Maturango Peak P2K ex-DPS / DPG

Fri, Mar 7, 2008
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile
later climbed Sat, Mar 25, 2017

On a previous visit to the desert while chasing DPS peaks, I joked to Matthew that the next step up in DPS peakbagging from doing them all as dayhikes (not as hard as the SPS list) would be to do them all from the pavement. This would have the advantage of being easier on the vehicle, but of course some of them require 30 or more miles on dirt road - so it was more of a joke at the time. Today, however, I did not want to tackle the 3.5 miles of "poor dirt road" - which in DPS parlance means you'd better have high clearance 4WD - so I would be getting in a few extra miles, and in fact even a few more because I couldn't find the dirt road.

I had driven through the night from San Jose to arrive at paved Nadeau Rd off the Trona-Wildrose Hwy near Death Valley around 3:30a. I had noted the odometer reading ended in "0" when I turned onto Nadeau in order to drive the 6.0 miles to the dirt road as described in the DPS guide. For some reason, and I strongly think this had to do more with sleep deprivation and my sorry state of consciousness than with my math skills, I calculated that the road should be when the odometer registered "7". And so I drove well past the correct point, found a dirt road that was not signed as expected (in fact there were no signs at all, and later that day I found there was no sign at the correct turn off either), and proceeded to drive back and forth looking for the correct one. A GPS coordinate would have saved me a good deal of trouble. Not finding what I was looking for, I decided it would be foolish to strike out for the hills in the dark and climbed in the back of the van to sleep until morning.

I was up and on my way by 6a, not long before sunrise. The dirt road offered no more clues in the morning than it had done at night. The mountains to the west though not quite homogeneous, had no obvious highpoint in the distance marking Maturango Peak. There were several canyons visible, though I couldn't tell which was my target, Bendire Canyon. The dirt road looked to lead off to several quarries in the foothills, none of which were described in the DPS guide. My saving point was the GPS which I had loaded with coordinates for that portion of the route inside the Wilderness boundary. It indicated I was some five miles from the first coordinate, roughly in the direction that the dirt road headed off in. So off I went up the road.

In a few miles it did indeed lead me to the quarries. From the looks of it, they had extracted decorative white rock, the stuff they line gardens with and the same rock my parents had on their house in Southern California (rock roofs were "in" back in the late 1950s). There didn't seem to have been any activity around here in some time. The roads eventually all ended in culverts and gullies, leading me to head cross-country, traversing the low forehills in search of Bendire Canyon. Assuming I was further north than I should have been, the map I carried with me indicated that these forehills rose up to a lower front ridge that I wouldn't want to be on unless I was interested in an undulating ridgeline with a few extra thousand feet of elevation gain and loss to reach Maturango. I wasn't. I already had something like 7,000ft of gain on my plate with the start from the pavement, so I didn't want to pile on the additional gain if I could help it.

It took about an hour and a half from the start to finally make my way into Bendire Canyon. The road and canyon fell neatly into place with what my map and head had agreed was where I ought to be. I followed the old road, now inside the Wilderness boundary, for more than an hour, passing by a derelict wooden structure (for loading ore?) before eventually coming to the end of the road where the canyon narrows to about 15 feet in width. A concrete pad and some large ducks on the opposite side of the wash are all that remain of another structure that used to anchor the road at this point.

A note on the route: the DPS guide says to continue 0.75mi past the end of the road in the canyon to a dry waterfall. This is a mistake. One should cross the wash where the road ends and climb the loose hillside behind the concrete pad to a saddle overlooking the dry waterfall if you want to keep it class 2. An old trail at the saddle leads back down to the canyon above the waterfall.

