Middle Hills, Van Winkle Mountain, Blind Hills, Halfway Hills, Ship Mountains, Kilbeck Hills, Twenty Nine Palms Mountain


By: Andy Smatko



On December 21-22, Frank Yates and I planned to ascend a few more of San Bernardino County's high points. We left town Friday night, but because of the cold and snow storms throughout the Southland, we were not certain that we could get out into the planned area. Along the Antelope Valley freeway and all the way to Barstow and beyond there was snow on the ground. It was bitterly cold Friday night and extremely windy so we chickened out and slept in a hotel in Amboy.

Next morning it was still cold but we bravely set forth to climb our first objective, namely, the high point of the Middle Hills, elevation 3,040+ ft. northeast of Amboy. We climbed in our Terray down jackets. We needed them for it was very windy and about 25F. Approach was from WNW, Class 1. Next we climbed Van Winkle Mountain, elevation 4,600+ ft. via the west face and north ridge, Class 2 Registers were left on both summits. Apparently the Middle Hills ascent was a first as there was no cairn or any evidence of previous visitation. There was a cairn on Van Winkle Mountain. We then tried to get to or nearby the high point of the Horse Hills but snow and loose sand blocked our attempt. We almost got stuck.

Our faithful VW then took us to the south of the Blind Hills and we climbed the high point - found a cairn, but no register. A register was left. E1evation here was 2,523-ft. Our fourth and last climb of the day was Halfway Hills, elevation 2,696-ft. This was a VABM peak but no register was found, so we left one here also. Approach was from the north, Class 1. Same c1ass for the Blind Hills, except that we deliberately chose a bit of Class 3 c1imbing. That evening (Saturday) we camped to the south west of the Ship Mountains, and were serenaded by coyotes in the evening and early Morning.

Next morning temperature 19F. at 6:30 a.m., we headed south towards the Kilbeck Hills, high point of which is l,684-ft. There was snow even at this low elevation. This 10 mile long range is very rugged, some of the peaks appearing to be Class 4 in difficulty. The high point was Class 2 in the upper 200 feet. We left a register in the cairn. Round trip was about 5 miles. This range - with its high point - deserves Desert Peak Status due to the ruggedness, color, beautiful desert washes and soft sand on some of the slopes, not to mention the extensive views.

Our last climb was Twenty Nine Palms Mountain, elevation 4,562 ft. A large cairn was found here and an old register, so we left a new one after placing the previous record in it. Class 1. A delicious dinner at The Apple Valley Inn, rewarded our moderate efforts of the weekend.

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