Peak 3,455ft P500
Peak 3,290ft P300
Peak 3,620ft P300
Peak 4,395ft P300
Black Hill P300

Dec 2, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

Black Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX


I had just settled down to bed in the back of the jeep, parked along Bodick Rd near SR247, when Karl pulled up in his Element. I opened a door to greet him when he parked, after which he came over so we could discuss plans for the next morning. Upon returning to his car, I settled back down in my sleeping bag, only to hear some muffled exclamations from outside. It seems he had managed to lock his car with the keys inside. This was a problem. I got up, put on my shoes and went out to see if I could help. The driver's door was slightly ajar, but it was impossible to open it further and not enough room to get a hand in to unlock it. A coat hanger might do, but alas there was no such wire objects in my car that I could rustle up, and sticks lying about the ground were of no help. AAA would work, but we might have to wait a few hours. I was imagining we were going to get less sleep than I'd hoped, thinking we'd have to hang out in the jeep to fight off the cold before AAA could arrive. After about five fruitless minutes of getting nowhere, I asked the obvious question that I expected would answered with, "Unfortunately no."

"Do you have a hide-a-key?"

His eyes lit up as he exclaimed, "Oh yeah!" and then immediately started crawling about the underside, not sure exactly where he'd secured it some years earlier. It took some time, but the key was eventually located and the crisis subsided almost as quickly as it had begun. The door was opened, and I was free to return to my own vehicle. Sleepy time under the desert stars...

We were up in the morning to start our day before 7a. We were camped between Johnson and Homestead Valleys, on the southwest side of the 29Palms Marine Base. There were three summits I had left untrammeled from previous visits to the area and it was to these that we headed first. All of them are within lands shared between the OHV crowds and the Marines, something called the Johnson Valley Shared Use Area. The area is taken over by the Marines three times a year for three weeks each time. I had checked beforehand to know that we were outside the marine training dates and probably ok, but the signage along the OHV roads leads one to believe we were trespassing, making Karl nervous. "This is where our advancing age comes in handy," I explained, "We can always just tell them we got confused and were a bit lost." Nobody gets mad at old men acting like old men. Later I found that some of our driving did indeed cross into the No Public Access zone just east of the shared area. Oops.

Peak 3,455ft

We approached this one from the southwest off Charles Rd. There are scattered homesteads along the road, including one that has a large, eclectic collection of garden art. Most of it is old, colored glass jars and porcelain tableware, the latter most likely picked up from another hobby - garage sales. After parking against the base of the hill, we started on a motorcycle track on foot before heading up cross-country over open terrain towards the summit. The highpoint is found at the eastern end of the large summit area, reached less than 30min after starting out. Our other two summits could be seen some miles to the north as other low, rounded bumps. We signed a register left here by Mark Adrian in 2019 before starting back down. Our ascent route was probably the most efficient, but we took and alternate way down a small gully just to mix things up. We spent an hour on the roundtrip effort.

Peak 3,290ft

We drove the jeep around the south side of Peak 3,455ft, then onto Creole Mine Rd heading northeast into the Shared Use Area. Another sandy dirt road heading north took us to the Los Padres Mine site southeast of Peak 3,290ft, about 3/4mi from the summit. We followed an old mining trail up the ridgeline past a mineshaft and other prospects, then cross-country to the broad summit. To the northwest rises Maumee BM, a P1K and the highpoint of the Hartwell Hills. To the east, across a wide valley draining north to dry Emerson Lake, rises Hidalgo Mtn, a P1K well within the Marine base. There doesn't appear to be much traffic on this side of the base, so maybe this could be a way to reach Hidalgo without attracting attention. Barbara Lilley and Andy Smatko apparently did this together in 1973. Under a cairn atop our summit, we discovered a small plastic film cannister. It was brittle and shattered when we opened it, finding a Smatko party had visited in 1979 - no signatures in 41yrs. I left one of my own registers to replace the broken plastic before we headed back down the same way.

