Muddy Mountain


By: Bob Michael


As you head east on I-15 from Vegas towards Moapa and Virgin, you must have noticed a dramatic tower-like peak poking the southern horizon west of Valley of Fire; this spire has the uninspiring name of Muddy Peak. This peak is so list-worthy it's ridiculous!. It's got everything; a beautiful wilderness approach; commanding views; and adrenaline-pumping third class.

Vegas George Quinn and I had one of our best climbs in years on the kind of calm, gentle desert midwinter day that doesn't get any better. We used a SAGE writeup by Dave Jurasevich in the 7/94 (#232) issue; the Sierra Club totebook "Hiking the Great Basin" has a chapter on the Muddy Mountains, and even a section on Muddy Peak . I take the liberty of quoting Dave's excellent driving directions:

Leave Nevada 1-15 at Exit 75, signed "Valley of Fire, Lake Mead", State Route 169. Drive 3.1 miles SE on Route 169 to where the road starts curving left (less than 0.1 miles past highway mile·post 3). Leave Route 169 here, continuing straight (SE) O.1 miles to the end of pavement and start of a good dirt road. A BLM sign here welcomes you to the Bitter Springs Trail, a designated backcountry· highway. Drive 4.0 miles SE to a second BLM sign indicating mileage and directions to Buffington Pockets, Bitter Springs, North Shore Road and Colorock Quarry. Continue straight (SE), following the main dirt road (ignoring any left or right minor forks) for 6.2 miles to a faint dirt road heading generally W towards a low ridge. Turn right here, driving 1.0 miles to the road closure at a large, metal BLM sign. Any, reasonable 2WD standard clearance vehicle should be able to make it to here. Park.

I would only beg to differ on one point; past the Colorock Quarry, the road could be rough on a standard passenger car. The metal sign referred to marks the boundary of a BLM wilderness study area. A steep jeep road which continues past the boundary has been "decommissioned". Hike up this road and drop over a low saddle into Hidden Valley, one of the sacred and magical places of the desert. Great piles and domes of intensely-colored and patterned salmon, ochre, and orange Aztec sandstone slickrock of Jurassic age are scattered about the gentle sandy floor of the valley, surrounded by rugged, yellowish-tan to ivory cliffs of Paleozoic limestone. This valley is what geologists call a "fenster" (German for window) - a place where erosion has worn a hole in a thrust plate, exposing the original country rock below the thrust. The Muddies are in fact one of the rootless" limestone ranges of southern Nevada (see my writeup on Wilson Peak, SAGE #243, 5/96), composed of a huge plate - cubic miles -of rock that has been torn loose from its "roots" somewhere to the west, and shoved eastward over younger rock (the sandstone). This paroxysm of crustal shortening is part of the tremendous compressional crunching of the southwest U. S. from the west at the end of the Cretaceous Period caused by the collision of westward-drifting North America with the ancestral East Pacific Rise,, and for which we are eternally grateful, because it gave us the Colorado Rockies and the uplift and resulting erosion of the Colorado Plateau. It is estimated that several linear miles of southern Nevada simply disappeared as the crust here "telescoped". (-VVe know from hard field evidence this did happen. How it happened is fuel for endless geologic debates, headscratching, and graduate theses.)

We left the old road in the middle of Hidden Valley and hiked up a convenient shallow wash on gentle terrain towards the prominent notch on the southern skyline that separates the Muddy Peak massif from the unnamed Muddy Mountains highpoint to the west. The going is pretty easy to this notch. However, the steep, loose, harsh ridge to the east from the notch that leads to the base of Muddy's summit tower is quite trying - it's that kind of tortuous terrain where you can't ever relax and take three normal steps in succession.

The summit tower looks very vertical and intimidating from the ridge. We've all experienced the optical illusion where routes that look horrible from a distance melt into do-ability when you get next to them. But this thing looked worse the closer we got! We lunched in the notch below the tower; then I tried a rather cruddy 3rd class chute just S of the W ridge of the tower; by the time I'd climbed up and out of the chute and had worked out to the right on a somewhat exposed little rib, I was thoroughly committed - there was nothing .:to do but keep going - and the rib led right to the summit! Sensational views Lake Mead, Valley of Fire, the tortured naked rock of southern Nevada stretching east towards the Virgin Mountains and the western ramparts of the Coconino Plateau. My nominee for DPS listed peak No. 98!

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