Kingston Peak


By: Alterio Banks


Kingston by The South Wash, a Night Route

A certain longtime friend, BLM ranger Steve Smith, is responsible for this misadventure.

He heard that Kingston could be "easily climbed from Kingston Wash due south of the peak", or so it looked in theory on a topo. I tried it, fool that I am. I found a series of roads and tracks leading generally north from Baker. I left town and after meandering all over creation in my red VW, I literally dropped over a 3 foot lip into sandy Kingston Wash.

With daybreak, I cinched on my summit pack and headed due north toward the foot of Kingston Peak. After a 3-4 hour approach, I ascended a prominent north-south ridge. The ridge went west much farther than I liked and it was 4:30 or 5pm before I reached the summit. In mid-December, darkness was less than a half hour away. I hurried a snack, signed in, and it was completely dark by the time I began my descent.

I had no flashlight and there was no moon. Even with noonday sunlight I couldn't have spotted my car the 8-10 miles away somewhere to the south in Kingston Wash. I decided to navigate by stars, whatever that meant. It was on this occasion that I learned that stars move relative to a fixed location on the earth. An elementary fact known by even an amateur astronomy student, but not by me.

It didn't take more than 3 or-4 hours of my navigation in the pitch black descent down from Kingston to tell me that I was "keying in" on the same star but was headed increasingly to the east, or was it to the west (smile). Anyway with this discovery I traded off "guiding stars" every hour or so thereafter. Around 9:30pm I reached what in the darkness looked like a broader than usual east/west wash. I reckoned this was Kingston Wash, but what direction east or west was my car?

An hours trek to the west was accompanied by increasing discouragement and self-doubt as I contemplated the probability that I might never find my car that night, and it was easily below freezing these December nights on the East Mojave. There was nothing left but to try east for however long my great stamina and resolve lasted.

Well amazingly, my little red VW appeared 2 hours later. But I was to discover that Kingston was not about to release me to safety so easily.

I knew I had the problem of finding a hole in the south lip of the wash that I could ascend because no way could I regain the 3 foot drop I'd experienced getting into the wash. A greater obstacle however soon confronted me when my car wouldn't start and my old VW nemesis, seized pistons on one side of the engine, was apparent.

Sleep seemed like the easiest thing now that midnight Sunday was near. Next morning I'd accepted that I might have to strike out on foot the 18 or so miles to the interstate highway and then hope I could get a tow vehicle from Baker to come to the wash. Fat chance!

I tried to start the engine without much confidence. It at least would turn over but wouldn't start. I figured I needed to try desperate means. So I dug a hole and constructed a dirt/rock rampway up the lip of the wash's wall. I put the VW in 1st gear, turned the key and bucked and lurched on battery power through the sand and miraculously up my hastily built rampway.

It worked after the 3rd go at it. Now on "hard" ground I followed my track back by lurches and bucks, my battery growing weaker and weaker, to the freeway. 1-1/2 hours later I hitchhiked to Baker, got a tow back to that town where I abandoned my VW to an all night garage. A Greyhound transported me to my wife and children in L.A by Monday night.


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