Peak 3,897ft P300
Peak 3,405ft P300
Peak 3,720ft P750
Peak 3,713ft P500
Peak 3,582ft P300
Peak 4,327ft P300
Peak 4,425ft P300
Whitney BM P300

Sun, Jan 31, 2021

With: Ryan Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2


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.

Peak 3,897ft

This summit is found in the Kelso Mtns, about 2mi southeast of Kelso Peak. It is located in the Kelso Dunes Wilderness, the shortest approach about 2mi from Kelbaker Rd to the east. Awake by 5a, I had dressed, breakfasted and driven to my starting point by 6a, allowing me to hike much of the first hour before sunrise without the need for a headlamp. It was chilly, only a few degrees above freezing, but it made for a most wonderful hike across the desert from the roadway to the peak. The terrain had a slight incline, but mostly flat, without the need to cross annoying washes filled with rocky debris. I ascended the summit from the NE, arriving on top shortly after a sunrise that was momentarily delayed by clouds in the eastern sky. The summit provided a fine vantage from which to view the many folds, ridges and canyons of the Kelso Mtns with the soft contrast of the morning light. I left a register here before descending to the north for an alternate, slightly quicker way back to the washes and flats below. I was back to the Jeep by 7:45a with plenty of time before I was to meet up with Ryan.

Peak 3,405ft - Peak 3,720ft - Peak 3,713ft - Peak 3,582ft

Ryan was a few minutes late, having warned me ahead of time that he needed to stop in Barstow for some gloves and snacks. I had told him to bring gloves the day before, to which he asked "For cold or protection?" We were heading to Jackass Canyon near Old Dad Mtn and I expected a lot of scrambling on limestone, so they would be for protection. As we came to find out, the terrain south of Jackass Canyon has very little limestone, more of the standard desert volcanic fare. Still, they would be useful for the downhill sections where falling is more of "when" rather than "if." We left his car at Kelbaker Rd and drove the Jeep about six miles south and southwest into Jackass Canyon. Various trip reports describe this as a difficult undertaking with sand traps waiting to lure the unprepared. We found nothing of the sort, with Ryan driving the entire distance in both directions in 2WD without incident. It was 9a by the time we were ready to head out.

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.

Peak 4,327ft - Peak 4,425ft

With increasingly overcast skies that brought a chill to the afternoon air, I drove the Aiken Mine Rd into the heart of the Cinder Cone Lava Beds area. The Aiken Mine is located on the northeast side of Peak 4,425ft. Peak 4,327ft is located 2/3mi to the northwest with a rough, but serviceable road running up to the saddle between the two peaks from the southwest. I parked in a large flat area of crushed cinder, part of the extracted minerals pulled from the mine. The summit of Peak 4,327ft is a short ten minute climb from there. The two peaks are cinder cones which make for tedious climbs on steep, loose slopes. Peak 4,327ft had seen little of the mining excavations bestowed upon its neighbor, remaining relatively pristine. After descending back down, I drove the Jeep into the Aiken Mine and as high on the northeast side of Peak 4,425ft as I could manage. Vast acreage of rock was scraped from the side of the cinder cone over a number of decades. The mine was shut down in 1990 when the operators failed to pay rent, leaving most of their vehicles and equipment in place and simply walking away. Some 9.2 million tons of cinder were extracted, but only 1.4 million tons ever made it to market - mostly to Las Vegas as paving material for The Strip. The rest of the material still lies about the property. The easiest (and safest) way to the top is via an old road on the north side of the cone, although today it was covered in lingering snow. I used this for the descent. On the way up, I ascended the southeast side, using a combination of old mining road and sketchy cinder slopes. This might be the least Wilderness-y summit in all of the preserve.

Whitney BM

Upon my return to the Jeep, I moved it to the east side of the peak at the edge of the mining property, about 1.2mi from Whitney BM. This is probably the closest approach one can use, though it's not much further if using the BLM road on the east side of Whitney BM. There's more desert brush here than the other places I'd visited on this trip, requiring some weaving around, but overall not really a problem. Most of the hike follows across desert flats and then up a wash on the WNW side of the peak, followed by a moderately steep slope to the summit, though not the annoying cinder variety. There were two registers found here, one by Smatko/Schuler from 1969, the other by MacLeod/Lilley in 1983. The Smatko register was unusually full, mostly the scrawlings from a couple of germans who climbed it in 1971 and then went on about capturing the summit, renaming it, and other such things, pretty much using up all the available paper in the name of German humor. The MacLeod register had a few other entries, most recently by Candace Skalet only three months ago. She has been posting notes on my website and sending me occasional emails for beta this past year. I figured she would be amused to find me signing a register after her, for once.

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...


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