Castle Dome P300
Peak 2,903ft P300
Goffs Butte P750 RS
Whistle Peak P300 RS
El Tren Peak P300 RS
Mt. Walter P750 RS
Muppet Mountain P300 RS

Sun, Nov 12, 2017

With: Karl Fieberling
Matt Yaussi
Scott Barnes

Castle Dome
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 Profiles: 1 2


Iris had gone home, leaving the four of us to fend for ourselves. We were camped off Essex Rd south of I-40, very close to the middle of nowhere. The Mojave Desert is spectacularly huge and it takes a good deal of time to realize just how big it is. Our goals today were high on the obscurity list, places that almost no one would recognize and we'd have forgotten about ourselves in a few weeks if I didn't bother to write down a few notes regarding them. It's not by coincidence that a desert rat's memory gets foggy with time.

Castle Dome/Peak 2,903ft

Castle Dome rises prominently on the south side of the Clipper Mtns, the only officially named summit in the range. Though it has little actual prominence, its unusually rocky shape rising from the desert makes it visible from long distances. We had seen it a few days earlier while climbing in the Marble Mtns to the west. Our approach may or may not have been the shortest route to Castle Dome, but it looks shortest on the topo map. We were 2.7mi southeast of our goal when Matt wisely decided to call a halt to our drive up a sandy wash. We had missed where the poor road we were following exited the wash but it mattered little - the wash was only modestly more difficult than the road. Starting off not long after 6:30a, we would spend the first hour crossing the desert, in and out of half a dozen minor drainages that we needed to cross - going against the grain can make for extra work. The southwest side of Castle Dome shows an obvious class 2 route up and it was to this we gravitated after crossing the last wash. We noted some water storage tanks fed by piping coming from a narrow channel to the east as we climbed. Scott and I visited this on our way down and found that it was the Marvin Wood Game Guzzler, first constructed in 1984 with additional work done in 2004. Judging by the large amount of sheep droppings in the area and the configuration of the guzzler, we guessed it was the sheep the builders were primarily concerned with helping. This was later confirmed with an online search that turned up the SCBS, of which Marvin Wood was a longtime member.

Our route went up the base of cliffs that we traversed below to the east before continuing the class 2 up to the summit which we reached soon after 8a. The rocky top has fine views overlooking the desert to the south. The range highpoint rises another 1,200ft higher to the north. There are many nooks and crannies in the cliffs on all sides of the formation, providing ideal rest and shade spots for the sheep when they visit the area (though we saw none today). While snacking on the summit and enjoying the views, we left a register under a small cairn - a very deserving summit.

A mile to the south rises unnamed bonus Peak 2,903ft, and it was to this that we headed next. Scott and I lost track of Matt and Karl on the descent as we made an unplanned side trip to the guzzler, but we met up with them again in the wash between the two summits. There are a couple of minor cliff bands guarding the upper third of the mountain that can be a little intimidating. Not liking the look of it, Karl was about to back off and meet us down around the other side when Scott talked him into continuing. It worked out to be no harder than easy class 3 and we all enjoyed the bit of scrambling it provided. It, too, had a neat summit that we spent about 15min at before starting back down. We descended the west side through more easy class 3. A large boulder lies near the base of the west side that we all gravitated to. It is vertical or overhanging on all sides and quite difficult-looking. Scott was the only one that gave it a try, but didn't get more than a few feet off the ground. We left its summit untrammeled. It would take us another 45min to recross the desert washes to return us to Matt's car by 10:45a.

After returning to our campsite at Essex Rd, we drove our cars out to I-40, then east about 15mi to Mountain Springs Summit (stopping at the rest area to refill on water and use the facilities). There were five summits in the area I was interested in and wasn't sure we'd get to them all with the remaining time we had, but it turned out they were all fairly tame.

Goffs Butte

The summit of this isolated peak is crowned with a 4G cell tower providing modern service to a forlorn desert. A rough road leads to the summit. The first part of the road to a saddle north of the summit is in decent shape that most cars can drive. The road then becomes steep and quite rough for the next two switchbacks. We drove the first leg of this rougher road and then parked where the road turns sharply, avoiding further unnecessary abuse to Matt's vehicle. A short walk along the road leads to the summit. The highest point was left unmarred by the tower construction, nicely. There are good views from the summit and very good 4G cell coverage, too.

Whistle Peak/El Tren Peak

Found at the northern end of the Piute Mtns, the two peaks were named by Courtney Purcell in his book, Rambles & Scrambles, for the frequent trains that run across the north and west side of the range through Fenner Valley ("tren" is spanish for "train"). Both peaks are short hikes of less than half a mile from the powerline road off Mountain Springs Rd that runs east to west between them. Whistle Peak features a very large cairn that looks to have taken hours to construct, very sturdy too, as I found I could climb it with ease without the rocks shifting. El Tren is a ridgeline hike starting from a saddle over which the powerline road passes. The crux is the steep, loose embankment adjacent to the road, after which it becomes an easy hike. There is a good view of Goffs Butte from its summit.

Mt. Walter/Muppet Mtn

Mt. Walter is the highest point in the Piute Mtns north of I-40, sporting over 800ft of prominence. The combination with Muppet Peak (both of these were also named by Purcell, btw) makes for a nice outing covering about 2.5mi with a little over 1,000ft of gain. We drove about as far as seemed reasonable on a spur road before parking and starting up Walter's SW Ridge. About ten minutes before reaching the rocky summit, Scott and I came across the first of three desert tortoise shells we'd come across during the outing. They seemed to be on decidedly untortoise-like terrain and we wondered how they'd gotten here. We noticed they were all junior-sized, about 6-10 inches in length and thought maybe they'd been preyed upon by a large raptor - perhaps dropped by an eagle to break the shell? Curious, to be sure. We found a John Vitz register from 2004 with only a handful of other entries. Courtney had been the last visitor five years earlier. The lower Muppet Mtn can be seen rising sharply to the southeast about half a mile away. Matt and Scott had thought it was to the north, but that point is a slightly lower cousin of Mt. Walter with little prominence. We made our way to the second summit via the connecting ridgeline, going up and over an intermediate point along the way. Karl avoided this middle point by dropping a little lower with some sidehilling to the east but it proved no faster as we reconvened at the second saddle before climbing the final bit to Muppet. Our route back from Muppet made a loop of it by going over a lower saddle and then sidehilling to the northwest to return to the car. It was after 4:30p and nearly sunset upon our return. We would drive back to the Interstate to pick up our other cars and reconvene back off Kelbaker Rd at a dispersed camping spot south of the freeway. With Matt's BBQ supplies exhausted (actually it was the charcoal that was exhausted - he still had a supply of hotdogs), it wasn't the same culinary treat we'd had the past two nights, causing us to resort to soup and more of the other usual roadtrip foods we'd brought with us. We had one more day before heading home...

Matt's Video


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