The Knob
Buwalda Ridge
Peak 2,507ft
Peak 2,805ft P300
Peak 3,147ft P300
Peak 3,011ft P300

Sat, Jan 16, 2021

With: Tom Becht
Iris Ma
Tom Grundy

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX


TomB had been plagued by a foot injury that was going to keep him from joining us for a desert outing this weekend. I suggested we might do some jeeping, knowing that would be a big incentive. Karl and I had been to the Mojave River around Ft. Cady a week earlier, and I suggested we could Jeep on a portion of the Mojave Trail. It was an old Indian footpath that was upgraded to a wagon road by the US Army just before the Civil War, eventually all but abandoned once the US highway system was built. Now it's mostly an OHV destination and there are a number of books and online resources describing its path across the California desert from Barstow to the Colorado River. We planned to do the westernmost section between Ft. Cady and Kelbaker Rd in the Mojave Preserve. We would never make it to Kelbaker Rd, but we did enjoy two days exploring this historic route.

We met up at the Harvard exit off Interstate 15, some miles east of Barstow, leaving Iris's car at the Circle K there - 2WD and low-clearance would be worthless on the sandy journey before us. We packed gear for TomG and Iris in the two Jeeps and head south for the Mojave River. It did not take long to find that the Mojave Trail does not connect to the Mojave River from the Harvard exit, ending unceremoniously at a locked gate to a dilapidated shooting club. Some quick research online found that the better starting point is the Manix exit, just east of the Harvard one. So we drove back out to the Interstate, got off at the next exit, and began our adventure from there.

The Knob

This one's not so much a summit as a detached portion of the desert flats that have eroded into a neat badlands area on the north side of the Mojave River. A jeep road forks off the main road to get you within a few minutes' walk to The Knob. More adventurous drivers have crossed the eroding neck connecting it to the mainland, but it is not without some risk. TomG and I parked where the road is still decent, then walked the few minutes over to The Knob's highpoint. It's an interesting spot amidst the badlands surrounding it, but not very summit-y. Iris and TomB in the other Jeep somehow lost track of us and didn't appear as expected. It took a phone call to direct them to where we were - evidently they weren't following the peakbagger app which would have made it pretty easy to find.

Buwalda Ridge

This is a high bluff on the north side of the river, three miles northeast of The Knob. Back in the Jeeps, we drove the sandy route in the Mojave River, stopping less than half a mile south of the ridge's highpoint. The terrain is more badlands and the ridge we climbed quite steep and barely what I would call safe. TomB sore foot did not benefit from the climb and he regretted following us. After we reached the highpoint, I suggested he might want to make the longer, but gentler descent to the east where we could pick him up. Three of us were back to the Jeeps half an hour from starting out and I thought it would be easy to find Tom descending one of the side washes. It was starting to look like a bad idea after I'd driven and hiked up to an overlook point and could see no sign of him anywhere. This was a big area and there were lots of places to hide a body, even a moving one. Eventually I got a call from TomB who'd spotted me driving past. He'd made better progress than I expected as was already down in the main Mojave Wash.

Peak 2,507ft - Peak 2,805ft

Reunited, we drove the Jeeps a short distance further in the river before forking south on a rough, but serviceable jeep road. These last four summits are all located in the northern part of the Cady Mtns, a collection of summits that Karl and I had run out of time for on our trip earlier in the month. We followed a mining road into the range, stopping in a wash conveniently located between the first two summits. Thinking better of aggravating his foot, TomB stayed with his Jeep while the three of us headed up to Peak 2,507ft to the west. This was more common volcanic terrain with much better footing that the badlands earlier. It took us only 15min to reach the summit, where we took a brief pause to take in the views before heading back the same way. After rejoining with TomB, we drove the Jeeps a short distance to an old mine site closer to Peak 2,805ft. There were a number of old vehicles here, rusting and shot full of holes. One was a mid-60s Chevy Nova, the others a couple of station wagons that had somehow found themselves upside down. While TomB explored this little playground further, the rest of us went steeply up the somewhat loose slopes to the top of Peak 2,805ft in about 20min. There was an aluminum tripod discarded at the summit, along with the expected desert views. After returning back down, we explored the partial shell of an old Bluebird bus left at the mine site. TomG modeled the Chris McCandless pose for us before we returned to the Jeeps.

