Tue, Dec 11, 2012
Adam was the only one joining me on day 7 of my Mojave birthday adventure. I was at first a bit embarassed to suggest we tackle some easy P1Ks today, thinking it wouldn't be much to Adam's liking. What I didn't count on was that Adam enjoys a good 4WD challenge and didn't mind at all that the hikes were on the tame side. He had not had his Toyota 4Runner long and was eager to see what it could do. Today's outings would fit the bill nicely. The two peaks were the most prominent summits in the Pinto Mountains (though oddly, neither was the highest). Twentynine Palms was the most prominent named summit, found at the west end of this 25 mile-long range that lies across the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. Our approach along Gold Park Road out of the town of Twentynine Palms cuts through a small corner of the park but does not require an entrance fee to use.
Starting from just off the sandy road where we'd spent the night, we left my van where it was and motored our way southeast in the 4Runner, starting around 6:45a. The sun wasn't yet up but it was plenty light out to see by. We found several criss-crossing roads through the sandy wash that drains a large area to the south but used the route I had loaded in the GPS to keep us on the right track. The wash narrows in a canyon where the crux of the drive is found, going over some rocks that require both 4WD and high clearance, or perhaps some creative rock placements as was evidence when we drove through. The canyon then opens up into the broad Music Valley where the driving gets easier until we turned left to head up the steep set of switchbacks heading east towards our summit.
We expected to be able to drive high up on the mountain where a set of antennae installations are found, but did not get far before encountering a locked gate across the road. There was no place to pull off the road so we simply left the 4Runner where we stopped, hoping our visit would be short enough to not bother a technician needing to get to the summit. From this point the hike would be a bit more than two miles with some 1,200ft of gain. The majority of the mileage would be on road, including most of the gain. The cross-country we encountered was over easy, lightly vegetated terrain. In all we spent an hour to reach the summit. The tower facilities were about a mile north of the hihgpoint which was adorned by a cairn and benchmark, along with the scattered remains of a small wooden survey tower. Inside the cairn was a register filled with many entries, the makings of a very popular peak it would seem. Another hour would elapse before we got back down to the locked gate via the same route. Getting the 4Runner turned around on the narrow, rocky road without turnouts was a bit tricky, but Adam managed it without an unexpected tumble down the steep embankment and we were soon motoring our way back down to Music Valley and back to town.
We spent the next two hours collecting the van, driving east on SR62, dropping off the van once again, and heading southeast on Gold Crown Rd leading into the north central portion of the Pinto Mountains. Our primary goal was Peak 1,036m (Peak 3,399ft), the most prominent summit in the range and the sixth highest. A bonus peak was Ivanhoe BM, found to the north across a canyon from Peak 1,036m. It was less than 100ft lower but had nearly 900ft of prominence of its own. A rough 4WD road runs east through the canyon between the two summits and it was to this track that we navigated to with the help of our GPS to make sense of the numerous roads found in the area. As we entered the narrowing canyon the driving became more challenging and we slowed to a crawl. We found an older woman by herself on the side of the road near a junction. We paused to ask if she was ok and perhaps get some information on which route was better. She didn't know about the two routes, having been dropped off by her husband who went ahead to scout the lower route on his ATV. The lower route looked pretty rough even for the 4Runner, so we initially tried the higher route. Gaining some altitude gave us a view down to the lower route which looked to improve markedly after the short rough section we had seen. The high route seemed circuitous and growing rougher, so we went back down to the junction.
The husband had returned when we got to the junction and we found him a talkative fellow. He relayed a very suspect story about a lost gold find in the area that we listened to with pretended eagerness but quickly dismissed when we left him. He wasn't much help on the route, but his doubt as to whether Adam's vehicle was up for the challenge acted as an incentive to motivate Adam to try. It was not as hard as it had looked, certainly no harder than the morning's crux getting into Music Valley. We got further than I expected. I'd thought we be good if we could get to the saddle at the end of the canyon before it drops down into a second canyon heading east. We actually managed a short distance up the hillside to the south, stopping at the first switchback when Adam thought the roadbed a bit too rocky. We could have probably driven the remaining fifth of a mile to a higher saddle which marked the closest one could drive, but we were only a mile from the summit at this point - more than close enough to make an easy hike of it.
