Middle Almond P300
Almond Mountain 2x DS
East Almond P300
Peak 3,838ft P300
Peak 4,218ft P500
Peak 3,953ft P500
Black Hills P500
Peak 3,789ft P300

Thu, Feb 7, 2019
Black Hills
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2
Almond Mountain previously climbed Thu, Dec 6, 2012


Day 2 in the Mojave Front Range had me camped on the edge of the Golden Valley Wilderness near the base of Almond Mtn. It had been cold during the night and I didn't sleep all that great because of it. When I awoke in the morning I understood why - the car's thermometer was registering 19F outside. I had slept almost 10hrs, so despite the cold, I was up at 5:45a to start the jeep's engine and warm things (me) up. This took some time and I was in no hurry to get started, but by 6:30a I had breakfasted and run out of delay tactics. I worried a bit unnecessarily as the air was very calm which mitigated the cold temp some. I had a fleece, jacket, balaclava and wool gloves to start, but I would be down to a tshirt before I'd reached the first summit. Red Mtn was the first thing to light up with the sunrise as I started out.

Middle Almond/Almond/East Almond

I had been to Almond and Big Almond back in 2012 on my birthday while I was out chasing named summits and P1Ks. There are two other unnamed summits on the massive that I've dubbed Middle Almond and East Almond. From where I camped, it was about 2.5mi to the summit of Middle Almond, initially across easy desert flats, then a modest climb up fairly settled slopes, a bit of a surprise since much of it is varnished volcanic rock which can often be quite loose. I spent almost an hour and half to reach the top, arriving just before 8a. As the name suggests, the summit is higher than Almond Mtn to the south but lower than Big Almond to the northeast. Red Mtn dominates the view to the west though the snowy Sierra can be seen over its north shoulder. There is a fine view to the north of Searles Valley, dry Searles Lake, and Trona with the snow-capped Panamints as a backdrop. I had originally planned to simply return to the car and climb East Almond from the southeast, but the ridgeline to Almond looked inviting with only modest elevation gain, so off I went in that direction after leaving a register. It took little over half an hour to get from one to the next. I thought I'd find a register at this more popular point, but did not, so left a second one. There is a good view of Cuddleback Lake and Fremont Peak to the south. East Almond was another 1.5mi to the east and though a bit more involved that the Middle Almond to Almond traverse, still pretty straightforward (and enjoyable), taking another 50min. I found no register here either, so left my last one. East Almond is more than 3mi from whereI parked so it would take some time to get back, but after an initial rubbly descent, it becomes a nice walk across desert flats with almost no ups and downs getting across annoying washes. Along the way I came across some military trash, what looked like large flares dropped by parachute. The remains looked to be decades oldtarget boards used by some gun-toting yokel who seemed to ignore the Wilderness boundary signs. After reaching the BLM road, a couple of ravens seemed to pay extra attention to me as I passed by them, just before finishing up. They hopped alongside and made several fly-bys, perhaps hoping for handouts? They got nothing from me.

Peak 3,838ft/Peak 4,218ft

Back just after 11a, I next drove some 11.5mi east, past Blackwater Well (a dry spring and site of an old ranch) to a gap in the Black Hills about a mile south of the China Lake reservation boundary. Both of these summits are part of the Black Hills (I would get the highpoint later in the afternoon) at their north end. The first is on BLM land, the second just inside the reservation boundary. There are no military roads in the areas I planned to pass thru, so I had little to worry about being detected. The Black Hills are a particularly darkly-varnished type of lava rock, making them blacker than the surrounding hills. I parked at the same gap I had used in 2013 when I visited Pilot Knob and a few other peaks inside the reservation to the east. This time I headed north, first climbing the easier Peak 3,838ft in less than 30min. The higher summit was another 1.5mi to the northeast, requiring me to first lose all the elevation I had gained to cross over a drainage between them. Interestingly, the government had not erected a fence across the hill terrain I descended and I ended up inside the reservation without crossing one. There was an old barbed-wire fence across the drainage left over from ranching days, but this dilpidated structure could hardly hold up to more stringent government standards. My ascent route to Peak 4,218ft was fairly direct, solid footing except for the last hundred feet or so where things got steep and loose. From the open summit, one can see a road cutting across the north side of the Black Hills going out to one of those make-shift desert towns they use for military exercises. No drill, no vehicles, no sign of life inside the base today. The coolest view is to the impressive, mulit-colored Pilot Knob to the east. It is easy to see how that summit got that name as a waypoint for migrating wagon trains back in the day. In taking a more direct route on the return around the east side of Peak 3,838ft, I did come across the expected military perimeter fence - evidently they only bother building it on the flats where vehicles might travel. The 4.5mi loop took about two and a quarter hours, getting me back by 2:15p with several more hours of daylight still.

Peak 3,953ft

These last three peaks were all fairly short outing, this one the shortest. There is an old mining road that climbs high on the southeast side of the peak, getting one within 0.15mi of the top. There is a horizontal mineshaft near where I parked at the road's end, neatly cut into the rock more than 30yds (it got too dark after that and I didn't have a headlamp with me). It was too neat and level to have been following a vein of ore, more likely someone just made a career out of tunneling into the rock in the hopes of finding something. The rock strewn about the peak is of various colors and its easy to see why someone might think it ought to have something valuable inside. Though it has more than 500ft of prominence, the summit isn't particularly high and the views have nothing over those of the surrounding higher summits.

Black Hills HP

I drove back through Blackwater Well and then southeast uphill for three miles to reach the saddle on the south side the Black Hills. From here, the highpoint is about a mile to the north, with a middle section of steep and modestly loose rock. I found a benchmark and an old wooden survey tower (which I stood up but won't last through the next strong wind). There was also a register from 1998 left by Mark Adrian during a tour of Pilot Knob and Granite Mtn (also inside the reservation). There was a second register left by a Tom "Praise the Lord" Gossett party in 2009, though with so few visitors (I was the third party in over 20yrs) it hardly needed a second one.

Peak 3,789ft

It was after 4p when I finished with the Black Hills HP, but the days are starting to get longer now so I figured I had time for one more. I drove through Blackwater Well a third time before turning southwest on RM50 and driving another couple of miles to the east side of this summit. Parking less than half a mile from the top, it would take only about 30min to get up and back down. There is a motorcycle track along the short ridgeline I followed, which conveniently doubles as a nice trail. There wasn't much of interest at the summit save for an old wooden survey stick lying about. It was starting to get pretty chilly now with the setting sun, so I beat a hasty retreat before needing to put on more clothes. Back at the jeep, I took a hurried shower with room temp water, dressed, and drove another mile to a flat spot near tomorrow's first summit. I'm hoping the higher elevation here out of the valley bottom will keep the temps a bit warmer than this morning's 19F. We'll see...


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