Kelso Dunes HP
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||GPXs: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
Kelso Dunes HP later climbed Sat, Dec 3, 2016|
I spent the night in the Mojave National Preserve, parked in clearing off the dirt road to Arroweed, the western approach road for the Providence Mountains. Evan was supposed to join me some time late at night after driving up from the San Diego area, but I saw no other vehicles parked nearby when I awoke before 6a. The road coming in was not great and I did not want to drive back out the 8/10th of a mile to Kelbaker Rd to see if he was there since I deemed it unlikely (in fact, that is exactly where Evan had spent the night in his camper. He had not driven the road in to Arroweed, thinking there was no way I'd drive the van on the rough road.) So it seemed I was on my own, at least for the morning.
Located in the southern part of the preserve, the Providence Mountains are one of the larger ranges found in the Mojave. Running roughly north to south, they are split into two main groups. The more popular half includes the Mitchell Caverns and two DPS peaks, Mitchell and Edgar. The southern half does not have the easier paved access of the north and receives fewer visitors, but it does contains a P2K, Providence BM. Matthew and I had attempted this 8-mile hike three years earlier, starting late in the day. Sidehilling through abundant cactus, I finally called a halt to what seemed to be an impending fiasco (our late night return from Edgar and Mitchell in 2005 was still strong in my mind). This morning's hike would turn out much better thanks to better route-finding.
I started up the car with the intention of driving the remaining distance to Arroweed, but immediately found the road conditions too rutted to continue. I backed up and parked in the same place where I'd spent the night and started from there. Hiking to the end of the road (with a curious collection of junk found strewn about the area, including broken china plates and an old battery), I turned north, heading cross-country around the base of the mountains, up and down over a series of shallow washes and rises. The brush is somewhat thick in this region and requires some attention to route choices with a meandering path to avoid bushwhacking. Near Pt. 1,253m shown on the 7.5' topo, I picked up an old road that heads into the wash on the southwest side of the highpoint. The key difference between this and my first excursion was a better job of following the burro trail that leads all the way up the canyon. We had lost the trail before and moved left out of the canyon to start sidehilling, but the burros had laid down a track using the right side of the canyon where the canyon bottom itself grew too brushy. The burro trail branches off in a number of places and it is easy to lose it as one might expect, but I found it did a good job of following up the canyon most of the way to the crest of the range. And so it took only two hours to reach the crest at a saddle with very little bushwhacking at all - much better than that first effort.
The summit is still a ways off once the crest was reached, but the terrain becomes easier with less vegetation on the sunnier, southeast side of the crest. There was more sidehilling, but with fewer cacti and brush. It would be almost another hour before I finally reached the highpoint, three hours after starting out. There was a USGS benchmark as expected, along with a large DPS set of nested cans. Someone had wrapped duct tape around the inner can to make a seal, but it very nearly made it impossible to separate the two, baked in the desert sun over the past summer since it was last opened in February. When I finally did open it, I removed half of the duct tape to make things easier for the next victim. There were 13 pages of entries since the DPS party that had left the register in 1986, or about half a page per year. Most of the names were the usual collection of highpointing suspects, mixed with some DPS parties and a few others. The easiest route appears to be from the east, with several parties reporting a time of around 2hrs. Doug Bear approached from the north at Granite Pass, describing it as "not the shortest of routes". Most seemed to have followed Zdon's directions, coming as I did from Arroweed.
The Providence Mtns sit high above the desert, providing a sweeping view of the vast Clipper Valley to the east and south, and to the west the large, flat area known as the Devils Playground with the Kelso Dunes as the centerpiece. Looking north is a good view of the Mitchell/Edgar/Fountain peaks that make up the northern half of the Providence Mtns. Where it took three hours on the ascent (bad math had me claiming 2.5hrs in the register), it took only two hours for the return now that I had the route dialed in. The route I took off the summit was much better, a straighter shot back to the saddle and involved much less sidehilling. I was half expecting to see Evan's camper next to my car when I returned, but found only my van, not even a note on the windshield telling me where he might have gone in the meantime.
