Peak 1,453ft
Peak 3,284ft P500
Peak 3,464ft
Peak 4,015ft P300
Peak 4,160ft P300
Peak 4,078ft P300

Sat, Jan 30, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2


This road trip would mostly be spent in the western part of the Mojave National Preserve. I had visited the area on multiple occasions, tagging P1Ks, DPS and other listed summits, this time coming back for a mop up operation for a bunch of mostly unnamed summits. I would visit peaks in the Cowhole Mtns, Old Dad Mtns, and the Cinder Cone Lava Beds before calling it a day.

Peak 1,453ft

This is a soft-ranked summit just east of Cowhole Mountain, one of three summits to what should probably be called plural - Cowhole Mountains. I had done the higher two summits seven years earlier, so this was a straggler. It wasn't even on my radar when I was researching ahead of time, but it showed up on my GPSr as one I hadn't been to. I realized it was sort-of on the way to Peak 3,284ft, so I added this one at the last minute. From Kelbaker Rd, it's an 8-mile drive southwest on Old Government Rd, then about 2mi SSE to the east side of Cowhole Mtn. I found out later that these last two miles go through Wilderness, though I found no signs indicating this at the time. It would seem that OHVs still make regular forays into the Cowhole Mtns with lots of roads still shown on Google maps. From where I parked, the hike up the west side of Peak 1,453ft was barely a quarter mile each way, taking only 10min to reach the top. There was a very good early morning view of Cowhole Mtn to the west.

Peak 3,284ft

This summit is at the north end of the ridgeline that forms Old Dad Mountain. It, too, would be better served as a plural, since if forms its own desert range. There are several ways one might reach the peak. A cherry stem into the Mojave Wilderness runs down the west side of the range with a spur climbing to within half a mile of the summit. From the satellite view, this route looks abandoned or minimally traveled and I didn't like the idea of driving 4-5mi of very bad road. I chose to use another cherry stem off Old Government Rd that approaches from the north. This route drives up a broad wash which usually means sand and gravel, but not rough rock, making for easier driving. As I came to find, this road is mostly abandoned and I eventually lost the track in the wash, stopping about half a mile from the official end. I was still about 2mi from the summit, but close enough. The peak looks good from this vantage point, though it is partially blocked by an intervening ridgline. Most of the walking is up the broad wash heading south. On the ascent, I turned right (southwest) into a side wash/gully to climb the peak from the NNW side. The gully grows rocky, and though not difficult, I found it a little tedious. It took 70min to reach the summit with outstanding views of the Devils Playground and Soda Lake to the west. Old Dad lay some miles to the south, but was washed out by sun and some haze in that direction. Andy Smatko had visited the summit in 1970, but I saw no sign of a register. I left one of my own before descending. I descended off the NE side, dropping through the cliffband that forms the upper portion of the intervening ridgeline seen from the start. I had some concern that I might not find a way down, but ran into no show-stoppers. In fact, there are probably a number of ways one might go, and I found this the better of the two routes I used, and also the best scrambling on the day. That's not really saying a lot, since the rest of the day was spent on cinder cones...

Cinder Cone Lava Beds Loop

I had been to this area three years earlier for a five peak loop, so I had a good idea what to expect. I find cinder cones to be some of the least enjoyable summits one can climb. They are covered in loose pumice gravel and larger lava rocks on steep slopes which usually make for poor footing. From Kelbaker Rd, I drove about 5mi ENE on Indian Spring Rd to the end at Indian Spring - no water today (or ever?) despite the recent rain. The road was in decent shape, suitable for any high-clearance vehicle. It was 11:45a when I started out on a 12mi loop, a bit late in the day, especially when I didn't know what sort of terrain I would be hiking. Luckily, much of the route between summits was decomposed granite in sandy flats and washes, not the volcanic vomit I was dreading, and I would not need the headlamp I carried with me in case it got late. The first summit, Peak 3,464ft, wasn't a cinder cone at all, but a more conventional (and pleasant) desert summit just west of the lava beds. It was also only about 3/4mi from my starting point and took but 20min to reach the top.

From its summit, I surveyed the terrain looking northeast and east for the remaining summits, noting only two of them. My second summit, Peak 4,015ft was 3.5mi away according to the GPSr, blocked by intervening terrain. I would have to head off in the correct direction, trusting I would find it at the end of an hour's walking. After dropping off the north side of Peak 3,464ft, I began the long march which I was enjoying a great deal. There was a short stretch of crappy lava rock to cross about 2/3 of the way between peaks, but it lasted little more than a quarter mile. Most of it was just easy hiking. When Peak 4,015ft came into view, I was pleased to find it, too, wasn't a cinder cone, but a mix of more solid lava at the top and broken rock slopes below. A short class 3 scramble got me through the middle of the volcanic cliff band at the top, taking a little over an hour and a half between the 1st and 2nd peak.

There was a small plastic box holding a weathered register, the bottom half brittle and unreadable. I recognized the writing as Smatko's, naming it as Burro Mtn. I had seen ample evidence of the burros' presence over the past hour and heard one braying from the summit though I could not located it. The naming certainly seemed appropriate as the burros have been favoring this part of the preserve for at least 50yrs. The register was dated 1974, the container a precursor, before Smatko settled on the small metal film cannisters and plastic pill bottles. I left one of my registers here, enclosing what was left of the original paper in the metal tin.

The third summit, Peak 4,160ft, lay a mile and a quarter to the southeast, a true cinder cone, though the slopes were not as steep as most. There was some snow on the north side that I ascended, affording me an opportunity to refill my gatorade bottle which had begun to look inadequate for the large loop. This did quite nicely, the snow fresh and clean. The summit was rounded, rocky, and colored a reddish brown. One gets the feeling of being lost in the Wilderness here, a landscape immense and stark. What little vegetation grows here is brown, or nearly brown, in want of more drink to bring it alive. Perhaps what fell a few days ago will suffice - it may start to green more in the next few weeks. Smatko had been to this summit the same day as the previous one, but I found no evidence of a register.

The fourth summit, Peak 4,078ft, is another two miles to the south. Unlike the first three summits which looked almost pristine, Peak 4,078ft caught the attention of miners with bulldozers, creating roads to the summit, scraping slopes in search of valuables, grinding up cinder stones for sale as gravel, sand and other low-value materials. When I reached the edge of the lava flows on Peak 4,078ft's north side, I picked up an old mining road, long in disuse but still useful for foot and hoof travel, and followed it up and around the three summits of the peak to just below the highpoint. A short cross-country stint up the cinder slopes got me to the highpoint shortly after 3:30p. It was clear now that I would be able to get back before sunset, making the loop an easier effort than I'd guessed. Smatko had recorded an ascent of this peak in 1971, three years before his visit to the previous summits. Again, no register was found, and I left the last one I was carrying with me. I descended the summit to the west, picking up another old road in that direction which I could follow all the way back to the Jeep in another hour. The road mostly follows along the southern edge of the lava field, in and out of a wash that I sometimes followed since it was more interesting than the road. There were a few desert flowers in bloom, though these looked like late season ones, not those of an early spring. I was back to the Jeep shortly before 5p, well-exercised and ready for a warm shower and cold beer...


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