Old Dad Mountains HP P500
Castle Peak P900 ex-DPS / DS
Van Winkle Mountain P750 DS
Silver Peak P500 DS

Mon, Nov 12, 2012
Old Dad Mountains HP
Castle Peak
Silver Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4

My daughter was going with her class on a weeklong field trip to Olympia National Park in Washington, so it seemed a good opportunity to take off on my own since I wouldn't be needed to shuttle her around to dance and volleyball and school. I contacted Evan to see if he could join me - as a retired outdoor enthusiast, he's one of the few friends I have that might be interested in joining me on a desert excursion during the week on short notice. He had to move around an appointment with the cable guys, but was able to join me for four of the five days I had available. Since I would be on my own today, I decided to start by tackling a few range highpoints that Evan had already climbed.

Old Dad Mountains (not to be confused with Old Dad Mountain, a DPS peak about 20 miles further north) is a small range just north of Interstate 40 and east of Ludlow, sandwiched between the much broader Bristol Mountains and the far more impressive Granite Mountains. That they were endowed as their own range was the whim of the early surveyors and mapmakers in the region, and arguably done in a lax manner. Nevertheless there is an identifiable highpoint to the range, and it was to this that I was headed. Evan had taken advantage of dirt roads starting from the east off Kelbaker Rd to get within two and half miles of the summit, but my van was not up to the dusty, high-clearance affair. Instead, I would start from the south along I-40. Unlike I-15 which is signed for Emergency Parking Only, I-40 does not appear to be so restricted. I was still unsure of the legality of parking on the shoulder of the interstate, so I wasted little time leaving the scene once I had parked.

Driving from San Jose the previous evening, I had slept the last four hours of the night in the mostly-abandoned town of Ludlow, rose around 6a and started hiking from I-40 half an hour later. I found a convenient breach in the surrounding barbed-wire that protects vehicles from the unwanted disturbances from desert animals, dropping into a wash that runs under the freeway and following it northward towards the Old Dad Mtns. For the most part the hike was pleasant and only a mile longer than the approach used by Evan from the east. The wash provided a convenient conduit to hike most of the distance brush-free, with a few interesting sights that included some man-made markers (not sure to what purpose) and some small, softball-sized desert melons that looked ripe, but had no takers among the desert creatures. There were also several interesting geologic features, including some uplifted layered sandstone. The wash eventually transistioned into low hills as I followed one of the dry creekbeds along a shallow, winding canyon reaching further into the hills. I had been eyeing for some time what I thought was the impressive highpoint still a good distance to the north, when it occurred to me that I had been staring at Granite Mountain, the highpoint of the more impressive range 3-4 miles further north. In fact, I almost hiked my way through the Old Dad range before I realized this. To my left was the far less impressive rounded summit of the Old Dad Mtns highpoint I had nearly bypassed.

Turning left, I was at the highpoint of the Old Dad Mtns in another half hour, reaching the large cairn marking the summit shortly before 8a. A register had been placed in 2007 by Richard Carey and Gail Hanna, with one party signing in for each of the next three years. Sue and Vic Henney had been the last visitors in 2010 and had found the older register dating to 1981. That one showed six parties over a twenty year period. Two of those were led by Gordon MacLeod who appears to have competed with Andy Smatko for the most CA desert ascents (Andy's name was surprisingly missing from this peak). The views from the summit are not expansive due to the relatively low height of the summit (only 600ft of prominence), but it does provide an excellent vantage point from which to view the Granite Mtns to the northeast. I returned via a slightly different route off the south side to return to the main wash, getting back to the highway by 9:30a. It appears that the Old Dad Mountains can be climbed from any direction at class 2.

I drove a short distance east to Kelbaker Rd, turning south and then to a dirt road heading east, following the directions provided by Evan. The pipeline road was sufficiently graded for any vehicle, though a bit steep and a little sandy in places. There was at least one party I found encamped off this road, for OHV and hunting purposes. I passed a man decked out in camo alongside the road, sitting comfortably in a chair next to his truck and gazing through high-powered binoculars to the north. Looking for bighorn sheep or deer, I presumed. In fact I had seen a good-sized ram with a half-curled horn only minutes before while I was driving along the road. It actually approached my van as I neared, but when I rolled down the window to get a picture, it darted off suddenly as if just then recognizing me for a to-be-feared human instead of a large, moving thing that it probably is used to from the nearby interstate traffic. Hearing no shots over the next several hours and seeing no more of the sheep, I presume he escaped the hunter's gunsight to live another day.

When the GPS showed me pretty much due north of the Marble Mtns, I parked off in a wide spot. The Marbles Mtns are another small range in the area, with a similarly unnamed highpoint. Most of the range lies within the Trilobite Wilderness which was created by the 1994 CA Desert Protection Act. Unlike the Old Dad Mtns, the highpoint is easy to spot at the west end of a long, slightly rising ridgeline. The road provides access within two miles of the summit. It took only 50 minutes to make the easy hike across the desert flats and up the north slopes to the summit, the vegetation proving no real impediment, just like for Old Dad Mtns. The summit overlooks the Blossom Wash which drains gently towards the south into Cadiz Valley and the dry Bristol Lake. To the southeast are the lower, but more rugged peaklets of the Marble Mountains. The register consisted of around 15 loose pieces from a notebook that has partially disintegrated, the earliest entries dating to 1995. There were a number of the usual CA highpointers and DPS folks, a collection of unidentified others, and Evan's entry from 2009. I descended the NNW Ridge to make a large, teardrop loop of the outing, making it back to the van just before noon.