Peak 3,620ft

Peak 3,620ft is located 3-4mi NNW of Peak 3,290ft. Back in the Jeep, we headed northeast, intending to drive to Emerson Lake and approach the peak from the northeast. Soon after leaving Peak 3,290ft, we passed the No Trespassing signs to enter the Marine base, which I thought was still part of the Shared Use Area. Others had removed flimsy roadblocks and the roads appear well-traveled. Later I learned we could have used other roads to stay within the Shared Area had we known about them. The area between Means Dry Lake and Emerson Lake are the Hartwell Hills where the yearly King of Hammers OHV event is held. The hills have a number of challenging trails used during the event, one of them called Aftershock that we could see in the distance running up the valley between Maumee BM and Peak 3,620ft. I had thought it was probably too rough for my liking, but now I was having second thoughts. If it could be driven, it would make the approach from the west almost trivial compared to the northeast approach from Emerson Lake. And so we changed course and headed west over some lesser-used roads to get us to Aftershock. It was a fun bit of Jeep driving over some challenging terrain and eventually we connected up with the more-traveled road. Though more-traveled, it was hardly in good shape. I was unable (or more likely, unwilling) to get us all the way up the road, stopped by a very rough section of rocky road about a mile from the summit. We parked there and walked the road up through old mining areas and then cross-country to the northeast to reach the summit in about 45min. There are three points vying for the highpoint, the highest atop a large class 3 granite summit block with great views. Mark Adrian had left a register in a PVC tube at the base of the rock in 2019. Not surprisingly, ours were the only other signatures. We thought this was the most interesting summit of the day.

Peak 4,395ft

Back at the Jeep by 12:30p, it was too early to call it a day as we had finished off the three summits faster than I expected. We drove back out to Bodick Rd to collect Karl's Element, then south on SR247 towards Yucca Valley. Checking various sources during the drive, I found some summits on the west side of the highway near Pioneertown that we could do in the afternoon. With none of the usual research ahead of time, I didn't know if we'd be able to reach the peaks since little of the land in the area is BLM. Luckily, much of the open area has been incorporated into the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, open to the public. Peak 4,395ft is located east of Pioneertown, most easily accessed from town using Aurora Dr and Amboy Rd. High-clearance is necessary. Since we were driving from SR247, we accessed Amboy Rd from the north at Pipes Canyon Rd, a more involved route to get around private property. Our starting point was at the east end of Amboy Rd, about half a mile northwest of the summit. The entire region was torched in a devastating fire in 2006 and is slowly recovering, though the pinyon and juniper trees that once grew here do not seem to be making a comeback. The joshua trees are proving far more resilient to fire.

We entered the ecological park on one of the park roads (not open to public vehicles), passing by a nice picnic spot at an overlook, complete with a picnic table, park bench and firepit. We then headed cross-country up to the southeast and the large summit plateau. Along with Black Hill and Flat Top, Peak 4,395ft is part of a larger, ancient plateau that once dominated the easternmost portion of the San Gabriel Mtns. Carved by water over eons, they are now more isolated islands rising over 4,000ft high above the surrounding desert. The highpoint is found at the southeast end of the plateau with far-reaching views overlooking Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. A tattered register from a 1984 Smatko party was found buried inside a small summit cairn. No other entries until we arrived, though there have undoubtedly been other visitors. We returned much the same way. It took about 45min for the roundtrip effort.

Black Hill

We drove about a mile west into the Chaparrosa Wash along Amboy Rd to access Black Hill from the south. There is a dirt road that runs up to the summit plateau from the northwest, but I have no idea if one can drive it - our starting point was simply out of convenience due to proximity to the previous peak. We headed north across the wash, then steeply up the loose, broken slopes to the large summit plateau. The highpoint is found across the plateau at the north end where we found a Barbara/Gordon register from 2008. There were a handful of other entries, notably by a local named Jerry. After a short break, we returned back via the same route, finishing up shortly after 4p.

After some errands in Yucca Valley for water, gas, dinner and other food items, Karl and I met up again off Sheldon Rd south of SR62 where we planned to hike in the Pinto Mtns the next day. It was too cold to sit outside as we had no firewood, so we lounged in the Jeep for an hour or so before going to bed early. More fun in store tomorrow...


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