Chuckwalla Mountain P750 HPS / ESS
Cross Mountain P900 HPS / ESS
Butterbredt Peak P500 HPS / ESS

Sat, Jan 15, 2005

With: Matthew Holliman
Mike Larkin

Chuckwalla Mountain
Cross Mountain
Butterbredt Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


I had never been to Jawbone Canyon, and this early morning drive through it on our way to the Chuckwalla/Cross TH on Jawbone Canyon Rd was my first taste. Until now I thought I had seen most of the Sierra adventure teams - backcountry enthusiasts, climbers, ski resorters, Yosemite Valley, and all manner of both west and east side trailheads. But this was a first for the more mechanically inclined - ATCs, dirt bikes, and guns. It was early morning as we drove in through the chilly 30F air, most of the canyon still hidden in shade at 7a. At various turnouts and open areas there were groups of RVs encircling their campsites, dirtbikes leaning in a pile at the center. All was quiet, only a single camper was found to be outside working on a fire. We imagined that the rest were still hung over and wouldn't be rolling out of bed until 9a, but that was really unfair - it was Matthew and I that were up earlier than we should be, heading for our rendevous with Mike at the trailhead some six miles up the road. The hills on either side were either scarred or improved (depending on your opinion of motor vehicles on roadless lands) with literally miles of dirt tracks running up the canyon sides, some at angles seeming impossibly steep. Rain channeled down these tracks dug deep fissures in the soft earth, which seems to be composed of more than 50% sand. After four miles the pavement gave out and we found ourselves driving and one of the sandiest roads I could recall. Recent rains had made it all very damp. I'm not sure if this was beneficial or not for driving, but we struggled some to keep the car from fishtailing as we drove up the canyon.

At the appointed turnoff we found Mike and his Jeep parked alongside the road in front of a gate. He'd been waiting about 15 minutes or so (we were about five minutes late) and pretty much ready to go. Matthew and I marvelled at Mike's daring in choosing to wear shorts with the outside temps so low. In the cold morning air, there was no desire on anyone's part to lounge about at the trailhead, and so at 7:30a we headed out. Our goal today was a doubleheader comprising Chuckwalla and Cross Mtns, two HPS peaks located south of Jawbone Canyon. As we were to find out, these are more like desert peaks than Sierra peaks, even the Southern Sierra variety. There are almost no trees anywhere, even in the canyon bottoms, and the chaparral is pretty sparse too. Armed with an HPS route map, we hiked up the road, swinging left into the broad canyon heading south. We walked for a few miles before it was time to hit the ridge. I don't think we followed the route onto the ridge as shown on our map, but it didn't really matter - there were probably half a dozen ways to get up there.

After climbing a steep route out of White Rock Canyon (a nearby mine gives the canyon it's name) we arrived atop our expected ridge NW of Chuckwalla. There was a motorcycle track along the crest which we followed east. As we were to find, there are numerous tracks up most of the ridges in the area, and we used these for most of the day. Fortunately, there were no motorccles atop these high ridges today, confining themselves to the lower reaches of Jawbone Canyon. Our route followed an undulating ridge until it ended in the NW Face of Chuckwalla. We traversed the slope towards a saddle to the east to gain an easier slope on the peak's NE side, following this to the summit. Matthew and I reached the summit around 9:20a, Mike only about 15 minutes behind. There wasn't much excitement at the summit, a large, rounded affair, mostly flat with pile of rocks and a cairn marking the highest point. It was still chilly so Matthew and I donned our jackets while waiting for Mike, and it was Mike that suggested we continue on even as he approached the summit. Off we went.

We followed the SW Ridge over another bump and down to a flat shoulder, then followed our map and motorcyle tracks down some 1000 feet to the bottom of a normally dry creekbed. Having rained not to long ago, there was a small stream of water that was quite refreshing. There is an old miner's cabin on a bench just east of the creek, but time, weather, and high water have reduced it to an unstable structure, leaning badly, and trying desperately to reduce itself to a pile of timbers. Even more interesting is the remains of an old truck half buried in the middle of the creek. Time had again worked its magic, dissolving everything non-metalic on the vehicle, but the steel seeemed surprisingly robust, rusting only slowly in the normally arid conditions. We followed the creekbed upstream for about a mile, perhaps the most enjoyable part of the day. It was protected and warm in the canyon, the creek having some interesting bedrock and a little scrambling to boot.

We climbed out of the creek before reaching a water tank (cow poop was another tell-tale sign that the area is still used for grazing. We headed west up a side canyon, at first cross-country, then following a dirt road that runs on the south side of the creek. By 11:15a we had reached the South Ridge of Cross Mtn. Though class 1, the ridge was steep with some 1000ft to climb in about half a mile. By now we were all tired some, and as a result we started to spread out more on the uphill grind. It seemed to take a very long time. Arriving first at the summit of Cross Mtn, I spent a good deal of time perusing the summit register. One individual had recently made his 99th trip to the summit - on motorcycle. There were many entries attesting to the power and dexterity of particular machines and manufacturers, some deprecating competing lines of equipment. Oddly, this sort of banter is missing from most of the Sierra registers. Matthew was about 5 minutes behind, Mike some distance further. We weren't really in any rush, so neither of us minded waiting for him. When Mike called us on his radio and suggested we could go on without him, we declined - it was rather nice at the Cross summit now that the day had warmed a bit. While we waited (Mike was only about 15 minutes behind - quite close really), we began to discuss what other peak we might be able to climb later in the afternoon. Butterbredt was the obvious choice, but we doubted whether Matthew's car would be able to negotiate much further up the canyon. What we really needed was Mike's Jeep, but we didn't expect Mike would be interested in any more climbing after we'd finished these two, and would probably want to head home.

