Introduction: You'll Love the FloraMitchell Point is the northernmost summit of the Providence Mountains, and is the only major limestone peak in the range. The southern summits (Edgar, Fountain, and Providence Peak) are all composed of igneous rocks, predominantly Jurassic intrusives and associated volcanics. This change in geology is partly responsible for the rugged gap between Edgar and Mitchell, as well as the difference in vegetation. The Providence Range is the most dramatic set of mountains in the Mojave National Preserve, and arguably, Mitchell is the most dramatic summit.
Mitchell is a Desert Peaks Section (DPS) summit, along with Edgar, and official DPS outings often seek to climb both peaks in one day, with a traverse of the miserable, rough pass between the peaks, and a return down the prickly-plant infested washes, typically at night. This page describes a simpler, easier climb (of just Mitchell) from the east. This route is short (4.7 miles round trip, ~3200’ accumulated gain with 4x4 access), but rugged; the climbing can be kept at class 2 with careful attention to terrain. This route corresponds roughly to the Mitchell route D described in the DPS guide.
(NOTE the GPS tracks for the hike AND the last part of the drive are given in the GPX file attached to this page.)
The main herbage above 6000’ consists of pinyon-juniper. Mainly you will notice these three types of plants:
1) prickly plants; 2) thorny, grabbing claw plants; 3) spiky plants.
Type 1 consists of various cacti—barrel, chollas, prickly pear, and some inconspicuous cacti (with tiny thorns) that are almost impossible to see until you sit on them. Type 2, mainly catclaw acacias, are sparser than in most Providence Mountain hikes, provided you stay out of the washes. Type 3, agave and yuccas, are mainly an issue when you are traversing steep limestone; they will stop you if you fall, but not in a good way.
Getting ThereBelow is an overview map that shows the roads near Mitchell.
The following waypoints (decimal degrees relative to WGS84) are useful for the final part of the road trip:
R0 34.90844, -115.42426 black canyon-essex junction
R1 34.91737, -115.43442 leave Essex Road for dirt road
R2 34.97566, -115.47420 keep left (do NOT go to 71L Ranch)
R3 34.98034, -115.48645 bear left across wash
R4 34.98029, -115.50412 last left (will park shortly)
R5 34.98014, -115.50478 park
(These waypoints are marked on the overview map.)
The normal approach from Southern California or Arizona, is via route i-40. Take the exit onto the Essex road (heading to Mitchell Caverns or Providence State Park), then travel about 10.8 miles on this road, past the Black Canyon Road (R0) to a dirt road turnoff on the right (R1). According to Zdon’s “Desert Summits,” this dirt road is signed “Blair Bros 71L Ranch,” but I don’t remember such a sign in late 2007. (The road had recently been bladed in 2007, but had very high banks from the blading.) Turn right at R1, and follow the main dirt road for 4.8 miles to a fork (R2); bear left (the right fork continues to the ranch). In 0.8 miles, bear left again at R3, across a wash. Continue another 1.0 miles and bear left again at R4, drive about 0.1 miles, and find a spot to park at R5. You will be roughly 6.8 miles from the Essex Road. The choice of parking place is somewhat arbitrary, and may be dictated by where you can conveniently turn around. The road condition worsens in the last 1.1 miles, so those with 2WD or modest-clearance vehicles may choose to park sooner, and hoof it for the last stretch.
Zdon advises bearing right at R3, and parking at 3800’. A right turn at R3 actually puts one about 0.5 miles farther away, and 380' lower, than if one takes the left at R3 and parks at R5. Zdon's route puts one near the "Bonanza King Well" on the 24k topo map; this route may be somewhat easier for moderate clearance vehicles, in which case it would cut off 160' and 0.5 miles over simply parking the car at R3 and walking past R4 to R5.
As an alternative to the i-40 approach, those coming from Las Vegas may choose to drive in via the Black Canyon Road from Hole-in-the-Wall or Mid-Hills Campgrounds. From the Hole-in-the-Wall turnoff, take the Black Canyon Road 10.2 miles S to the Essex Road (R0). Turn sharp right on the Essex road, and in 0.85 miles, turn right on the dirt road (R1). From the intersection with this dirt road, follow the instructions given above.
The Hike: Default RouteBelow is a topo map of the hike; the track for the hike is in the attached GPS file. The points 1, 2 and 3 are approximate, and are not referred to as waypoints, but are used in the figures and description.
