I had to go to San Diego on a business trip, so I took advantage of the opportunity to take a couple extra days and climb a few peaks in the Southern California desert. I left my home in Medford, Oregon with my wife and drove down to West Covina, CA to visit my dad for a few days. We then continued down to San Diego and spent three days doing business things combined with eating and drinking too much. Finally, on Saturday, March 15, 2008 I took my wife to the airport in San Diego for her flight home and I headed to the desert.
First, I headed up the coast and found the back road up to Highpoint on Palomar Mountain. It was a little cool up there with a couple patches of snow, but still a great place to visit. Now, I headed to the desert with my eye set on Rodman Mtn and Ord Mtn. I got off of I-15 in Victorville, found Camp Rock Road and headed north towards Ord and Rodman. Weather was closing in and as I started to get close, it started to snow on me. Ord was completely cloud covered, so I headed to Rodman. I drove to the top of Rodman in a blizzard with high winds. The short hike to the highpoint was only memorable because of the blizzard conditions.
I decided that Ord would have to wait, so after Rodman, I drove south to the Granite Mountains. I was hoping I could outflank the weather system that stretched all the way to Canada. I was successful and by 9:30PM I found the turn off for the Granite Mountains off of Hwy 177. I parked a little ways off the highway and car camped for the night. It was really a peaceful night and I got lots of rest.
Early the next morning, I got myself ready and started driving across the desert towards the Granite Mountains. The first five miles were straight as an arrow and kind of sandy. I was glad that I could keep a steady speed and didn’t have to stop in the sand. I have 4WD, but I wanted to spend my energy climbing the mountains, not shoveling sand. Thankfully, the roadbed finally became more rocky and solid. I kept going and after finding the first trailhead listed in the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section, decided to find the next trailhead near Packard’s well. Unfortunately, I found a rough spot in the road before I reached Palen Pass. I tried 3 different ways to get over this section that was a steep combination of big smooth rocks and deep sandy holes. I decided that I didn’t need to get stuck here, so I turned around and went back to the first trailhead.
This route makes for a little longer hike, but it is relatively flat across the desert. I put on my boots, made sure I had plenty of water (even though it was kind of cold) and headed north towards the Granite Mountains. It was cold enough for me to wear my light fleece gloves and I wore them all the way to the summit and half way back down to the trailhead. The route description I had said to just follow the old road bed and then head north on the high area between 2 dry washes. The road bed was easy to follow and I made good time hiking around the western end of the chocolate hills about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. The road goes around the back side of the chocolate hills and then ends at a large dry wash. I climbed down into the dry wash and decided to follow the wash for a ways because the footing was good. This was a mistake that I found out later.
I followed the wash for a ways and then climbed out to my left. Soon I found a large cairn and could see another one across the wash on the eastern side. I thought it was nice of someone to mark the route. I went back down the wash and climbed out on the other side. This was another mistake that I found out later.
I continued heading north with the dry wash on my left until I reached the Granite Mountains. I could see the wash continue into the mountains and it looked like an easier route than starting to climb up the foothills, so I went back down into the wash and started following it into the mountains. For some reason I took the first fork that I came to on the right and started following this up and into the mountains. This was another mistake that I found out later.
After ascending several hundred feet, I determined that I was not getting any closer to my waypoint set in my GPS near point 996 on the topo. In fact it was about .9 mile to my left. The wash wasn’t heading there, so I started climbing the hill on my left. I reached a small saddle on the ridgeline and could see that I was off course. I was on the wrong ridgeline and I had to traverse across several little drainages to get to the main dry wash and then to the south ridge. Since I was unsure of the climbing conditions above me, I decided to get back on the correct route. It wasn’t difficult traversing, but I did lose a couple hundred feet in elevation before getting to the dry wash and then up a slope to the south ridgeline. Now I was on course and could see below where I should have been instead of wandering all over the desert. It was hard to see the south ridge from the desert because all the rocks seemed to be the same color, there were no trees, and all landscape features seemed to blend together.
I climbed a little up the south ridge and then stopped for a rest and some nutrition near point 996. It was a beautiful day in the desert. I was glad it wasn’t 100+ degrees. After my break, I continued up the ridge. The climbers trail is not easy to follow and it seems to wander all over the ridgeline. Mostly, it is right on top of the ridge, but some of the rocky features are bypassed usually on the left side. No difficult rock climbing moves were encountered, but the route finding was tedious at times and took a long time. I was happy to finally reach the summit and sign the register. This summit is not visited very often, but because it is listed as a DPS peak, it does get some traffic.
Climbing back down, I went the wrong way once. I found myself heading west instead of south. There are several little ridges that come up and meet the south ridge, so you have to pay attention that you are heading down the correct ridge. I took my time, kept studying the route down and determined that I wanted to follow the ridge as far as I could out into the desert. I marked a couple more waypoints on my way down and kept drinking lots of water. This was still work even though it wasn’t that hot. Near the bottom of the ridge the ridge had some minor ups and downs that were annoying. I was tempted to drop down into the wash on my left, but persevered and stayed on the ridge. I was glad I did, because the footing was good and continued to be good for a good half mile out into the desert.
The remaining hike was just going straight towards the end of the road near the chocolate colored mountains and then following the road back to my truck. This turned out to be a long hike at 10.2 mile with 3,200 ft of elevation gain. It took me 8 hours including the wandering around the wash and face of the mountain on the way up. Next up, I headed to Ord Mountain for one more hike before heading home.