Fri, Nov 16, 2012
It was the last of five days in the Mojave Desert. Evan and I were to meet up with Matthew and Nga a few miles south of Barstow off SR247. Matthew and Nga showed up at the appointed turnoff sometime in the middle of the night as I found them next door when I awoke in the morning. Problem was, I had somehow lost Evan the previous evening when I stopped for gas in Barstow. I drove up and down SR247 looking for him for about an hour before giving up and parking at the turnoff. Of course much of this could have been avoided if I actually owned a cellphone as I'm constantly reminded, but to date my stubborness has won out over practicality. Evan was still missing in action come morning. The sun rose with a modest layer of storm clouds that made for more color than actual threat. I headed south on SR247 towards our trailhead for West Ord, hoping that maybe Evan could be found there. A minute after starting down the highway I spotted Evan in my rearview mirror, following me. I pulled over as much to tell him I was happy to see him as I was to ask what the heck happened the previous night. Seems he was driving around similarly to me, passing each other like ships in the night (without lights or foghorns or any sort of clue, evidently). As the sun lit up the landscape for a brief ten minutes while it was still under the cloud layer, we paused to take some pictures of the wonderful morning scene. Evan took a picture of a full rainbow over Stoddard Valley that I missed because I drove off a minute too soon (but he was nice enough to let me "borrow" it). There were only a few drops of rain that fell on us, but even those dried in seconds and never posed a problem. It was actually nice having the shade and clouds to keep us cool which made today's pictures nicer, too.
We followed Zdon's directions for West Ord, approaching it from the west via a dirt road off SR247. Since high clearance is needed, we left my van at the highway and took the other two vehicles up the road, about 1.5mi until it ends at a gate. The climb is not very hard, about 1.5mi each way with 1,400ft of gain. The terrain is easy class 2 with little vegetation for straightforward navigation - virtually any route can be followed to the top. It took us an hour to reach the 5,500-foot summit where there is a fine view to the east of Mt. Ord and East Ord. A small cairn and an old survey tower crown the summit where we found a register with 15 pages dating to 1993. Andy Smatko had visited in 2002 (then 85yrs old) with longtime climbing partner Frank Yates. Our return route was very similar. I took a moment to dig into an old mining boundary cairn to find a rusted tobacco tin. The contents, usually a copy of a mining claim, had disintegrated to almost dust and I didn't bother trying to extract them. We were back before 9:30a, making for a leisurely 2hr outing.
Back at the highway, Matthew and Nga headed back to Barstow so Matthew could get online and log a workday. They were heading to Las Vegas and Zion NP and were doing their best to conserve vacation days. Evan and I headed south, then northwest on the dirt Lucerne Valley Cutoff. This road is well-graded and I had no trouble driving 40mph on most of it. Stoddard Ridge and Stoddard Mtn are two P1Ks off the road that I was interested in. There is a third as well, Sidewinder Mtn, but Evan had already climbed this as the highpoint of the Granite Mountains. Our next stop was Stoddard Ridge. We left the van on the Cutoff Rd and took a high clearance side road in Evan's truck to the base of Stoddard Ridge's unnamed highpoint, within about half a mile. Though moderately steep, the hiking was straightforward, taking only 30 minutes. There are some remains of what looked like a steel foundation at the summit for a structure that was either never built, or removed with little trace. There was a concrete foundation at the base that we had passed by and some telephone poles on the slope sawed off a few feet from the ground. We speculated that someone may have built, or started to build some sort of tram system, perhaps for mining purposes. Nothing seemed to have come of the enterprise, however. The oldest of two registers showed three visits by Andy Smatko parties between 1986 and 1993, a tiny scroll of paper in the classic Smatko film cannister. A second register recorded only two other visits - John Vitz in 2003 and MacLeod/Lilley in 2007. Not sure why Smatko would have visited this non-descript summit so many times. The views take in Stoddard Valley to the north, North Lucerne Valley and the Granite Mtns to the south, and Stoddard Mtn, our last peak of the day, to the west.
We were back to the truck around 11:15a, then continued northwest on Lucerne Valley Cutoff. We once again dropped off the van when we were east of Stoddard Mtn, then drove the truck around to the northeast side of the mountain on an older, rougher track that had been used to access mining sites on this side. We were something like 3/4 mile from the summit when we parked in a large clearing where the road grew too rough for the bobbing camper shell. Starting out around 11:45a, Stoddard Mtn was both the day's best looking summit as well as the most interesting climb. After an easy hike up gentle slopes to one of the mining sites, the route grows steeper and the rock more interesting. The mountain appears to be composed of many different rock types of various colors and textures. Probably few if any of them are of commercial value, but they were interesting to pick up, turn over to examine, finally discarding to look for others. Though contrived, we found a bit of class 3 scrambling in a narrow chute and on some of the more exposed faces we scrambled upon. It took us 40 minutes to reach the summit, marked by a white metal summit cross about five feet in height. The benchmark has been removed, but I found a nearby reference mark left in 1940. Fairly popular, the register was a messy collection of many loose pages. The oldest page I noted was signed by Mark Adrian in 1993. We took a descent more directly off the north side, leading to an easy class 3 gully that I found the most enjoyable part of the day. Evan had ditched me (or tired of the gully) early on, moving to the east on a more direct line back to the truck. Not only was the scrambling pretty decent, but the rock colors were the most varied I'd seen on this, or any mountain that I could recall. White, black, red, orange, and greens. I was sure there must have been something of value in all that variety, but not being much of a rockhound it was pretty much lost on me if there was.
We met back at the truck around 1p, then drove back to where we'd left the van at a junction. It was time to head home, Evan to San Diego, myself to the Bay Area some 7hrs or more away. It would be dark before I got home, but not too late - before 9p anyways. Thus ended five fun days in the Mojave and I was already plotting to spend another week there in December...
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