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I was camped on the dirt road at the very southern end of Death Valley National Park. Matt had driven in from SoCal to join me for the weekend (and a Friday), arriving around 1a. Our goal today was Quail BM, a P1K and the highpoint of the Quail Mountains. The range lies just outside the southern boundary of the park, straddling the Army's Ft. Irwin reservation to the south and a strip of BLM land to the north. With a distance of about 5mi to the summit from our starting point, it was not expected to be a long day by itself. We would find other objectives to keep us busy with the remaining daylight and then some. Overcast skies made for a colorful sunrise but it was all gray, all day, after that.
We parked along the park road NNE of the summit, starting just before 6:30a. The hiking is pretty tame the entire way to the summit, in fact it was pretty tame all day - there wasn't anything that could be considered scrambling and none of the slopes were particularly steep, either. Our five mile route to the summit traveled through minor washes, along ridges, several times dropping off one of these to cross a small drainage. As much as possible, we made use of the many burro trails that criss-cross the range. There is little vegetation in the area, particularly along the ridgelines, but there were occasional joshua trees growing along our route that added some color and cheer to the duller shades of rock that litter the slopes. When we got higher on the mountain, we could see the snowy crest of the Sierra as far north as Mt. Langley which happened to be bathed in some sunlight when we spotted it. At a fairly leisurely pace, we spent about 2.5hrs to reach the rounded summit, found just outside the Ft. Irwin boundary. A party of San Diego Sierra Clubbers had left a register here in 1995. They had taken a much shorter route, utilizing a jeep road into the range that is no longer open to traffic. There were five other pages of entries, ours making the second visit for 2018 - a busy year.
It was not long after 9a and it was obvious to the both of us that doing just this summit wasn't going to cut it. "We have options!" I declared, surprising Matt not in the least. After reviewing several of these, we decided to go with the adventurous route ESE to Peak 4,780ft at the other end of the range and a P900, about 5 air miles away. It was located squarely withing the military base, but I didn't expect there to be any service roads to cross and little chance that we'd see anyone. Our route started off heading east across the top of the range, dipping into and out of some shallow drainages with dry lakes (more like dry ponds). After a mile or so, we began descending one wash heading east, then a second heading southeast towards our peak. A little surprisingly, we found no fences and no signs announcing our intrusion to Ft. Irwin. The saddle between the two summits drops nearly a thousand feet, but all of the descent was pretty gentle. We came out to a wide, shallow gap at this saddle. The topo map shows a couple of jeep trails crossing this gap, but we saw no sign of these in crossing. We then began the long, slow climb up to Peak 4,780ft, still another 1.5mi away. About halfway up we got a view looking into the valley south of the peak where we spied a small practice village with an exercise that looked to be in progress. We could see tanks or trucks staged a few miles to the west and a few vehicles moving around to the east. Though we were two miles away and unlikely to be seen, we decided to stay low on the north side of the ridges to keep out of view. This entailed some mildly unpleasant sidehilling, but it seemed better than being spotted by a sharp pair of binoculars from our army friends below. It was about 11:45a when we reached the summit, topped by a modestly-sized army avionics antenna. The summit was large and rounded and there was no way to see the exercise area to the south, so they certainly couldn't see us. We found no register (no surprise), but built a tiny cairn at what looked like the highpoint near the antenna. Matt took some videos of the commanding views which were really quite grand, it was just too bad the sky was so gray.
After our short visit, we descended the north side of the peak down to the small valley below, then soon crossed back out of the reservation as we began a series of minor ups and downs and made our way back across the range. Our route heading northwest was roughly the direct line to our vehicles, about six and half mile total. Again, the burro trails were a big help as we crossed in and out of one drainage after another. It wasn't quite 2:30p when we returned to the park road and our vehicles. Even before Matt had reached his, I commented, "You know, you still have time for Owl BM," as I pointed off to the northwest. He didn't hesitate at all, saying, "Ok, give me a few minutes to hydrate." He knew I had been to this P1K previously and was surprised I might be interested. I wasn't really interested, I explained, I just thought he might want to get it while we were here. "What are you gonna do then?" he wondered, to which I replied, "Take it easy!" Almost as soon as he had driven off I began to feel a bit guilty for quitting before daylight had run out. I had quit the day before at 1p and it was terribly hard for me to fill the remaining hours of the day.
As I was moving my jeep a few miles east to where we were to meet more friends the next day, I happened to check my GPSr and note an easy bonus peak nearby. Oh good - at least I wouldn't have to feel too guilty. Peak 3,074ft is less than a mile from the road and less than 400ft of gain. I spent all of 45min making my way up and down from the summit at a pretty steady clip. The summit had a nice view north to Owlhead BM, our goal for the next day. There are two summits vying for the highpoint, the one to the west a few feet higher than the eastern point with the spot elevation on the topo map. After returning to the jeep I took a shower, then moved the jeep to where we'd meet Tom & Iris in the morning. Hours would go by with darkness upon the land before Matt returned from Owl BM. Seems it was a bit more involved than I had remembered...
This page last updated: Thu Feb 6 18:02:31 2020
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