Peak 3,853ft P300
Peak 3,646ft P300
Peak 3,164ft P300
Peak 3,137ft P300
Rock BM P300
Summit Range HP 2x
Fish Head Rocks
Peak 2,771ft P300

Mar 30, 2020
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile
Summit Range HP previously climbed Dec 9, 2013

I was getting tired of walking around the neighborhood for daily exercise during the COVID-19 crisis, so I decided to head out to the desert for a few days. It's not exactly sheltering-in-place per recommendations, but it was pretty socially isolating. The only interactions of note I had during the trip were to handle the gas pumps at two stops. I used disposable gloves, so little chance of transmitting a virus in either direction, I figured. I drove out to the Lava Mountains southeast of Ridgecrest to visit a handful of unnamed summits. None of them were particularly noteworthy, finding no registers and no interesting scrambling. The wildflower displays were another story and made the 15mi loop a pure joy. Almost everywhere I turned was a little valley of yellow flowers or a slope of purple ones. Most of the route is within the Grass Valley Wilderness, bordered on the north by the Spangler Hills OHV area. With a few more hours later in the day, I visited a few other easy summits before calling it a day.

Lava Mountains

My main objectives for the day were a collection of five minor summits in the Lava Mountains. These were the last of the range's 12 summits I'd yet to visit. All but one are located in the Grass Valley Wilderness. An OHV road runs along the north side of the range and Wilderness to allow access. It appears I could have driven to the east side of the Wilderness boundary for a tighter loop, but I'm not sure it would have saved any time given the additional driving it would require. I parked at the Wilderness boundary north of the first summit, making for the shortest drive, about five miles from the pavement. The road descending from the Summit Range to the west is pretty rough in a few places and only suitable for extra high clearance. Even with 10.5" of clearance, I managed to bang the undercarriage a few times. After parking, I followed a drainage southeast and south to a low pass into the next drainage where I got a first view of Peak 3,853ft. I actually mistook the higher Pt. 4,187ft to the southwest for my summit and merrily headed off in the wrong direction. It was easy to be distracted by the carpets of wildflowers that caught my attention in shades of yellow and purple. It wasn't until I had nearly reached the base of Pt. 4,187ft that I noted the GPSr showing I had bypassed my target summit. I turned east and made my way to Peak 3,853ft, now climbing it from the southwest rather than the north, as intended. Oh well. It was a lovely day, and some extra time was of little consequence. It took about an hour and a quarter to reach the first summit shortly after 9:30a.

The top of Peak 3,853ft was large and flat, not the best for views, though there was a nice one to the west of Pt. 4,187ft and higher Dome Mtn behind it. In the hazy distance, snow could be seen atop Olancha Peak to the north and Telescope Peak to the northeast. A carpet of flowers covered the northern part of Peak 3,853ft's summit. I headed east off the summit, descending into a drainage before starting the climb to Peak 3,646ft, about 1.5mi in that direction. There was no mistaking the location of this or the other remaining summits as they were easy to spot from one summit to the next. After another class 2 scramble, I reached the summit of Peak 3,646ft in a bit under an hour. Dark volcanic rocks were strewn about the grassy top. It felt pretty remote up here with colorful views into the valleys below. I left a register here that might have to wait some time for another soul to wander by.

I turned northeast in descending the second summit and heading to Peak 3,164ft, a mile and a quarter away. It was a neat, pointy summit from the direction I approached it, though I was up and over it before I noticed I hadn't taken a photo from the summit. After descending off its southeast side, I landed in a gravelly wash system that I would follow for the next two miles as I made my way to the fourth summit, Peak 3,137ft. The sand and gravel were nicely compacted, making for easy walking. Somewhat unexpectedly, because I hadn't studied the maps well beforehand, I came across a fenceline marking the Wilderness boundary. On the other side were signs of vehicle travel up the wash, not shown as a road on the topo map, but clearly getting enough use to be considered one. The wash runs northeast through a gap between Peak 3,137ft and Rock BM, and before reaching it I turned southeast and east to follow another branch of the wash in that direction towards Peak 3,137ft. I climbed this peak from the west side, finding no difficulties and reaching the summit by 12:45p. It marks the easternmost summit of the Lava Mountains, overlooking Pilot Knob Valley to the east. The summit is only a quarter mile from the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, though I saw no fenceline or other signs of civilization in that direction. This also marked the furthest point from the car, leaving me about 6.5mi to get myself back.

Rock BM was the last and lowest of the five summits (by chance I managed to climb them in order from highest to lowest), more or less on the way back. I returned to the wash system, followed that to the gap between the two summits, then started up to Rock BM from the southeast. In addition to the abundant yellow flowers, there were small fields of white flowers found along the way, more subtle and not so easily seen from a distance. The summit had two benchmarks, one from 1913 and a second from 1945 stamped with "ROCK". I left a register here before dropping off the southwest side. At the base of the peak I turned northwest to follow another gravel wash out to the northern boundary of the Wilderness where I could pick up the periphery jeep road. Though not as scenic as the earlier portions of the hike, these last 4mi along the road were easy and pleasant enough. I got back to the jeep shortly after 3:30p, not having seen another soul the whole time.

Summit Range HP

Sandwiched between the El Paso Mtns to the west and the Lava Mtns to the east, the summit range is really just a plateau covered in rounded bumps. Its highpoint has only 40ft of prominence and little more than a nice viewpoint along a 4WD track in the OHV area. I had visited it six years earlier and stopped for a second visit because it was only a quarter mile off the route I drove to reach the other summits - pretty much a freebie. There are two bumps vying to be the highest, so I drove over both before calling it good.

Fish Head Rocks

This is a small graffiti display found at the mouth of Poison Canyon, just off the Ridgecrest-Trona road, SR178. The small collection of granite rocks have been painted to look like fish or more accurately, morey eels. The original fish drawings dated to the 1930s. More annoying graffiti acculmulated through the 1970s, leading Boy Scouts and other groups to paint over them. A group of local girls came out and repainted the fish faces and have they have remained for a while now. Located on the north side of the road, the faces are only visible driving towards Trona. Parking is available about 100yds from the rocks. After crossing a dry creek channel, class two scrambling leads easily to the summit rock. Only about 20ft of prominence on this one.

Peak 2,771ft

This last summit is found a few miles north of Fish Head Rocks, the southernmost summit in the Argus Range. A utility road can be used to get within about a mile, accessed off SR178 a few miles northeast of Fish Head Rocks. The slopes here were drier, sandier, and not adorned with the flowery abundance found in the Lava Mtns and Spangler Hills. I spent about 40min to reach the summit where one can see Searles Valley to the east and just make out Trona over lower hills to the northeast. Getting back by 6p, I took the opportunity to shower and change into some fresh clothes before heading to Ridgecrest. Normally I would have gotten dinner there, but in the interest of isolating I stopped only long enough to get gas. I then drove out to SR14 and found a place to camp off the highway south of SR178 near the LA Aqueduct. I had dinner and caught up on the news before heading to bed a little early. A good day...


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