Sun, Jan 31, 2021
It was day 3 of a desert roadtrip to Mojave National Preserve. I happened to be texting with my son the previous day and casually asked him if he'd like to join me for a desert hike. Knowing that he had a regimented marathon training schedule, I didn't expect him to take me up on the offer. It seems he developed shin splints and hadn't been running for the past two weeks, so a hiking workout was just what he needed as a break from school work. So that he wouldn't have to start driving too early, we arranged to meet along Kelbaker Rd at 8:30a. I had gone to bed early so that I could get up at 5a and get a hike in before our meeting time. We would enjoy a fine loop hike together in the hills south of Old Dad Mtn, tagging four summits before it was time for him to head home. Afterwards, I would find time for an additional three summits in the Cinder Cone Lava Beds area east of Kelbaker Rd.
Our first summit was less than a mile to the south, with about 1,000ft of climbing, taking us 45min. We started with a short walk in the broad wash that carved Jackass Canyon, then started up the N Ridge for a direct ascent to the highpoint. I knew ahead of time that Andy Smatko had summited three of these peaks back in the day, so it did not surprise me to find one of his blue pill bottles from 1979 tucked into the small summit cairn. He'd had a few friends along, including Ray Nelson, whose name and self-portrait I've seen on numerous occasions. There were a few other visitors in 1985, then a long, 36yr stretch until Ryan and I came along. Our second peak was the highest of the day, Peak 3,720ft with more than 750ft of prominence. It is found another 1.2mi to the SSE, connected to Peak 3,405ft by a ridgeline with several low saddles and numerous minor ones. It didn't look all that complicated from our vantage point, otherwise we might have chosen to drop back to the wash and use that for most of the distance. We were glad that we didn't, because this traverse made for the best scrambling of the day, and indeed, the best of the road trip. We would spend an hour and a quarter on the effort, finding the terrain challenging but not really difficult or dangerous. Gordon MacLeod had been to the summit in 1978, but we found no sign of the expected register. For reasons probably related to old age, I wrote Smatko's name in the register we left instead of MacLeod's - so much for my attention to detail.
The east side of the ridge we followed is characterized by huge drifts of sand that we took advantage of for our descent from Peak 3,720ft. Worried about rolling an ankle, Ryan was a bit hesitant at first, but with Dad plunging off down ahead of him, he picked up his pace and soon joined me at the bottom. We paused to give him time to empty the sand from his shoes before continuing on the loop to the third summit, Peak 3,713ft. This was the easiest leg of the loop, following a more benign ridgeline that we took a casual pace over the next hour or so. Only 7ft lower than the previous summit, Peak 3,713ft has almost 700ft of prominence and was visited by Smatko in 1967 and MacLeod in 1978. We found a register left by MacLeod in a brown glass jar, but no sign of one by Smatko. Another party had visited in 1981, and then nothing for 40yrs. Ryan was suitably impressed by the passage of time, especially when I pointed out that I was younger at that time than he is today.
Though our last summit, Peak 3,582ft was only 3/4mi to the northwest, the connecting ridgeline was far from direct, involving a semicircular route to the east over three other intermediate points. Instead, we took a more direct approach, descending 800ft to the deep gully between them, then regaining most of that back up to Peak 3,582ft. The terrain between the two was rougher than the last leg, taking us an hour to cover the short, but challenging distance. Once again, we found a small plastic pill bottle left by Smatko in 1979 with his pals. A second entry was dated 1986, then the long stretch until our arrival. After our short visit, we turned to the west to find a suitable route back down that side, choosing a steep ridgeline that looked more friendly than the rough, rocky gullies on either side of it. We were back down in about 30min's time, finishing up shortly after 2p. Ryan drove us back out to Kelbaker Rd, and by 2:40p he was on his way home to Ontario. I still had almost three hours of daylight to play with.
It was after 5p by the time I finished up back at the Jeep. I took a shower in the failing light (it was difficult to ascertain sunset with the continuous cloud cover), then did another five miles of driving to position myself for the next day's start. A long but fruitful day - any day when I get to hike with one of my kids is a good day for Dad...
This page last updated: Thu Feb 4 17:47:19 2021
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