Brown Buttes East
Peak 3,694ft P300
Brown Buttes West
Horse Hills HP P300

Mon, Nov 13, 2017

With: Karl Fieberling
Matt Yaussi

Horse Hills HP
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4


This was supposed to be an exploratory climb to a cool feature called White Fang in the Granite Mtns off Kelbaker Rd in the Mojave Desert. That didn't happen because we got stopped by a fence. It's not often that wire strung between wooden posts stops me, but this one had the right wording to get me to turn back. Instead, it ended up being a collection of short, easy hikes. Nothing special per se, but then almost any walk in the desert is special in my book.

Brown Buttes

These low hills are located just south of I-40 and the Mojave National Preserve off Kelbaker Rd. We'd spent the night camped nearby and got up in the morning to drive about a mile northeast on a sandy dirt road towards Peak 3,694ft, just east of Brown Buttes. We were stopped by a locked gate and parked. The road continues to wind its way to the summit where an array of cell and microwave towers are located. We walked the road only a short distance before taking a more direct route to the summit up the northwest side, an effort that took all of 20min. We were happy to find the highest point was above the towers and unmolested, with nice views all around, just after sunrise. Our descent was a slight variation with modest scrambling over mostly broken rock and talus. We then repositioned the car to climb Brown Buttes East from the southeast side, another 20min effort. Our campsite was only slightly further from the summit than Matt's car, so Karl and I descended off the summit to the southwest, getting back to our vehicles in roughly the same time it took Matt to retrieve his car and meet us there. Brown Buttes West is located on the other side of Kelbaker Rd, so after repositioning our vehicles we started off to tag that one, about 3/4mi to the west up standard class 2 slopes to the top. Karl made a feeble attempt to reconstruct the survey tower we found lying about the summit area, but a lack of wire, skills and motivation doomed his effort almost from the start. We had the preliminaries dispensed with before 9a and set off for the more interesting goal of the day.

White Fang

White Fang is a granite outcrop low on the southeast side of the Granite Mtns, about 5mi north of I-40. From the satellite views it appears to be a tricky climb, so we came prepared with rope, rock shoes and other gear. I didn't really have a full rack since Scott had provided that for Old Woman Statue a few days earlier (and had since gone home), but I had a handful of cams, biners and slings and figured we'd see what we could manage. We parked to the east just off Kelbaker Rd and headed east towards the obvious feature. It was not disappointing and looked like a tough bit of climbing from the views we'd gotten on the approach drive. I didn't give us much hope, but it seemed like a fun little bit of exploring and less than a mile from the road. We weren't out more than 10min when we abruptly came upon barbed-wire fence signed for No Trespassing and Ecological Study Area. It was the latter than disrupted our train and got us to turn around without getting closer than half a mile to our objective. Later, I found this is state property managed by UC Riverside, something called the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. There is a small collection of buildings tucked into the hills about a mile west of White Fang that are rented out for educational research projects. Recreational use of the land is prohibited, and this specifically includess climbing activities. We'd have to leave it to other scofflaws to find out just how difficult White Fang is. The feature is almost dead center within the study area, so there's no backdoor way to reach it without going through the state property.

Horse Hills

With our plans dashed, we went back to the vehicle and began a quick study for something else to do since I had no more pre-planned summits in my pocket. We hit upon the Horse Hills, a small collection of bumps between the Granite Mtns and the Providence Mtns. We drove north on Kelbaker Rd and then turned off on the dirt road towards Arroweed Spring, the starting point for the southern highpoint of the Providence Mtns, a P2K. We were hoping to take another dirt road southeast towards the Horse Hills, but found it signed for No Vehicles, now apparently within the Mojave Wilderness. Interestingly, the road, now trail, showed signs of heavy foot traffic, though to what purpose we couldn't tell. There was even some trail work done for erosion purposes. We speculated about the foot traffic, thinking maybe there were petroglyphs somewhere in the area, but we never did discover where the traffic was headed to. We followed the road/trail for almost two miles, an easy walk albeit sometimes sandy, until we were within 1/3mi of the Horse Hills HP at a point where the road goes over a low pass. The climb proved nothing special, similar to the ones we'd done earlier in the morning. The summit had a register first left by John Vitz in 2001. Terry Flood had visited in 2010. Barbara Lilley had left a second register in 2011 with Richard Carey visiting shortly thereafter. That was the sum total of the entries before we arrived. We debated whether to tack on Peak 5,462ft, a little more than a mile to the north as a bonus peak. It was going to be a good deal more effort than the one we had just done and we all seemed to be pretty wishy-washy. We were all willing to go there if someone expressed a desire to do so, but no one wanted to make the call. I think we were all thinking about the long drive home at this point, so in the end we left it for another day. Seemed like there was no point in climbing a peak if our collective heart wasn't in it. We got back to Matt's car by noon to finish the day. Lots of driving ahead, for Karl and I especially, and it would be well after dark before I got back to the Bay Area that night. A fun five days...

Matt's Video

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