Peak 3,147ft - Peak 3,011ft

The last two summits are found a few miles further east, but required about six miles of driving to reach. We backtracked a few miles on the roads we'd already used before veering off on another track to take us back into the Cady Mtns between these two summits. The road became sandy and then very steep, and in the lead I got bogged down and came to a halt. I was already in 4WD, so I switched on the lockers and tried again. I got nowhere. I backed down the road a short distance and tried a running start several more times, each time grinding to halt, sand flying. I then backed down and turned off the road to give TomB a shot. He gunned the motor and blazed his way up, no lockers, no stopping. After getting out of sight ahead, I backed into the road, descended to where he'd started from, and tried again. I got further than my first attempts, but didn't make it out of the sandy section before coming to a stop again. This time I just turned off the engine, got out, and packed up my things. TomG and I abandoned it where it'd stopped and hiked up to find TomB with a big grin. I had expected him to take great pleasure in out-Jeeping me and I was not disappointed. I made no excuses - TomB was just better than me and I was happy to find him getting the most out of the situation.

TomB's Jeep was already loaded with a lot of gear and we briefly discussed moving it to the roof so that TomG and I could ride inside. We were still about 3mi from our starting point, so it was definitely to our advantage to have Tom drive us as far as we could manage. TomG and I decided it would be quicker and perhaps more fun to simply ride on the back of the Jeep, "clown car-ing" as we called it. It was a bit of work to stay on the back of the Jeep with some rough riding ahead, but we managed it well enough, only jumping off a few times when it looked like the Jeep might slide off the roadway. We eventually got to another sand section where the Jeep struggled to get up a short embankment, the rear sliding off into the wash, forcing him to back up and try again. We were already close enough to the summits by this time so that it mattered little, and after a second failed attempt we gave up to start the hike. Tom would stay with the Jeep and repack stuff onto the roof while the others went off for more peakbagging.

After crossing a few sandy gullies, we ascended the NE Ridge of Peak 3,147ft over a false summit to reach the top in about 40min. There was time taken at the summit to reapply sunscreen, take in the views, eat various treats, and to leave a register. We went back down the same ridge but continued northeast towards the last summit, Peak 3,011ft, about a mile from the previous one. This took us across the upper part of the wash system we had driven in on, crossing the road we had hoped to use just before starting up to Peak 3,011ft from the southwest. There were recent tracks on the road, but what we didn't know was that they were Tom's - he'd rearranged the Jeep to fit four inside, then went about making it past the sandy section he'd gotten stopped at earlier. He was currently east of us, driving to the end of the road and wondering what had become of us. He had expected to see us somewhere on Peak 3,011ft, but we were still descending the previous peak at the time. The slope we ascended was loose and somewhat tedious, probably the least fun slope of those we climbed today. Upon reach the summit around 2:45p, I looked back to see that Tom had come back, spied us, and positioned his Jeep to pick us up upon our descent. It would save us about half a mile of desert walking, so we were happy that he'd found us. We left a second register on this summit before descending the same way.

After picking us up, we drove back down the wash/road to the stranded Jeep, retrieved that, and then headed down to the Mojave River. Picking up the Mojave Trail once again, we headed east, intending to spend the remaining daylight driving through Afton Canyon. Somewhere before reaching the canyon, I noticed Tom was no longer following me. TomG and I backtracked to find that he had stopped so they could collect a load of firewood that was freely available in the broad wash. Rather than figure out a way to strap yet more stuff to the top of Tom's Jeep, we decided to camp there for the night, not 20ft off the Mojave Trail. This worked out quite nicely, giving us some remaining daylight to set up camp, shower and socialize before it got chilly. We started a campfire around sunset and let it burn until we were ready for bed hours later. It was one of the better camp spots I'd found this season. I went to bed reeking of smoke inside the Jeep and in most of my clothes, but it was well worth the nuisance...


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