Pilot Mountain, Black Butte


By: Jerry Haven


Although it was raining in L.A. when we left Friday night, there were only scattered high clouds, glowing in the moonlight and drifting on the wind, when we made camp outside of Desert Center. One cloud drizzled on us at 4a.m. but it was clear, cool and windy at 7 when we joined John Vitz and his band of four merrymakers at the junction of Interstate 10 and Chuckwalla Road to eat breakfast while waiting for others to show up. The others turned out to be three in number, Paul Demes and Wally and Beth Henry.

We caravaned to Corn Springs, a reasonably pleasant BLM campground scattered beneath a palm oasis, where we picked up Darryl Kuhns. We drove on to Aztec Wells and turned up the old road that runs up the side of Pilot Mountain. Unfortunately, less than a mile from Aztec Wells, the road crosses the remains of a bridge, which the drivers refused to trust. We declared it an official Vitz-Haven trip and turned back to Corn Springs.

From Corn Springs we hiked up the canyon that runs straight south to Pilot Mountain. It is a pleasant, open, typical desert wash with a few cholla and whoa-there bushes, but mostly creosote and ancient brown Chuckwalla rock. John's four merrymakers fell behind and agreed to dissociate themselves from our group. The rest of us reached the summit of Pilot Mountain at 12:30. After a half hour lunch, Beth Henry turned back to Corn Springs. The remaining six of us dropped into the large wash that runs between Pilot Mountain and Black Butte. We walked a half mile down the wash and then proceeded directly up Black Butte. It is a straightforward class 2 climb. It was 3:30 when we reached the summit, leaving only 2 hours of daylight in which to return, to camp. We dropped back down to the wash, proceeded one mile down it, and then passed through a low, wide, broken area to the canyon that runs into Corn Springs. It was totally dark when we reached the saddle so it took us another 2 hours to stagger back to camp by starlight. There we found food, fire and beer, although not necessarily in that order.

After our late return to camp, we slept late the next morning and then caravaned to the roadhead on the north side of Orocopia Peak. Ten out of eleven made the easy climb to the top (one of the merrymakers stayed in a saddle 500 feet from the summit). In contrast to the cold, heavy winds of Saturday, it was warm and balmy on the top of Orocopia. We luxuriated for an hour and then returned to the cars. Unfortunately, the girl we left in the saddle had not returned before us as we had expected, so Larry Fink, who had the greatest interest in finding her, headed back up the canyon. A half hour later he returned with the missing girl and so we were still able to get home in time for dinner.

Thus our trip had all the elements of a Vitz-Haven exploratory: a false roadhead, a late night return, a lost girl, and a worthy peak, for it was the unanimous opinion of the six who climbed it that Black Butte should be added to the list.

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