End BM P300
Peak 2,859ft P500
The Pinnacles 2x
Empasse BM P300
Slate BM P300
Peak 4,066ft P300

Feb 2, 2018

With: Iris Ma

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3
Pinnacles, The previously climbed Nov 19, 2013


Laura had mentioned wanting to visit Trona Pinnacles during a weekend desert trip to the Panamint Valley area, so I had planned to do some easy peaks in the adjacent Spangler Hills in the early morning before her arrival. It wasn't until the night before that she realized she had to work this weekend, forcing her to cancel. Since Iris was still planning to meet me around 11a, I stuck with the original plan. All the day's peaks are found on the periphery of Searles Lake, a dry lakebed that continues to be commercially mined for borax and other minerals. The vast lakebed lies between the two sections of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, with Trona and the Searles Valley Mineral Company located on the northwest shore. I had spent the night camped at the BLM's Trona Pinnacles Recreation Lands, primitive but perfectly legal camping.

End BM / Peak 2,859ft

The Spangler Hills lie between Ridgecrest and Searles Valley, a low set of desert hills that are home to BLM OHV recreation. The many tracks and trails throughout the area make it disagreeable to most peakbaggers, but I've found on my two previous visits that I had the place to myself on weekdays. Both peaks can be easily reached from either Randsburg Wash Rd (the road connecting the two China Lake WC areas) which splits the Spangler Hills, or from Pinnacle Rd which runs on the east and southeast side of the range. I used the latter since it was nicely situated next to Trona Pinnacles. There is a set of train tracks that runs parallel to the road, connecting Trona to Union Pacific lines further south. One train came by during the night, but otherwise it's pretty quiet. I crossed the tracks after sunrise shortly before 7a, heading west towards End BM, about a mile and half away. There are no real difficulties encountered anywhere in the range, almost any gully or ridgeline will do to reach its summits. I took about 45min to reach the top where I found a benchmark, cell service (from Ridgecrest, 13mi to the west), and nice views overlooking Searles Valley, the Spangler Hills and far to the west, the Southern Sierra. I left a register under the summit rocks here. Though there was some rain back in December, there has been nothing since and most of the desert remains predominantly brown, waiting for a little more precipitation to help things along.

I spent most of an hour crossing a shallow wash system and climbing to the second summit, unnamed Peak 2,859ft with more than 500ft of prominence. I ascended the East Ridge, a modest gradient with firm footing, much like the first peak. I left a new register atop this one as well before heading off an alternative ridgeline to the south. As it was only 9a and I had two hours before I needed to get back, I took a longer return that followed along Pinnacles Rd for the last mile. I marveled at the Trona Pinnacles in the full light of the day, trying to pick out the highest from the west. A number of lower pinnacles looked quite difficult and I wondered if there was much interest in rock climbing here. I suspect the poor rock quality discourages folks from trying. As I was returning to the van just after 10:30a, Iris pulled up in her car not 30 seconds before me - impressive timing!

The Pinnacles

We drove together in Iris's car to the shoulder on the southwest side of the highest point. The easy class 3 scramble takes only a few minutes, the summit providing a fine vantage from which to view this other-worldly landscape of exposed tufa towers from an expansive, shallow lake, long gone. Someday it might be fun to come back and climb some of the other points, but today was not that day.

Empasse BM / Slate BM

Back at the van, we spent half an hour driving our vehicles back out on the 5mi of washboarded road to SR178. Then north through Trona to the upper end of Searles Valley where the Argus and Slate Ranges converge at a pass leading into Panamint Valley. We turned off a few miles before the pass to park one car at a quarry and then drove together to the pass for a shuttle hike of the two northernmost summits of the Slate Range. There is a good trail to start on from the pass, mostly used by burros but appearing to have been built by humans, though there is no signage, no marking on the maps, and we had no idea where it actually goes. We turned off where it drifts away from the main crest and seems to contour around the north side of the range. The cross-country along the crest is easy enough, taking about half an hour to reach the first benchmark and then another 50min for the second. All along the route there are decent views of both Panamint Valley to the left and Searles Valley to the right. As we dropped back down from Slate BM to the quarry where Iris's car was left, we came across a collection of bones just outside the quarry. It turned out to be the carcasses of perhaps a dozen coyotes that had been killed and left here to rot, the bones and other pieces slowly dispersed by rats and other carrion feeders. It would seem that someone did not take a liking to the coyotes roaming these hills...

Peak 4,066ft

With a few hours' daylight remaining, we decided to tag a bonus peak up Homewood Canyon Rd in the Argus Range. The paved road leads up from SR178 to an isolated community north of Trona. There are perhaps a dozen residents living in tough conditions up here. A fire in the canyon some years ago only made the collection of junk cars and trucks on the properties look worse. Amongst all this are a few more stately-looking homes, freshly built and decidedly out-of-place here. While we saw no residences during our short visit, a few untethered dogs came out to see what was going on. We drove up towards the end of the development to climb unnamed Peak 4,066ft above the Ruth Mine. We went up a cross-country route from the north, but the easier route uses an old mining road from the Ruth Mine to a saddle on the southwest side of the summit. We found this on the way down as we were making a loop of it. We spent a little over an hour covering the 2.5mi route. There are a few other similar summits in the area, but we left those for another time.

It would be nearly dark by the time we had driven back out to SR178, showered, and then onto Ballarat in Panamint Valley. Matt showed up only a few minutes after Iris and I had gotten there, making for a small party of three for a little evening revelry after the end of an enjoyable day. More on tap for tomorrow...


Matt Yaussi comments on 02/07/18:
Those same train tracks cross highway 14 at grade in Mojave. It's a real bummer if you get stuck waiting for a train here, since they have to go slowly around a curve at the crossing. Fortunately, they are not very frequent, and it is a rare occurrence to get stopped by one. On one trip to the eastern Sierra, I hit the jackpot, and had to wait for a train both going up and coming home!
seano comments on 02/07/18:
I salute you for accompanying Bob on these desert Superfund slogs.
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