Peak 3,310ft P300
Red Buttes South
Red Buttes North
Peak 4,391ft P300
Peak 3,425ft P500

Mon, Nov 19, 2018

With: Iris Ma
Tom Becht
Karl Fieberling

Red Buttes South
Red Buttes North
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX


The last day of this desert roadtrip had us in the El Paso Mtns for a second day, this one mostly on the western side of the range in Red Rock Canyon State Park. Tom was the only one among us that had previously visited this park and we all found the colorful geology interesting even if the scrambling was more mundane. Tom decided to let me take on the driving duties and give his jeep a rest which I had no problem with - I owe him (and a bunch of others) a few years of driving payback.

Peak 3,310ft

Our first summit was located just east of SR14 which runs north-south through the park. We turned off at the Red Cliffs Natural Area, following an unsigned dirt/gravel road that got us within about 3/4mi from the peak on its northwest side. While Iris went off for a morning potty break, Tom and Karl started up the steep slope immediately off the road, figuring Iris and I would catch them in short order. They'd already reached the ridgeline several hundred feet up before we had left. It was a quick pace despite the initial steepness and we were only 40min in reaching the summit. Iris and I overtook Karl on the way up, but Tom kept up a demanding pace that left him in front all the way to the top. When I commented that he seemed to have picked up his pace considerably from the day prior, he smiled and responded that he wanted to be first to at least one summit during these three days - now he planned to take it easy the rest of the day. Though the climb was ordinary, the views were not, particularly in the first half of the ascent when we were treated to a sunrise scene on the Red Cliffs seen to the west and north. Finding no register at the top, we left one of our own before descending. Our route down went more directly off the summit, but really no better or worse than our ascent route.

Red Buttes

Red Buttes is the highpoint of the state park, a pair of colorful rock formations slowly eroding in the desert, overlooking Last Chance Canyon. We covered less than 2.5mi and 1,000ft of gain in visiting the two summits, the longest of the day's hike, but still modest. The bigger effort was the driving, for which Iris took over the wheel for most of the hour+ we spent in getting from one to the other. The drive took us through the Cudahy Camp site, an old ranch tucked in a narrow canyon area with more brightly colored rock. Our hike took us to the lower south summit first, with some modest rock scrambling and a descent down through a small badlands-esque ravine. We spent about 45min getting from the south summit to the higher one where we found a Smatko register from 2002 (only a few years before he passed away) along with a newer one placed in 2007 by some folks from the Sierra Club's Owens Peak Group based out of Ridgecrest. The OPG initials have also been used by the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group to stand for "Occasional Peaks Gang". I suspect that was a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the official Sierra Club designation. Since there was still room on the older register pages, we chose to sign those instead - never pass up an opportunity to sign a Smatko register. We took a longer break here before descending back down the southeast side of the summit rocks, returning to an old road (no longer driveable) and then to the jeep.

Peak 4,391ft

Another 20min's drive saw us to the Copper Basin Mine, home of the famous Burro Schmidt Tunnel. William Schmidt spent more than 30yrs digging a half mile-long tunnel through the east shoulder of the mountain as a way to make it easier for him to haul ore down to Garlock. The man must have been completely nuts because the alternative hike over the ridge takes all of fifteen minutes - only six minutes longer than it took us to walk the tunnel. Clearly the man simply liked digging his tunnel. He would get the last laugh because his tunnel has become a popular backroads tourist stop, it has its own wikipedia page and Schmidt will likely be remembered far longer than any of us. We parked just outside the north entrance before hiking through the tunnel. Though wider and taller than most mining shafts, the ceiling wasn't high enough to hike through without stooping, at least for anyone over 6ft. Karl and I followed closely behind Tom who wore a headlamp, while Iris took up the rear some distance behind us with her own lamp. Near the end we met a few motorcyclists who were walking in the opposite direction. At the south exit we followed a trail back up to the ridgeline and then west to the highpoint of Peak 4,391ft. The BLM road goes over the very summit, though there is a rather steep section just past the parking area for the north tunnel entrance, near where Schmidt Camp is located. There is some colorful green/blue/quartz rock to be found scattered about the area, the veins from which Schmidt was extracting gold (though obviously not in any serious quantities) until he got distracted with his tunnel. Our whole outing took us half an hour.

Peak 3,425ft

Our last peak of the day was about 3.5mi southwest of the tunnel, overlooking the west side of Last Chance Canyon. We were able to drive to within a quarter mile of the summit, making for a short, easy hike that took less than 15min to reach the top. The summit has a fine view overlooking the eastern end of the park with a good deal of old mining scars dotting the slopes. Following this last summit, I drove our party back out of the range and state park, to our campsite where the other vehicles had been left on the southeast side of the range. We had more daylight available, but I wanted to get a jump on the drive back to San Jose. Karl and Iris were heading home as well, but Tom had plans to spend another day out in the desert - one of the first times I can recall heading home before the rest of the crew...

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