Old Woman Mountain P2K DPS / DS
Clipper Mountains HP P2K

Fri, Nov 14, 2008

With: Evan Rasmussen

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

The start of my four day getaway was delayed by the need for me to attend the PAC (Parent Action Council) meeting at my children's elementary school. I had volunteered to represent the 4th grade class some months earlier, not knowing at the time what my climbing schedule was going to be. The meeting was scheduled for 7:45p, so I figured the earliest I could get away would be 9p, the latest 10p, which might make it hard for me to meet Evan in Danby at 6a the next morning. No matter, I would do my duty. The meeting was to be preceded by a Parents Club dinner to honor some of the chairpersons for the recent fundraisers, so I was at the assigned meeting room by 6p with the van loaded with gear having nothing to do with elementary education or the financing thereof. The first thing I was made aware of was that the PAC meeting had been moved to Monday night. Ok, I can socialize over dinner, then split earlier than I had expected. So far so good. Attending the dinner with me, my wife told me it would be okay if I left before dinner started, knowing I had a long drive ahead of me. No, I would do my duty. Another 15 minutes passes and the room begins to fill. My wife, noticing the cluelessness on my part, makes it obvious by saying, "You know, this dinner is going to be all women." What? I look around, and sure enough I'm the only person present with a Y chromosome. "But it's billed as a 'Parents Club'. If it's really all just women, why don't they call it a 'Womens Club'?" I ask. She shrugs. I kiss my wife and thank the main hostess with a hug and duck out. I'll never understand school politics. No more than they'd understand driving all night to a deserted town in the middle of the desert. Maybe that's not a fair comparison, because not many guys understand that last one either.

Danby is an old railroad town along a stretch of US66 that has long since been usurped by Interstate 40. I was to meet Evan in Danby in the morning for a climb of Old Woman Mountains. Because of my early exit from the Bay Area, I was able to reach Danby around 3a, giving me enough time for some sleep. I was hoping to find him just off the pavement near US66, but he had driven down some mile and a half along the dirt road to park. I pulled in behind him and went to sleep in the back of the van, only to be awakened every half hour or so as a train roared by. The town was dead, but the rail line was very much alive. In the morning I congratulated Evan on his fine choice of camping location. At least he didn't park on the tracks.

We were both up promptly at 6a, breakfasted, I tossed my gear in Evan's truck, and off we went. The sun had risen shortly after 6a, an orange glow on the Clipper Mtns to the northwest, but it was all shade as we drove west up a bumpy dirt road towards the Old Woman Mtns. We parked according to the DPS guide at the Wilderness boundary, continuing on foot up the road about 7:20a.

Without a cloud in the sky, our only weather issue was the high wind warnings forecast for the area. The wind had been strong through the night (though not as loud as the trains), and continued in the morning. It would be an ever-present factor the whole day, but really didn't hinder us much, even near the summits. Mostly it just made talking difficult at times and had the pleasant effect of moderating the daytime temps that rose to 85F.

We followed the road east nearly to its end at an abandoned mine site dug into the foothills of the range. We chose the DPS "A" route for the ascent, heading up a rocky canyon nicely shaded in the sun. After reaching a small saddle we continued up the ridgeline a short ways before realizing we were supposed to traverse into the canyon on the other side. Little matter as we simply traversed higher up to no ill effect. This led to the Northwest Ridge of the summit which we dutifully followed to the top, the whole ascent taking less than two hours.

There was a DPS ammo box and register at the summit along with a small radio antenna and service shed, the latter thoughtfully located a short distance below the actual summit. The summit benchmark had been removed some time in the past, but a reference benchmark stamped "WOMAN" was found nearby. Looking generally southeast, I had a hard time telling which of several possible pinnacles was Old Woman Statue, but since we had no plans to visit it on this trip, it mattered little. It was nice at the summit, even at this early hour, despite a stiff wind.

Upon descending, we chose to take a more direct route off the summit, utilizing a canyon on the northeast side of the peak rising to a point just off the SE Ridge. We scrambled down the ridge and into the canyon we'd eyed from above. The top was the steepest part, but none of it was harder than class 3. It turned out to be a more interesting route than the ascent one, with a few easy class 3 sections and the rest fairly tame. Thankfully, no bushwhacking, but the occasional cat-claw and other thorny desert flora kept us on our toes. Lower in the canyon we found a few large cairns erected near to where our canyon joins with the DPS "B" route, though it was unclear what the cairns were meant to signify. Surely there was no real route-finding issues on this peak and it seemed possible to climb it by almost any conceivable path one might choose.

