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It was my second day in the Old Woman Mtns, and today's agenda included a trio of summits on a high ridge branching southeast off the main N-S crest. The trailhead for these three is to the north near Painted Rock, part of the Old Woman Mountains Preserve, itself a project of the Native American Lands Conservancy. The trailhead here is the same as we used for Old Woman Statue in 2017. At the time, we were focused on that one objective and did not check out Painted Rock. I wanted to pay a visit to that as well today. I still had about 30min of driving in the morning to get from my campsite to the Painted Rock TH. It gave me an opportunity to take in a sunrise over the pointed Pilot Peak, a standalone summit on the eastern edge of the range. Cattle are still grazed in the area though I didn't see any today. A windmill-driven pump has been replaced by a diesel generator at an old water tank/corral in the area. The rusted body of a car is more evidence of non-native Americans visiting the area over the past 100yrs or so.
Starting off around 7:20a, I hiked the road/trail about a quarter mile to Painted Rock. My first impression was that there was no way I was going to be able to climb the 70-foot granite feature. After walking around to the backside of it, my second impression was close to the first. I saw two possible ways to get started, but only one of these could be scrambled (by me). I started up about five feet, but backed off - the top of this right-side route did not look to go to the highpoint. The left-side route was too difficult, I would need to come back with a rope and someone with better rock climbing skills to lead it. I did note a few cool petroglyphs, though I failed to take any photos of them as I was focused more on figuring out if I could get atop it. Alas, I could not. I kinda suspected that even before I started, so the disappointment wasn't too great.
On to the main event. There are some stone-lined trails weaving through the area southwest of Painted Rock, part of the improvements made by the NALC. I walked past these as I headed southwest, aiming for a wide gully climbing to the high ridgeline. This area has an abundance of flora in surprising variety, making cross-country travel a bit less direct than most of the Mojave Desert. The gullies themselves are often choked with desert scrub, often with plenty of cat-claw, one of the more treacherous desert trees. The gully I was aiming for proved no exception, so I spent most of the ascent on the right-hand side where there was less brush. I had to stop several times to remove wayward cactus needles that had found their way though my boots. This part of the range is filled with granite boulders, often of poor-quality, with sharp grains that tend to slough off under pressure. The going seemed particularly slow, but it was still fun scrambling - just a lot of work on this initial 1,400-foot climb.
From afar and from below, there is a formidable granite outcrop that appears to be the highpoint. Pt. 1,439m is in fact a false summit, with the true highpoint a quarter mile further to the west. I ended up bypassing this point on its south side, making my way west to the highpoint where I arrived after 9:30a, two and a quarter hours after starting out. The summit is a bit rocky with two points vying for the highpoint honors - I visited both, but the eastern one that LoJ had identified proved about 5ft higher. Andy Smatko had reported an ascent of this summit in 1970, so I was really hoping to find one of his older registers, but to no avail. I looked about all the likely places at both summits, but came up with nothing. I had to settle for leaving one of mine before turning back to the east. Barbara Lilley had reported an ascent in 1986, but I'm not sure if the date or location are accurate, so I wasn't really expecting to find one of hers.
It occurred to me that Andy may have climbed Pt. 1,439m instead, so I thought I should pay it a visit on my way back across the ridgeline. I'm glad I did, because it proved to have some fine scrambling, much better than the more blase highpoint I'd just come from. The only reasonable way up Pt. 1,439m is from the west via one of two routes - I went up the left-hand cracks on the way up, the right-hand slabs on the way down. I found no hoped-for register at this summit either, unfortunately. After descending back down the west side, I dropped south and skirted the base of the South Face cliffs to return to easier ground. This had some tunneling and fun scrambling of its own. My next order of business was to make my way southeast along the ridgeline to Peak 4,881ft. Andy, Barbara and Gordon had all recorded ascents for this one more than 35yrs ago. With more than 700ft of prominence, it would also be the highest summit of the day. I had some concerns that the going could be very slow as I'd already found earlier, but I was happy to find that the terrain was much mellower than expectations and I made pretty good time along the ridge. I spent about an hour on the easier terrain before things started to get harder again as I neared Peak 4,881ft. The highpoint is found at the eastern end of a castellated grantite outcrop. Knowing this ahead of time, I avoided staying on the ridge, favoring easier terrain on the southwest side. Still, it became a challenging boulder scramble with tricky route-finding. It would take another 30min before I finally made my way to the top with some stiff class 3 scrambling that had me both elated and a bit worn.
A register was found inside plastic bags stuffed in a Budweiser can. The register was clearly a Gordon/Barbara one, but the container was not likely of their origin. It seems there were some boys from Needles, CA that visited the summit soon after the dynamic duo. They may have accidently broken the glass jar, possibly deliberately - they didn't seem to appreciate LA folks coming out to climb their mountains. The last entry looked to be from 1997, another demand for the Sierra Club folks to go back to LA. I couldn't decide if it was all pretty funny, or just sad. In any event, it was a very cool summit, and a very worthy objective. I reversed the moves off the summit's south side, then went about figuring how to get to the last summit, Peak 4,465ft, about 3/4mi to the south.
Peak 4,881ft has a lower pinnacle just south of it, a very difficult-looking thing that seemed to offer no scrambling route. I dropped to the saddle with this pinnacle, then descended to the east in an effort to get around it. This took me down several hundred feet, more slow, rocky gully scrambling, then a traverse around the base of the pinnacle's East Face, then back up to the ridge south of the pinnacle. Once this was accomplished, it was about 45min over moderate terrain to get me the base of Peak 4,465ft. This, too, had huge granite blocks forming its dome-shaped highpoint, not a trivial scramble. I found a cruxy crack (stiff class 3 with good holds) on the NW side that gave me access to the summit. Tucked in a crack, I found a glass jar with another Barbara/Gordon register, this one a day earlier in 1984 than the last. There were no other signatures, a rare find indeed, so I sent a photo of it to Barbara via email after I'd added my own entry. Her reply a day later was pretty succinct - "Looks like that peak is not very popular!"
I would spend the next two and a half hours making my way back to Painted Rock and the TH. After returning north along the ridge, I dropped off it to skirt around the pinnacle a second time, then up and over the NE Shoulder of Peak 4,881ft. This brought me to the top of a drainage found east of Painted Rock, so it was necessary to do a descending traverse to the northeast/north to get myself into the adjacent drainage that would take me back to Painted Rock. None of this was very difficult, but it was steep and I took my time. It was an enjoyable part of the day with the better lighting of the late afternoon sun, continuing nice temperatures, and a mostly downhill effort. I found an interesting piece of metal along the traverse, broken and twisted from an explosion or impact. I wondered if it might be an ordinance or part of a plane wreck, but I found no other pieces in the area to help identify it. It was 4:15p by the time I got back to the Jeep, by which time I was pretty tired. I didn't drive too far outside the Old Woman Preserve before finding a flat, sandy wash off the road where I could spend the night. I had a similar loop planned for the next day and would need all the rest I could get to recharge my batteries...
This page last updated: Wed Feb 2 17:47:45 2022
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