I drove back out to Kelbaker Rd and headed north into the Mojave National Preserve. The last peak I had planned for the day was an easy one listed in Zdon's book, Van Winkle Mtn. It lies in the southern portion of the preserve, a standalone peak in the surrounding flats that comprise Clipper Valley. The highpoint is visible from the road, accessible from just about anywhere along the pavement. I used the GPS to get me as close as possible, parking off the road when the distance to the summit registered a minimum, less than a mile and a half away. The mountain features some sedimentary cliffs sandwiched between volcanic layers above and below, but they offer only minor impediment to climbers. Starting to the northwest, I curved left to approach the summit from the north, skirting the wind-sculpted cliffs to one side to keep the climb to the standard class 2. There was more cactus found in this area than in the others I had visited in the morning, but not enough to become more than a casual concern. It took just under an hour to reach the summit where I was treated to fine views of the Clipper Valley to the east, the Marble Mtns to the south, west to the Granite Mtns and north to the Providence Mtns. A glass jar contained a single scrap of a paper coffee cup, only five days since it had been left. I dropped off the steeper west side of the summit with some easy class 3 down through the rocks to make a fine loop of the outing, taking about two hours roundtrip.

Finishing up a bit earlier than expected, I considered my prospects for getting in one last summit. The two contenders were Providence BM and Silver Peak, both a short drive to the north. Providence BM would be the tougher of the two and I recalled that I had turned back on my previous attempt due to a late start in the afternoon. Attempting this would be foolhardy, I judged, and quickly discounted it. Silver Peak was supposed to have a road leading nearly to the summit and would be better suited to a return after sunset. The access road was a bit uncertain though, with Zdon suggesting "good clearance recommended". Worth giving it shot, I found the dirt turnoff and headed southwest. For the most part is was a decent drive and I didn't bottom out. However, the road is narrow in places and I scratched up the sides a bit - but having done this so many times by now, it was of little concern. I made it to the turnaround at the Wilderness boundary and started out around 2:40p.

The Granite Mtns form a compact, rounded range with the Cottonwood Wash cutting into the east side of the range like a slice out of a pie. I had been up this wash seven years earlier when climbing the DPS-listed Granite Mtn. I remembered little of the area since that visit. There is indeed an old road leading nearly to the summit of Silver Mtn, but I did a poor job of finding it initially. The road has been washed out for the first half mile, so it is necessary to follow the sandy wash upstream for a short while. Where an old rusty water tank and some ranch fencing are left wasting, the old road can be found by hiking to the right out of the wash where the road runs on a parallel track. I missed this for more than a mile, even crossing the old track at one point without realizing it, before finding it near Cottonwood Spring. Up until this point I had some concern about returning through a cactus-infested nightmare in the dark, seeing as I was getting a late start, but the road would alleviate this issue. I followed the road as it climbs higher up Cottonwood Wash, past the turnoff for Granite Mtn, winding its way westward. It seems improbable that someone would have bulldozed a road up this canyon where it grows steep and jumbled, yet it does just that. The two-wheel track deteriorates to a single track, but this remains good nearly to the summit. The last several hundred feet to the summit are cross-country, the road ending at a dubious mine that looks to have produced nothing of value - mostly just scratchings at the surface of the mountain and small piles of tailings. I saw no mine shafts to indicate any significant effort to unleash the mountain's bounty.

I reached the summit around 4:15p, about 25 minutes before sunset. Six pages of a register found in a tin can dated only to 2011. It appears to be a fairly popular desert peak, probably on account of the good use trail that goes most of the way. The summit affords a good view of the Providence Mtns to the east and the Kelso Dunes to the north. There may have been good views to the west but at this time of day they were completely washed out by the sun, low in the sky. I managed the four mile return in an hour, helped by some jogging on the runnable portions of the downhill. The Providence Mtns glowed orange with the fading sun as I made my way down to the wash, now growing chilly in the shade of the mountains behind me. I was happy to get back without needing to use the headlamp, not long before 5:30p. My water jug left on the dash to warm in the sun during the day had cooled to lukewarm. It would not make for a very pleasant shower, but it was nice to rinse off and change into some fresh clothes before it grew dark.

Evan was scheduled to join me sometime late at night near the Providence Mtns, so I drove back to Kelbaker and then onto the dirt road to Arroweed Spring, the start for Providence BM. Zdon rates this road good for all vehicles, but it was in worse shape than the one I had just been on. I managed to drive 8/10th of a mile before finding a suitable clearing to get out of the road. Hopefully Evan would be able to find me. I had dinner and watched a movie in the van before bedding down for the night. My evening routine was become a bit too predictable...


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