Coso Range Wilderness HP
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I'd spent the night camped at the Gill Corral in Lower Centennial Flat. As I had arrived late at night, I was not up until the sun rose up over the Darwin Hills to the east just after 7a. The first thing I noticed after rubbing sleep out of my eyes and warming the insides was that the snow had not melted off as much as I had expected. Seems the cold nights and short days help the snow linger for a very long time. I was not able to drive the van to the cabin at Lower Centennial Spring as we had the first time, but the roads were good enough to get it within a mile with slow driving. At the cabin by 8a, I took a few minutes to check it out, something I'd neglected to do previously. The insides were decently kept for a communal desert outpost. A few folding chairs, a couple of wooden tables, some old bones, a few well-used frying pans, some questionable food supplies and a few other things. I thought of hantavirus and decided maybe going inside didn't have that much more to offer.
Back outside, I started up the canyon leading to Joshua Flat in about 2.5 miles. Previously, Tom and I had gotten only a few hundred yards before bailing on the canyon and hiking up and out to the north. This time the snow was in much better shape for walking on, mostly consolidated except for the shadiest portions where snow had piled up and the sun could offer little help. I spent most of an hour hiking in the cold shade of the early morning and was happy to get some welcome sunshine when I emerged onto Joshua Flat, 1,300ft higher. I spent the next hour crossing the flats with snow coverage at about 80% but easy to hike on. At the west end of Joshua Flat rose Apex Peak to the right, Joshua Mtn to the left. To avoid a low rise in the foreground, I skirted right, crossed a drainage and made my way to the base of the mountain on its northeast flank. There was much less snow on the slopes than on the flats making the climb a cinch, and by 10a I had found my way to the summit.
For the most part its a pretty unremarkable summit. Lower than both Apex to the north and Silver to the south, one has to wonder what grabbed the attention of earlier peakbaggers and why Zdon saw fit to add this officially unnamed summit to his guidebook (it does not appear in Walt Wheelock's guidebook from the 1960s). A handful of the OPG folks had left a register in 2007, filling almost six pages. Matthew Holliman had been the last to sign in almost a year earlier. Brian and Marie French had been the previous visitors two years before him. The summit offers a good view of Olancha Peak on the Sierra Crest to the west (much less snow evident than a month earlier), Owens Lake and Valley to the northwest, and the snowier northern aspects of Silver Peak to the south. It was in this latter direction I next turned.
As I was heading to Silver Mtn, I noted there was another unnamed summit, higher than Joshua, between the two. I paid the very flat-topped summit a visit just in case there might be enough prominence to call it a peak (there isn't) or someone had left a register (they hadn't). Even with this small diversion, it took less than an hour to get from Joshua Mtn to Silver Mtn. Unlike Joshua Flats below, there was almost no snow at the 7,400-foot summit of Silver. A 1947 benchmark here is labeled "CHINA". A few sheets of paper were left in 1997 by Mark Adrian, replaced with a notepad a year later by his pal Richard Carey. More popular than Joshua, this second register had 17 pages of entries. Scattered about the summit cairn were the remains of a survey tower and some old battery casings that used to power a piece of equipment placed here. Most of the stuff had been removed with the exception of the most toxic part of the setup - the batteries. Located at the southwest corner of Joshua Flat, the summit offers a fine view of the whole area. To the east were the still higher summits I would head to next, including unnamed Peak 7,750ft.
I followed the summit ridgeline to the south, then dropping off the SE Ridge and around the southern edge of Joshua Flat, passing through a small forest of junipers that grow nicely above the 7,000-foot level. A few bleached cattle bones (or more probably burro, as someone pointed out later) were found in my wandering across the high desert plateau. My route was more or less a beeline to Peak 7,750ft in an ESE direction, crossing a few small drainages along the way. I expected to find a fence marking the China Lake boundary somewhere along the way, but there was no sign of any such thing, nothing to delineate the border. Perhaps it's just too far away from vehicle access to have been considered worthwhile erecting one. Unlike the previous two summits which were rather flat and bland, Peak 7,750ft has a rocky summit with some easy class 3 scrambling to reach the highpoint. An hour and half after leaving Silver, I was at the top. I found no sign of previous visitors, but left a small cairn to leave some evidence for future visitors. Even higher Coso Peak could be seen about five miles to the east and I began to entertain the idea of paying it an unplanned visit since I was heading somewhat in that direction. I would leave the decision for later in the afternoon.
It was after 12:30p when I left the summit heading northeast along the connecting ridgeline with the Coso Range Wilderness HP. I must have crossed back out of the Navy base somewhere enroute, but again, no fence was noted (although I did pass by a large, random cairn). Though not flat, the Wilderness HP was less than satisfying. There appeared to be about four or five competing rock outcrops set among more junipers and scraggily pines. The best-looking outcrop was clearly lower than the others. At the last one I checked I found a register. I figured John Vitz would have left it, but it was the work of Sue and Vic Henney in 2010. One other person had signed it until my visit. As the views were non-plussed, I immediately scampered down the East Face, a drop of nearly 1,000ft on steep, but not technically difficult slopes.
I was now in Upper Centennial Flat and was looking for one of several old dirt roads I had seen from the highpoint. Running east-west and nearly in line with my direction of travel, I found what I hadn't been able to locate earlier - a fence. Since 4WDs can venture up this way, just outside the wilderness boundary, the navy must have seen fit to keep the unwashed masses off their property. They did not, however, see fit to fund its upkeep as the fence has fallen into disrepair and could not keep out burros, let alone people. I hiked for almost half an hour across the northern edge of the flat on the old road, heading east. I passed by more base signs and an unused entrance to the base, no longer used. It was after 2p when I reached decision time, the closest point I would get to Coso Peak. I was still just over three miles from Coso in a straight line. It would be after dark before I got back, that much was sure and I probably could get to Coso before sunset. But it seemed like much of the cross-country return would be in the dark, cold, and not all that pleasant. Was it worth it? I did not hesitate all that much in making the decision not to go to Coso. The main reason wasn't that it would be dark, but rather that I was already pretty tired. This extra bit of workout would cause me more pain than I was willing to put up with. I'd stick to the original plan to do Coso Peak the next morning.
I followed the road as it turned north and started down the unnamed canyon east of Centennial Canyon. There was solid snow coverage on the road in the upper portion of the canyon, about 50% in the middle and none towards the bottom, but the snow found on the road was consolidated enough to walk on without punching through. Several pairs of footprints showed that someone had walked up the canyon over the past month, but they did not appear to go any further than the mouth of Upper Centennial Flat. Someone had driven partway up the canyon before turning around at a tight spot where the canyon forks. It was after 3p before I had returned to the car, somewhat earlier than I had expected.
I didn't have quite enough time for an easy bonus peak (Zinc Hill comes to mind), so it was time to call it a day. I took a rinse with the gallon of warm water off the dashboard and once changed into fresh clothes, did a bit of driving. I went back out to the Gill Corral where I'd spent the night, then headed south to see how far I could get. I was able to drive five of the six miles to the road's end at the China Lake boundary, a slow, sandy, sometimes rocky affair that would have been better done with a high clearance vehicle. But I was happy with the results and even found a flat spot off the road to spend the night. Now, what movie do I have to go with dinner tonight?....
This page last updated: Fri Jan 31 08:22:10 2014
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