Fri, Jan 18, 2019
Ah, the wonders of Google Maps. Organizing a meetup location back in the day usually meant pre-arranged locations that folks were generally familiar with ("Walmart parking lot in Alhambra," for example, or "The Bun Boy in Baker"), not always the most convenient. With Google Maps, one can now pick a coordinate anywhere on earth and share it with friends. And so I had designated an obscure junction along a powerline road in the Mojave Desert for five of us to meet. Karl and I had spent the night there, the others arriving in two vehicles by two different routes that seemed to work equally well. If the Internet wasn't invented for this, I don't know what else it can do better.
Our goal today was a romp around the Shadow Mtns, an isolated and scattered, low-lying range found north of Interstate 15 and roughly between SR127 to the west and Kingston Rd/Excelsior Mine Rd to the east. I believe technically only the last two summits were in the range as defined by the USGS labeling on the topo map, but most would agree that all of them fit into a broader definition of the range based on topology. All of the summits fall within the Kingston Range Wilderness, though this wasn't apparent at the time - there were no signs indicating a Wilderness boundary as one usually finds. The area has several roads that have been used for many decades by prospectors and other desert visitors to get around the area. These were surgically cut out of the Wilderness area as "cherry stems" that provide convenient vehicle access into the area. I had originally planned to do four peaks in two relatively short outings with driving inbetween. This ended up being a single outing that encompassed all four peaks along with an additional four that we added on the fly. We ended up covering some 12mi in this large loop with more than 4,000ft of gain, a pretty full day. The overcast, rainy weather from the day prior had been replaced with cool but sunny conditions, nearly ideal for hiking.
The powerline road running generally east-west was in good shape that any vehicle with moderate clearance could negotiate, but the rougher roads heading north into the range would require something beefier. We took two jeeps about two miles into the range down a sandy wash road that sees very little traffic (and weeks later I learned is within the Wilderness boundary). Though somewhat brushy, it was easy enough for our vehicles and by 7:30a we had parked and were starting up to our first summit, Peak 4,107ft, about half a mile to the west. We spent less than 30min to reach its summit, some easy class 3 up limestone rock adding some fun along the way. Dave Jurasevich had left a register here in 1995, labeling it the highpoint of the Shadow Mtns. This would be true by my broader definition, but entries by Mark Adrian and John Vitz a few years later questioned this. The most recent visitors had been MacLeod & Lilley back in 2000 - seems the peak had received very little love since then. Our second peak was Francis BM, half a mile to the northwest via a connecting ridgeline and another 30min's effort. Iris handily outpaced the team to reach the summit first. We found the expected benchmark as well as another register. This one had been left by Mark Adrian in 1996, the same day he had visited the previous summit, the only one of those early visitors to tag this second summit. 23yrs later, we got to add entries to the second page.
At this point the plan had been to return to the vehicles and drive back out to the powerline road, but after noting it wasn't even 9a yet, we began to develop an expanding plan that seemed to grow larger with each peak we would visit. It was much easier to get everyone on board for just one peak since so much depends on how easy or difficult the intervening terrain is. As it turned out, travel in the area is relatively easy and we had no real difficulties getting from one summit to the next. Our third summit, Peak 3,684ft, was just over a mile to the west and would make for a bigger undertaking. We had to drop off the ridgeline we'd been hiking, heading west across low-lying washes to reach the base of the next peak. Along the way we came across a deep mineshaft and then the remains of an old mining camp which we briefly explored. The building or cabin had long fallen down, its contents scattered throughout the area. Someone had once called this home, but now it was just so much trash littering the landscape. It was 9:40a by the time we reached the third summit. No register was found here, so we left one of our own.
