Peak 5,223ft P300
Peak 6,030ft P300
Peak 4,938ft P300

Apr 21, 2020

With: Karl Fieberling

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


Karl and I spent the morning around the Darwin area between the Coso and Argus Ranges, doing a drive-up above town and a longer outing to an unnamed peak in the Argus Range. Afterwards he left left to head home while I pondered doing something else on my own in the afternoon.

Peak 5,223ft

This is the lowest of four summits found in the Darwin Hills. A rough BLM jeep road goes from the south side of Darwin up into the hills, passing just below the summit. The open, rocky summit has a wide-ranging view across the vast Darwin Wash that separates the Darwin Hills from the Argus Range. The China Lake NWC is found a few miles to the south, with several desert villages seen in the broad wash, used for wargames and training exercises. Maturango Peak rises high to the southeast, the highest in the Argus Range, with some fresh snow from the previous evening's weak storm. It took all of about 30 seconds to walk from the jeep to the top of Peak 5,223ft, a longer haul without high-clearance.

Peak 6,030ft

We drove back down to Darwin, then south and east around the base of the Darwin Hills on an excellent dirt road that any vehicle could negotiate. We parked off the roadway in the Darwin Wash, about 3.5mi due west of Peak 6,030ft. The peak lies east of the main crest of the Argus Range, not visible from our starting point. This gave us the false impression that the summit was closer than it actually was. We hiked several hundred feet up slopes angling northeast before dropping into a wash heading east into the range. After about a mile and a half we climbed out of the wash up steep slopes at its head to reach a plateau around the 5,800-foot level. From the plateau, our peak becomes visible to the east, more than a mile away still. This was the nicest part of the hike, with surprisingly green slopes dotted with joshua trees. A few burros brayed, annoyed at our disturbance, trotting off to find more solitary pastures. The final quarter mile up the slopes of Peak 6,030ft is a moderate gradient, no real difficulties. We reached the top around 10a, a little over two hours after starting out. There is a fine view of Panamint Valley and the Panamint Range to the southeast. Lingering clouds obscured the summit of Telescope Peak and the other high summits of the range. We found no cairn or register atop Peak 6,030ft, so we left one of our own before returning via essentially the same route. It would be almost noon by the time we returned to the jeep. After returning through Darwin, we drove to the junction with SR190 where we'd left Karl's Element. We bade goodbye before driving off in opposite directions. I headed east down to Panamint Valley, looking at my GPSr and peakbagger app for something I hadn't climbed yet.

Peak 4,938ft

My search led me to Peak 4,938ft, a modest summit on the east side of the Argus Range. It is located south of the Minnietta Mine which can be reached via several road options. I had been to the area on a previous occasion to climb Lookout Mtn, found in Zdon's Desert Summits. On that occasion I had used the good Minnietta Rd from the east which was driveable in my van. Today, I first attempted to drive the Nadeau National Recreation Trail from the northeast. The first mile and a half of this were no problem, but where the road follows up a rocky wash, the road began to deteriorate considerably. Eventually the road began to threaten damage to the jeep and I called a halt. I got out to survey the route ahead, but it looked to get no easier and it seemed most vehicles had turned around before the point I'd already reached. With some struggle, I got the jeep turned around and went back out to paved Panamint Valley Rd. I then used the Minnietta Rd to reach Thompson Canyon at the base of Lookout Mtn. I drove another mile up Thomson Canyon Rd to the site of the Minnietta Mine. This put me about 2mi north of Peak 4,938ft and what looked like a good starting point.

Starting out just before 2p, I first crossed the wide, rocky Thompson Canyon Wash to reach the base of the North Ridge on the opposite side. Though the wash was a bit unpleasant, I found the nearly two-mile hike up the North Ridge to be enjoyable. Drier terrain than found on Peak 6,030ft, there were still pockets of flowers to be found and unbeatable views of Panamint Valley and the surrounding ranges. Not far below the summit I came upon an unsuspecting burro minding his own business. I stopped as soon as I spied it so as not draw its attention. It continued grazing for a few minutes while I watched it. It wasn't until I resumed my ascent that it looked up, wandered away from my line and then brayed in obvious displeasure. I brayed back and immediately caused a couple of other unseen burros further down the slope to return the insult. I passed over three modest false summits before finding the highpoint at the far southwest end of the ridge not long after 3:30p. The light rain from the previous evening had left the skies clearer and the scenery crisper today. As the afternoon wore on the lighting improved, too. I found no register so left another here before heading back.

I had planned to return via the same ridge, but after going back over the false summits I noticed some old mine works in the canyon immediately west of the ridge. I hesitated from some time as I continued along the ridge, looking downslope for a reasonable decent line. Though steep, it appeared to be no more than class 2 (and proved to be just that), and descending from the collection of mineshafts was a trail I could see from 1/3mi distance. It seemed worth exploring. It took less than 10min to make my way down to the remnants of the small mining camp. Structures once stood here, just below 4-5 mineshafts that could be seen above the site to the west. Old machinery, household items and collections of rusting cans were strewn about. The trail proved useable in descending about half of the canyon's length, after which it melded into the wash below. It made for a much quicker descent than the ridge would have been, and probably would have been a faster ascent route, too. I was back by 4:45p and though I still had several hours of daylight, I was tired enough to call it a day. I drove most of the way back down to Panamint Valley Rd before finding a place to shower. I briefly considered driving myself home this evening but hit upon some unnamed summits in the Slate Range east of Trona that might make for a nice loop the next day. I ended up driving the sandy BLM roads around the north and east sides of Searles Lake to the edge of the China Lake NWC. The fenceline was old and in ill repair, and I actually drove about a quarter mile past the boundary to the end of the old road where I would spend the night. It was more than five miles from the pavement at Trona but not as quiet as one might have expected. There was a regular booming sound coming from the mineral works all night long. It was soft enough at a distance, but I wondered how that might sound to the folks trying to sleep in the surrounding town...


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