Peak 2,631ft
Middle Hills
Peak 3,779ft

Mar 23, 2022

With: Patrick O'Neill

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX

At the start of another desert trip, I left San Jose around 6a so that I could do some afternoon peakbagging. Patrick planned to join me, but with a later than expected start from Southern California, he would be an hour or so behind me. While driving through Barstow, I found an unnamed summit near Ludlow that I could do before Patrick arrived. After meeting up in Ludlow, we headed east to the Kelbaker exit off Interstate 40.

Peak 2,631ft

This summit is located just outside the northern border of the sprawling 29 Palms Marine Corp base. A series of BLM roads starting on the south side of the Ludlow exit got me to within a mile of the peak on its northeast side where a fenced utility yard is located. A convenient tunnel under the railroad provides access to the south side of the busy rail line that runs along the Interstate. The peak is a rather plain-looking brown lump. After crossing easy desert flats and a gravel wash at the base of the hill, one climbs dark volcanic rock to the summit, about 30min from the parking spot. Views overlook the military base (though there are no structures to be seen on this side) to the south, as well as the train tracks and Interstate to the north - not a Wilderness experience, this one. I found no register and left none.

Mid Hills

After meeting with Patrick to pay $7/gal to top off in Ludlow, we drove east to Kelbaker Rd and left the Jeep there, carpooling in his Grand Cherokee to the Middle Hills. They are an exceedingly small group of low hills sandwiched between the Marble Mtns to the south, Van Winkle Mtn and I-40 to the north. A good utility road goes east from Kelbaker Rd across the north side of the Marble Mtns, then a poorer, sandier road goes north to get one with 3/4mi of Middle Hills. In all, about seven miles of driving from the pavement. The hike to the summit took only 25min, a very easy effort as the highpoint has less than 160ft of prominence. Richard Carey left a nice register here in 2008 with pals Adrian and Hanna. They found Smatko's original register from 1969 in a crushed film cannister, still readable. Barbara and Gordon visited in 2011, then Patrick and I 11yrs later. Neat find.

Peak 3,779ft

We drove back to Kelbaker Rd and north of the Interstate for this last summit within Mojave National Preserve, just east of Kelbaker Rd. We parked off the pavement and hiked a little over a mile to the southeast to find the highpoint behind some lower hills. This was a more involved effort across small drainages and up rocky, granite slopes to reach the summit in a little under an hour's time. A Smatko party had left a register in 1980. A few other parties of unfamiliar names visited in 1983 and 1986, then nothing for almost 34yrs. Another cool fine. The sun set shortly before we finished up just after 7p.

The easy summits made for a nice warm-up. We would get to the more involved efforts starting the following day. After returning to pick up my Jeep, we drove a short distance back into Mojave NP where we camped for the night on the west side of Kelbaker Rd, south of the Granite Mtns where we planned to hike in the morning...


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