Newberry Mountains HP P1K
Bristol Mountains HP P1K

Fri, Dec 7, 2012

With: Karl Fieberling
Laura Molnar

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


Day 3 of my 9-day desert trip saw three of us parked alongside Camp Rock Road about a mile from Interstate 40. Laura had met me the night before at the Starbucks in Barstow where we then had dinner at a local diner. Karl had driven in from Santa Cruz arriving around midnight at the appointed spot on the road where Laura and I were already fast asleep. Today's objectives were a couple of range highpoints, the first in the Newberry Mountains. The small range and accompanying Wilderness lie just south of the interstate. The Newberry HP is located in the southern part of the range and most easily approached from a side road off the dirt Camp Rock Rd. Leaving two of our vehicles, we drove in Karl's Element to the starting point near Hadden Well. There is a ranch located here, with cattle seen in the nearby desert flats grazing what they can from the scrub and feeble grasses.

Starting shortly before 7:30a, we followed an easy wash to the north for several miles to the base of our mountain. Along the way we came across several tortoise shells lying empty on the gravel wash. I have yet to see a live tortoise in the desert, but its always interesting to find the shells. The south slopes we climbed were steep but no more than class 2, while sporting a modest amount of sharp, spiney vegetation to watch out for. Watch where you're walking or you're sure to get stabbed. Most of the mountain and range are composed of volcanic rock and there were acres of softball-sized ones to negotiate on our climb. In all it took about an hour and a half to cover the nearly three miles to the summit. The views take in many square miles of brown desert: Barstow to the northwest, the Newberry Mtns to the north and northeast and the Ord Mtns to the south. A set of nested yellow cans (the new color?) were found among the summit rocks. The oldest scrap dated to 1975. MacLeod & Lilley visited in 1977, leaving a small film cannister which was later upgraded when Dave Jurasevich left a larger notebook in 1992. Probably half the names in the nine pages were recognizable as the usual collection of desert peakbaggers. Andy Smatko climbed it in 1990 and left a note that he had previously climbed it more than 15yrs earlier. We lounged about the summit in no particular hurry for about 20 minutes until I gathered up the troops for the return.

Our descent was nearly the route, using the main wash leading south. We found more tortoise shells including one of a juvenile and started finding many tortoise holes dug in the sides of the wash that we had not noticed during the ascent. We found no tortoises at home, look as we may. There was also an unusual gourd or desert melon that we found in several locations. These were never seen to have been eaten by the desert animals and could lie unrotting on the desert all summer and fall it would appear. It was nearly 10:30a by the time we returned, just over 3hrs for the round trip.

It would take us two and half hours to get to our next TH for the Bristol Mtns HP. This much larger range is located further east, in the Kelso Dunes Wilderness, just west of the Mojave National Preserve. The highpoint is located almost 13 miles due north of Ludlow. A high clearance dirt road starting from Ludlow gets one to within five miles of the highpoint from the west, but makes for a long drive. Once again, we left two cars at the large gravel truck parking at Ludlow and took Karl's north. The worst part is in the very beginning where the road has had washouts, but soon gets better. In the dry season one can take the direct route across Broadwell Lake which proved to be the best part of the entire route. We could easily reach speeds of 50mph on the surprisingly smooth surface which Karl reported to feel "spongy" and unsettling. A cloud of dust kicked up behind us which would have reduced visibility to anyone behind us to nearly zero. It was almost like racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Almost, but not quite.

Not long before 1p we found a place to park off the road that services the powerline we parked under. We headed southeast to the opening of a broad wash that would lead us to the interior of the Bristol Mtns and our highpoint. It was easy walking through open desert. There were hardly any cacti at all in this area which always makes things easier. We spent almost two hours walking across the flats and then up the sandy wash. The broad wash splinters into a bunch or narrower canyons and we had our choice of two that looked to head in the right direction. We chose the left one, finding it windy and narrow and a bit of fun with some class 2-3 steps to overcome. Eventually it opened to a wider jumble of rock and reconnected with the right fork of the wash that we had forgone earlier. There was more winding our way up the canyon until we were only half a mile from our summit. At this point we climbed out of the canyon to the right and made our way up the last 800ft (very steep!) to the summit.