A bit further down the canyon and we were able to traverse over the Route B saddle, the other side leading down to the abandoned mine and the start of both A and B routes. It was 11:15a when we returned to the van, making the whole outing about four hours in length. Still plenty of time for another outing, we figured.

Originally we had talked about doing the nearby Ship Mtns, but I changed this at the last minute to the Clipper Mtns, also nearby. Neither is on the DPS list, but Clipper ranks on the P2K list, giving it the nod by my reckoning. Evan was good with either since both fall on his list of CA range highpoints.

We drove back to Danby to pick up my van, then on to US66 and north to the town of Essex and the Clipper Mtns. Our maps indicated we could drive out on a dirt road from Essex, approaching the range from the southeast. There were other routes from the north, but the one we chose involved the least amount of driving. There was some trouble in finding the road since additional roads had been created besides those shown on our maps. We drove northwest out of Essex on the paved road, turning left on a dirt road alongside some utility poles. We followed this road for a couple miles, staying straight (generally southwest) as it crossed several shallow washes. The nicely graded road was left behind with the utility poles as things got rougher across the desert flats and washed. Eventually we found the crossroad heading northwest, though unsigned and not altogether obvious. This we followed for some three miles until we could safely drive no more, which is saying a bit. Though not equipped with 4WD, Evan's diesel truck is large, with large tires, giving it good ground clearance. The tires are normally inflated to around 80 psi, much higher than passenger vehicle tires, and can be deflated by 30-50 psi as needed to get through tough sandy areas. I wouldn't have made it past the utility poles in my own vehicle, so the extra mechanical advantage saved us a good 8 miles round trip. It helped that Evan had been driving his truck on such terrain for hundred of miles in his quest to reach all the range highpoints, and he no longer showed concern on roads that had me feeling exhausted just as a passenger.

We weren't quite able to make it to the end of the road at Hummingbird Spring, but it was good enough, getting us to within three air miles of the highpoint. It was 1:20p when we started out, somewhat hurried since the sun would set in a little over three hours. So far east in the state, sunset arrives this time of year around 4:40p. We hiked the road up a small canyon, following the road as it climbed out of the canyon to its terminus at a saddle with the next canyon to the west. Aiming for an obvious cliff just below Pt. 1,189m, we traversed several more small canyons before climbing up to the base of the cliff. Following to the left, around the base of the cliff, brought us to another canyon just south of the range's main SW-NE ridgeline. The easiest route appeared to be along the ridge itself, but a more direct route looked feasible up the NE face of the false summit between us and the highpoint. Without discussing the choice with Evan, I headed for the direct route. A short distance behind, Evan didn't see me as he headed right for the ridge option.

Though it looked like it might be class 3 from a distance, the direct route turned out to be nothing more than steep class 2 with some loose boulders. I made it to the false summit at 3:10p, well ahead of Evan who was still negotiating the connecting ridgeline. Ten minutes later I was at the highpoint, marked by a large cairn and an HPS-style red register can. Shadows were starting to grow across the desert as the strong wind drove me over to the leeward side of the mountain where I ducked out of the cold to wait for Evan. He was another ten minutes in joining me, afterwhich we stayed but a minute before starting down.

My meager research on Clipper Mtn the night before showed there was a plane crash located some 400ft off the summit in one of the side canyons. I didn't really fix the location, hoping we might recognize the canyon (there was a picture on the web I had seen) once at the top. Several canyons seemed to fit the bill based on my weak memory, and with the fading sun we didn't really feel like spending more time find it. We gave up the bonus visit in short order.

We made good time returning via the more direct route off the false summit, passing down below the base of the cliff again as the last rays of sunlight were diminishing on the surrounding ranges. We managed to get back to by 5:15p, not long before the available light would have failed us completely.

It took us a number of more hours to drive back out to Interstate 40, have a quick dinner in Needles, then drive south towards Vidal Junction for our meeting place the next morning. Matthew was to join us for the outing to Turtle Mountains, and would likely be getting a lot less sleep than Evan and I as we bedded down around 10p. I might have spent more time feeling sorry for Matthew and the coming day if I hadn't managed to fall asleep within a few minutes. Unlike the old saying, there really is rest for the weary.


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