Cronise Mountains HP
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Evan and I were awake to watch a colorful sunrise over the Mojave Desert. It was the fourth of five days in the desert around Mojave National Preserve. Today we were outside the preserve, about a dozen miles southwest of Baker, alongside Interstate 5. The first peak on the day's agenda was unnamed Peak 745m (2,444ft) in the southern part of the Soda Mtns, a P1K summit (more than 1,000ft of prominence). Leaving my van where we'd spent the night, we piled into Evan's truck and drove east on Rasor Rd, then northeast on unmarked Arrowhead Trail for about a mile and half. Both roads were surprisingly good. When we were perpendicular to our summit, where I had originally assumed we'd have to start the hike, we spotted a set of tracks cutting across the desert flat towards our peak. Should we follow it? Could we? Evan thought we could, so off we drove. Going faster than I was comfortable with, Evan explained that we had to keep up our speed to keep from sinking in the soft sand. He did a fine job of driving along the track until we'd reached our destination and needed to turn around. This manuever proved too much for the truck, loaded down with the camper's weight. The wheels began to slip and dig a hole into the sand. Time to go to work. While I shoveled loose sand from under the back tires, Evan clipped a bush that had stopped him while turning. In addition we took the back tire pressure from 80lbs to 50lbs. More spinning in the sand followed, but there was enough forward momentum to keep the truck moving and then back on the firmer track. Not a bad effort, getting us to within 3/4 mile of the summit.
Starting out not long before 7a, we headed up a rocky canyon over terrain mostly free of cacti and brush. It was a fairly easy climb of less than 1,000ft that took us barely 30 minutes. A large cairn crowned the summit with a register tucked inside left by John Vitz in 2007. MacLeod & Lilley had visited later that year, then no additional entries until our own five years later. A rarely visited summit, but visited nonetheless. The views stretch east to the vast Soda Lake (dry), west to the Mollhausen Mtns and north to the higher summits of the Soda Mtns. It seems odd that this peak is lumped in with the Soda Mtns when the two areas are separated by a large plain through which I-15 runs, when really they are a compact set of hills quite separated. We dropped off the summit to the west, taking a slightly different route back to the ascent canyon. This turned out to be a steeper, more challenging route that I enjoyed quite a bit, adding some class 3 by staying in the primary gully with short dropoffs and fun scrambling. Back in the ascent canyon, we descended back to the truck in a more casual fashion, returning by 8:15a, taking an hour and twenty minutes total.
After returning to the van we drove both vehicles back to the Rasor Rd exit to look for a dirt road heading towards the Mollhausen Mtns that I had identified from the satellite view. Arriving first, Evan reported it fenced off and closed to the public so we gave it no more thought and continued on. Upon further review I think we didn't pursue this one well enough - it seems there should be access to this public land and folks have obviously driven out there. I'll probably come back in the future and just hike it from the exit if I can't find a way to drive closer. The Mollhausen Mtns do not show up on the USGS 7.5' topo map - they are shown as the southwest corner of the Soda Mtns. But the Benchmark Maps road atlas shows them as a small range, so it seems worth a visit. The highpoint has a prominence of just under 900ft.
We got back on I-15 and got off at the next exit to the west (Basin Rd), following Zdon's directions for Cave Mtn. This fine-looking mountain lies just off the south side of the interstate and had been on my todo list for years since I first noticed it while driving back from Death Valley. I had tried to climb it once before, but without Zdon's directions handy I could not manage to find an approach road and gave up. Once again leaving the van near the end of the pavement, we drove Evan's truck southwest on Basin Rd, a well-graded dirt road that leads to an active open pit mine on the southeast side of Cave Mtn. No operations were going on today, so we parked the camper in an open flat and headed out at 9a.
