Little Cowhole Mountain, Cowhole Mountain, Table Mountain, Woods Mountains, Dome Mountain, Snaggle-Tooth, Turquoise Peak, Squaw Mountain, Silurian Hills, Stepladder Mountains, The Fenner Hills, Club Peak, Wildcat Buttes, Teutonia Peak


By: Andy Smatko


More Smatko Scrambles

To you newcomers, we have the Dean of Desert Peakers, Dr Andy Smatko, who has climbed every Desert Peak on our list. His many-years-long pursuit is to reach the high point of every range in San Bernardino County-our country's largest.

Notes from his diary follow:

On the weekend, of Jan 13-14 Ellen Siegal, Bill Schuler, and I climbed Little Cowhole and Cowhole Mtns. How those peaks received their names I can't tell as Guddi's Place Names In California makes no mention. There are lots of cows in the vicinity.

Both these mountains, not exactly small in their extent, are composed of rough lavitic rock very similar to Old Dad Mtn. We did Lil Cowhole from the south-a short climb, but enlivened by a beautiful downhill "sand run". Cowhole is a precipitous craggy mtn which we approached from the north. Almost until the summit was reached were we sure that the route would "go", so steep and cliffy was this route. However as it turned out most of the climb was class 2 although we deliberately went up a couple of class 3 pitches. There are several summits to this peak, actually a small range in itself, it is really an impressive piece of rock and is worthy for addition to the DPS list.

We camped near a pile of huge boulders just west of the Black Canyon road at the west end of Round Valley, southeast of Cima. Some of these granite boulders were 25' by 30' by 50' in size and reminded us of those giants in Joshua Tree National Monument. It is a frequently used campsite, attested by plastic-covered man-made johns located in the rocks. Bill and I climbed to the top of the class 3 pile, but there are plenty of first ascents to be made up to class 6 with overhangs.

Next day we climbed Table Mtn at the NE end of Gold Valley, a striking affair with a flat top tens of acres in extent and forested an well. A wall of cliffs circles the top varying from 30-70' high. This mtn, too, is volcanic in origin, although immediately to the west of it and connected to it by a ridge is a short range of granitic hills-again like the Joshua Tree situation and quite rugged. It is indeed a geologic puzzle.

We found a road leading towards the north side of the Woods Mtns and across a cow pasture. Our climb up the N slopes was made very easy due to a well-used burro trail. It was so good in places that we wondered if it had not been man-made. The Woods Range is a fairly large one and our trail took us to a broad saddle just E of a rough, rocky summit some 150' above the saddle. All along this appeared as the high point and it is thus shown on the topo sheet. However, upon looking to the east we saw a broad summit that was equally high, or even higher. It lay one-half mile away, so we sauntered over to it and found a cairn with an iron stake in it which to me was definitely higher. Ellen & Bill judged. it to be about the same as the western summit. We left a register and descended via the good trail.

As we plenty of daylight with us, we next headed into the Mid Hills via a road trending SW from the Black Canyon Road-a short way south of our camp the night before. Our objective was a most striking granite tooth that can not go unnoticed as one travels between Cima and Kelso, Ellen & I had reached the base of the north face last year, but did not climb it as we had no rope for the last 100' of definite 4th class. This time we were prepared with pitons and hardware, but these were not necessary. Bill led, up and it was a first ascent and quite an airy perch it was! The E & W faces were good 5th class while the S face was overhanging. Another striking summit a hundred or so yards to the south would give a rock climber a probable bolt climb. Time did not permit us to check this one out. Other granitic pinnacles abound in this section of the Mid Hills. The actual high points lie a couple of miles to the north, and those were climbed by Ellen & I last year. Those are class 3 to minimal 4 and are composed of twin spires of granite.

Mar 1 Diary: On a couple of weekends in the past five weekends several friends and myself have done the following peaks:

Dome Mtn @ 4985' in the Lava Mtns NE of Johannesburg was climbed via a south ridge to the plateau west of the summit-all class 3 to easy 2. We also, on another weekend, did the high point of the Sawtooth Range, 22 miles south of Needles. Actually three high points were done before the true one was found, all mostly class 1. I can't explain the naming of this range as the skyline profile is quite gentle. On the same weekend Snaggle-Tooth just to the west of the Sawtooth group was climbed by Bill and me. This is a class 4 affair up the vertical south edge of the summit block. Ellen declined this attempt preferring to stay at the car.

Another weekend, Feb 24th, Ellen, Frank Yates and I did, several peaks NE of Baker. Turquoise Mtn @ 4511' was almost a drive-up. Squaw Mtn @ 4880' over to the NE was an easy walk in almost summery weather. The high point of an unnamed range ENE of Silver Lake proved to be a rugged climb up and down ridges and gullies due to the broken character of the east side of the range. A really extensive view was our reward-with snow-capped Telescope Peak clearly visible nearly 80 miles to the northeast. At least a dozen other well-known ranges and mtns were identified from this summit. Charleston Pk, nearly 100 miles away, likewise shone clearly high in the azure sky. Our crowning climb of the day was that of a peak I had longed to climb for many years. This was the beautiful, symmetrical Squaw Tit. So elated were we, that we stomped our feet in sheer joy on the summit; Ellen less thunderously than Frank and I.

On Sun we did the high point of the Silurian Hills to the north of Baker. This was a most pleasant hike up a winding wash with short dry waterfalls to enliven the ascent. We had to detour two of these. This day was so hot that we decided to make no further being well over 100 degrees in the sun.

Mar 25 diary: About 6 weeks ago our Ellen, Bill, Andy trio drove up a poor road SE of the Stepladder Mtns. This precipitous range lies just north of the Turtle Mtns and runs north and south. A close inspection of the topo sheet shows an abrupt face as does a view of the range. The high point lies near the northern end of the range and is one of a series of pinnacles along sheer-looking east and west walls. We walked six miles to the eastern base and thence northward along the range. A more precipitous range in the County I have yet to see! Weather was cloudy with low clouds swirling about the higher summits. As we passed the eastern side of the highest pinnacles about all we could see was a steep wall of cliffs with vertical gullies. We continued around to the NE side to a saddle and a vertical cliff, l50' high, went straight up all around the NE, N, & NW sides of the peaks. The compo of the rocks is largely loose conglomerate, with varying sized rocks embedded in a dry mud-like matrix. There was no visible route. We continued on and along the west side of the higher peaks. Here it was just as formidable, with pocked vertical wal1s. We tried going up one promising gully only to be stopped by a 20' conglomerate wall. It was too nasty and loose to attempt. Defeated, we then crossed over a saddle well south of the highest peaks and back to the car. My cherished hope of climbing all the high point of the San Berdoo Ranges suddenly went "POOF". On the way home we discussed our failure and felt we should try it once more with ropes and hardware.

The next weekend we did return with the technical equipment. This time Bill Croxon came with us too. There was one place that we did not have time to explore on the previous trip so it was here we directed our attack. We made steady progress and were never certain of success from one minute to the next as we zig-zagged up ledges and over and up vertical steps. But we finally reached the summit and shook hands triumphantly. Now, I was certain that there were no more barriers to my long projected goal, and I'll resume the climbing activity next fall.

This same weekend we found the top of the Fenner Hills, Club Peak, Wildcat Buttes and Teutonia Pk, leaving fresh registers with the summits. For any other Desert Peakers interested in climbing any of the ranges described in these series of writeups, please contact me, -Andy Smatko.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section