Cronise BM P500
Peak 3,251ft P900
Red Pass BM P1K

Jan 12, 2018

With: Matt Yaussi

Cronise BM
Red Pass BM
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


I spent the night camped about 10mi north of Baker in the Mojave Desert, at the junction of SR127 and Silver Lake Rd. When I got up at 6:15a, I had been expecting to see Karl parked somewhere nearby, perhaps Matt. After half an hour went by, I had finished my breakfast and was still waiting for someone to join me. Via Snapchat I told Scott and Iris I had no friends. They were somewhat empathetic but unable to remedy the situation. When Matt pulled up I was happy once again - at least someone remembered! Karl, I found out later that evening, had gone to do Canyon Point in Death Valley, a DPS peak. Matt and I would tackle a couple of prominence peaks around Red Pass at the southeast corner of the Ft. Irwin Military Reservation, northwest of Baker in the Soda Mountains.

It had rained two days earlier, up to 3/4 of an inch in this thirsty land and the desert was still wet with the moisture. The early morning brought a rare sight to these parts - fog - rising up in ghostly fashion to partially cover the landscape. In Matt's Subaru, we drove west across Silver Lake and then southwest along a powerline road, a total of some 15mi. At the start where our road joins SR127, an old sign reads Road Closed, but this isn't accurate. The road into the military reservation is closed to the public, but one can still use the road to that point and then along the powerline road that borders it. The lakebed was wet and a little muddy in a few places, but our capable vehicle had no trouble (might have been a different story right after the rain). The road to the reservation boundary is very good, but the powerline road we turned off on becomes somewhat rough (high-clearance needed, 4WD not). After more than an hour's driving, we finally arrived at our starting point almost 5mi north of Cronise BM. We parked off the narrow roadway under one of the transmission towers.

The fog persisted more than an hour after sunrise, obscuring our destination as we started out across the desert flats shortly after 8a. Within about 45min the fog had disappeared though the ground would remain damp for a few more days still. It took more than an hour to reach the base of our peak where we headed up the NW Ridge, the walking up until this time as pleasant as one could hope for over firm, mostly flat desert terrain. The climb up the ridge was good class 2 with firm footing, taking about 40min for a total of just over 2hrs from the start. John Vitz had left a register in 1991 and unusual for an obscure desert peak, I recognized only one other name (Mark Adrian) in the five pages of entries. Cronise BM is only about 50ft lower than the range highpoint which lies about 3.5mi to the east. Poking around on my GPSr, I noted Cronise BM is listed with just over 700ft of prominence. This struck me as odd since I was after P900s and P1Ks, not P700s as this one clearly qualified for. What happened to the P900 I thought we were climbing? I very quickly realized that the P900 - Peak 3,251ft - was some 3mi to the northwest. In my haste to draw routes before the trip began, I mistook Cronise BM for the P900 and we ended up on a totally unintended summit. Ha! - so much for boasting the use of the GPSr made climbing the wrong peak a thing of the past. All was not lost, however, as Matt seemed nearly as eager as me to get to the right peak - "It's almost on the way back," he offered. This wasn't all that exaggerated, it turns out, adding little over a mile to the return distance. The effort would add another 1,500ft of gain, but it wasn't that hard a day to begin with. So after taking our break atop the unintended summit, we set off along the connecting ridgeline, an interesting traverse that drops more 1,500ft before reclimbing nearly 1,000ft to the second summit. The views were quite nice, looking over the Red Pass Lake basin to the northeast and the Cronise Lake basin to the southwest, Cave Mtn rising picturesquely 9mi to the south.

It would take us about 2hrs to cover the 3.5mi along the ridge, an enjoyable class 2 affair. Finding no register here, we left one of our own before starting down the NE side, steep for much of the way but with good footing, down to the flats. We then continued across the easy stuff and back to the car, about an hour and 20min after leaving Peak 3,251ft. I had thought our second peak would preclude us from getting to Red Pass BM, and resigned myself that it might take a second trip to get to it. But as it wasn't yet 2p and we had almost three hours of daylight, we continued with the original plan.

We drove three miles back along the powerline road, parking north of the road, just inside the reservation boundary. Red Pass BM lies enitrely within Ft. Irwin, but there are no fences and no signs here indicating this. With plausible deniability in our back pocket, we had little to worry about - besides, we'd seen not another soul or vehicle come by on this lonely road the whole day. Our starting point was about 1.2mi SE of the summit, making for a 2hr effort. Our ascent route would first skirt the subsidiary ridge in front of us around to the east, but we found this unnecessary on the return with a shorter way back that more simply went over it. We found no spent cartridges or wayward artillery shells, but I did find an army-green headlamp that had been lost on patrol. The summit register had been left by Mark Adrian in 1999. More of the usual suspects (Carey, Lilley/MacLeod, Vitz) visited up until 2008, after which all the entries were from army personnel. That may have corresponded with the expanded reservation boundary, as Red Pass BM at one time was outside (as shown on the 15' topo map). There is an airstrip and what looks like an array of storage containers 3mi to the west, but for the most part all was quiet on the base and we were able to get in and out without creating an incident. We had about 30min of daylight when we finished up though it would be fairly dark before we returned to Silver Lake and SR127. Tom Becht was there waiting for us as planned, and after a quick shower we headed north to Shoshone where we had dinner at the the Crowbar Cafe, the only place to eat within an hour's drive of town. Afterwards we continued driving another hour into Death Valley at the south end of the park near the Ashford town site. Our plan to camp along West Side Rd was foiled by water flowing across the road. Tom managed to make it across with little trouble in his Jeep and Matt would find similarly the next day with his Subaru, but it was a disaster waiting to happen for my van and Iris's low-clearance Chevy. Instead, we set up camp at the junction of West Side Rd and Badwater Rd where we slept the next three nights. Concerns of rangers rousting us from our slumber never materialized - none came to visit in those wee hours after dark...

Matt's Video


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