Kelbaholt Peak, Stepladder Mountains, Turtle Mountains


By: Lu Petitjean


This excursion into the unknown was led by Greg Vernon and Cuno Ranshau. There were two unfortunate participants plus Kermit.

After expecting throngs of DPS types to come on this outing to enjoy the spectacular, plush, and altogether awesome floral display that graces the Colorado River area in early April, it was a disappointment to find only four of us on the Turtle Mountain Road Saturday AM. Having climbed Turtle at this time last year, the beauty of early spring in this part of California was more than enough enticement to repeat the trip this year.

The literature varied as to the correct distance one travels on the Turtle Mountain Road before the tracks leading to Stepladder are encountered. My odometer registered 10.1 miles, while distances from 9.5 to 10.0 have been reported. The road was easily located, and early Saturday the four climbers plus Kermit headed toward the mountain. We managed to drive 7 miles on the tracks, although 6 miles would probably be a prudent place to stop. The tracks go on to an area below VABM Conical and may even go further toward Stepladder.

The high point on the ridge is the Northernmost summit, even though the point to the south appears much higher as one approaches it. It is best to go as far North as possible before ascending the peak. The route should probably be rated class 2 as there is little need to use one's hands except for balance.

Several stops were made enroute to the peak to photograph the impressive and varied array of flowers and blooming cacti. A very fine specimen of California Diamondback was also encountered in the wash leading to the peak.

It was slightly past midday as the group reached the Turtle Mountain Road. To the South was a very impressive group of pinnacles together with VABM Carsons, an impressive looking peak in itself. It was decided to go and explore the area. Kermit, however, felt hungry and took off to Parker for lunch. Greg, Cuno, and participant Lou went off on the adventure. The trio managed to drive as far as Carsons Wells when the road became very unpleasant and forced the group to stop. The awesome face of the highest of the pinnacles was but a mile away.

It was decided to attempt a climb of the peak instead of exploring the area toward Carsons Peak. As the climb progressed, the beauty of the area began to unfold. Incredible rock formations and a truly outstanding display of wildflowers combined to produce a panorama deserving of many more visits to this area. The route to Carsons Peak looked to be of substantial scenic merit.

A devious, zigzagging class 3-4 route was found on the peak which Cuno and Greg were climbing, and the two were soon on the summit. Surpassingly, a register was there. To the amazement of the two, it was the original register placed on August 16, 1925 by V.C. Kelly, CH. Bangs, and Joseph Holt. The three were employees of the Kit Carson Mine, founded by Kit Carson III. A picture of Kit Carson III was found in the register. The three named the peak "Kelbaholt", a contraction of their names. It was stated in their entry that many people had failed in their attempt to climb the peak.

A rendezvous was made in Vidal Junction, and the group of four together with Kermit drove West to the road leading toward Turtle Mountain. The turnoff is just a bit east of the railroad tracks which cross the Parker Dam road at Grommet. 7 miles on this road led to a very nice camp site at the spot where the turnoff to the roadhead was. located.

Steaks were cooked on a Habachi and were eaten with other culinary delights. A campfire was started using compressed sawdust logs, a fine way to have a campfire in the desert. Cuno ate his usual noodles cooked over a Bluet, (He says that he is just a poor farm boy from Kansas who hasn't been spoiled by the big city. I think that he's a dumb farmboy from Kansas) The campfire conversation centered upon energy and foreign policy - a rare intellectual discussion for a Saturday night campfire. Cuno did redeem himself by producing a half gallon of Vino California which livened up the campfire. As our throats got wetter, the conversation got better.

Sunday morning dawned to another fantastic panorama. The creator had painted yellow the entirety of the Vidal Valley. Rising out of the sea of yellow flowers were the rugged and brilliantly colored slopes of the Mopah and Turtle Ranges. In the center of the landscape was the imposing Castle Rock, surely a throne on which God sits as He gazes over His artistry.

At about 6 miles the end of the rather rugged road up Vidal Valley was reached. The first mile of hiking went up a wash coated with purple mat, Dense clusters of Desert Mallow were past. A long rest stop was taken in a garden of yellow wildflowers. The route to the summit was straightforward. The round trip required 5 hours.

From Vidal Junction, the drive to 29 Palms is one of the finest for the lover of the desert: The stark beauty of the Mojave, the rugged slopes of the ranges, the desolate valleys, the forbidding dry lakes, the landscape wandering to eternity...

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