We spent about 45 minutes climbing to the summit, following the road to the aforementioned saddle, then cross-country up the ridgeline to the summit. A register at the summit had been left in 1992 by Barbara and Gordon. We were only the fourth entry since then - this was a lightly visited peak. The views take in most of the Pinto Mountains in three directions with a sweeping view to the north to the Sheephole and Bullion Mountains and others beyond. We were back at the truck by 1:30p, followed by 15 minutes of more driving back to the low saddle and then up an old mining road towards Ivanhoe BM. This was a more successful driving effort, getting quite high and within half a mile of the bonus summit. We were feeling more like backroad enthusiasts than peakbaggers at this point.
A concrete slab was built over a deep vertical mineshaft with an opening at one end. Though a more modern construction than most of the desert mines one runs into, this one appears to have been a similar failure. Less than fifteen minutes saw us at the summit of Ivanhoe where we found the expected benchmark, an old one from 1934. The register we found was much busier than the previous one, owing no doubt to the relative ease of reaching it. It had been left by Barbara and Gordon a day before the one they'd left on the previous peak. Perhaps they had spent the night at the saddle? They recorded entries from an earlier register that was no longer to be found. The earliest recorded was an Andy Smatko party from 1984. I took a few pictures looking west towards Twentynine Palms, and east to Peak 1,036m during our brief stay at the summit. The hike down took less than ten minutes.
We briefly considered driving east over the pass to explore the road in the canyon on that side, but decided the safer course was to head back the known road. We still had daylight left but I didn't come prepared with anymore easy peaks that we could reach. Later I would realized we drove right past Humbug Mtn which Zdon provides a nice short writeup on. We both carried copies of his book in our cars but didn't think to check there. There was much discussion on what we might do the following day. I had some other P1Ks in mind, another one in the Pinto Mtns further east and the highpoint of the Iron Mtns even further east. Neither of these had much involved driving and the peaks themselves held little interest to Adam. He was sort of itching to drive east into Arizona for some big game hunting there (P2Ks and P5Ks), so in the end we decided to part ways.
After showering, I drove east to the Iron Mtns following directions I got from Evan Rasmussen when he climbed the highpoint a few years earlier. The Colorado aqueduct runs in massive tunnels through the Iron Mountains and the LA Dept of Water and Power maintains a pumping station on the southeast side of the range. The paved road I took north off SR62 goes to this plant and is signed as private property, but I went past no guard station before I turned west on a good dirt road and drove northwest into a canyon SE of the highpoint. I had dinner and watched a movie for a few hours before turning in. A truck drove up to observe me for a short while during the movie, eventually taking off back down the road. I went to bed early but was awaken around 11p by a knock on the window. The guy who had seen me earlier came with backup this time and the two of them let me know in no uncertain terms that I was trespassing and would need to leave. I wished the first guy had had the balls to tell me himself - it would have saved me having to wake up and drive off at this horrible hour while groggy.
I drove back out to SR62 and then got out my copy of Zdon who has a different description for this mountain. His route heads up a powerline road off SR62, avoiding the paved road to the pumping plant. I found Zdon's road and started up it, but there was very soon a large, unmistakable No Trespassing sign in the middle of the road, not mentioned in Zdon's book. Somewhere in the past few years, it seems the LADWP has gotten more serious about trespassing. I didn't want to risk getting asked to leave a second time in one evening, so I gave up on the Iron Mtns. I drove west back towards the Pinto Mtns and found a nice turnout away from the highway near where I wanted to start for Outlaw BM, another P1K in the range that I had originally planned for the afternoon. It was after midnight before I got to bed again, but at least this time my sleep wasn't interupted...
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