Another outing to scramble up some desert peaks in Southern California. This time we had our eyes on Cady Peak, Sleeping Beauty, Van Winkle Mtn., and others time and conditions permitting.
Conditions for this weekend were not ideal with some wind in the forecast, but it sounded like the stronger winds were limited to a short period. We headed out to Barstow and then continued on I-40 to Hector Rd. where we got on the old Route 66 for a few miles until Pisgah Rd crossed north under I-40. From here we followed the powerline road to a little pass east of the Cady Mountains. We parked next to one of the power line towers and started hiking up a very wide wash towards the mountains west of us.
Along the wash we made good progress and by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain we had gained almost half of the total 2,000 ft we had to gain. From here we scrambled up a steep slope with very lose rocks and gravel. A couple of hundred feet below the peak a rocky ridge looked better to us than the lose stuff. We stowed our hiking poles on the backpacks and climbed up the fairly narrow rocky ridge. The granite rock was kind of brittle and picking hand/footholds required some care. Once up this section it was a short walk to the very top. At the bottom of the wash we had a decent breeze blowing on us, but as we got closer to the mountain it subsided. To our great surprise it was completely calm on the peak. We enjoyed the great views, including of the big wash we had come up, and had some snacks before heading back down. This time we did not climb the rock, but rather stayed right next to the cliff below. The rocks were lose, but with careful, slow movement we got past it. Then we followed the ridge down to the wash.
We noticed a sign in the wash next to some rock outcropping. Upon investigation it turned out to alert to a marker in a rock just above that had pointed to the benchmark on the peak. We were about 650m (0.4 miles) from the peak and a lot lower. I have never seen a benchmark related marker this far away from the BM. Some research revealed that these Azimuth markers were sometimes placed a good distance away. The are distinct from the reference marks close to the BM. Cady BM had both of the reference marks on top some 3 and 9 m from the BM. The NGS Data Sheet mentions this marker: “THE AZIMUTH MARK IS A STANDARD DISK STAMPED CADY USGS 1964, CEMENTED IN A DRILL HOLE IN A LARGE ROCK OUTCROP. IT IS ON THE EAST SLOPE OF A ROCKY RIDGE, 7 FEET WEST OF A WITNESS POST AND ABOUT 7 FEET HIGHER THAN THE FLOOR OF THE WASH.” Only currently its maybe about 4 ft above the floor of the wash.
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We still had a couple of hours of daylight and decided to drive over to the starting point for the Sleeping Beauty scramble the next day. We found a nice spot to camp overlooking I-40 and the major rail road paralleling it. There was constant train traffic with the typical long trains in both directions. There was a bit of a breeze and we decided against a camp fire.
The next morning after breakfast we started up Sleeping Beauty. Conditions were quite calm, but we knew there was wind with the possibility of “patchy blowing dust” in the forecast. Sleeping Beauty is an old volcano, so we were on completely different ground than the day before. Initially we hiked up a wash and then turned towards the peak following some ridges up to the top. There are all kinds of different volcanic rocks on this mountain and some impressive cliffs. All ground was loose. A couple of hundred feet below the top we got into some strong wind. On the top we could barely stand, so we found a spot behind some rocks where we could have some snacks. Looking around us we saw sand blowing on dry lakes all around us. While we were watching it seemed to get worse and by the time we started heading down winds were so strong we could not stand without hiking poles. Walking was tricky since we got blown over by gusts. We seriously considered finding a sheltered spot and wait out the wind. We were able to check the weather due to some phone signal and it did not look like conditions would improve much before dark and we did not want to scramble down the loose rocks in the dark with headlamps. So we decided to give it a try.
It was very tedious because with every step we had to be prepared that a gust would blow us over. For the more severe gusts we crouched down and waited them out. Eventually we made it to easier terrain and the wash and back to the truck. At this point dust/sand was blowing all around us, the truck was shaking in the wind. We slowly drove back to Rt 66 and east to Ludlow. The sand was blowing so hard that we hard pinging sounds when it hit the metal of the truck. We decided to find some shelter. We could have parked between all the 18-wheelers and RV’s that had pulled off the freeway in Ludlow, the place was crowded, but we had seen an overpass over a wash just a quarter mile before the freeway exit. We drove there and got out of the wind. A couple of crows had the same idea and were sheltering also. We had lunch, napped, and read for a couple of hours. By then it was only windy and not much sand/dust blowing around us anymore and we decided to drive over to Kelbaker road.
On Kelbaker we turned north and drove to a dirt road north of Van Winkle mountain. By now it was mostly breeze and we decided to make camp in a nice open spot by the road. With a couple of hours of daylight left I did the short hike up Van Winkle Mountain, another volcano. Again it was too breezy for campfire and we crawled into our sleeping bags after dinner hoping for better conditions in the morning. Alas, the wind picked up again over night and stayed around in the morning. We decided we had enough sand between our teeth for one trip and packed up to go home without even making coffee. We drove down Kelbaker, then Rt 66 to Amboy and from there to 29 Palms, got some coffee in a drive-through and continued home.
Not quite as we had hoped, but that stormy scramble down from Sleeping Beauty, which really was a beast that day, was a memorable experience. Other desert peaks will have to wait a bit.
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