Paradise Range HP P300
Paradise-NOS BM P300
Peak 3,695ft P900
Elephant Mountain P500 RS

Tue, Feb 11, 2014

With: Evan Rasmussen

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3

With some fresh snow in the Sierra, my attention returned once again to the desert. I emailed Evan to see if he might be interested in joining me for a few days in the Barstow/Baker area. As the only retired climbing partner I have, he was the most likely to have free time in the middle of the week. He was enticed with the chance to add a few more range highpoints to his list, including the Paradise, Mollhausen and Shadow ranges. He took the bait and we made plans to meet up Tuesday morning off the Ft. Irwin Road.

Paradise Range

This small range is found just outside the Fort Irwin Military Reservation, near its SW corner. Most of the range is BLM land, but the middle section is private. A hot springs has been developed there, but it does not appear to be open to the public and does not appear to be actively maintained. The highpoint is found at the north end of the range and is most easily accessed via a 4WD road inside the base. Evan had declined to attempt this on his first visit a few years earlier, thinking his camper parked on the side of the road would draw attention. The route I envisioned passed through the middle of the range, either through the private property if we found it abandoned, or at the edges of the BLM property. I easily found Evan's van just off the Ft. Irwin Rd where we agreed to meet when I pulled in around 1:30a. Evan had arrived in the afternoon and was fast asleep. I'd napped earlier in the day, so a short night's sleep would be no hindrance.

Up not long after 6a, we drove together in the van up the dirt road a little more than a mile before reaching a fork with both directions signed for private property. We could see several buildings at the hot springs and elsewhere that appeared to be possibly occupied, so we didn't chance driving further. We parked and started out just before 7a. We chose to skirt the valley to the right, going past one home that had no cars outside. Though it appeared to be still in use, the lack of a vehicle suggested it was currently empty. We spent about half an hour skirting the edge of the private property before heading back to the main wash and following a sandy road north in the direction of the highpoint. As we came to find, there are numerous motorcycle tracks branching off in various directions. After following the jeep track north and northwest to the top of the wash, we used one of these motorcycle tracks to get us within about 500ft of the highpoint. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the summit. The summit area was strewn with large boulders and small pinnacles, the highest of which was a short but easy class 3 effort to reach. We both thought this pinnacle really helped make the visit a worthwhile effort. Unfortunately I had the camera on an incorrect setting and most all of the pictures I took over the next several hours were badly washed out.

The Paradise Range was only the first stop on my plan to reach a P1K about 4.5 miles further NNW, Oslund BM. It was not clear to me if Oslund was inside the base or out, as I had conflicting information on this depending on what map resource I was using. If it were on the base, the route to reach it did not appear to have much chance of detection. Evan was uninterested in the longer outing more because of the extra mileage it would require. I was sort of wishy-washy because I didn't really want to head out there by myself - it was not usual to have a partner with me and it seemed more fun to share the day with Evan rather than split up. With this in mind, I talked him into the backup plan which was to visit a couple of benchmarks in the south part of the range, allowing us to make a more thorough exploration of it, adding only a little extra mileage.

We followed the undulating crest of the ridge south and southwest, easy cross-country across a dry desert landscape with far more rock than shrub. A few joshua trees added some character to the landscape. We continued to use the motorcycle trails where we found them, eventually dropping off the crest to the west to utilize a track found there and avoiding a few extra climbs to intermediate bumps. Two hours after leaving the range highpoint we arrived at the Paradise-GS summit. We found the remains of the old survey tower, but look as we might we found no sign of a benchmark or reference marks. The second benchmark summit was just across a saddle to the northeast, taking about 15 minutes to cover the distance between the two. A second survey tower had been erected here, and this time we were able to locate the triangulation station, simply marked PARADISE. We found no registers at any of the three summits we visited in the range.

From our perch at Paradise-NOS we were less than half a mile from the Paradise Mine where we could pick up a gravel/dirt road back to the car less than two miles away. After dropping northeast off the summit, we took a break to explore the abandoned mine shaft bored horizontally into the mountainside. It was deep enough that we needed to use headlamps, allowing us to easily walk about 200ft in before coming across a partial cave-in and discouraging us from continuing further. Back outside, we started down the road, noting plenty of rusting, discarded gear including the cab of an old truck and a large, wooden structure for loading ore onto trucks. We were back at the van before noon, the whole outing coming in at just under five hours.

