Lava Mountains, Spangler Hills, Columbia Mountain, Colton Hills, Bicarbonate Peak, Ibex Mountains, Dumont Hills, Cronese Mountains, Cat Mountain, George Mountain, Elephant Butte, Black Butte, Chimney Rock, Fry Mountains, Lucerne Peak, Bullion Mountains, Black Ridge, Mesquite Hills, Crucero Hill, Crucero Peak, Ash Hill, Castle Dome Peak, Seventeen Mile Point, Valjean Peak


By: Andy Smatko



On December 14, 1969, we climbed the highpoints in the Summit Range, the Lava Mountains, and the Spangler Hills in the Johannesburg area. The latter range is fairly extensive and makes for delightful winter climbing. There is no Trona aroma to be detected and wild chukkar were seen. On the weekend of the 20th and 21st we enjoyed enviable weather as we climbed the high point of the Iron Mountains, lying northeast of the Coxcombs. This range is rugged and one can easily be stymied by dry waterfalls and steep slopes. The expansive view reveals several well known ranges on the DPS list. The next day we climbed Horn Peak in the Turtle Mountains and found an amusing note in the register left by a climber who claimed that the DPS was at fault for his climbing this peak rather than the summit of the range. Later that afternoon we ascended Negro Peak, the east side of which drops off in abrupt precipices.

A new year arrives and on January 17-18 we climbed 9 summits, 6 of which were first accents. We based ourselves in our favorite desert campground in Gold Valley near Cima. The first day we climbed two peaks in the hid Hills, Columbia Mountain, and the high point of the Colton Hills. The rugged walls of the Providence Range to the south drew our admiring glances, but Table Mountain and Woods Mountain and others spoke volumes of a prehistoric vast tableland which subsequently became eroded. These mesas are guarded by precipitous walls everywhere and although one can find breaks in the cliffs, many places would be unscalable except by top notch rock climbers. On Sunday we climbed five peaks in the area east of the Providence Range and saw a herd of ten deer and evidence of both wild burros and bighorn sheep.

On the weekend of January 31 and February 1 we visited the Old Woman Mountains where we climbed ten peaks. One peak would have required a bolt climb for the final 25 feet. We named the peak east of Carbonate Peak and called it Bicarbonate Peak. The next venture found us going into the southeastern end of Death Valley National Monument where we climbed the two high points of the Ibex Mountains. Following this we drove to a point north of the Dumont Hills and climbed its high point and another peak to the north. The following day we made our way down a roadless wash to a delightful campsite southwest of a rugged charcoal colored range, separate and distinct from the Kingston Range. In the morning we ascended it by a west face route running into about 150 feet of high third class with one 20 foot fourth class pitch before getting to the easy summit slopes. There being enough time we climbed the high point of the Cronese Mountains and Cat Mountain. Descent of the Cat's right ear, back, and tail proved to be a delightful slog down soft silky sand.

The next trip was a one day trip in February when we climbed Peak 3742' near El Mirage Dry Lake and it was a first ascent. We then climbed George Mountain and the highest of the "Buttes" near Kramer Junction, also a first ascent. Elephant Butte near Daggett and Black Butte near Newberry were then climbed. To cap off the day we drove up Point of Rocks north of Helendale. Over the weekend of March 6-7 we climbed Alvord Mountain, a small very colorful range near Barstow. The view was most extensive with Telescope Peak, over 100 miles distant, being clearly visible. Following this we made short scrambles to Harvard Hill and a peak in the. southern part of the Calicos and visited Chimney Rock, a hollow vertical chimney about 80 feet high, eroded from friable ancient sea bottom mud. We climbed around to the top and looked down, a chilling view. The next day we climbed two peaks near Daggett. Following a long desert drive we climbed Fry Mountain, a black hulk of volcanic scoria of all colors, which commands an extensive view of the surrounding ranges. Our final effort was a 1400 foot climb of Lucerne Peak, a steep second class peak with some third near the top. After a long summer the weather finally returned to its more hospitable winter temperatures and accordingly on October 24, we climbed a peak in the Bullion Mountains south of Ludlow. On the way by car to the climbing area, we passed through abandoned Ragtown and Steadman with their ruins being assimlated by the desert forces of wind, sun, and vegetation. We then proceeded to the town (?) of Bagdad and followed a dirt road northeast and then north onto a jeep road which led through a canyon into the Lava Hills to a point where we took off for the high point, another first ascent. We finished the day by ascending Black Ridge which appears to be entirely volcanic and the rocks were beautifully polished and smoothed. We left a register in the cairn that was on the summit. That evening we camped in a fine area just south of the Mesquite Hills, from where we climbed the high point, also a first ascent. From here we dropped into the Mojave River Sink and climbed Crucero Hill, from where we obtained a fine view of the Mojave Sink and Soda Dry Lake. Still feeling strong we then climbed a peak in the Bristol Mountains, named Crucero on the topo.

On November 14-15 we climbed Ash Hill and a peak west of it where we left a register in the cairn that was there. We jeeped up into the Clipper Mountains and headed for Castle Dome which is climbed via a short scramble of third class and steep second class to the summit. From afar the spires of this so-called dome appear mighty impressive, being similar to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. On November 28-29 we climbed two peaks in a range south of the Avawatz Mountains and two peaks near Halloran Springs. On the next day we began with a lavitic plug just off the freeway and Peak 2427' near Crucero. This peak was most interesting due to the wide sandy washes and the sharp rugged ridges, convoluted into weird pinnacles and jagged teeth. The summit vista was truly fine, even fantastic, encompassing a grand sweep from San Gorgonio to Charleston with the the Mojave Sink and Soda Dry Lake below. We were so impressed by the immense expanse of sand and the view in general that we christened the mountain "Sandtastic Peak". Our last two peaks for the day were near Zzyzx Springs.

The latest weekend jaunt occured over the weekend of December 12-13 when Bill Schuler, his 4 year old daughter Lisa, my son Andy and his friend Jamie Newton from New Zealand, and Ed Treacy and his pal Carl Bennett climbed Seventeen Mile Point and Peak 3265' in the Old Dad Mountain region. The extremely abrasive lavitic rock of the latter prompted the name Mt Roughy. The east side is sheer while the summit mass is third class via the easiest route and fourth class on others. Various routes were used on this climb and our descent route was via a striking rockbound gully on the east side, ending in a 100' overhanging dry waterfall, which we were able to turn. The next day Ed in his Toyota and I in my Jimmy traversed the Kingston Wash from a point in the Shadow Valley west of Clark Mountain all the way to the paved road from Baker to Shoshone. We had many anxious moments, especially when Ed mired in soft sand, but we managed to get through. On the way we climbed Valjean Peak northeast of the Silurian Hills. With the climbs of the above peaks completed, I am left with only four more ranges in San Bernardino County to climb (exclusive of those in restricted areas). I hope to accomplish these climbs this season.

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

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