Brown Mountain P2K
Brown BM 2x
Crystal Hills P300

Dec 13, 2018
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Brown BM previously climbed Dec 8, 2013


Day 13 of my desert roadtrip was set aside for some unfinished business. Brown Mtn is a P2K in the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, a sprawling military reservation south of Death Valley National Park. What need would the Navy have for desert realstate is answered in their name - a fun place to blow stuff up. Most of the testing occurs in the western half of the reservation while the eastern portion, which includes Brown Mtn, seems to have been used for aerial warfare exercises. Casings and clips from 50 calibre shells can be found scattered about the place. Nothing looks to have been actually used for bombing practice outside a few designated aerial target areas in some of the remote valleys. There's no easy way to get to Brown Mtn, with the shortest approach about 8mi from the east. An unpaved NPS road runs some 40mi from SR127 north of Baker, CA to the park/reservation boundary to the west. The first 23mi of this road are in excellent condition, leading to a gate on the north side of Ft. Irwin (an army reservation adjacent to China Lake on its east side). After this point, the road becomes rougher, but never too rough - any high-clearance vehicle should be able to navigate it. Periodic washouts and old ruts can keep it challenging, however. I had driven this road some years ago with Adam when we climbed what we thought was Brown Mtn. It was only upon returning home and looking more closely at the maps that I discovered we'd climbed to the nearby benchmark instead. The true highpoint is another quarter mile to the west, an easy 10-15min walk, but somehow it never occurred to us that the other point was worth considering - after all, we'd found the benchmark and a large cairn. In true obsessive fashion, I couldn't call that good enough and let it go, so back I came. I drove the 40mi in a little under 2hrs the night before, camping at the turnout where the road turns north (towards Owl BM) and an old road continues east to the reservation. I was up before 5:30a, warmed the jeep, breakfasted, and was finally on my way around 6a. I walked down the old road, now used primarily by the ferral burros and horses, about 1.2mi to the Davis gate on the eastern boundary of the reservation. The road continues on the other side of the gate down to a north-south road in about 0.6mi. This other road appears to see only occasional traffic, judging by the faint tread markings on the road. I continued west across the road, cross-country over easy, pleasant terrain, aiming for Brown Mtn, easily visible before me. The ground is fairly flat with few washes to cross until one is north of the Crystal Hills and nearing the base of Brown Mtn. Here there are a number of washes to cross, a few of them 20-30ft deep, but none really difficult. The sun came up while I was working my way across this wash system, first lighting up Brown Mtn to the west, then Crystal Hills to the north, then the desert flats around me when it finally crested the eastern ridgeline.

Once at the base of Brown Mtn on its northeast side, I was still almost three miles from the summit. There is significant gain, more than 2,200ft of it, but the ridgeline is fairly moderate for the ascent. It makes for an enjoyable climb with fine views overlooking a vast array of mountains and valleys, even if there's no real scrambling anywhere on the route. It was after 9a when I finally reached the summit, this time homing in on the correct point to the west. There was a small cairn with a register left in 2003 by a couple of San Diego peakbaggers. The three pages were taken up by a collection from the usual suspects, though most chose to obfuscate their real names (I think I was able to guess all of them). Other notable peaks within the military bases could be discerned - Straw Peak to the southwest, Pilot Knob and Eagle Crags to the south, Tiefort to the southeast. The Panamint Range within the national park rises high to the north. The Slate Range is seen to the northwest with the snowy Sierra behind it in the distance. There was snow to the east atop Mt. Charleston in Nevada, the furthest that could be seen in that direction.

For old times sake, I paid a visit to the large cairn and benchmark atop Brown BM to the east before heading back down the same series of ridges I had ascended. Once at the base, I continued northeast instead of turning east, so that I could pay a visit to the Crystal Hills. These hills are mostly piles of volcanic rubble, but there are some colorful strata that look to offer prospectors untold riches. Nothing seems to have come of it besides a few cairns and a few holes left by these hardy men of a bygone age. At the summit I found another register left by the same party that had left the one on Brown Mtn, only a day earlier. No one else had bothered to sign this lonely register until my arrival. I descended the highpoint to the southeast, making a beeline across the desert flats for the Davis gate where I rejoined my original route. Another half hour of slow uphill walking (I was getting tired now after more than 15mi) got me back to the jeep by 1p. It was still early, but I had been on the go nearly continuously for almost seven hours. I decided to take it easy the rest of the day and maybe attempt to shave off this scruff that's been growing on my face these past two weeks...


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