Peak 3,955ft P750
Peak 3,740ft
Peak 3,794ft P300
Peak 3,688ft P300
Peak 2,776ft P500

Mar 16, 2018

With: Iris Ma
Karl Fieberling
Matt Yaussi

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


Eagle Mountains

I've still a number of P1Ks in the California desert to visit, but the number has been dwindling and I needed more objectives to fill another 10-day roadtrip. The easiest method is to simply lower the prominence threshold below the 900-foot level I typically use. With 895ft of prominence, Peak 3,955ft popped up as the most prominent peak I haven't visited in Joshua Tree NP and I made that the main objective for Friday's hike in the Eagle Mountains. Hiking to it from the park road to the west would be a 20-mile effort - ugh, ugh. More interesting was the possibility of hiking from the south near the Hayfield Pumping Plant. The Metropolitan Water District runs this facility to pump the Colorado River water high into a pair of tunnels through the Eagle Mountains, needed to get the water up and over Chiriaco Summit and then downhill to the Southland. The paved road running from Interstate 10 to Hayfield is signed as Private Road, Sentry Ahead, but doesn't say No Trespassing. Arriving the night before at the freeway exit, I decided to drive out to Hayfield and ask the sentry if it would be ok to park along the road the next morning and hike into Joshua Tree NP. He was a nice enough fellow, but didn't seem to understand why we would want to do such a thing and expressed his opinion that our car would probably be towed. He suggested I should call the MWD and ask for permission, as though there was every possibility it would be a fruitful exercise. I drove back to the interstate a bit dejected. On the way, I noticed utility roads signed more hopefully with "Permission to pass revocable at any time", the usual wording on utility roads that are open for public use. I consulted the others the next morning and in the end we decided to drive up the dirt MWD road into Cholla Wash. The road is decently graded and might have been doable in the van, but we used Matt's Subaru to improve our chances. We parked at the end of the road (where the aqueduct crosses Cholla Wash between the two tunnels, high above the pump station) hoping it would be less visible from below. This seemed a better strategy than leaving it at the pavement and besides, made for 400ft less climbing.

We climbed the ridge on the east side of Cholla Wash, gaining 1,600ft in about a mile, dodging cholla for much of the way up the rocky ridgeline. Once above about 3,400ft, the gradient eased and the rest of the outing would be easier hiking along the various ridgelines connecting the peaks we visited. Our first stop was Peak 3,740ft, reached after the first hour and a half. It has less than 300ft of prominence, not very significant, and it didn't surprise us to find no register here. Peak 3,955ft is only about a mile and quarter NE of this first summit, but there is a deep canyon separating them. It would take us nearly twice that distance to traverse between the two, going around the perimeter of the drainage on the ridglines. The hiking was pleasant enough and it took us only a little over an hour to get from one to the other. Gordon & Barbara had left a register here during their visit in 1984 with a few other parties signing since. We took a longish break here to eat, relax and take in the views across the park to the north and others to the south. On the NE side of the summit is a very large boulder that broke off from the granite summit outcrop, and after our summit rest we paid it a visit. None of us were capable of climbing it, though Iris and I both made feeble attempts (we were able to get only about 3-4ft off the ground. It would certainly make for a fine bouldering challenge for top climbers if the approach was minutes, rather than hours.

We continued west, retracing part of our route before diverting to Peak 3,794ft which we had bypassed earlier. This summit has more than 300ft of prominence but no register, so we left one for the rare, future visitor. Our last summit, Peak 3,688ft, was another mile and half to the southwest, further along the perimeter of the Cholla Wash drainage we'd been following. Gordon & Barbara had been to this peak in 1980, featuring a nice view of the DPS's Eagle Mountain to the west. Nearer to the west and southwest was a fine collection of granite boulders, a massive field of climbing and bouldering potential, possibly as good or better than the more popular Joshua Tree climbing spots. But for that darn approach...

Having our fill of summits in this area, we descended back down into Cholla Wash to reach our car only a mile and a half way, but a full hour and a half's effort. The upper part of the wash had some class 3 scrambling that was both fun and time-consuming. We took three different gully variations, eventually reconnecting lower in the wash. Given the name, we expected to be dodging more cholla once down in the main wash, but were pleasantly surprised to find none of the spiney nasties growing in the gravel and rock wash we followed down the middle of the canyon. When we got back to the car shortly after 2p, it was no great surprise to find we'd been visited by an MWD patrol during our absence. They'd left a warning note on the windshield, threatening more serious consequences should the car be spotted on their property in the future. Guess we'll have to use someone else's car next time...

Orocopia Mountains

Our nine mile loop through the Eagle Mountains wasn't quite enough to fill up the day, especially now that daylight savings time left us with daylight until 7p. Some quick mapwork back at our vehicles near the interstate showed an unnamed summit (Peak 2,776ft) with more than 700ft of prominence on the south side of the freeway on the northern edge of the Ocrocopia Mtns. We took Matt's car for another drive, this one along some powerline access roads to get us within 2mi of the summit from the northeast. A better perusal of the maps shows there are probably better (closer) ways to reach this one, but ours fairly minimized the driving time and miles. We parked at the base of a transmission tower atop a small knoll where the road branch ended. This left us with a downhill direction to start (and of course, a last climb at the end of the day), into drainage heading south. Our summit was not visible from the start, found more than twice the distance from the intervening ridge blocking the view. This had us a little concerned that we were biting off a bit much towards the end of the day, but it turned out to be a fun little outing, without anything too discouraging. Once we'd climb up to the head of the initial drainage, we passed through a gap in the ridgeline where Peak 2,776ft was visible (or nearly so - it hides just behind Summit BM), though we weren't exactly sure which of three possible points it could be. This became more clear when we got closer and could consult the GPSr with more accuracy. Because of the uncertainty, the four of us followed three differing tracks across the shallow saddle between that first ridge and our summit ridge. Matt seemed to have picked the best line, avoiding some loose traversing I was leading Iris across. Iris eventually changed tack and followed Karl who was lower and heading closer to Matt's line. By the time I realized the summit was more to the right than we had supposed, Matt was out of view. I was able to call down to Karl & Iris and get them to correct course, but it seemed Matt wa out of luck. By chance, my crappy traverse line was closer to the summit, allowing me to easily reach the summit first. Upon realizing we weren't following him, Matt had watched us with some perplexity, then spotted a wooden survey pole atop a peak behind us. He saw me going away from this point and shouted to bring it to my attention. True, it was a survey stick, but it wasn't the highest point around.

At Peak 2,776ft we found a John Vitz register in a glass jar from 2017. Also inside the jar was a small film cannister and a Smatko register from 2001, naming it Red Canyon Peak. Smatko was 84yrs old at this time, and his pals (Schuler, Yates & Nelson) probably weren't too far behind. We were impressed that an 84yr-old could tackle this not-so-easy summit and hope we find ourselves as capable when we reach his age. We signed onto the same page as Smatko and pals, a special treat on a rarely-visited summit. After our usual stay (where Iris treated us with more deliciousness in the way of chocolate candy and cinamon bread), we paid a visit to the point just to the northeast with the survey pole. We were surprised to find a Gordon/Barbara register here at what they called, "Summit BM" from 1985. In it, they pointed out the higher spot to the southwest, but we were surprised they'd left their register at the obviously lower point. We signed their register too, just for good measure. Our return was along much the same lines as our ascent, getting us back to the car after 5:30p. We still had more than an hour of daylight but this would do for today. Time to get a shower and some dinner and maybe a beer or two...

Matt's Video


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