Following the guide, I continued through the narrow opening in the canyon and around the corner to the dry waterfall. Imposing at first sight, it seemed easier when approached and I made a first attempt at scaling it directly. The smooth, water-worn nature of the rock near the top had me pause as I looked for adequate holds for my hands with about 15 feet to go. There were some old rusty nails in the crack running up the middle, perhaps remnants of an old wooden ladder or some other means to scale the obstacle. The nails were no longer solidly anchored and I couldn't trust them to make any use of them myself. After standing there with my legs stemming across the gap for several minutes, I backed off and dropped back down to the wash. Rereading my notes, it describes scrambling up "loose slopes to the south of the waterfall," so I looked for a way around on the left side. It looked like cliffs, but maybe there was a shelf above I couldn't see from below. I backed out about 50 yards from the waterfall and climbed up what I would describe as exposed class 3. It didn't feel like the class 2 I expected in any respect. After about 10 minutes of carefully walking about on the hillside I gave up (no shelf found) and went back down. I gave the direct route up the waterfall a second try, thinking maybe I just didn't give a good enough look the first time. The second effort went no better and once again I backed down. What the heck? Looking back up on the south side, I thought I might be able to climb even further up to the ridge above. Back up I went. It was a bit sketchy, but eventually I made my way up to the ridge where I found - a trail, of all things.

That was about the last thing I thought I might find. It was a remnant of a much more elaborate trail that must have existed back in the mining days, with a good deal of rocky embankment laborously applied to make this trail across the steep slope. It appears the trail comes up a steep slope opposite the wash about where the road had ended, continuing across a small saddle and then back into the wash. Oh well, at least the return would be easy enough. I followed the trail into the wash above the waterfall where it appeared to abruptly end. I continued up Bendire Canyon, following the twists and turns as they led me higher into the range. There was much evidence of both people and animals. Rusting cans and other detritus told of much activity at one time in the canyon. Animal bones littered the ground in places and some were even used in building ducks. A great deal of scat on the ground showed that there was a thriving population of either mules or horses still inhabiting the region. Feral burros, as I found out later, were the denizens these days. The scat, it turns out, was quite helpful. It didn't take long to realize that the thin, broken use trail that makes its way up the canyon was primarily forged by the burros. With a good deal of brush in places, the use trail was something to keep track of - whenever I was unsure where to go, I would repeat my new mantra, "follow the poop." Invariably it led to the easiest route through the brush.

As I climbed higher in the canyon I started to come across snow, old patches from the last snow several weeks earlier. These came to be more congruous, eventually covering the north-facing slopes to several inches. Shortly before noon I had climbed high enough to start my exit out of the canyon and on to the peak itself. Despite the GPS, I was unsure which of two side canyons I was supposed to ascend according to the DPS guide. I suppose it mattered little as they weren't all that inviting with snow now more or less continuous in these shady canyons. Instead, I climbed the ridge between them, staying on the snow-free southeast-facing slopes as much as I could. This led to the connecting ridge that joins the peak from the northeast. A last stretch of snow-covered slopes was unavoidable as I sunk up to my knees in making the last 100 yards to the summit. It was 12:30p when I finally topped out, some six and half hours since the start - a great deal longer than I would have guessed beforehand.

With Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range on one side and the Southern Sierra on the other, the views were quite fine. Below me to the west was the China Lake Weapons Center, though it looked to be rather placid and dull at the moment - not a soul was moving about on any of the many square miles I could see around me. I had hoped to also cover the short distance of about a mile to Parkinson Peak, the only other peak around of note, but my view from Maturango showed nothing but snow along the conjoining ridgeline - not so much fun and I had already put in quite a few hours. I would settle for just one peak on the day. While I took my brief rest I perused the summit register, the usual DPS ammo can with entries going back to some unreadable pages from the 1990s.

My return was via nearly the same route as the ascent, with a few modifications. I took a more direct route off the summit to avoid the snow and make it down to the canyon without having to cross more than a few patches. Once in the canyon, I made sure to avoid the waterfall by taking the easier slope back to the end of the road. From there I followed the road down for about a mile past where I had joined it in the morning, in order to skirt around the foothills I had humped up and over during the ascent. Aside from about a dozen washes I had to traverse across, this worked better than the route in the morning. Back on the road leading from the quarries, it was a simple matter to follow it to the car. Three burros were in the vicinity of the van when I arrived there around 4:40p. They weren't too thrilled with my presence, spooking off behind a rise in the distance before I could get close enough for a decent picture. Oh well.

After almost 11hrs of hiking, I was ready for a cold drink. An ice chest full of numerous beverage choices was awaiting me in the van. The only difficulty remaining was in choosing which order to consume them...


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