Calico Mountains

On separate occasions we had both been to the Calico Mtns highpoint, Calico Peak, found north of the Calico Ghost town, now a tourist trap. This afternoon I was interested in the second most prominent peak in the range, unnamed Peak 3,695ft with more than 900ft of prominence, located at the east end of the colorful hills. At first leery of joining me for a bonus hike, I was able to sell Evan on the outing when I pointed out it was only two miles one way, much shorter than the morning hike. He relented and we reconvened our vehicles at the junction of paved Calico Rd and dirt Mule Canyon Rd, about a mile north of Interstate 15. Once again we took the van and drove up the road. Mule Canyon Rd is in good shape and any vehicle could navigate it. Evan had used this road for his approach to Calico Peak some years ago. This time we were only driving in about a mile and a quarter until we were almost due west of our target. The area has some beautiful rock colors and saw some prospecting, but no serious mining. Mostly the area seems to be used by OHV and gun enthusiasts. The latter have left the place looking poorly, shells and broken pieces of targets ranging from clay pigeons to TVs and other electronics litter the ground around the roadway.

Starting out around 1:15p, we hiked through the littered badlands area, scrambling up and over a short distance to an adjacent drainage that we followed east towards our summit. Though the cross-country was easy enough, the wash climbed nearly 1,000ft in about a mile which made it seem harder than we had expected for such a short approach. After climbing out at the head of the wash to a saddle, we went up an intermediate bump where we finally could see our peak another ten minutes further east. There's nothing particularly tricky about it, a rounded desert summit that could be climbed from any direction. The summit featured a large cairn about four feet in height, but we found no register within it or at the highpoint which was a short distance away. There's a nice view looking southeast across the Mojave flood plain and Interstate 15, and closer looking down into the colorful Sunrise Canyon. Our return was mostly the same, with a bit of optimization to take out some of the extraneous kinks in the ascent route.

Elephant Mountain

This modest summit lies southwest of Yermo, overlooking the Ft. Irwin Marine Corp Supply Center. This is where all those tanks, humvees and other equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan are shipped to and stored after the lease agreements expired. It's a huge military version of a Walmart. Evan was done for the day, so he left me to myself for this easy hike. A dirt road leads to the summit from the west and would be a snap for any high clearance vehicle. It might be possible for low clearance cars too, but I chose to stop at another shooting/garbage dump where the road got a bit rough and I decided to give my van a break. The hike from there is little more than a mile, taking about half an hour. I cut the corner on the road which weaves around to the south side of the mountain before traversing back up the west side. My short cut saved some time, but also went by a car that had been driven off the road onto the talus slopes upsidedown and subsequently stripped. All the insignias had been removed so I couldn't tell what make or model it was, but from the looks of the paint, it hadn't been there more than a decade or two.

The summit is relatively flat with an array of towers and antennae inside a fenced enclosure. The rocks inside didn't appear any higher than those outside so I didn't bother to breach the fence. I snapped a few photos looking west and then east to the supply center before heading down. I took a more direct route down the talus-strewn west slope where I could see the van in clear view from half a mile away. I noticed two figures walking up the road towards the van and had some concern what they might do when they found it unoccupied. I hurried my pace some, but there was no way I could get even within shouting distance before they would reach the van. I had nothing to worry about it turns out. As they rounded a bend in the road and spotted the van, they stopped in their tracks and then turned to walk back down. I hadn't considered that they might think *I* was up to no good, perhaps playing with firearms or cooking up a batch of meth, and they decided it was better to simply walk away.

I returned around 5p, finishing up as the sun was about to duck behind the hills to the west. I showered, got something to eat back in Barstow, then drove about 90 miles north on I-15 to meet up with Evan again at the Excelsior Mine Rd at the Cima exit. We had more plans for the following day and spent the rest of the evening in his camper chatting and watching a movie - rough life in the desert...


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