Sugarloaf P500
Rand Mountain DS / DPG
Government Peak P1K DS / DPG
Laurel Mountain P300 DPG
El Paso Peaks P1K DS / DPG

Dec 13, 2011
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2 3

With six days to head off on a roadtrip, the weather reports for most of California and the neighboring states were decidedly so-so. Light precipitation was forecast for much of the area with cold temperatures to boot. I delayed leaving by one day to give the snow and rain a chance to subside and make traveling over the passes easier. I left soon after I had gotten back from walking my daughter to school on a Tuesday morning, hoping to get some hiking in before the day was through. I had decided to head to Death Valley to climb some of the more prominent, unlisted peaks in the park and the surrounding regions. Nearest was Sugarloaf, a Southern Sierra peak just north of Jawbone Canyon, a popular OHV area. The peak has more than 1,600ft of prominence but a low enough elevation that there would be no fresh snow to contend with.

It was after 2p by the time I had gotten over Tehachapi Pass and to the Jawbone turnoff on SR14. About two miles from SR14 I turned right on a dirt road that heads up Pipeline Canyon, named for the LA aqueduct that travels through the area in a steel pipe about 3ft in diameter. I managed to drive the van nearly three miles to a broad saddle less than a mile northeast of the summit. The peak is easy to identify from the road and presented no navigational difficulties.

The shortest route to the summit is straightforward, utilizing old OHV tracks officially closed to motor vehicles but not without recent treadmarks. It took less than 20 minutes to reach the rounded, nearly barren summit. There are views of a midsection of the Southern Sierra from Owens in the south to Piute in the north, but much of this was obscured by glare from the sun now low in the sky. There was a dusting of snow from the recent storm that had blown through, mostly above 5,000ft and on the north-facing slopes. There was a nice view of Butterbredt to the northwest and a more blase one of Black Mountain to the northeast. To the east and southeast the Mojave desert stretches out as far as one can see. It took only ten minutes to jog down the soft sand slopes back to the car.

I had half-expected to do the hike starting from Jawbone Canyon, but the extra driving distance had made short work of it, giving me more time for another peak or two before the day was through. I drove back down to SR14 and then east to Randburg and the Rand Mountains that lie south of the small town. Evan Rasmussen had been to the range highpoint and provided me with some useful beta to reaching it myself, though Zdon's directions seemed to be better in hindsight. There are two summits with nearly equal elevations vying for the highpoint, Government Peak at 4,741ft (although Zdon gives it an elevation of 4,755ft) and Rand BM at 4,740ft (Zdon calls this Rand Mountain). I figured both were worth a visit so I didn't have to worry which might be higher. I found my way through a series of dirt roads to the south side of the two summits. With a sufficiently beefy vehicle it is possible to drive the road along the crest of the range, nearly to both summits. Not blessed with such a vehicle, I was content to make a five mile hike out of it, starting from a junction with an old road I had spied going up the South Ridge towards Rand Mtn.

Though no longer driveable, the road was an easier hike than the cross-country alternative, though that would not have been much harder. The sun began to set only minutes after I had started out, finally settling behind the Sierra crest around 4:40p. I moved quickly in order to reach Rand BM before it got too dark for pictures, making it to the top in about 25 minutes. The summit is bulldozed for a microwave relay tower, none of the ground inside the protective fence looking higher than that outside. I walked around the outside perimeter looking for the benchmark, but I found no sign of it - perhaps it had been plowed over in putting up the tower. There was some patchy snow on the north slopes, but not enough to cause any trouble. It was cold enough now that the snow would not melt on my boots, keeping my feet plenty comfy.

There was still enough light to make out Government Peak to the north, little more than a mile away, along with the route to reach it. I spent the next 25 minutes in deepening twilight to reach Government Peak. The highpoint was a pile of stones conveniently left outside another enclosed area. A power line lazily drooped across the top only a foot off the ground, connecting two structures that sandwiched the highpoint. I found no sign of a register. I took a few pictures including a long exposure that made the darkness look closer to sunset, then started back.

I hit up two other summits in the El Paso Mountains a short drive to the north. The range highpoint is the HPS summit of Black Mountain, but one of the two I went after had a prominence in excess of 1,000ft with a short write-up in Zdon's book. A paved road leads almost to the summit of Laurel Mtn off US395 and it was to this I headed first. A high barbed-wire fence surrounds the highpoint that includes several antennae and a tall building owned by the federal government but appearing little-used. I breached the fence at a corner on the west end of the enclosure, near where the highest point is found. An antenna pointing down towards Randburg is found nearby. There was a fine view of the Ridgecrest lights to the north, but little else of interest at night.

After returning to the van, I drove back down about half a mile and then took a decent dirt road heading west for about a mile to another radio facility at Pt. 4,391ft. It took about 15 minutes to hike the easy distance to the summit of El Paso Peaks, following an OHV road for most of the way, followed by a short climb to the highpoint. There were two registers found here, the only ones I saw all day. One booklet had been placed by John Vitz in 1998, another by MacLeod/Lilley in 2005. Other names I recognized included Andy Martin and Bob Sumner from 2008. The return was highlighted by a most beautiful moonrise that came up through a thin layer of clouds in shades of orange and red and yellow before finally appearing white higher above the horizon.

I eventually ended up spending the night about 7 or 8 miles further east off Trona Rd, along a dirt road I planned to use for Klinker and Dome Mtn the next morning. I had had a big lunch on the drive across the state so didn't bother with dinner. It was sufficient that I would sleep well that night, having gotten more done than I had expected - not bad for half a day's effort.


Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

This page last updated: Mon Feb 2 22:27:14 2015
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: