Kingston Peak, Avawatz Mountains
By: Gary Craig
I'm not fond of hiking in the rain. Mother Nature took care of that, as I was pulling into the "parking lot" at the Kingston trailhead late Friday night, by dropping the temperature enough to turn what was falling from rain into small snow pellets. Well, that's just great. I cancelled a trip in February due to a lousy weather forecast, but I wasn't about to be shut out again! I fell asleep listening to the sound of driven snow pelting the roof of the Explorer, but hoping that the weather would be better in the morning.
Well, it was. A bit. It was still overcast and windy, but it wasn't snowing... "small miracles". There was essentially no snow accumulation overnight; just a dusting. Our group of fifteen hikers assembled at the trailhead at the appointed time. In addition to myself (leader and scribe) and my assistant Sue Holloway, the participants were Mary Motheral, Dave Perkins, Ann Perkins, Linda McDermott, Bill Spreng, John Strauch, Shane Smith, Ken Barr, Mitch Miller, Lynne Buckner, Lygeia deJesus, Jane Gibbons, and Patrick Wood.
Kingston : We set out just about lam, electing to not drive the short distance up the 4wd road. Progress was easy across the wide lower canyon through sage and a few early spring wildflowers. A bit farther the canyon narrows and the brush becomes thicker; as one ascends and the canyon becomes steeper, the brush thins and eventually the saddle at 6660' is reached. Skies remained threatening. On the way up, we found a nearly intact bighorn skull in the wash, reminiscent of the DPS Emblem! We rested briefly just below the saddle, and then began the up-and-down ridge walk to the summit.
Midway along the ridge, it started to snow. It had been looking more and more threatening for the last few hours, so this was not surprising. As we neared the summit the clouds lowered so we were now in a fog bank as well as moderate snow. Fortunately the route is straightforward and the group made it to Kingston's summit around noon. We signed in and took the summit photos, then quickly descended to the first saddle for a snack... no need to hang out up there with no view and fierce wind!
The hike down seemed longer and colder, due to the continuing wind and snow. The snow would fall for a while as flakes, then as pellets (which we believe are called "graupel"), then again as flakes. Navigation was tough for a while due to poor visibility, but we made our way along the ridge to the proper gully with little hesitation. At the bottom of the gully the snow became wetter, and we all know how much fun it can be walking through cold, wet brush. Yuk. We got a bit spread out over this stretch, but we all returned to the cars safely over a period of 30 minutes or so. Many thanks go to Sue for steadfastly performing "sweep" duties for the whole hike. We took about 9:45 total for the round trip.
Our plan at this point was to get to somewhere warm, as quickly as we could. We made our way down to Tecopa Hot Springs one or two vehicles at a time. Several noticed that we didn't drop too much below the trailhead before we were below the apparent snow line. The snow had stopped at this point, and it was nice to descend to warmer climes.
Camp : We regrouped at Tecopa Hot Springs, with about half the group going for a soak. The remaining question was where to go for our campsite. Linda suggested that we go north from the hot springs to 127, where just 100 yards or so north of the junction an excellent dirt road proceeds west into open-camping BLM land. We went a couple miles west on this dirt road before selecting one of the many available campsites for our own. This is exposed terrain; we arranged the vehicles to block some of the wind. In short order the traditional DPS potluck dinner began, with chips and dip, several salads, pasta, chili, cous cons, and desserts. Thanks to all of the chefs - you were magnificent! We built a fire in a pan provided by Mary which kept us warm in the blustery winds, and a beautiful full moon rose in the clearing eastern skies just as darkness fell.
One interesting sideshow for the weekend was the annual Baker-to-Vegas footrace run by police departments throughout the west. The route proceeds from Baker to Shoshone then east to Pahrump and then southeast to Las Vegas. The participating police departments enter teams that run the race as a relay. Highway 127 was actually closed from Baker north for several hours due to this race. From shortly after dinner until at least Sam, we could see the headlights and overhead flashing lights of the race support vehicles. Supposedly in some years this race attracts over 18,000 individual participants.
Avawatz : We left the campsite a bit after 7AM and headed for the Avawatz trailhead, and started hiking from the communication station mentioned in the Peaks Guide around LOAM. The details of the drive are below. The weather was fine for hiking cool and mostly clear - quite a contrast from the day before! The communication station is at about UTM 647286, from which we walked along the road for about a mile before heading SW up a hillside and joined the prescribed route at the 4700' saddle. Faint traces of a use trail were visible here, and were seen occasionally as we continued up to the main ridge where we took a break. The ascent to the main ridge is loose limestone, and fairly tedious. At the top of the ridge the views were excellent in all directions, and we made our way without incident NW along the undulating ridge to the summit in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. We all rejoiced in the fine weather at the top, making up for the previous day. After nearly an hour on top, including a lunch break and summit photos, we started down. We returned to the cars in just over 2 hours from the summit, where we had a short break and said our goodbyes.
Nitty Gritty Driving Details : The road directions in the Peaks Guide for Kingston are pretty much right on. The road is deteriorating pavement but fine for all vehicles when driving from the I-15 (east) side. Watch out for rabbits! From the west, it is not paved all the way; there are a few miles of dirt near the summit, but it is still a good road OK for any vehicle. The road to our car-camp near Tecopa was "excellent". The Avawatz road is a different story. The distances and turns in the Peaks Guide are once again OK. The road itself is very rocky, right from the pavement of route 127. The turnoff from the highway is hard to find and it helps to make use of the highway mileage posts. We left the 2wd trucks just before the Old Mormon Spring fork. The road continues into the canyon and gradually gets even rougher. The narrow, steep, "crux" maneuver low in the canyon did not seem too bad to me in my 4wd Explorer, but a large vehicle will have big trouble here. Eventually the road climbs the canyon walls, and we were stopped by a significant washout about 1/4 mile below the communications site, mainly because the leader is conservative about such things! We parked a couple hundred yards below the washout at a wide bend in the road. This is definitely a 4wd high-clearance-only road beyond Old Mormon Spring.
Wrap-up : Several of us regrouped at the Mad Greek for dinner, and pretty much everybody got stuck in a major traffic jam on I-15 just west of Baker. No matter, it was a good weekend. It is good to be in the mountains.
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