Providence Mountains, Mitchell Point
By: Lou Brecheen
Making a misstep on a slanted ledge covered with loose pebbles is not uncommon. It could happen to anyone! Also, who has not brushed against a cholla and come away with some of the little barbed needles , or even an entire "bun" firmly attached to arm, leg or backside? But it remained for Igor Mamedalin to accomplish all the above in one grating, whirling, tumbling instant. It occurred on the way up from the Mitchell Caverns campground to Providence Mountain, aka Edgar Peak.
We were less than one hour from the cars and had already "lost" two climbers who had overestimated their abilities to match Larry's pace. Igor slipped and fell and rolled directly into a giant staghorn cholla in full strength of cholla manhood. It, at once attacked him, sinking multiple fangs into his flesh and clothing wherever it could reach. When Igor stopped rolling, Cuno Ranchau, John McCully, Jim Hinkley and others rushed to his aid with exclamations of dismay and incredulity at the sight of the large triple bun attached to his left hand and arm, another on his right hand and a smaller "bun" embedded in his upper lip and the lower portion of his nostrils. Blood droplets oozed from many stab wounds and more came forth as we used, first, pocket combs to remove the large objects and then tweezers to extract the remaining barbs.
Twenty minutes were consumed in the rescue and salvage operation and finally, when we could no longer see any cholla needles on Igor, we let him move a bit and discovered a bruised knee which rapidly stiffened and we left him there to await our return when we would have attained the summit of Providence Mtn. Providence is a spectacular desert area, abounding in various forms of cacti. In addition to the vicious cholla, we encountered the rapier bladed yucca, the broad, strong leaved agave, prickly pear and numerous barrel cacti in all stages of growth, from the 20 inch tall "barrell" down to the tiny baby just emerging from the rocky crevices at just the right spot to stab a climber who carelessly put his hand down for support.
We went up the main canyon directly toward Providence; curving with the canyon to come out on the ridge west of the prominent peak at the east end of said ridge. From there we traversed around the west side of a buttress, crossed back to the southeast and sidehilled below the twin summits before attaining the summit ridge 200 feet south of the main peak. A short boulder scramble and everyone was on top at about eleven a. m. Greg Vernon led a small contingent over to climb the NE summit which is only inches lower but has no register. The strong winds created clear horizons and we enjoyed the views of our picturesque desert friends in every direction, including Charleston, Spirit, New York and Clark, Old Dad, Old Woman, Granite #1, the Palens and Granite #2.
A cold wind helped us hurry our lunch and start the descent via the same route. We arrived at the spot where Igor's mishap occurred, only to find that he had limped back to the cars on his own. The plan was to caravan over to the Bonanza King mine and spend the night for a very early start up the terrific route to Mitchell Peak. But the young couple which had signed out early - - had not returned. The Ranger, when apprised, asked us to stick around and perhaps assist in a search and rescue later if they did not return. It was reassuring to see how the ranger force swung into action. They were immediately on the radios - - to the Sheriff and to the surrounding ranches to get volunteer searchers lined up. They set a deadline for themselves - - after dark - - if the "lost" individuals did not show, when they would actually begin to scour the rugged terrain where we had last seen our companions - - widening out to include the entire range. It was fascinating for Those of us not previously exposed to it. For such "old hats" as Greg Vernon and Cuno Ranchau, it was just "routine stuff".
Most of us were dog-tired and as we fixed our dinners and watched darkness close in, and noting the quick drop in temperature, maybe- - we were secretely hoping the rangers wouldn't ask us to return to that cholla garden in the dark - even to locate our friends. Nevertheless we certainly speculated aloud on what might have happened--did they get lost in a cave? Fall down an open shaft? Break a leg or worse? Maybe they just remained in the solitude on a ridge to watch the big beautiful, full moon rise?
Then, just before we would have been put to the test - by being confronted by the Rangers - someone looked up and said, "There they are! Over there by their car". What a relief! I'm sure the Rangers were just as happy not to have to go on a search and rescue mission. It seems that they had, indeed, remained on a ridge to watch the moon rise, then peacefully sauntered back to camp - - wondering why all the commotion.
Copious quantities of the fruit of the vine contributed to the joviality of the campfire and dawn came too early. We caravaned to the Bonanza King mine on a passably good (for DPS Peaks) road and hiked up the obvious canyon to the Northwest approximately 1 mile to a major intersection, where we took the left hand fork, ascending a 20 foot dirt bank and following a "trail" a half mile to a second canyon intersection. Here Greg and Igor signed out and went up the easier sloping left fork, while Larry led the main group into the right hand gulch.
Soon we came to a stack of well-seasoned wood stacked in the bottom of the canyon and shortly thereafter, an impassable 50 foot waterfall, which we bypassed on the right. The steep rocky slope quickly became low 3rd class cliffs which we negotiated to the main ridge where Greg and Igor had just arrived. From that point we picked our way carefully across steep friction and along a very narrow, crumbling ridge with long drops (exposure) to the Northeast. MITCHELL is a very respectable mountain; not technical, but challenging nevertheless. We enjoyed lunch in the brisk, cool breeze, under increasingly cloudy skies and then picked our way back down to the cars and started home but alas, John McCully's Rabbit wouldn't start - not even one hop - even though we pleaded, prodded and threatened. Eventually, Jim Hinkley agreed to tow him to help, which proved to be the VW dealer in Barstow. All that way with a nylon clothesline - in pouring rain. John was so grateful that he and Ed Lubin, his passenger, bought dinner for Jim and all his passengers at a nice Mexican restaurant in Barstow.
Somewhere in the midst of all the foregoing, most of the group found time to take the guided tour of the interesting Mitchell Caverns - 50¢ per head.
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