We spent a bit more time at the summit after Mike arrived before we all set off down the East Ridge. The most interesting rock we'd seen all day was located on a lower highpoint about a half mile further along the ridge. Matthew and I were discussing whether the entire East Ridge could be traversed back down to the creek. The west side of the lower highpoint looked to be at least class 3, and so as we headed down to the saddle we went further along the ridge past the saddle in order to gauge the route. It turned out to be easy class 2 from our side, though we weren't interested in trying to continue along the ridge (later we would get a better view of the east side of the lower highpoint and it appeared to be blocked by cliffs). We went back to the saddle and joined Mike for a descent down the north side, a bit further east along the ridge than shown on the HPS map. The scree was not so easy to descend where we went down. It was steep, but not deep and loose enough to boot ski, just loose enough to make us wary and proceed more cautiously. At the bottom of the steep slope we came across another track leading along the gentle ridge running south-north between two of the side canyons to Jawbone Canyon. Matthew picked up his pace at this point and was about half a mile ahead of me by the time I finished the hike along the ridge. Mike was an equal distance behind me, so the three of us completed the last hour enjoying the day in solitude. After descending off the ridge (with really nice views btw), I passed a government-owned cattle enclosure (odd, but that's what the sign said) sans cows. There were other distractions now, including a helicopter that made several passes, and numerous dirtbikers riding by. Hiking along the road, I was nearly back to the gate and our cars when a truck passed me heading the same direction. They stopped, unlocked the gate, drove through, and stopped at the other side about 10 yards from our cars. They got out their rifles and began discussing something off to the south, though I was too far away to hear what it was (Matthew, back at the cars, said they were discussing some rocks about 100 yards distance at the base of the hill). Only one of the three occupants actually got out of the car (the same one who unlocked the gate), but they all took a shot at the object of interest. Two of them simply aimed their guns out the side windows, resting them on the window sill, before firing. I stopped short of the fence to let them finish, after which they drove off. It was the very strange from our perspective. An act of bravado to impress each other or us? If not the latter, why stop so close to us? We did not expect to ever find out what was going on in their heads.

It was 2p when I met up again with Matthew back at the cars. Early enough for another peak, but how would we get to nearby Butterbredt. Mike was our only real transportation option, but we didn't figure he'd be interested in anymore peaks today. We did a bit of scheming in his absence, but it was unecessary. Mike was more than happy to drive us up to the trailhead, even though he didn't expect he'd feel like climbing himself. Mike was just that nice a guy, and we were just that selfish to take him up on the offer. We all piled into his Jeep and headed up Jawbone Canyon Road. For the most part, the road was in fairly decent shape. As we climbed out of the canyon, the deep sand gave way to mostly solid roadbed, though there were rain-carved grooves in the road that may have stopped Matthew's car. Mike was quite adept at manuevering the vehicle (far more 4x4 practice than the other two of us), and he drove us to the trailhead at Hoffman Summit in about half the time we'd have gotten there without him.

We passed a few ATCers and a party of target shooters, but mostly it was pretty quiet. Hoffman Summit parks the pass where Jawbone Canyon drops down into Kelso Valley, and the view from there was picturesque even though it was before the Spring greening. Mike stretched his legs outside after the drive and decided he'd give it a go to Butterbredt. Matthew and I were happy to hear this, and the three of us took off up the Southwest Ridge towards the summit. It's a short, easy climb of little more than a mile, and we were at the summit in 25 minutes. Somewhere we'd heard that the ridge provided some class 3 climbing, but that was not the case unless one contrived to make it so. We found it class 1 almost the entire way with some help from more motorcycle tracks that conveniently go to the summit. The sun was starting to grow weak in the western sky as the afternoon wore on. We found it quiet and peaceful at the summit, with enjoyable views all around. We found the HPS register bolted to a rock just below the summit and signed in. Mike joined us a short while later. He was glad that we had dragged him out to this last peak, evidently his legs were stronger than he had given them credit for.

Mike suggested Matthew and I could take an alternate descent down to Jawbone Canyon Rd a few miles down from Hoffman summit, and he'd be happy to pick us up on the drive back. Eerie - it was as though he could read our minds, or perhaps he watched us looking off in that direction. We were more than happy to take him up on it. Mike asked for particulars as to where we would intersect the road in case he needed to wait. I told him to just drive down the road - we'd get there well before him. Mike then headed back down the SW Ridge while Matthew and I headed east, then southeast down (another) tracked ridgeline up and over Pt. 5,409ft, then down the east side. We jogged much of the route down, especially enjoying the steep sandy slopes. We had something like 1,600ft to descend before reaching the road. We weren't on the road even five minutes before we spotted Mike's Jeep heading down our way - he must have made pretty good time himself heading back down to have reached us so soon.

Mike drove us back to Matthew's car, then we all drove to Mojave for dinner at the pizza joint there (I can't recall the name, but it wasn't anything special). Over beer and pizza we toasted the end of an enjoyable day. Mike drove back to his folks' home at Lake Isabella afterwards while Matthew and I took a room across the street at the Motel 6. We planned to head to Tehachapi in the morning for a few peaks there the next day.

Photos on Butterbredt are all courtesy Matthew Holliman. I'd forgotten my camera back in Matthew's car.


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