We continued on to our fourth summit to the northwest, growing confident in our ability to cover much ground across this landscape. We noted the snows covering Mt. Charleston in the background to the northeast, with the closer Kingston Range blocking much of the view in that direction. By the time we had reached Peak 3,572ft, I had come up with a name that was a blend of Charleston and Kingston while at the same time looking like it was named for one of our companions. Using another of the registers I'd brought along, I dubbed it "Mt. Karlston" to some small amount of amusement to the others. Karl perhaps was most bewildered - I'd just given the name "Mt. Karl" to a peak the previous day. None were likely to stick, but I enjoyed the thought of imagining they did. I re-inserted a survey pole into the summit cairn to give it new life, but I doubt it will stay standing past the next strong wind that comes along. Another mile to the northwest was our fifth stop, Peak 3,353ft. I had run out of registers by this time, so we had to be content to leave no physical evidence of our passing. This didn't stop us from leaving some evidence - oddly, we all had cell service at the tops of the summits, so it became a game to see who could log the peak fastest into the peakbagger app.
Tom was the first to note that there was what looked like a good desert road below us in the wash to the northeast. I poo-poohed it as likely an older road, but upon descending we found it had recent tire tracks and looked to be semi-regularly used - far better than the 2mi-stretch of road we'd driven in on earlier. This was in fact part of the same road, but the better road comes in from the west, not the south. We soon found out that the road leads to an old cabin, still standing, that used to see quite a bit of recreational use. We explored inside and out, Karl discovering a small collection of chairs on an outside patio where Matt and Tom soon joined him. After about 15min of this, I finally got the group moving again as we continued east towards the range highpoint, a few miles away.
Enroute to the highpoint was a sixth summit, Peak 3,241ft, an easy one with about 300ft of class 2 climbing to reach the summit. We made a makeshift register using an empty Poweraid bottle and some paper we'd absconded with from the roadside cabin. I dubbed it "Mt. Yoyoma," not so much for the celebrated cellist as for Iris, who occasionally signs her name as yoyomama or a similar repetitive combination of "yo" and "ma". Upon descending the east side of the summit, our hitherto cohesive party split up into more individual groups as we made our way to the range highpoint another mile and a half to the east. This was the longest stretch between summits on the day, taking around an hour. I was the first to the highpoint with the help of the GPSr which allowed me to navigate a straighter route between summits, knowing where to expect drops over one ridge or another and where to find connecting saddles. The summit register here had been left by Vitz in 1997, a few hours before he had visited our first summit, Peak 4,107ft. Mark Adrian had waited seven years before visiting this point, part of his quest to climb the state's range highpoints with Richard Carey (as far as I know, no one has yet fully competed them all). I decided to dig a little deeper into the summit cairn and was rewarded by a Smatko register from 1992. We added our names to this earlier scroll because, well, it's just cool to be the next one signing in under a Smatko party. It was now 2p and we were something over 2 air miles from our vehicles. There was one last summit, Peak 4,074ft, that we could tag on our way back. Only 4ft lower than the highpoint we stood upon, it had a nice connecting ridgeline that we could follow that made for a pleasant hike in the afternoon, taking in the better colors across the landscape as the sun began its descent to the western horizon. We reached Peak 4,074ft at 3p and here we found another Smatko register from the same March day in 1992, with no one having visited since.
It would take another hour for us to find our way back to the jeeps, not finishing until 4p. There were cold beers and salty snacks to be shared before we had driven back to the other vehicles. We then split up to take showers and drive to Primm, NV where we would reconvene and spend the night on BLM lands behind one of the casinos, just over the CA side of the border. The evening was calm and almost warm, a marked change from the previous two nights. It seemed a good opportunity for a night hike but I had trouble rounding up much enthusiasm after we'd finished dinner. Matt agreed to join me and the two of us spent a pleasant hour and half climbing Peak 3,264ft, a short distance from our camp. The hike was less than half a mile each way, rising about 400ft to the open summit. The moon overhead provided all the light we needed, even with some easy class 3 near the top. My nighttime photography was pretty rough and didn't do justice to the views, but the lights of Primm shown brightly to the southeast and a glow over the northeast horizon betrayed the vast Las Vegas sprawl about 30mi away. By the time we got back to camp it was after 9:30p and the others had already gone to bed. I would still have more than eight hours of sleep before rising the next morning so was glad for the bit of extra workout.
This page last updated: Thu Feb 6 17:59:15 2020
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