By: Fred Camphausen
The broad Coso volcanic area occupies the basin between the Argus Range and the Southern Sierra. Its northwest alignment abruptly closes off further southward extension of the Owens Valley depression and isolates it from the lower-stepped Rose and Indian Wells Valleys to the south. The traveler approaching Owens Lake near Olancha can see to the southeast a high skyline point that appears as a mile-long lava plateau gradually north-sloping to an indistinctly formed summit. The summit belongs to Silver Mountain, VABM 7495, which is one of 7 formally named peaks in the Coso Range.
Increasing hiker interest in this peak has been recorded in its summit register since the present book was placed there in March 1976. The earlier ascents usually were from the southwest by way of Cactus Flat. An alternate approach first taken by the writer originates near Lower Centennial Spring 5 miles to the east (see Keeler and Haiwee Reservoir 15' quadrangle sheets). The latter. route is described herein.
A graded dirt road to Lower Centennial Spring crosses Highway 190 about 9.2 miles south of the junction with Highway 136. The climb can begin either at the spring or at a higher elevation nearby. A canyon road is passable by VW for 2.0 miles after taking the left fork that appears just before reaching the spring. Park at the turn-around near the locked gate.
Walk up the partially washed-out road and pass the gate, ignoring Navy "No Trespassing" signs since Naval Weapons Center land doesn't really begin for another mile. After about 1/5 mile leave the trail and climb the short but steep gully leading to a low point in the lava coulee, continue west to the saddle, and pick up the trail that descends to Upper Centennial Spring. Wild horses are often seen near the spring. 'West of the spring is a decision point: (1) ascend Point 7585 and follow its ridge over to Silver Mountain; (2) walk a road leading toward Joshua Flat. The road crosses a gully after 1.5 miles and this gully sets the direction for the remaining 3 miles to the peak. The peak and ridge is the most interesting route. If the climb begins at Lower Centennial Spring there is the choice of taking Centennial Canyon to the upper spring or a canyon to the west that leads directly to Joshua Flat. This open but vegetated plateau is bordered on the west by 3 peaks: Silver Mountain, "Apex Peak" (7191), and "Lakeview Peak" (6562).
In a steep gully on P7585 are the remains of an old wheelbarrow and a hand-sorted dump of hematite-stained quartz. These were the only immediate indications of mineral prospecting seen during my climb of 16 December. Most precious metal mining took place south and east of Coso Peak (8160), the high point of the range. The mining town of Coso boomed there in the 1860s and 70s, first with American miners who skimmed the easier gold, and then with Mexicans who followed with more thorough extraction methods. Circular arrastres used for crushing the ore remain from this period, a fine example of one being at Junction Ranch. Earlier settlement by nomadic Indians is proven by the existence of stone camp rings in the pinyon forested ridge and canyon areas along the climbing route.
The major part of the Coso Range is included within the 2 million acres of desert land that were transferred to the Naval Weapons Center in 1945. Coso Peak was on the DPS list for several years but travel to this peak, located 2 miles inside of NWC, was discouraged. Its summit now has a control blockhouse and radar for the Navy's Coso bombing range, where attack pilots can practice-drop dummy bombs on targets (e.g., SAN site, bridge) in a pre-briefed but otherwise unfamiliar environment. Several spotting stations, looking like small white observatory domes, can be seen from Silver Mountain.
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