It was noon by the time I'd driven back out to Kelbaker Rd, Evan's camper right where he'd spent the night on the west side of the pavement. After warm greetings we figured out where we'd each miscalculated and then went about the business of formulating a plan for the rest of the day. Evan wanted to do some sunset photography at Kelso Dunes that afternoon, so we dropped his camper off near the turnoff about ten miles to the north, then took my van to pay a visit to Table Top Mtn, a P1K summit about twenty miles to the east. There was much dirt road driving (long, but mostly well-graded aside from the annoying washboard sections) to find an approach I had identified from the north that gets to within a mile of the summit. This involved a few miles on Providence Ranch Rd, a private access point for the dozen or so landowners in the area. We parked a short distance from the last home along the road, then met up with the owner who drove the hundred yards down from his house to intercept us. He was not happy that had driven into the area, ignoring the No Trespassing signs, and asked us to leave. Evan had done a good job of trying to inject humor with a little pleading to allow us to "run up and down the hill", but the older gentleman's serious demeanor never let up and we retreated, as asked. Back out on the public road we continued south through Hole-in-the-Wall, all the way to Interstate 40, basically making a grand loop of the Providence Mtns in a somewhat wasted 3hrs. We could still have climbed Table Top from the west, but would probably not have gotten back to Kelso Dunes in time. There are other peaks in the area such as the Woods Mtns HP and Barber BM, so I didn't mind leaving it to a future excursion. I'd also like to explore the Hole-in-the-Wall formations, so I'm sure I'll come back again another time.
It was 3:30p before we'd driven to the staging area for Kelso Dunes, just south of the highpoint. The access is three miles of well-graded dirt road, suitable for any car. Evan had just purchased some new photography toys and was more interested in playing with these than climbing the highpoint, so we split up again for the last few hours of the afternoon. Though an easy hike, taking only about 40min to reach the highpoint, it was the most interesting outing over the five days I spent in the Mojave. With the sun low in the sky and almost no wind, it was a pleasant stroll across the dunes, marveling at the varied patterns in the sand created by the wind. Golden grasses, some even green, made for wonderful shades of amber and yellow-green in the late afternoon, in marked contrast to the usual dull colors of the desert scrub. Though there is no regular trail leading to the highpoint, numerous prints in the sand leading in that direction showed I was hardly the first to consider climbing it. I came upon a set of ski tracks leading there as well - evidently a party thought it might be fun to ski the sand hill. They evidently gave up when the approach got steeper, choosing to carry the skis to the summit before using them on the descent.
Winds had covered the older footprints laid down on the upper ridgeline leading to the summit, making mine appear to be the first over virgin sand. This was great fun with a bit of guilt mixed in (I hope I wasn't ruining someone's set for perfect sunset dune picture). Where loose, the sand is terribly tedious to ascend and requires much effort. Often there were firmer slopes just to the left and I would try to walk lightly up these to keep from breaking through the crust to the softer layers below. As I walked along the edge I pondered the small avalanches unleashed on the steeper, leeward side to the south. I pushed sand down the slope with my hands and watched it slowly erode the hillside in predictable patterns that were nonetheless fascinating to watch. I probably would have spent far more time playing around if it wasn't getting close to sunset.
The highpoint was three sand ridges converging at the top, a movable point that must shift by several feet from time to time, but basically staying in the same small area. There is nowhere to anchor a flag or benchmark or register which was fine with me. I noted a pair of hikers further down the east side, opposite of where I'd come up. Another couple were playing in the dunes below me, others wandering around closer to the parking/camping area. It is quite a popular area, it would seem. I returned to the van just as the last rays were fading on the Providence Mtns far to the east, as well as on the Kelso Dunes HP to the north. It was not as productive a day as planned, but it turned out to be a most enjoyable one, especially the exploration on the dunes.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kelso Dunes HP
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