan (only for a day it as it turned out, since he joined us again the following day to climb Little Picacho), and headed for Blythe. I'd had enough of the wet weather and wanted a hot shower and a comfortable bed for the night, the local Motel 6 filling this role nicely.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Big Maria Mountain
This page last updated: Thu Apr 24 09:33:47 2008
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