Stepladder Mountains


By: David Baldwin


On October 31, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 which designates as wilderness 71 areas of the California desert comprising over 3.75 million acres. This Act is the culmination of an 8 year campaign by the Sierra Club to protect the land that we of the DPS in particular value so much. To preserve the character of these designated areas, it is essential that we all comply with the law and respect and protect the wilderness by keeping vehicles out and pets under control. But where is the wilderness?

Before we venture forth into the desert, it is important to know the location of wilderness boundaries. This is especially important to the DPS as several DPS-listed peaks lie within designated wilderness areas. Section 103(b) of the Act specifies that maps and legal descriptions of the designated wilderness areas should be prepared and made available for public inspection. Thanks to the World Wide Web much of this material available to us with a few mouse clicks starting from What follows is an example of using this material to find an acceptable route through the wilderness to a DPS peak impacted by the Act.

The highpoint of the Stepladder Mountains Wilderness (http://www stepladder_mountains.html) is number 3.12 on the DPS peaks list. From the "Final Legal Description, April 2, 2001, CACA No. 035122, Stepladder Mountains Wilderness, 83,392 Acres, Designated October 31, 1994 by the California Desert Protection Act, Public Law 103-433":

"...the boundary for the Stepladder Mountains Wilderness Area located in San Bernardino County, California and managed by the Bureau of Land Management ... is more particularly described as follows: From the township corner of sections 31, and 36, T.6 N., Rgs. 19 and 20 E., SBM, this point being the point of beginning; ... to point 11, the corner of sections 31, 32, 5 and 6 on the township line between Ts. 6 and 7 N. R. 20E.; thence southerly between sections 5 and 6, 7 and 8, 17 and 18, to point 12, the corner of sections 17, 18, 19, and 20, T.6 N., R. 21E.; thence easterly between sections 17 and 20 to point 13, the corner of sections 16, 17, 20, 21; ... to point 32, the intersection of a line parallel with and 100 feet northerly of the centerline of Turtle Mountain Road; thence southwesterly parallel with and 100 feet northerly of said road to point 33 ..."

This description may be a bit hard to understand, but fortunately the BLM website also provides detailed maps depicting the wilderness boundary. The drive for Stepladder Mountain described in the 3rd edition of the DPS Road and Peaks Guide would cross the boundary between points 32 and 33 when turning north off Turtle Mountain Road. To park within 100 feet of Turtle Mountain Road, outside the wilderness boundary, and hike along the former driving route would make for a 20-mile, 1,420' gain round-trip hike. For those seeking a shorter hike, an approach to the peak from the north is also possible.

To reach the northern access, exit 1-40 at Water Road (4.8 miles east of the Mountain Springs Rd. exit or 12.8 miles west of the US 95 north exit). On the south side of 1-40, continue straight 0.1 'mile from the end of the pavement, then bear right to drive southeast on a powerline access road (good dirt) 15.8 miles to a junction with a pipeline service road. Turn sharply right and drive west on the pipeline road 0.55 miles to a faint dirt road on the left. Drive south on the faint dirt road to the wilderness boundary marker (between points 12 and 13) and park. (The distance from the pipeline road to the wilderness boundary has been variously described as 1.4 and 4.7 miles, but the BLM description and map indicate 5.4 miles from the pipeline road to the boundary at NAD27 UTM 013309.) From this parking spot the peak is a 10-mile, 1,150' gain round-trip hike. This drive and hike arc described in a Mar/Apr 2006 Desert Sage 266 article and the 4th edition of the DPS Road and Peaks Guide.

So check out the BLM website before you go. Know the location of wilderness boundaries in the area you will visit. Enjoy the wilderness, but also respect the wilderness to keep it wild.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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