Cougar Buttes P500
Old Woman BM P300
Round Mountain
Peak 5,469ft
Peak 5,636ft P300
Peak 3,579ft P300
Peak 3,586ft P300
Giant Rock
Peak 5,330ft P300

Thu, Nov 14, 2019

With: Tom Grundy

Round Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 GPX


I was heading to Joshua Tree NP for Iris' birthday weekend, starting a few days early as I often do. Tom Grundy was coming down from Bishop a little early too, so we made plans to get together on Friday. It occurred to me that there was a climbing objective near Landers that I was interested in, so I sent a few links about Giant Rock to Tom and asked if maybe he'd like to do it on Thursday. He was sufficiently enticed and we made plans to convene at Giant Rock around noon. In the meantime, I found a handful of other summits between Apple Valley and Landers that would keep me busy for the morning.

Cougar Buttes

This is a small collection of weathered granite rocks on BLM land between Lucerne and Johnson Valleys, a miniature version of the Coxcomb Mtns in Joshua Tree NP. As such, it makes for some fun scrambling opportunities. I had spent the night camped at the base of the formations. Though less than half a mile distance to the highpoint, it took me half an hour to make my way to the top with plenty of class 3, albeit fairly easy. Mark Adrian had left a register at the summit near the benchmark back in March. I doubt it will last very long as the place seems to be a party hangout for desert locals. On my way back, I found a small cave with a firepit and three busted coolers outside, graffiti elsewhere.

Old Woman BM

The next four summits are located off Bessemer Mine Rd south of SR247. Though the Bessemer Mine is located on the other branch of the road north of the highway, this southern branch also ends at a surface mine, though unnamed on the maps. Old Woman BM is the highest of some low hills on the west side of the road. I parked on Bessemer Mine Rd and scrambled up the east side. Not as interesting as Cougar Buttes, the rock quality here is more mundane. It took about 20min to climb the rock jumble to the top where I found the benchmark and a register from 2012. It had no pencil and I wasn't carrying my pack, so I had to put the register back without adding my own entry.

Round Mountain

This is an even easier summit on the west side of the road, closer to the mine. The rounded summit is aptly, though not imaginatively, named. It has a good view to the south of the mine and the next two peaks, but otherwise unexceptional.

Peak 5,469ft / Peak 5,636ft

These two minor summits are located above the mine in the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest. The mine is inactive and not fenced off nor otherwise secured to protect the public. I drove partway up the mine roads, stopping where a deep trench had been eroded by water. I hiked up through the mine, first visiting the lower eastern summit. The two summits were spared the harsher flaying inflicted by the bulldozers lower down, but they had been visited by mining equipment with crude roads cut to both summits. I used some of these roads to traverse to the western summit before descending back down through the mine on my way back. I took a small detour to check out some of the old mine buildings I had missed on the way up. The buildings were made of stone and concrete, only one still sporting a roof. I spent about an hour and a half on this loop.

Peak 3,579ft

Located north of SR247, about 4mi southeast of Cougar Buttes, this one makes for a short climb taking less than 10min. I drove a dirt road to the southwest side of the hill, passing by a few forlorn-looking homesteads, the last appearing abandoned. The rock is more like Cougar Buttes, so it made for some fun, easy scrambling.

Peak 3,586ft

I contacted Tom via text to find that he was running a little late, so I added this one as I was driving to Giant Rock. It's located southeast of Landers, reached via Reche Rd and Yucca Mesa Rd. A rougher 4WD track then circles around to the west side of the summit from where it can be climbed in five minutes.

Giant Rock

And then it was time for the main event. Where the pavement ends at the junction of Linn Rd and Belfield Blvd, a few sandy miles south of Giant Rock, stands the Integratron. It is linked to Giant Rock through the eccentric characters of Frank Critzer and George Van Tassel, who lived in the area and brought some development for a period of over 20yrs into the 1950s. Much about these things can be found on the internet and makes for enjoyable reading. I had been to Giant Rock on a previous trip in 2016, knowing nothing of the unusual history or of Giant Rock. The feature is said to be the largest free-standing boulder in the world at 110ft in height, but this is surely based on conjecture rather than fact. In addition to once being Critzer's home (he dug out a 400sq-foot space under the rock to live in, since filled in), Giant Rock has been a religious site to the American natives for many generations and in more recent times to a generation of young rock climbing and bouldering enthusiasts. With no easy way up, there are many old bolts on various faces and installed climbing holds on the overhung northwest side. Even with these, there are no free-climbing routes on any side that would go at 5.9 or less. Drinking and partying seem to have naturally integrated with the climbing, leaving much graffiti and broken glass throughout the area. There have been various efforts to clean up both, but it is far from a Wilderness climbing experience.

I met Tom at the base of the rock just before 1:30p. He had arrived shortly before me and was out examining the various aspects of the rock. After some discussion to which I quickly deferred to his more seasoned judgement, we settled on a series of three old bolted chainlinks on the vertical west side. In conjunction with some solid aid-climbing skills, Tom was in possession of a clip stick that would allow us to climb the bolts with no free climbing until we got to the third one where the angle rolls off to something more manageable. It took about 15min for Tom to casually collect the needed gear from the back of his truck and arrange it at the base of the rock, then another 15min to aid his way up the bolt ladder. The stick was used to put a carabiner through the first chainlink, while aider steps and a rope were attached to the carabiner. Once attached, we hung and bounced our combined weights on the setup to ensure that the old bolt could at least be modestly trusted. Tom climbed the aider steps while I belayed from below. I'm pretty sure I would have taken about an hour to go up what Tom did so smoothly in just a quarter of that time. Once at the last bolt, he gingerly weighted onto the rock and climbed the class 3-4 slab to the top in a few minutes' time. Tom then tied off the rope to a large steel spike embedded in the summit to allow me to prussik up in turn. After snapping a few photos of Tom from a distance, I stepped into my prussiks and started up. I cleaned the gear Tom had left behind as I inched my way up, joining him at the top in another ten minutes. We took a few summit shots with our phones before rapping off the overhanging northwest side, about half of which was a free rappel. We spent about two hours in total at Giant Rock, during which time about 3-4 cars had come by, folks would get, pictures taken, and then they would leave just as readily. It seems to get mention on enough desert touring guides to provide a regular trickle of traffic throughout the non-summer months.

Peak 5,330ft

With a few hours of remaining daylight, we drove west into the nearby Bighorn Mountains for a random climb of an unnamed, unremarkable desert summit, a taste of what was in store for Tom the next day. It took some time to drive the jeep up the New Dixie Mine Rd, having left Tom's truck near the start in what we thought was an empty lot. The hike to the summit took less than twenty minutes with some scrambling and minor bushwhacking. There was an old survey pole, now fallen, at the summit, but no register. On our way back we were treated to a very fine sunset with thin clouds covering much of the sky that lighted up in various shades of yellow, orange, pink and purple. A very nice way to end the day.

By the time we got back to Tom's truck it was quite dark. We made plans to reconvene an hour or so later near Joshua Tree and I happily went off to take my shower in the same location while Tom started to drive off. I had all my clothes off and was ready to pour water over my head when Tom walked back and explained that he'd gotten a note on his car that we were on private property (though there were no signs to that effect). I kinda shrugged it off and figured I could just finish my shower before leaving, but Tom pointed out that there was a lady in a car next to his that had asked him to inform his friend. I would have to go somewhere else to get a peaceful shower. It was also my first time driving a car naked. Not altogether unpleasant, it was a rather "freeing" experience...


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