(NOTE the 20m contour interval on the greater, W portion of the map; this large interval causes some areas, which are actually quite rough, to look flat on the map.)
The hike really quite simple in terms of large-scale navigation; it is hard to miss the dominant ridges. However, the small-scale navigation can be a challenge, as the terrain is quite rough, with a lot of time spent winding around nasty plants and rugged outcrops.
From the parking spot, walk up the main road ~100’, then turn SW down a faint two-track to some ruins. (The parking spot is rather arbitrary, so follow the map and GPS track instead of depending on exactly 100’!) You will see a view like the one at left, below.
Your goal is to reach the faint ridge indicated by the arrow. You have to cross at least two slight drainages to get to the ridge, but once on the ridge, the going will become easier because of the lack of acacias and the lesser amount of loose rock. Continue up the ridge, heading mainly W; a few hundred feet below point 1 (map above), the route gets rocky, but nothing worse than class 2 (as shown in the picture at right, above).
Near point 1, the pinyon-juniper “forest” becomes thicker, and you can still see down to where you parked the car. You will cut slightly L, travelling SW up a shallow depression to the ridgeline.
Now you will head ~WNW up the obvious, rough ridge, avoiding spiky, prickly plants and rock outcrops that can be sidestepped with a bit of trial-and-error (pictures below).
You will climb onto a ridge that trends WSW; it is difficult to keep on top of the ridge, because of the irregularity of the rock and the spiky plants; the SW side often affords steep rock slabs to traverse, but the spiky plants are waiting to break a fall, so be careful. (My friend had a loose slab roll over his foot here, so don’t assume the rock is good). The picture above (at right) was taken near point 2, on the ridge.
Now there is some respite as you climb to 2024T, a false summit ENE of Mitchell. Here the fun begins; the next half-mile is as rough as you want it to be. First examine this view E and SE from the false summit, and make sure you remember which ridge you ascended to this point (it is remarkably easy to keep following the main ridge on return).
Now examine the view W from point 3 (below, left) and a view back E at the false summit (below, right).
It is amusing that on the 20m contour map, this area looks flat and featureless. This map was made by photogrammetry, which does poorly on the edges of cliffs in shadow.
You can keep the rest of the route class 2 by staying left of the knife edge, and sidehilling on steep slabs and miserable blocky talus. I chose to stay right on the edge, which proved rougher than I expected, and quite a bit more dangerous; there are some near-vertical cuts in the knife-edge, and big blocks of rock may cascade down the cliffs when merely touched. So maybe the DPS route is a better choice after all.
This panorama from the top shows Edgar. The division between the Paleozoic limestones and the younger Jurassic igneous rocks is pretty clear.
CampingThere is limited camping at Mitchell Caverns State Park, off the Essex Road. However, with the planned shutdown of some California state parks (as of May 2011), the sites may not be open. This site is also seasonal, and is closed in the warmer months. The camping areas are totally exposed, and can be miserably windy.
For folks who drive from Las Vegas, the campgrounds at Mid-Hills and Hole-in-the-Wall, on the Black Canyon Road north and northeast of the range, are good staging points for the hike. Hole-in-the-Wall is just 10-11 miles from the Essex Road (see the overview map above). Mid-Hills is above 5600’, and can be quite cold in the winter.
There is primitive camping (on BLM land) on the west side of the Kelbaker Road near Granite Pass; these sites are scenic, set amid granite boulders and spires.
Best TimesFall, winter, and early spring are the best times, depending on windows of opportunity. This area is miserably (deathly) hot in summer, and there is little shade. Conversely, winter has occasional snowstorms, which make the sidehilling on steep rock quite dangerous.
What to BringPlenty of water! The route is completely dry. A strong pair of tweezers or small pair of pliers will can be very helpful for pulling out cactus spines. The limestone is fairly frictional, so sticky rubber shoes are slight overkill.
As Seen from Other Peaks
| || || || |
Various source claim the mountain was named after Jack Mitchell, the developer of Mitchell Caverns. I prefer to imagine that the mountain was named after Joni Mitchell.
This page is an attempt to fill the vacuum created when a long-time SP member left, and deleted all his pages. The DPS guide lacks photographs and is somewhat dated for the approach. Feel free to add other routes.