Peak 2,696ft P300
Peak 2,731ft
Peak 2,808ft P300
Peak 3,359ft P300
Peak 2,634ft P300

Thu, Dec 3, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2


The Pinto Mountains are a broad desert range lying south of SR62, southeast of Twentynine Palms. Portions of it lie within Joshua Tree NP, but most of it is on BLM lands north of the park. Today's summits were in the northern, lower parts of the range, outside the Pinto Mtns Wilderness. Dirt Shelton Rd provides access from SR62, an old mining road reaching into the heart of the range. We had camped along this road not far from the highway, waking in the morning to drive the Jeep closer to our peaks.

Peak 2,696ft - Peak 2,731ft

These two standalone summits lie east of the much higher Twentynine Palms Mtn, which towers almost 2,000ft higher. From our parking spot along Sheldon Rd, the two together made for a 5mi loop with a modest 1,300ft of gain. We started northeast to Peak 2,696ft first, crossing against the grain of the wide drainage between the road and the base of the peak. The cross-country travel in the area is fairly easy with light vegetation and modest slopes. After crossing the last wash section together, Karl and I used different ascent routes to the summit, meeting up again at the top an hour after we'd started out. There are two points vying for highpoint status, the northwestern one appearing to be slightly higher. We left a register before starting down. I used Karl's ascent route along the South Ridge for my descent, while Karl made a wider loop by descending west into the drainage east of 29Palms Mtn. Both routes required dropping to the bottom of the wash with Peak 2,731ft. Again, we took seperate routes to the summit, mine more directly up the north side, Karl coming in over a lower summit to the west. A second hour was consumed getting between the two summits. We stayed together for the remainder of the loop, descending east and northeast off the peak, then once more across the broad wash system to return to the jeep. We took three hours in total, which nicely made an hour for each leg.

Peak 2,808ft

I had originally planned to do the last three summits in a large loop, but modified that plan when we found the road driveable much further than expected. After driving a few more miles south along Sheldon Rd, we parked in the wash about half a mile north of Peak 2,808ft, taking an hour and a quarter to make the short trip up and back, via somewhat different routes. We found a Smatko register from 1984 hidden at the summit, with no other entries until our arrival. The paper was in excellent condition despite the plastic film cannister that contained it. Smatko had called it "Sandy Wash Mtn", undoubtedly for the sand and gravel wash we had mostly driven in on.

Peak 3,359ft - Peak 2,634ft

The highest peak of the day, Peak 3,359ft lies several miles further east from Peak 2,808ft. The road continues up the wash nearly to the base of the mountain, turning south and away from the peak less than a mile from the summit. We parked here for what would be another 5mi loop to reach it and the much lower Peak 2,634ft to the northwest. After crossing another wide wash heading east, we climbed steep slopes on the western escarpment of Peak 3,359ft for 1,000ft to reach the summit ridge. The highpoint was only a short distance north of where we attained the crest. The same Smatko party had visited this summit a day earlier in 1984 than the previous summit. Smatko at that time was 67yrs old, so it was no surprise he was slowing down. The page was badly worn since the plastic film cannister had been breached, so we left it housed in a tin from one of the registers I carried with me.

Our last summit, Peak 2,634ft, is most easily climbed from the southwest where a spur mining road off Sheldon Rd goes to an old mine half a mile from the summit. I had originally planned to do it that way, but Karl more or less talked me into joining him to do it in a loop with Peak 3,359ft. Even with the longer outing we would still finish early, so there was no need to get it done in a quick fashion. The route between the two peaks is somewhat complicated and non-obvious. We ended up crossing a few gullies that were several hundred feet deep once we had done the easy part of descending off Peak 3,359ft. We would end up taking about an hour and a half between the two. We found no register at the last summit, not really surprising since it doesn't stick out so clearly as the previous two summits. I still marvel that Smatko was able to identify as many peaks as he did just from the USGS maps of the time. We left a register here before heading south back towards the car. We did a better job of reading the terrain on this leg, efficiently traveling along the divide between two drainages without the surprise drops we encountered earlier. It was nearly 3:30p by the time we finished up. With almost an hour's driving to get back to Karl's Element, it seemed a good time to call it a day.

With the extra time in the late afternoon we decided to drive back to Twentynine Palms for dinner before heading east again on SR62. I found a good spot off the south side of the highway at the junction with Ironage Rd where we could spend the night. I sent texts with the location to Karl and my son who would be joining us for hikes the next few days. Ryan showed up with a large box of wood that made for a fine campfire that night. We weren't sure if campfires were even legal with all the fires the state experienced this past Summer, but no one stopped us. Ryan was a little surprised when we headed off to bed rather early, but he would learn over the next few days how easily sleep comes after a good mountain workout...


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