Peak 1,742ft P300
Peak 1,799ft P500
Peak 1,660ft P300
Peak 1,656ft P500
Peak 1,450ft P300

Mon, Dec 19, 2022

With: Tom Grundy
Iris Ma

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


Iris had to work in the morning hours, telecommuting from inside Tom's truck where we'd camped, leaving Tom and I to do a collection of summits in the Little Chuckwalla Mountains. In the afternoon we headed to the Palen Mountains on the north side of Interstate 10, giving Iris a chance to stretch her legs after a busy work morning. All of the day's scrambling was standard desert class 2, nothing tricky.

Little Chuckwalla Mountains

We drove south from our campsite along Graham Pass Rd a short distance to a rougher 4WD road that leads to the NW boundary of the Little Chuckwalla Mtns Wilderness. It follows the edge of the Wilderness in a wash until it peters out where some dilapidated signs can be found indicating foot and equestrian traffic only. After parking, we followed the wash northeast to a junction with another wash draining from the southeast, then followed that upstream. It might have been better to follow the old road inside the Wilderness that would have gotten us to the West Ridge of Peak 1,742ft more directly, but the cross-country travel in the washes was fairly easy. Once at the base of the mountain, we followed the West Ridge up to the summit in less than an hour. We left a register here before continuing on to the next summit, Peak 1,799ft.

The ridgeline between the two peaks is about a mile in length, dropping to a low saddle before climbing back up. We favored the north side of the ridge coming off Peak 1,742ft, finding some sheep trails to make it easier than it first appeared. While climbing Peak 1,799ft, we first traversed the south side of the ridge before moving over to the north side after gaining the summit ridgeline. We finished along the top of the ridge, following it to the highpoint. It was just under an hour to get between the two. We left a second register here. These were the only two peaks that Mark Adrian had not visited in the Little Chuckwalla Mtns. I found at later that he'd been very busy in the area, visiting all the summits in the Orocopia, Chuckwalla and Little Chuckwalla Mtns, save these two. It was just after 9a, and it looked like we'd have enough time for one more summit.

Peak 1,660ft lies another mile and a half to the ENE, along the crest of the range we'd been following. We initially stayed on the north side of the ridge to avoid tedium along the rocky top, again making use of faint sheep trails where we could find them. The saddle between the two was not as low as the previous one, but it has a false summit as one climbs up to find the highpoint almost a quarter mile further. We spent an hour and change getting to the last summit where we found Mark's register not even a month old. We had quite a distance to cover to get back to our starting point, returning back along the crest clearly not the easiest way. So we dropped off the NW Ridge to the wash below, then the flats on the north side of the range, hoping that would make for easy travel. It did. The desert flats on that side have none of the side washes that we thought we might have to cross against the grain. Most of it is outside the Wilderness and there are ample tire tracks, seemingly everywhere, though only lightly used. It made for very pleasant walking, getting us back just short of two hours after leaving the last summit. Time to go rescue Iris from her work office.

Palen Mountains

Finished with her work, we next turned our attention to the Palen Mtns. The two southernmost peaks stand a bit separated from the bulk of the range. I had been to the area with Iris and others back in 2018 when we were after bigger game in the heart of the Palens. At that time, Scott Barnes had gone off to do these two peaks before joining us for South and Middle Palen Peaks. It had taken him most of the day to catch up to us, out of breath and out of water - unusual for Scott. Today, Iris was as keen as I to go back and do these two bonus peaks. We had forgotten just how arduous the drive is, even with a Jeep. From the Chuckwalla Valley Rd exit off I-10, it's about 6-7mi along a poor, dirt gasline road that follows closely along the highway. They were doing work along the road while we were there, leaving the public access barely manageable. After the road turns north, away from the highway, it becomes quite sandy for another 5-6mi before reaching the base of the range. We were well over an hour on this quest. There are two cherry stems into the Palen-McCoy Wilderness that could be used to access these peaks. The closer one comes in from the west and can make a short loop of the two. That, however, involves another 8-10mi of rough driving that we didn't have the stomach for (Iris was already car sick), so we used the longer approach from the southeast.

Peak 1,656ft was a little over a mile to the northwest. Most of this distance was covered on foot over easy desert flats as we headed to the peak's SE Ridge which proved a pretty standard class 2 ridge. We favored the shadier side on the right to stay cooler and avoid obstacles, eventually gaining the summit after an hour and twenty minutes' effort. Barbara and Gordon had left the register we found in 1985. Scott's was the only other entry in more than 30yrs. The second peak was something less than a mile to the NW, but the connecting ridgeline didn't look very convenient. Instead, we chose to drop northwest off Peak 1,656ft into a gully on that side. It turned out to be a very loose, rubbly mess that was tough on Iris' bad leg. Though only class 2, it was the sort of stuff that can easily start a rock slide that could take out a foot or leg. Once through the worst of it, we traversed out of the gully to our right, angling for the saddle between the two summits. Once there, it was a more standard ridge climb on decent rock, taking about 45min between the two summits. We did not find a register here, so we added Scott's name to one we left.

It was now well after 4p and we had less than half an hour until sunset. It was clear that we would not get back until dark. We descended the South Ridge off Peak 1,450ft, all the while trying to figure out the most efficient route back to the Jeep. We could exit a wash to the west and then skirt the base of the range to the southeast and east, but that seemed like the long way around. We eventually worked out a tighter route that went up and over a few low saddles that worked out fairly well. Things began to cool as the sun dipped, so we paused to add layers and get out our headlamps. Once we were back around to the south side of the first peak, we were lower in the flats, but found we had quite a few washes to cross, none of them trivial. Down and up, repeatedly, Iris and Tom taking a more southerly track while I took my own. Theirs ended up being a better line as they got back to the Jeep a few minutes sooner. It was 6p and quite dark upon our return, and we still had an hour+ drive back to Tom's truck and the Interstate. A long day, this one...


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