Tip Top Mountain 2x P750 HPS
Bighorn Mountain Wilderness HP
Heartbreak Ridge P300
Peak 6,260ft
Peak 6,460ft P300
Peak 6,093ft P500
Bighorn Mountains HP

Nov 15, 2019

With: Tom Grundy

Tip Top Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Tip Top Mountain previously climbed Dec 13, 2010


Tom and I were in the area for Iris' birthday weekend in Joshua Tree. With an extra day beforehand, Tom rode shotgun while I drove around the east end of the San Bernardino Mtns tagging a few points of dubious interest that have been on my todo list for a couple of years. One is the Bighorn Mtn Wilderness HP, a liner on the side of the HPS Tip Top Mtn. The other was the HP of the Bighorn Mtns which is not quite as obvious as one might hope. The other summits were just bonuses on the way between the two main objectives. Up until this trip, Tom had only hiked with me during the Sierra Challenge, starting in 2011. Now he got to see what I do the other 50 weeks in the year and he seemed to have some trouble making sense of it all. He was a good sport though, and it made for lots of friendly ribbing.

Tip Top Mtn / Bighorn Mtn Wilderness HP

It's a long drive from Yucca Valley to Tip Top Mtn, more than 25mi, but luckily most of this is paved, going through Pioneertown to the edge of Rimrock where it ends. Past this, Burns Canyon Rd is a decently-graded dirt road leading to the edge of the national forest in another 4-5mi. Beyond that, the road gets rougher, suitable only for high-clearance vehicles. The final mile up Tip Top Mtn Rd is very rough, 4WD only. We drove only about 1/3 of this last mile before I called it quits - we could have driven the rest of the way, but the coarse, rocky road chews up tires far more than it's worth. We parked at a small saddle and hiked the remaining distance in about 25min. There were several registers in the cans we found at the summit, neither dating back too far, evidence of its popularity, and not just the HPS folks. There are a few small summit antennae and views stretching over the Bighorn and San Bernardino Mtns. A trail leads down to what's left of the communication facility indicated on the topo map, but only a few hundred feet from the summit off this same trail is the edge of the Wilderness boundary. Greg Gerlach had left a register along the trail near the boundary only two days earlier, which we found somewhat amusing. I wandered off the trail in search of something else near the point shown on LoJ, but found nothing. We signed Greg's register and called it good. Tom was doing his best not to laugh too much about all this. We continued down the trail through a few switchbacks, then went down cross-country to intersect the road we'd hiked up, and walked back to the jeep.

Heartbreak Ridge

Driving back down, we turned off on a spur road a few miles down from Tip Top, heading south towards Heartbreak Ridge. There's a private inholding called the Sleepy Creek Ranch, with Private Property and No Trespassing/No Turnaround signs beginning well before reaching the forest boundary. Not knowing whether there was really no turnaround, we parked where we found one and hiked the remaining distance up the road. The ranch folks lined the road near their gate with huge boulders to ensure no turnaround, and other signs suggested they were less than a welcoming bunch. The highpoint of Heartbreak Ridge is about half a mile east of the gate, so we stayed off the ranch road and hiked cross-country along the boundary. The landscape had still not recovered from the 2006 Sawtooth Fire, making for fairly easy travel. As we gained elevation, we could see that there were a number of building sites back on the ranch property, suggesting it might be used as a hunting club as well as ranching, but we saw no vehicles or signs of activity on our brief visit. Some easy class 3 scrambling led to the open, rocky summit. We took a few pics, had a short break, and headed back more directly, avoiding the road altogether. We spent just under an hour on the outing.

Peak 6,250ft / Peak 6,460ft

Further down Burns Canyon Rd, these two summits are found on either side of the road near the eastern edge of the forest boundary. We tackled the easier one to the north first, going up a steep,sandy ATV track. The southern one was only a little harder and we did both from the same starting point in about an hour's time. On the way up to Peak 6,460ft, Tom found a pole marking a mining laim with a folded piece of paper describing the claim boundary, dating to 1999. It doesn't appear that anything ever came of the mining claim. Open views from both summits.

Peak 6,093ft / Bighorn Mountains HP

These two summits are more easily accessed from New Dixie Mine Rd to the east, but that was a very long drive from where we were currently. We stopped at a BLM kiosk to examine the map, studying the roads and Wilderness boundary. It seems there's a road going northeast from where we were to connect with the New Dixie Mine route, so we headed off in that direction. Once it starts climbing out of the valley the road becomes very rough, another tire-chewing exercise that neither of us found very enjoyable. It did not look like it sees much traffic at all. After maybe a quarter mile on this road, I figured we could park and hike the two summits I had in mind, guessing it was about an 8mi roundtrip effort. It looked like we'd get some actual hiking in for these two.

If one looks at the topo map, it seems to indicate that the Bighorn Mountains are restricted to a roughly 4 mile-long ridgeline going over the HPS summit of Bighorn Mtn. Bighorn Mtn has a spot elevation of 5,894ft, but there are four nearby competing points to the south that have a 5,920-foot contour, one of which is given on LoJ as Peak 5,940ft (based on average elevation interpretation). All of these points are part of the same summit plateau shared with Bighorn Mtn. And if this isn't confusing enough, less than two miles to the southeast is the even higher Peak 6,093ft, connected by a ridgeline to the other points. Is this outside the Bighorn Mtns? It can be argued either way, and which side someone takes is probably motivated my which one they've climbed. I decided to tag both and leave it to future OCD-enabled peakbaggers to determine the highpoint by whatever means they may invent.

The first mile of our hike took us over the remaining section of rough 4WD road, portions of which were fine, others even rougher than we'd seen before parking. The road goes over two saddles before dropping to a small valley on the southwest side of Peak 6,093ft. At a road junction, we headed cross-country up to the West Ridge and followed that to the summit of Peak 6,093ft, taking about 50min. The summit is wide and open, with several outcrops competing to be the highest. The eastern one has better views in that direction, but the western one had a register dating back to 1974. The numerous pages were filled with HPS entries, covering up until about 1990. Then the entries become more sporadic, with only a few in the last decade. The cover page had been labeled as Bighorn Mtn, but seems to have been questioned by several entries and eventually renamed by another to Antler Peak. The HPS archives show Pt. 5,894ft as the HPS summit as far back as 1966, so I'm not sure what prompted all these HPS visits.

After about 20min we headed off to the northeast along the connecting ridgeline to Peak 5,940ft. There were half a dozen dips along the way, plenty of rock but mostly straightforward hiking, taking us about an hour and a quarter to cover the 2.3mi distance between summits. This second summit was much less obvious, as expected, and no register was found at the two (of four) bumps we visited. Rather than subject Tom to more peakbagging silliness, I elected to call it good at the point indicated on LoJ. If lidar or some future visitor with a surveying level find otherwise, perhaps I'll come back another time. We considered several options for our return. The easiest would have been to simply follow the road we could see just to the northeast back down and around the east and south sides of Peak 6,093ft. We decided on the shorter and probably faster cross-country route to the southwest, about half the distance. This worked nicely with the help of an animal trail that took us halfway down the mountain before losing it on the rocky slope. We dropped into an unnamed, sandy wash that we followed south towards the road we'd hiked in on. It would be after 3:30p before we returned to the jeep, ready to call it a day. We had another hour of daylight, but would use that and then some in driving back out to Yucca Valley.


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