November 6, 2023.
9.1 mi. | 3220′ ele. gain | 6:30 hr.
From our dispersed camp at an old cement plant, I looked outside the van window. A jagged ridge of rugged, colorful mountains lurched up to meet the sky. I looked to the internet to find some kind of information about hiking routes in these impressive looking mountains, but I didn’t come up with very much. But Bare Mountain, the tallest of the highpoints on my app, didn’t inspire many trip reports. So, I was left to my own devices to concoct a route and pick my way up towards the summit.
One thing I’ve learned on this trip is to go into any adventure with no commitment to an outcome. While I would have loved to plan to summit this peak, I knew that a number of factors would have to line up in order to make that happen. With limited time and information, I couldn’t guarantee achieving that goal. So, my goal today was to take a nice walk, see some cactus, enjoy the sunshine and burn some energy. I’d be able to achieve these things whether I made it to the summit or not.
Under the warm morning sun, I stepped out onto the gravel road leading up to the mines at the base of the mountain. I had a long, straight road walk to get to the start of the mountainy part of the route. A few minutes into the walk, I saw a few varieties of cactus and a tarantula! I was so excited to be in this novel environment.
As I walked up the long, boring road, I looked at the nooks and ridges and peaks ahead of me. The complex terrain was going to give me a run for my money. And I knew there was some old and/or current mining activity to avoid. Other than that, it was a mystery. I enjoyed watching the shadows pull back to reveal more and more of the mountain faces as the sun rose in the sky. Near the top of the road, I walked past a truck that must have been parked last night or this morning. The truck was empty, so I thought someone else must be out exploring, too.
The previous evening, I put some pins on my mapping app numbered “1,” “2”… all the way up to 5. Each point brought me closer and closer to the summit. I based the position of each pin on the topography on my map, since that was the only information I had to go on. Upon reaching the end of my access road at point #1, I took out my app to compare what was in front of me to what I’d planned on my phone. Since chains across the road indicated that was off-limits, I headed cross-country towards my #2 waypoint high on a saddle to my left.
Carefully, I picked my way between cactus thorns, broken glass, metal scraps, holes and other natural and man-made obstacles. I was glad to be wearing approach shoes and long pants! However, the mine openings and slumps in the ground really stressed me out so I was focused on getting up to that saddle as quickly as possible.
Up we go
It was time for some food, water and reconnaissance. I looked up at the mountain ridge ahead of me. Cactus dotted the steep, rocky ridge. “One step at a time, as far as I can go” was my mantra. The relentless wind kept me on my toes, making each move with deliberate intent. I switchbacked up the steepest bits, crafting a route that never felt too scary or difficult. The intimidating cliffs softened as I approached them, always offering up a suitable passageway. I followed the path of least resistance, sometimes traversing on the shaded north side, sometimes on the sunny south side and sometimes right on the spine of the ridge. There goes #3…
The steep cliffs and profusion of cactus made for a slow ascent. I mean, I had to stop and look at EVERY single one of the spiny succulents, especially the teeny tiny ones. And the big ones. And the hairy looking ones. Well, you get my drift.
The crows and I had passed glances with each other all morning. No other evidence of sentient beings had surfaced, until I perked up at the sound of voices coming down the peak. Sure enough, two humans were headed down a scree slope as I huffed and puffed uphill.
Halfway along the slope, we crossed paths and I stopped to talk to them. The couple was quite friendly and we chatted about the mountain, the weather and other scrambling adventures in the area. They were avid desert peakbaggers and it was a delight to swap stories with kindred spirits. We wished each other a good day and continued on our paths.
The closer I got, the slower I moved. Not because I was getting tired but because the routefinding and footing was trickier. I bounced back and forth between spires and gullies and edges until I finally caught sight of the summit block. #4, #5 and there I was! Nestled between some rocks, I found the summit register, ready for its second entry in the same day. I hung out to celebrate a job well done and also to chow down some food in anticipation of the long walk back.
With the intention of backtracking my exact route, I started re-tracing my footsteps down the ridge. After the first few obvious features, I got a little disoriented and veered slightly too far right, too far left, then back again. I struggled to find an easy path on the way down. It had been so intuitive on the way up and I couldn’t quite find my way coming down. Maybe it was the rock, maybe it was my tired legs, I am not quite sure what it was. But the descent felt exceptionally tedious and slow. Once I returned close to point 2, I decided to make a loop of it. The terrain was pushing me down into a gully on the north side of the ridge anyway, so I just followed it down.
From there, I took a long, sweeping arc around the east arm of the mountain. The wash led to a road and easy walking all the way back out. I gained some new perspective from this variation, plus it let me avoid all the dangerous mine holes and debris.
I made it back to the van just as Aaron wrapped up his work day. Another full and fulfilling day in the mountains.