Black Butte, Chuckwalla Mountains


By: Wynne Benti


DPS list finish - 10 years in the making!

For reasons beyond my control, my list finish -- if it was to happen at all this season -- had to move up a month earlier than originally planned. Instead of finishing in April, I opted instead for the weekend of my scheduled DPS lead with my husband Andy and brother-in-law Ed Zdon to Black Butte and Chuckwalla.

Our group converged at the intersection of 1-10 and the Red Cloud Road at the reasonable hour of 8:30 am on Saturday morning. The group for Saturday's climb included Andy Zdon, Ed Zdon, my father-in-law Ed Zdon down from Bishop, my 13 year-old nephew Justin, fellow river-tourist Dave Dahi, Edna Erspamer, Ron Young, George Toby, Roy Magnuson, Tom Sumner, Patty Kline, Barbee Tidball, Margie Hutton, Rich Gnagy & Pete Yamagata down from Sacramento. It was my first time meeting Pete, a person I'd heard so much about, but had never had the pleasure of meeting.

Black Butte was straightforward enough. Per the guide, we drove across the desert to the Bradshaw Trail, passing the laser hazard signs posted by the military, to the final 4WD road until progress was halted by the ungainly boulders of a wash. From our parking place, we followed the obvious gully to the summit and then, the obvious ridge back down. Not being one for gully-slogging, the ridge was the preferable descent alternative.

We had planned to spend the evening at the BLM Corn Springs campground off the Chuckwalla Rd., but the consensus was to find an isolated, beautiful spot out in the desert somewhere, which is what we did. Using the Auto Club Riverside County map, Andy located a faint dirt road just off the Chuckwalla Road. where we made our late afternoon encampment among the mesquite trees. The wind had died down and we enjoyed happy hour, then a fine dinner highlighted by Tom's world-famous chili. Pete Yamagata brought out some of his beautiful photographs for us to look at and passed around the hiking guide to the northern Sierra Peaks that he had written and published. We drank a few bottles of champagne and enjoyed the big beautiful cake Patty Kline had brought to celebrate the list finish. As we sat around the campfire, my nephew called to me from inside our tent. Through the door of the tent I could see his silhouette, illuminated by the firelight. "Aunt Wynne, there's a walking stick." To the right of the tent door, was a large walking stick, which had somewhat terrified my nephew. I reached in and placed my hand around the insect and put it outside. After that, my nephew decided that he wanted to sleep inside the protected environment of the jeep.

Next morning, our relaxed start was greeted by sunny skies. We stopped at the intersection of the Chuckwalla and Graham Pass roads around 8:30am to link up with some latecomers. Those who were expected never arrived, so on we went, down the Graham Pass Road where the spring bloom was spectacular - hill after hill of yellow flowers, and ocotillo with their scarlet red tips, all the way to the road end at Chuckwalla. Just as we made the right turn on the last dirt road on the way in to Chuckwalla, we noticed a piece of paper in a rock cairn along the road. The note was from Dave Jurasevich who had been waiting to join us, but decided to leave only 8 minutes before we arrived at that spot. We assumed that he had returned by the Bradshaw Trail, which would explain why we didn't see him on the way in.

At the trailhead, several bottles of champagne were loaded into packs and on we went, following yet another gully to the summit of Chuckwalla, which has a rather spacious and comfortable summit, perfect for the downing of champagne. The weather was absolutely wonderful and I think everyone, even my nephew (his first two desert peaks) enjoyed the hour or two we spent up there. The descent to the cars was uneventful, but certainly a mite more enjoyable thanks to the imbibing of the bubbly and the good company. Thanks to my family and to all who joined us on this, my final listed desert peak.

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