Kelso Mountain


By: Bob Michaels


As somewhat of an astronomy buff, I was looking forward to the Leonid meteor shower of mid-November 2001, which was being built up to be the heavenly fireworks of a lifetime. Like an eclipse, you've got just one shot at it, and I didn't want to risk it in Santa Barbara, which had had a very foggy autumn. Of course, I could have driven up San Marcos Pass to get away from the pesky marine layer, but what better excuse for a desert outing.

On Saturday evening, November 17, "Vegas" George Quinn and I met in Baker and supped at the Bun Boy, which, despite the ludicrous name, I have found to be a very good restaurant. Because of the lateness of the hour, we availed ourselves of a motel room. As there was no performance of the Baker Philharmonic that evening, we kept each other awake long past "Saturday Night Live" until about 0200, when we headed out the Kelbaker Road to view the pyrotechnics - truly a grand show, with sparklers and fireballs in every direction, not just from Leo. We gave up about 0315, not because the show was fizzling, but we gave up staying awake.

We crashed at 0330 and agreed to forego an Alpine start to give our bodies all the sleep we wanted; nonetheless, we were up about 0830. With an embarrassingly late start after a restaurant breakfast, we tooled back out Kelbaker Road about 23 miles to the broad divide @ 3690' between the Soda Lake basin and the Kelso Valley. The spot is marked by a power line crossing. Loosely following Zdon's Desert Summits, we parked here and headed south, soon picking up a very faint old Jeep track that has not seen a wheel for decades. The track goes straight south towards the peak, up and down cross gullies. At the base of the mountains, we veered right (west) to avoid some major cross washes, and ascended a prominent gentle canyon, broad at first but eventually narrowing to a runnel cut in the granite bedrock. The canyon opens into a very pretty wilderness basin, decorated with granite outcrops, on the northwest flank of the peak. We cut southeast across the basin and ascended the steep northwest shoulder of the final peak. Great views from, arguably, the dead center of the Mojave Desert (similar to Old Dad about nine miles west). Our old friends the listed peaks rolled away in every direction. We were also impressed with the wilderness of our route. Aside from the faint track and a barb wire fence that parallels it to the base of the mountains, there was no sign of other humans on our route; not one old can, not one tire track. And when I returned home, I heard that it had, indeed, been foggy in Santa Barbara.

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