Turtle Mountains, Stepladder Mountains
By: Gary Craig
Turtle and Stepladder are two DPS peaks that turned into much longer hikes with the passage of the desert bill. Sue and I planned this trip to check out the situation, but mainly to enjoy the low desert before the weather turned too warm. We had a good response, with a group of 16 hikers ready to go for Turtle early on Saturday morning. The group was composed of Gary Craig (leader and scribe), Sue Holloway (assistant leader), John Strauch, Richard Carey, Kathleen Mazur, Dave Baldwin, Elaine Baldwin, Greg Roach, Mirna Roach, Jane Gibbons, Patrick Wood, Basil Anton, Chris Guyer, Robert Young, Jim Conley, and Cliff Jones.
The hike on Turtle took 7:45 round trip under variable cloudiness, but with fine views from the summit of the southern Ward Valley to the west, Mopah and the (seemingly) unclimbable Castle Rock to the north-east, and Kofa far off to the south. We found several 11 abandoned" tortoise shells in the washes on the way up. The driving and hiking directions as given in the DPS Road and Peaks Guide go pretty well; the hike is straightforward up the road to the wash above, then across several washes to the ridge at UTM 007929. This ridge is climbed per the directions generally WSW, and then can be left to climb NW to the top. We had the first ascent of the year 2000.
After retrieving our few low-clearance vehicles and returning to the paved highway, we drove east to Vidal Junction and then north about 29 miles to the NW-SE trending powerline road which crosses US 95. We turned left (NW; turning right leads to the Chemehuevi trailhead) and drove about three miles on the very good dirt road to an open area where we stopped to camp for the evening. This is not on the E-W pipeline road described in the Peak Guide; that road is several miles farther north and is in poorer condition, and is sandy near the pavement. At any rate, the traditional DPS happy hour and potluck quickly ensued, with a campfire, several fine wines, and a selection of salads, entrees, and desserts. Thanks to all of the cooks!
The weather forecast for possible rain on Sunday proved right-on, with the skies dawning a foreboding shade of dark gray. We lost a few participants on Sunday morning, but the remainder of the group made the drive to the red stake in the road which now marks the stepladder trailhead, with the drive taking about an hour from our camp. We had nine hikers (the first nine listed above) start for the peak at about 8:15 AM in a light rain shower that had started during the drive over. We eschewed the written Peaks Guide directions and struck off directly across the desert at a bearing of about 230, directly toward the "approved" canyon about 2.7 miles away across mostly flat terrain. The walking was quite easy and we all thought this was a good route choice compared to walking on one of the various roads. The rest of the route went as described. We found a use trail above the saddle at UTM 954295, which leads nicely to the "prominent cleft" and the ledge system which we followed to the summit ridge and then the top. We were on the summit at about I lam, and took the obligatory summit photos during a pause in the rain showers which had been intermittent during the climb.
The showers increased during our descent, but we made a brief stop for lunch after returning to the main wash, then hurried back to the cars, where we had some snacks and 11 refreshments" despite the continuing rain and wind. Spirits were high among the group, everyone being pleased to have summited despite the inclement weather. On the drive out some of us continued NW on the powerline road all the way to I-40 about 24 miles west of Needles. The road remains fine for all vehicles all the way out. We beat the worst of the storm that was pounding SoCal that weekend; by far the worst rain we saw on the trip was during the drive home. Surely the DPS "Guardian Angel" was smiling upon us! Thanks to S~e for assisting and to all of the participants for a fine trip.
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