Peak 3,100ft P300
Peak 3,100ft P300
Iron BM P300
Peak 1,788ft P300
Cross BM P300

Dec 16, 2023
Iron BM
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Today I headed to the Iron Mountains, north of the SR62/SR177 junction. I had been to the range on two previous occasions to reach the range HP. My first attempt from the east was a bust as I was kicked out by the Metropolitan Water District security folks in the middle of the night. A second effort from the west a year later was more successful and I managed to collect the three highest summits in the range. Today I would approach from west again for the 4th-6th highest summits, plus another that I added as a bonus. I still had some time and energy after returning, so I headed to the Granite Mtns on the south side of SR62 for a last one.

Iron Mountains

Though most of the range is on BLM land, none of it is covered by Wilderness, leaving it the largest unprotected desert range in California not part of a military reservation. This is likely due to the Colorado River Aqueduct that tunnels through the middle of it. The west side approach makes use of the well-graded aqueduct road accessed from SR62. A sign indicates it is a private right-of-way, but only mentions that one uses it one's own risk - good enough for me. I drove it past the point where the aqueduct emerges from the tunnel on the west side of the range, then parked nearby where I intended to start my loop. As I came to find, one could drive further south on a very good road (shown on the topo map) or north and northeast on rougher roads, now infrequently used (not shown on the topo map). There was a camp built back in the 1930s during the construction of the aqueduct. Most of it was removed, but there is still plenty of detritus and some concrete foundations.

I passed this old camp soon after starting out around 6:35a heading northeast, just before sunrise. I had several good-sized washes to cross as I made my way along the base of the range for the better part of an hour, around several ridges before I got to the one I was looking for - the NW Ridge of Peak 3,100ft. The ridge was a mile and a quarter long with 1,600ft of gain, a mostly pleasant affair with decent footing that would occupy me for another hour. I reached the summit before 8:30a, feeling pretty good about the day so far and looking forward to the traverse along the crest of the range which looked pretty good from this first summit. I left a register here before turning SSW towards the second Peak 3,100ft, a little over a mile in that direction. The sky was partially overcast but threatening no rain - breezy and cool and nearly ideal for hiking, with views off either side as I made my way along. I bypassed an intermediate point on the west side before dropping to a saddle and climbing the second peak along its NE Ridge, about an hour between summits. Barbara and Gordon had left a register here in 1984, a John Vitz party signed it in 1988, and then a random biologist looking for bighorn in 2003.

Iron BM was the next summit on my route, about 3/4mi to the south. Despite the shorter distance, it would take a full hour to traverse between the two. Once again, I bypassed an intermediate point on the west side, then climbed Iron BM via the NE Ridge. The benchmark was placed in 1931 by the MWD while surveying for the aqueduct. The wooden survey tower and wire to hold it up was scattered about the summit. I found another register here, left by Vitz in 1988. It had seen more visitors than the previous one, most recently in 2022. The register was very damp, so I stayed at the summit for about 20min to let it (mostly) dry out before signing it and packing it away.

My original plan was to descend Iron BM's West Ridge and return to the Jeep, but it was only 10:40a and I had plenty of energy still. So I decided to continue on to Peak 1,788ft, a much lower summit to the southwest that is detached from the main bulk of the range. The descent off the southwest side of Iron BM was steep, very steep in places, and required much caution. I worked my way into a slabby gully that had a short class 4 crux I had to drop down - about 10ft with thin finger holds. Below this, the going gets easier, class 2, as I made my way down to a wash on that side. The wash emptied into a broader one draining from the SE, which I crossed to reach the base of Peak 1,788ft on its northeast side. I ascended a class 2 wash/gully that led fairly directly to the summit where I arrived about 2hrs after leaving the last summit - certainly the hardest leg of the outing. No register was found on this one, and after leaving one of mine, I headed off the north side, taking about 20min to descend to the broad wash sweeping around that side of the peak. I noted tire tracks in the sand, later realizing one could drive to this side of Peak 1,788ft for an easier approach. I would spend another 45min crossing desert flats and rolling terrain, the last part on a good MWD road. I was done before 2p and started looking for something else I might do in the afternoon.

Cross Benchmark

This summit is the westernmost summit in the Granite Mountains on the south side of SR62. With cell coverage, I discovered there's a powerline road I could use to get to the NW boundary of the Palen-McCoy Wilderness. I used it for about a mile and ended up parking in a gravel wash on the north side of the peak, starting on foot around 2:20p. Cross BM is not visible from the start, but it comes into view around a corner about 10min after hiking up the wash. I worked my way onto the North Ridge which I would follow to the summit. There are some difficulties on the summit ridge, but these are easily bypassed on the left (NE) side. 30min was sufficient to reach the highpoint. I found a benchmark (again by the MWD in 1931) and fine views of the Iron Mtns to the north and the Granite Mtns to the east. Most of the clouds had gone elsewhere, leaving bluer skies and better lighting in the afternoon. I found no register so left one of mine. I chose to descend a gully to the west of the North Ridge, a route that worked about the same as the ridge I'd ascended. It was 3:45p before I had returned to the Jeep, now ready to call it a day.

I took a shower where I'd parked, then returned west on SR62 to a BLM road that runs along the east side of the Calumet Mtns and the Sheephole Valley Wilderness. I found a nice wash with plenty of firewood to camp in, collecting a large amount for what would be my last campfire this trip. Not as large as we'd had when Iris and Tom were with me, but plenty large for just one person. It made for a quiet spot to camp as well - only a single truck came by the entire night...


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