Pinto Mountain


By: Gary Craig


For some reason, I thought I'd be unwelcome at the only scheduled DPS outing this weekend, which was the "all women" outing to Indianhead. Ron Bartell felt the same way, so we jointly decided to explore a seldom-climbed route on the northeast side of Pinto Mountain. There had been a big storm about a week before, but the weather this weekend was clear. We spent two nights at Maris and Anna Valkass' house in the town of Joshua Tree (Thanks Maris! Thanks Anna!); this was a fine base for both our climb of Pinto on Saturday and our planned assault on some HPS peaks near Yucca Valley on Sunday.

Our planned route was previously written up in the Sage by Igor, Suzanne, and Tanya Mamedalin a few years ago (January 1996 issue, to be exact). Theirs was an epic ordeal, lasting well into the night, as they nearly circumnavigated the peak on their return to their car in the dark. Ron and I planned to leave my Explorer at the same spot that Igor and Suzanne had used, but to do the route in the reverse direction,; and hopefully return in daylight.

We arose early for a drive that could have taken 2 hours or so from the house; we basically followed Igor's driving directions from the past Sage, which worked pretty well. The road is OIL for most any high clearance vehicle, though 4WD makes it more comfortable. There is only one deep wash to cross (just after the "4-way crossroad"), and some sand. Our parking spot- was at UTM 147606, on the faint road to Dalton Mine.

Our route from the cars (see map below, from topozone. corn) headed basically south, up-and-down over a couple low saddles, until we were able to veer west and hit the remains of an old road (not shown on the map) that leads to the Old Swede Mine. We.walked on this road for a few minutes, then left it and proceeded up the really major wash as it narrowed. The first decision point is obvious; one heads west, not northwest, at about 2200'. At this point the canyon narrows significantly and the dry streambed winds more and becomes brushier, but it isn't too bad.

Just below 2400' (UTM 124587) is the toughest decision point: an inviting canyon leads west with the crest visible in the distance, but we turned -left (south) up a rocky incline into a canyon that leads more directly toward the peak. This canyon heads. south for a short bit and then turns back west. In this section is the only exciting rockclimbing test, a class 3, 15-foot waterfall which we climbed without much hesitation on the rocks just to the right. Due to the recent rains there were also several tiny pockets of standing water in this area, but we saw no wildlife taking advantage of them.

The upper part of the canyon is less confusing; simply ignore side canyons and remain in the "main" wash to 2900' (UTM 117584), where you bear left (SE) up the gully that leads to the saddle a couple hundred yards east of the peak. This upper portion is filled with moderate size boulders, and not-too-bad brush (mostly). Ron and I hit the summit in time for a late lunch, and we lingered on top for a bit identifying many DPS peaks visible in the distance. It was a beautiful day! The only downside was that I had left the "cheese" part of my "cheese and crackers" lunch at the house. Rats.

We briefly considered returning the same way, but we both wanted to make a loop trip out of it. So, we struck off via the obvious north ridge, continuing Igor's route in reverse. This is a very prominent ridge, with some bumps that required several hundred feet of gain/loss each. The walking was more straightforward, with much nicer views, than our ascent route, but there was more up-and-down. The northernmost bump (where we took a short rest) does have a radio repeater atop it, as Igor reported. Just beyond this point we turned east down a side ridge which went pretty well; we turned at least one bump on the south side. The ridge ends at elevation 3400+' (UTM 120602); here we went north briefly, then east down a loose face toward the northern (leftmost) gully visible here. After negotiating the loose, cruddy hillside we crossed a low ridge/saddle into this northern wash which the map showed would lead back to the beer (sorry, I meant "car"). The southern wash, close-by, ultimately leads into the really: major wash we had ascended in the early hours. We didn't want that one.

After finally reaching the bottom of "our" wash, (UTM 127606) the walking is pretty easy back to the car, which took less than an hour... maybe 1-1/2 miles or so. We enjoyed "refreshments" and some relaxation after a hike of about 7 hours round trip. We then headed back to civilization for dinner and the rest of the evening, and bagged a couple of HPS peaks (Chaparrosa and Black #4) on Sunday. All in all, a fine weekend.

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