Peak 3,503ft P900
Sand Hill
Black Butte

Sun, Dec 4, 2016

With: Karl Fieberling
Tom Becht

Black Butte
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profile


Peak 3,503ft

Our third and last day in the Bristol Mountains had us looking at one of two P900s in the range left undone. They were too far apart to consider doing both together, so it was a choice of doing the longer hike to fill most of the day or do the shorter one and head home earlier. With only two days before I was flying to Maui, I picked the shorter option since I still had a lot to do before I would be ready for the month-long adventure on the Islands. Peak 3,503ft lies in the center of the Kelso Dunes Wilderness which oddly doesn't include any actual part of the Kelso Dunes but rather the northern half of the Bristol Mountains. Tom drove the three of us in his Jeep Wrangler which Karl and I couldn't help but remark was far more comfortable than the much older CJ he had previously. The two roads we took, Cruceros Rd heading north and the pipeline road heading east were in good condition but subject to blowing sand that leaves a few sections rather sandy. It wasn't clear that a high-clearance 2WD would be up to the task and we were happy not to be subjected to such experimentation.

From where we parked on the pipeline road under one of the transmission towers that parallel the pipeline, our peak was about 3mi to the north, mostly across the benign desert flats before reaching the small collection of hills of which our peak was the highest. It is visible from the start as the rightmost peak on the skyline, but at the time we weren't exactly sure since there is another point to the west that is nearly as high. We spent about 45min crossing the flats, sparsely vegetated and easy walking before starting up one of several wash systems emanating from the mountain slopes. Our choice was hardly ideal, taking us closer to the lower west summit before it was obvious from our GPSr that our destination was the other peak. We decided to go up and over the other peak since it was now more or less on our way following a ridgeline up and over it to the higher peak. We were a little surprised how close in elevation the two were when we finally reached the west summit, about 30ft or so. Another 20min saw us over to the highpoint, none of the hike more than class 2 and fairly tame.

We found a register left by John Vitz in 2007, ours making the second entry. From the summit it was obvious to us that we had not taken the best route. Almost directly south from where we stood we could see a far more direct wash that would take us out to the service road in that direction. As the guy responsible for finding these things out ahead of time, I had done a poor job on this one but no one seemed to be complaining - much. The weather today was far nicer than the past few days when winds had kept us chilled for much of the time. We relaxed in the warm sun, eating snacks and the usual summit banter. Once ready to head back, we shouldered our packs and started down the steep south side to the wash system below, again no more than class 2. The wash itself was about as friendly as one can find - the route was almost direct, free of brush in the gravel-lined washbed, and no surprises in the way of dry waterfalls or other obstacles. Once out of the wash, it was more open desert hiking for about 40min to get back to our vehicle before noon.

Sand Hill

Back in Ludlow, Tom dropped us off at the Dairy Queen before saying goodbye and heading home. Karl was going to stay another day and planned to climb nearby Sleeping Beauty after leaving Ludlow. We got to talking about Sand Hill which we knew to be very close by, and it wasn't hard to talk him into going over to tag in on the south side of the highway. After finding our way to Route 66 on the other side of I-40, we drove the short distance to Sand Hill, a good dirt road making it easy to drive within about 50ft of the summit, sandwiched between the exceedingly modest summit and the railroad tracks that run next to it. This seems to be a major thoroughfare of rail service as we found one train going east, another screaming by us to the west as we got out of our cars. The sound was thundering, the ground shook and we almost expected the trains to suck us into the vacuum they created at such close range. We climbed the 20ft or so of elevation required to reach the top, as easy a summit as one can find without it being an actual drive-up. Another train came by as we returned to our cars a few minutes later - busy place indeed.

Black Butte

Saying goodbye, I left Karl to get back on the Interstate to start for home. Karl would go on to bag Sleeping Beauty and Pisgah Crater in the afternoon. As I was heading west, my thoughts turned to my arch-nemisis, Laura Newman. In looking over a number of named summits days earlier, I noticed a small bump named Black Butte east of Barstow at Newberry Springs. Had anyone registered climbs on, I wondered? Laura had. Here was yet another California peak she had beaten me to, an unacceptable affront that could not go unanswered. I exited at Newberry Springs and found my way to the southwest side of the hill (and really, that's all it is, a small rounded bump rising up from the desert floor about 100ft). There are some forlorn-looking homes sprinkled around the side roads south of Black Butte and one very newish-looking church. Where I parked just off the road was some of the usual litter that seems to collect around such desert communities, but I was happy to see it was significantly less than other places in the Mojave. The climb takes but five minutes to reach the rocky, rounded summit. I found no register (I had secretly hoped Laura had left one I might pollute with my scrawl) and not much in the way of views. Most prominent are the Newberry Mountains which rise sharply to the south across the interstate. Newberry Peak is less than a mile and a half from the highway but rises up almost 2,000ft from the surrounding desert. It's overshadowed by the higher summits rising behind it, but still makes a worthwhile objective if one has a few hours' time. Running out of time today, I would have to leave it for another day. Hopefully I won't find that Laura has beaten me to that one as well...

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