Sugar Loaf, Silver Mountain, Lakeview Peak, Apex Peak, Bpex Peak, Cpex Peak, Jurassic Peak, Scattered Bone Peak, Cactus Flat Peak, Whitecap Mountain, McCloud Peak
By: Reinhold Janson
The Coso Range Wilderness was created by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. It is situated at the southeast comer of Owens Valley, north and west of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in Inyo County. This tranquil region is rarely visited. Encountering others in this wilderness is unusual. Apart from the mining roads that skirt its fringes, it remains largely untouched by man.
There are many reasons to explore this rugged area. Expansive views of the neighboring Sierra, Inyo, and Argus mountain ranges. Wild horses are elusive inhabitants of this terrain; quiet hikers may spy them roaming the ridges and flats. The stately Joshua trees appear ancient and undisturbed. Quartz monzonite formations abound, offering rock climbs and boulder problems that will never be discovered by the sport climber masses.
Andy Smatko, Gordon MacLeod, and Barbara Lilley are among the few names in the summit registers. The peaks are listed in Walt Wheelock's "Desert Peaks Guide Part I" (La Siesta Press, 1964). We found the exploratory climbs to be fine winter conditioning.
Sugar Loaf (5233') 3127199 Map: Keeler 15 min. Stats: 7 miles rt, 1600' gain, class 2.
This northernmost named peak is also one of the lowest and should not be done on a warm day. Based on experience! From the intersection of Hwys 190 and 136 northeast of Olancha, drive about 7 miles southwest and park on the shoulder of Hwy 190 (3640'+). The peak is seen as a prominent round mound to the southeast.
Hike south a mile across the sandy desert floor before dropping into the prominent broad wash heading for the peak. A couple of miles of winding wash leads to the base of Sugar Loaf. From here it's best to ascend the summit by the west or east, thereby avoiding the steep and crumbling northern slopes.
Silver Mountain (7495'), Lakeview Peak (6635'), Apex Peak (7195'), Bpex Peak (7256'), Cpex Peak (7130') 4/11/98 2/27/99 Map: Keeler 15 min. Stats: 10 miles rt, 3000' gain.
This rugged cross-country loop travels through the heart of the Wilderness. Most fit hikers with good navigational skills can do this excellent dayhike. From the intersection of Hwys 190 and 136, drive southeast on about 8 miles to a dirt road turnoff on the right, where Hwy 190 turns east. This road across Lower Centennial Flat generally bears west. 4WD is advised due to some deep sand and the washouts. After 2 miles, turn south and drive another 1.5+ miles to the road's end in a wash (5200'+). This is the wilderness boundary, which was at one time "red-staked."
Hike southwest up any of the appealing ridges or gullies to reach Joshua Flat (6800'). The Flat is a favorite habitat of wild horses. Continue southwest 3 miles to the rocky northeast upper slopes of Silver Mtn, which are easily ascended. The Silver Mtn register has some entries; most climb from the west via Cactus Flat. Drop back to Joshua Flat and proceed 2 miles north to the southeast side of Apex, traversing some ups and downs en route. From atop Apex, descend north then northwest across a flat to the summit of Lakeview. This summit is aptly named for its breathtaking vista of Olancha Lake. Hike back south up to the ridge that connects Apex with Bpex to the east. From Bpex, drop north to Cpex. Then return down ridges or gullies east to Lower Centennial Flat.
We surprised a small herd of beautiful wild horses below Bpex. The stallion aggressively confronted us, pacing and rearing, as his two mares and colt quickly departed. Slobodan responded with his own puzzling but effective gestures and yells. The stallion flanked us warily for a long time as we hiked on, before joining his harem downslope.
Jurassic Pk aka Haiwee Ridge (5970'), Scattered Bone Pk (5769'), Cactus Flat Pk (5683') 6/14/97 & 4/17/99 Map: Haiwee Reservoir 15 min. Stats: 5 miles rt, 1700' gain, class 2-3.
These peaks are east of the Haiwee Reservoirs, outside of the Coso Wilderness proper. Clearly viewed from Hwy 395, they can be done as a nice loop from either the east or west. To get to the eastern starting point, leave Hwy 395 in the township blip of Grant and take the signed Cactus Flat Road east (across from the Olancha Fire Station). Paved at first, it turns to excellent dirt past the ranches, as it crosses inlet of the North Haiwee Reservoir. Continue southeast on this excellent dirt road until you reach Cactus Flat (4500'). At the first prominent junction on the Flat, keep right and go south about 2.5 miles, then turn right again on a fainter fork and go south another 2 miles to park (5000'). If heading downhill, you have gone too far. 2WD should be able to get to this roadhead.
Immediately to the northwest is the saddle between Jurassic and Scattered Bone Pks. Head for it, picking up a faint mining road en route. From the saddle, climb north on the ridge to the summit boulders of Jurassic Pk. Some scrambling is required. Retrace your way to the saddle and continue south up the easy ridge to Scattered Bone Pk. Finally, head southwest along the ridge to Cactus Flat Pk. Return east over or around Scattered Bone Pk to the parking area. There are primitive registers on the peaks (and a scattered bone or two).
The alternative western approach features a shorter drive and interesting niining detritus. Drive east less than a mile from Hwy 395 on a signed road (Haiwee Reservoir Rd?). This is south of the Cactus Flat Rd. Park at the road's end lot west of South Halwee Reservoir. Cross the dam spillway (3759') and trace an old mining road, not shown on the topo, for 2 to 3 miles to reach the aforementioned saddle between Jurassic and Scattered Bone Pks. Pass abandoned mining shafts and equipment. Ascend the peaks as described. Return the same way, or for a loop descend the northwest slope from Cactus Flat Pk to the reservoir. In the latter case, pass through a white talc outcropping and by mining artifacts en route.
Whitecap Mtn (6120'), McCloud Pk (6085') 4/18/99 & 5/1/99 Map: Haiwee Reservoir 15 min. Stats: 4 miles rt, 1500' gain, class 2.
These peaks can be done either from the parking area on Cactus Flat, or from the south.
From Cactus Flat, hike east up steep rocky slopes to the summit of McCloud Pk. Continue south 1.5 miles on the undulating ridge to Whitecap Mtn. This peak is identified as "Whitecap Mtn?" in Wheelock's guide, due to its light-colored summit rock. But the register indicates a variety of other names including "Anjoev PV, "Kegebojo PV, and "Biphase PV. Whatever the name, it is the highest in the immediate area and provides nice views. Descend any ridge or gully northwest back to Cactus Flat.
For the alternative southern approach, drive 4 miles east from Hwy 395 on the paved Gill Station Coso Road. Turn north on a graded dirt road 2.3 miles to a northwest turnoff (4244') to park at an abandoned pumice mine. The short spur is good dirt at the outset. Hike to the obvious south ridge of Whitecap Pk. Continue north to McCloud Pk. Reclimb Whitecap, or cross the saddle east to return to the mine.
Near the southern approach are interesting ancient Indian pictographs. Drive 1.3 miles beyond the spur to the roadhead mine, to an active pumice mine at the boundary of NWC. At the mine entrance is a dirt road leading north along the fence to a parking area. A brief trail wends to an enormous, picturesque boulder. The many clear images are under an overhang and are therefore amazingly well-preserved. Obsidian flakes, the remnants of Indian tool-making, are scattered at the base of the boulder. The site is indicated on the 15 min topo (as Indian Petroglyphs). Please respect the site for the enjoyment of others..
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