We hiked west up a small, flat gully just north of the mine until we climbed out to the higher, sandy slopes found on the south side of the summit. There was more sand than rocks, a dune really, and it was not surprising that we found the going somewhat tedious. It was 9:40a before we climbed to the top of the dune boundary, finally getting onto more solid ground. Though much of it is talus and not such great scrambling, it was better than the sandy ascent portion below. Along the ridgeline we followed I came across a metal box containing a bunch of old road maps in bad shape due to exposure to the weather. Evan postulated they had been left or forgotten by a surveyor in the area, which was better than any explanation I could come up with. The rock quality improves as one reaches the upper portion of the mountain, but it was never very good. I had to conclude the mountain simply looks better from a distance than it does up close. We reached the summit around 10:40a, another large cairn found there. There were several benchmarks nearby - no surprise that this prominent peak (1,700ft of prominence) is popular with surveyors. A register dating to 1988 had more than 50 pages filled - popular with other folks as well! The views are possibly the finest in the area. The only downside (or feature?) is the constant sound of the traffic on the interstate down below. Looking across the freeway to the Cronise Mtns, they looked like a worthwhile little range. Though a range, Evan had not been to the highpoint, having dismissed it as too insignificant. Though I hadn't planned on it beforehand, I thought this one might deserve some attention.
We descended much the same route in the upper portion, then followed the South Ridge down to near Pt. 2,643ft where Evan wanted to catch the highest point of a tongue of sand we had noticed reaching to the ridge. This worked out to be a marvelous descent route, both easy on the knees and great fun, too. Evan commented that it was the first time he had run in years, hip and knee surgeries putting a stop to that tom-foolery long ago. We were back to the truck not long after noon. We drove back to the freeway exit, then drove both vehicles over to the north side of the freeway, driving to the end of the frontage road where it was washed out some years back. Here we ate lunch while I tried to talk Evan into joining me for the hike to the Cronise Mtns. He was having none of it, happy to relax the afternoon away while I did this last hike. It was only weeks later that he admitted feeling some guilt and thinking maybe he should have climbed it.
At one time the frontage road ran across the wash and then very close to the southeast side of the Cronise Mtns. There were tracks indicating at least a few vehicles had ventured across the washout, but these were likely 4WD with tires that could manuever in the very sandy conditions. I would have to walk about two miles across the Cronise Valley, then about half a mile and 1,000ft up to the highpoint. Perhaps the most interesting part of this afternoon outing was the walk across the valley. The sandy flats are littered with decades of old cans, bottles and other trash. Aluminum beer cans that require can openers particularly caught me eye (Last night I saw the 1962 movie Hud with Paul Newman where the main character opens up Coors cans in this fashion). There was a veritable history display of the aluminum beer can including many intermediate openings leading up to today's advanced design where the poptop stays attached to the can. There was also old furniture, discarded appliances, a random coyote skull and other curiosities. I marveled at the crack patterns in the dried mud of East Cronise Lake as well as at the wind-and--small-mammal sculptures found in the sand.
After about 45 minutes I reached the base of the mountain. I picked out one of the SE ridges and followed it up to the summit. The rock was actually decent and made for a better climb than Cave Mtn. There is a great view of the latter from the top, as well. I found two registers in the modest cairn. The older one was a classic film cannister left by Smatko in 1970. MacLeod brought a party (without Barbara, for once) in 1978, then a second visit by a Smatko party in 1984. The second register was left in 1995 by Dave Jurasevich who came back a second time the following month with the San Diego Trio (Adrian/Hanna/Carey). The last entry was in 2000, Gordon's second visit, this time with Barbara. Mine was the first entry in 12 years. I returned back down the same ridgeline, finding it the most direct I could see. Back on the floor of Cronise Valley I took a slightly different route as much to explore a new collection of trash as to avoid some unnecessary bushwhacking I'd run into on the way in. I was back to the cars around 4p, making for an outing of about two and half hours. The sun would set soon, making for a nice display over Cave Mtn, at which time Evan and I headed to Barstow. We were to meet Matthew the following day for a last day of climbing in the hills south of town.
This page last updated: Thu Jan 26 16:04:28 2017
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