It was 3:20p when I pulled up at the obvious highpoint marked by the broken remains of a survey tower. Karl joined me a few minutes later, but we seemed to have lost Laura. She appeared another five minutes later along the ridge further north, taking her time with photographs and enjoying the surroundings before joining us. A summit register in a pair of cans looked to have been left by Evan Rasmussen less than three years ago. A few other names, including Sue & Vic Henney appeared on the single page before our own names were added. This struck me as atypical. A range highpoint without an older register from Gordon & Barbara? I dug further into the summit cairn on a hunch and came up with a second pair of nested cans. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was several decades old. Dave Jurasevich had left it with a scrap of paper in 1992, supplemented by a notebook when Adrian, Carey & Hanna (the San Diego SC crew) visited in 1996. No sign of MacLeod/Lilley, but at least the peak hadn't been neglected as it first appeared. We tore out the first page of the newer register and added it to the older one, then packed up the newer cans and booklet - they would be better used on another summit.

After half an hour at the summit, I remarked to the others that we had only about 40 minutes of sunlight left. They got the hint and quickly packed up. We dropped down from the summit not too far south of where we went up, following a slightly different course down the face and into the drainage. Here we made a slight change to our ascent route, following the southern branch back to the main wash. This turned out to be slightly more interesting with a few class 3 falls to entertain ourselves with. We were snapping pictures of the orange mountainsides as the sun went down shortly after 4:30p, and soon after we were back in the broad wash were we paused one last time to check out a mine shaft cut in the hillside. We still had something like three miles to get back to the car and it was pretty certain by now it would be by headlamp. We kept up a good pace for the remaining distance, Karl and I trying to see if we could outlast each other before putting on a headlamp. Laura gave up on this game rather early (we contend she simply doesn't have enough testosterone to compete properly), turning on her light somewhere before 5:30p. Karl and I persisted to the end. We watched the sky fade to grey and the stars come out above. Our vision dimmed until we were only seeing the slight variations between light gray (sandy wash sections) and darker gray (shrubs), aiming for the lighter colors and hoping for the best. Occasionally we'd miss and run into a small shrub. This could have been disasterous had we done this with one of the cacti. There weren't many we knew, but there were some, and it was a chance collision with one of these that we most dreaded. Still we wouldn't turn on our headlamps, still we continued to joke and taunt each other, Laura not far behind us and dying to say, "I told you so!" In hindsight we got lucky and made it back to the car just before 6p, unscathed. Heh-heh. Of course this would only embolden us on the next fool-crazy idea we might come up with.

We all agreed it was a pretty good afternoon, much better than the outing to the Newberry HP. We drove back to Ludlow where I took a cold shower in the gravel parking lot, almost admitting it wasn't worth the effort. At least I was clean. We treated ourselves to dinner at the Dairy Queen conveniently located across the parking lot. Yum! Afterwards, we had more driving to the Visitor Center at Hole-in-the-Wall in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve. Tom Becht was already here when the three of us drove into the small parking lot. We were ready to sack out in the back of our respective cars when we got a visit from the local NPS staff, the host of the nearby campground. We explained that we were there to meet our two friends, Sean and Jen, which was quite true. He did us one better and told us they were waiting for us at the campground. He was a clever one, he was. It was nearly 9p when we found the others at the campground. They decided to join us for camping outside the campground ($12 per site), north along Black Canyon Road where we'd leave a car in the morning as part of our planned shuttle for a one-way hike. They still had to disassemble their tent, but I told them we'd be easy to find just three miles up the road. It turned out to be more like five miles, and they gave up looking for us before driving that far. No matter, we'd all reconvene again in the morning...


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