Big Maria Mountains, Granite Mountains #2, Orocopia Mountains, Palen Mountains, Pinto Mountain, Sheephole Mountains
7-Oct-92 (Private trip)
By: Mark Adrian
Since I don't solo many peaks, it was with some anxiety I undertook this adventure. Nevertheless, the allure of the desert motivated me to bag these 'needed' peaks.
Orocopia:From the N, the drive in goes well, except for several sandy areas that could trap a 2WD. Near the end of the first 3.8 miles I forked right instead of left and continued for 8.2 miles up a deep sand wash. Finding a 'hard' spot, I parked and walked up the wash and discovered a parked truck. To make my presence known, I shouted HELLO. From behind several rocks emersed a rather scroungy looking man about 35 years old. I apologized for disturbing him. He assured me this wasn't the Orocopia trailhead, and that I'd missed a fork 0.25 miles down the wash. I eventually found the correct road and proceeded to the trailhead, requiring 4WD to tackle the steep hill. Later that evening, I heard numerous gun blasts that I concluded were from his camp. Anyway, the camping here is good and the route goes well. The round trip took me about three hours. Register and canister are in good condition. On to Chiriaco summit for a piece of pie, then Desert Center for gas.
Granite #2:From the W, the drive in is a challenge as P172 is loaded with stretches of deep sand that WILL trap 2WDs. And if the sand doesn't stop them, then ruts/rocks will. Additionally, there was one point (about ten miles in) where the road had been completely washed out and a 'use-detour' had been created. At the end of the 9.2 mile 'pitch', I scouted for the route B spur road which I didn't immediately find. I had to drive to about 9.4, where I discovered a sharp E-N--E 'S" bend in the road that had some bad ruts/rocks on its far E side. This better correlated with the guide's 98--degree bend description. The 'S' bend passes through a wash which could be driven up to access drive E~ except for big rocks. Just as you drive out of the 'S' bend is the guide's poor dirt road turnoff. Unfortunately, it is washed out just after it leaves P172 and several jutting rock tins deterred me from attempting to cross the wash out over to the otherwise good-looking dirt road. Also at the 'S' bend is a 'derelict" car frame (no body panels or engine) with attached steering column, steering wheel and gear shift lever. I don't think this is the 'derelict' car indicated on the guide's 4.10/11 map -- which I never did see. S0, it was onto route A's drive in. The guide's description is very accurate far this 2.3 mile spur, with the addition that there are two particularly bad spots about 0.2 miles before you reach the parking area. The first has a deep rut and high bank forcing an unnerving tilt, and the second has numerous lease rocks - I needed a running start to get out since I got stuck twice trying to creep in low-range. As I was to later discover the peak is closer to the Parking area than I first realized (read as : I got off route). I mistakenly walked two washes too far N due to a map misreading of where I though hill 733 was, As the guide mentions, the peak is visible at 3-degrees. However, I though the barely-visible peak was further NE, behind what I though I was looking at 3-degrees. Furthermore, I was mislead by several ducks I encountered and also found an old aluminum canteen en mis-route. Finally realizing I had overshot the peak, I traversed Granite's ridge S for about 38 minutes to the true summit. I returned via route B's ridge line. Round trip was 6.5 hours. Register in good condition, canister is old and rusty needs a new-and-improved purple-lidded Van Dalsem canister. Back down the 2.3 mile spur road I eventually re-located P172 which is in MUCH better condition on the E side of Palen pass. Although, It has sand traps - they aren't as deep as the W side, yet still require 4WD.
Palen:Since my mileage's were off, I overshot Palen's E approach turnoff. The turnoff/fork is marked by a big black tractor tire painted with a yellow arrow. The spur road is peppered with micro-wash-outs and sand traps until the fork at 4.7 miles where it's washed out by at least 150 feet. There's plenty of flat spots here for parking, but add about 2.5 miles RT to routes P & C. I ascended route P and descended route C. While on Palen's summit I heard several loud croaking noises. I knew it couldn't be frogs -- could it? Then, I heard them/it again. What's the joke here? I looked over my shoulder to the N from where the noises were coming from and saw a large white tubular form rising over the small summit area about 10' from me. It grew larger and larger! I was shocked to come face-to-face with a Big Horn sheep! We stared at each other for a split-second, and then he bolted off. I jumped up to look over the edge and he was 200+ feet down the NE slope of Palen. While descending route C, I startled a rattler that lunged (but missed) at me, Route C is particularly scenic due the numerous rosy pink boulders, although it is a bit steeper than B. Back to the truck and onto Blythe for gas and supplies. Register in good condition, a new canister is needed. On the guide's 3.4 mile section of road just W of Inca, there's a significant wash out that has a 300 foot long, deep sand detour. This could trap 2WD, as my 4WD was beating hard to get through. It was relieving to get back onto 'good' pavement!
Big Maria:From the pavement, the drive in quickly degrades to poor dirt - I'd leave 2WDs parked near the pavement and consolidate into 4WDs, or at best, leave 2WDs near pole #48-7. Continuing down the road, 4WDs should have no problems other than slowing for occasional ruts. However, around pole 48-4 4WDs with HIGH clearance are a must. I proceeded to pole #46-5 and stopped (just short of the recommended pole #46-3) due to excessive and numerous rocks which I didn't want to slice my sidewalls. Camping is fair here except for the strange noises emitted by the power lines. The route goes well, but I'd rate it a class two instead of one. I didn't do the S summit. The round trip took me 4.5 hours. Register and canister in good condition. Back out at Midland Road, I took the excellent Blythe-Rice road N to SH 62, then the Ironage Road shortcut at Dale Dry Lake to Amboy road and Sheephole pass.
Sheephole:The drive in is trivial, but parking spots are limited at the Route B trailhead. The route goes well, except for the maze of HUGH boulders near the summit. Again, a couple of snakes rattled at me. Round trip was 5 hours. Register and canister In good condition. Into 29 Palms for supplies, then onto White Tank campground In J.T. for the night.
Pinto:The drive in is trivial. Except for numerous 'gotcha' gopher holes along the "flats" to the ridge line, this route/ridge goes fine to the (flat, not pointy) summit. And of course, the hike wouldn't be complete without the now-expected rattler(s) which were encountered on schedule as I descended the ridge. 5.25 hours round trip. Eight foot cairn, register and canister in good condition.
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