Nov 17, 2019
In comparison to yesterday's well-traveled track to Tensor/Spectre/Dyadic in the Coxcomb Mtns, today's was a more exploratory adventure into the center of the range via an entirely different approach from the southwest. The original plan was to do four summits that Barbara Lilley had done back in 1977, but we only had time for the first two of these. Having spent the night camped at the Dyadic Trailhead on SR62, we piled four of us into the jeep in the morning for the long-ish drive around to the other side of the range. There is an unsigned dirt road off SR177 at the southern tip of the range that heads northwest to the Colorado River Aqueduct. We followed the aqueduct road further to the north end of Chuckwalla Valley and a locked gate at the Joshua Tree NP boundary. I was hoping to be able to drive this road another 2mi further to Pinto Wells at the Wilderness boundary, but alas, this wasn't a legal option.
Starting off just after 8a, we spent the first 40min plying the road to Pinto Wells where there is an old pumping station, no longer in service. It appears they may have been pumping groundwater here to feed into the aqueduct, but it's been decades since it was last in operation. After exploring what was left of the impressive operation, we headed off cross-country, now in a north-easterly direction. It was during this long, 4.5mi stretch of slowly rising desert flats that the scope of the enterprise we were undertaking became apparent. The range here is as rugged and difficult as those areas to the north and I realized there was no way we were going to be able to traverse miles of the ridgetops in a day. I didn't verbalize this to my companions but it would become self-evident to all of us by the time we reached the first summit. We regrouped as we neared the end of the flatter section, pausing to take a break from the sun in whatever shade we could find. Our route narrowed to a wash which narrowed further to a boulder scramble up a long gully with several branches. The scrambling was fun here, but the rock quality not great, with much of the granite friable or covered in loose grains. We spent almost two hours in the scrambling section, climbing 1,700ft over the course of about a mile. We took a second break 2/3 of the way up, pausing in the shade while we regrouped and rested.
It was noon when Tom G and I topped out on Peak 3,580ft, mostly easy class 3 with a few sporty moves near the summit which we approached from the southeast. Tom B and Iris were only minutes behind. The second summit was only a quarter mile further east, but rose another 400ft higher with a nearly 300-foot drop between them. Peak 3,900ft also looked much, much harder on the sides we could see, with no scrambling routes evident at all. This all combined to discourage Tom B from continuing as he was already having a tough time with warm temperatures in the high 70s. We spent almost half an hour atop Peak 3,580ft, snacking, leaving a register (we were a little sad not to find one) and resting up for the bigger challenge ahead. At the conclusion of this break, Tom B announced he was heading down, leaving only three of us to continue to the second peak. We figured he might beat us back by a couple of hours. We dropped down to the saddle between the two peaks, traversed some on the northwest side, then started up a gully with the intention of going around to the northeast side to see if there was something climbable there. Or at least that was the intention of Tom G and I who had discussed which way to go without consulting Iris. She had started off right behind us, but somehow missed a key turn, and when Tom and I were 2/3 of the way up the gully we realized we'd lost her. We paused to wait, eventually hearing a shout but not discerning the direction it was coming from. Thinking she might be in the next chute to the south, I told Tom to climb to the top of our chute and I'd descend to the bottom and circle around to look for her. I eventually found her above me further right than I would have guessed. She had headed right up to the difficult-looking face I'd rejected, and then got stopped when it got really hard and she saw no sign of us. Losing maybe ten minutes' time, we eventually rejoined Tom atop the original chute.
While he was waiting, Tom had scoped out the north side directly above the top of the chute and suggested it might work to get us to the summit. We couldn't see the whole route, but it looked pretty manageable. There were a few class 4 moves initially, but then easier class 2-3 going up a few hundred feet. We eventually got to a slabby ramp angling steeply up to the right for several hundred feet. Invisible from below, this class 3-4 ramp would prove the key to getting up the final difficulty. At the top of the ramp we had had a choice of two tricky exits. Ahead of us, Tom looked at both before choosing the right option. In the middle, Iris looked back and asked me, "Which way are you going to go?" I figured if Tom rejected the left one, I had no business trying it. We both followed Tom. Above this exit, easy class 3 led easily to the summit rocks.
We were elated to find ourselves atop this more difficult summit, having spent about an hour on the effort since leaving the first summit. We took a shorter break here, about 20min, also leaving a register before starting back down. We reversed our route back down to the saddle between the two peaks, then descended a gully to the south from there, a little different from our ascent route. Halfway down the mountain the two routes converged, leaving us to decend the same gully we'd come up for the second half. We thought the upper part of our descent route had better rock and perhaps a little more challenging with some tunnels and other fun features. It was nearly 3:30p before we were back down in the sandy wash, heading back out onto the desert flats. We shortcutted our route to avoid returning to Pinto Wells, but we still had many miles to go back to the jeep. Sunset came early, just after 4:15p, leaving us still more than half an hour from the end. Tom was waiting for us in the driver's seat of my jeep when we got back shortly before 5p. He'd gotten back an hour earlier, having time for cider and an exceedingly short nap. It would be more than an hour before we could reverse the drive back to our camp at the Dyadic TH, but a few road pops and salty snacks would help our spirits.
This page last updated: Wed Feb 2 17:19:37 2022
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