Thu, Jan 6, 2022
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I had spent the night camped off a BLM road south of SR58 between Kramer Junction and Barstow, just far enough from the highway to be reasonably quiet at a low hum. In the morning I was up early, getting gas and coffee in Barstow before continuing east on Interstate 40. I was heading to the Old Woman Mtns, a fairly large desert range, still several hours away. My route would take me through the sad remnants of Essex along old Route 66, then south on dirt BLM roads, eventually ending at the Wilderness boundary southeast of Mercury Mtn. I had been to the range on a number of occasions, including to this same trailhead when I climbed Carbonate Peak in 2015. Unlike past visits, this trip wasn't designed to cherrypick the summits based on any list, but rather to start working on vsiting all of them, no matter how obscure. Today's peaks included a quartet of summits in the northern part of the range around Willow Spring Wash.
It wasn't until well after 8a that I was ready to head out - not an early start, but I wouldn't be rushed for time today and easily finished before sunset. I notice that others have driven around the locked gate at the Wilderness boundary and could have duplicated that manuever in the Jeep to save me a few miles, but that would be wrong. I'm not actually sure why there's even a gate here - I don't know of any reason why it shouldn't be a permanent barrier. Most of the first hour was spent hiking the first section of old road and then west in the Willow Spring Wash towards Peak 3,585ft. Burro trails made much of this a pleasant walk. The peak is easily visible from near the start, and looks to offer no difficulties via almost any route. I started up a wide gully on the east side, eventually climbing to the NE Ridge and onto the summit in an hour's time. Mercury Mtn can be seen to advantage to the east, with the range HP, Old Woman Mtn to the southwest. The weather was quite pleasant, giving me no reason to rush off the summit. I left a register here while looking at my options to continue.
I had originally planned to simply drop south to the desert flats and then southeast in the wash before climbing the second summit, Peak 3,720ft. But in eyeballing the connecting ridgeline from the first summit, it looked to make for a more interesting ramble. It saved nothing in time or elevation loss (in fact the ridge drops nearly to the desert flats at two saddles), but it was fun, and occupied me for most of the second hour. I left a second register on Peak 3,720ft before turning south. The next two summits were in a line almost due south from Peak 3,720ft, roughly a mile apart, each progressively higher. For the first, Peak 4,622ft, I had to drop all the way down to the desert floor off the south side of Peak 3,720ft, then up 1,000ft to Peak 4,622ft. I found an old horseshoe in the flats below, wondering how long it has been since it had been lost. As I was climbing up the north side of Peak 4,622ft, I noticed a solar-powered telecom installation on the northwest shoulder of the peak. It was clearly within the Wilderness but must have some sort of special dispensation. It took about an hour and a half to reach the third summit where I left yet another register.
The higher elevations of this and the next peak saw the addition of junipers and pines to the usual desert plants, making for more color and variety. I also picked up a handful of ticks on my clothing, including one that was crawling across my right cheek before I felt it and picked it off. I would have to do a more thorough tick check when I got back at the end of the day. The last summit, Peak 5,095ft, would take another hour and a half to reach. I didn't have as far to drop nor as much gain as the last one, but the terrain was rockier with granite blocks replacing the easier slopes of the first three summits. Peak 5,095ft lies on the main crest of the range, a few miles east of, and only a few hundred feet lower than Old Woman Mountain. To the southeast, another mile further, is Carbonate Peak, across a very large drop to a low saddle. Peak 5,095ft would mark the highpoint of the day's adventure. After leaving a last register, it was time to head back.
I dropped southeast off the summit a short distance to a saddle before turning northeast and north to drop more than 1,000ft down steep slopes in a rocky gully. It was nearly an hour of work before the terrain grew easier and I could make faster progress. I eventually picked up an old road that climbs to a prospect high on the ridgeline connecting Peak 4,622ft and Peak 5,095ft. I had spied it during the ascent along that ridgeline and figured it might help me on the return. It did. I was able to follow it out for more than a mile until I hit the main road heading north back towards the Jeep. There were tire tracks of recent origin in the sandy road, seems that someone had driven out to the Old Ranch Spring at the end of the road. I followed the road north over the last 45min to return to the Jeep a little after 4p, with less than an hour before sunset. I had hoped to do one last summit in the area, Peak 3,667ft, less than half a mile to the southeast, but I was out of energy by this time.
The jug of water I'd left on the dash had heated nicely, and it made for one of the better desert showers I'd had in a while. Afterwards, I drove another 45min or so back around the east side of the range, finding a flat spot off the roadway to settle down for the night. I had more hiking in the range planned for the next few days...
This page last updated: Wed Feb 2 17:19:54 2022
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