Thursday, May 24, 2012

Skid Plates Are Great

I did a bad thing.  Very bad.  I broke several of my rules for tackling bouldery terrain.  My general rules are: (1) get out and recon the route on foot, (2) pick your route in advance, (3) drive slow and listen for any contact with the rocks, (4) back up if you hit something unexpected, and (5) let the truck do its thing (don't force or rush things, and use the truck's capabilities).  

I made several mistakes.  First, I did get out and recon, and I picked a route.  That's where my brain stopped working.  I got into the truck and then proceeded to drive a different route.  Bad idea.  

I didn't stop when I heard (and felt) the truck run up onto a boulder.  I should have stopped because that was not part of the plan.  I kept going forward.  Bad idea.  

I was turning around in a wash along a BLM route east of Barstow.  There was one, and only one, huge boulder nearby and I managed to run right over it.  It's about the size of a 2 yo sitting cross legged in the sand.  OK, that's a bit of exaggeration, but just barely.  You can see it in these photos.

You can see from my tire tracks that the boulder went down one side of the truck, so it didn't hit the transfer case and I have more ground clearance along that line.  Not enough though.

After hitting the rock, I should have waited for the truck to sense it was high-centered and automatically raise the suspension higher.  Then I could have raised it even higher after that.  But I forgot all that and just kept driving until I was free of the thing.

I was very worried that I might have done some serious damage and might be leaking some vital fluid.  There weren't any signs of leaks, but I didn't take any chances.  I changed my plans and took the shortest trail back to civilization.

Luckily, there was no serious damage.  In the end, I was saved by the factory skid plates under the Land Rover.  Without that, the gas tank would have been ruptured or ripped out.  Here's a photo showing the underside of the truck.  You can see the longitudinal indentation in the skid plate that covers the gas tank as well as the dent in the lateral frame member.

For the record, here is a google map centered on the location of my mishap.  I was driving a natural gas pipeline service road that is also a BLM open route.  Sometimes I drive these roads as an alternative to the highway.  Why?  Because I can.  Plus, I often come across interesting things and wildlife out there.

You can see that the map is not centered on the marked route (google maps shows much of the route I was driving).  I got lost and had started south in that wash.  After getting out and walking around, I decided that I was going the wrong direction and I was turning around to return to the trail.  I hit the boulder while turning around.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Striped Mountain

I recently hiked Striped Mountain.  Don't be impressed.  I'm not referring to the 13k foot peak in the Sierras.  I hiked a small hill in the Mojave Desert named Striped Mountain.  It's not even listed in the popular peak bagging websites.

Striped Mountain is south of I-15 in California near the Nevada border.  It's very near the famous Kokoweef Peak, which allegedly sits atop a fortune in gold.  It's also very near the big rare earth metals mining operation by Molycorp at Mountain Pass.  Here's a google map centered on Striped Mountain.  It's a nice little hill.

If you have a decent 4wd truck, you can drive part way up on an old mining shelf road.  It's pretty flat and stable but steep.

Here's a shot of the hill from the end of the 4wd road.

The next shot looks down from the summit to that road.

Looking south, you can see Kessler Peak, Teutonia Peak, and the broad bulging Cima Dome.

Kokoweef is seen to the north.  That hill is one of the most famous lost gold discoveries in California.  There's allegedly a fortune in placer gold under that peak in black sands that line the bottom and ledges of a huge underground canyon.

There are many old mining claim posts in the area.  On previous visits to the area I'd opened some of them to look at the claim forms.

I wanted a short hike to test my new hiking boots (Timberland Washington Summit Gore-Tex).  Good thing too.  They did not fit well.  My toes and forefeet kept moving around in the large toe boxes of the boots.  I was really worried that I'd get blisters and I was eager to finish the hike and get them off.  I also noticed that my ankle rolled a lot when stepping on rocks.  That was disconcerting.  The boots don't appear to have as much ankle support as other boots I've owned, and I might twist an ankle while hiking in them.

I hadn't tried these boots on before buying them.  Instead I relied on my experience with my previous Timberland boots that fit very well.  So well, I was sad when they started falling apart - mostly from the lava rocks in the desert.

While I was in the area, I decided to drive up the dirt road to the "trailhead" parking area for hiking Mescal Mountain, just to the north of Striped.  That's it in the photo above with the nearly vertical sedimentary stripes.  A 2wd high clearance vehicle can make it that far, but beyond that the road gets very rugged.  Andy Zdon reports in his book "Desert Summits" that the route is to walk up the 4wd road to the ridgeline and then hike along that ridge to the eventual summit.  I'll return some day to hike that one when the temps are cool and I have better fitting boots.

I drove back past Kokoweef to the highway and noticed a lot of new construction at the Molycorp mine area at Mountain Pass.  It looks like the rare earth mineral business has been very good to Molycorp.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kelso Peak

I hiked Kelso Peak in the Mojave National Preserve yesterday with Luke.  I chose this easy peak because I haven't been hiking in a while.   The last time I hiked Kelso was in 2005.  The summit register indicates that only a few people hike it each year.

The hike looks daunting from the starting point, however that is deceptive.  As we approached the peak while walking across the desert, it looked smaller and smaller.  Then, once we walked up the wash around to the back side, the summit approach was right in front of us and easy.

We parked at a pullout off Kelbaker Road where the powerlines cross the road.  This time I decided to follow the old disused 2-track mentioned by Andy Zdon in his book "Desert Peaks."  That actually made it easier to cross the desert, since it reduced the time and distance required to dodge the scrub.  It was sometimes hard to see the track under our feet, but easier to see it off in the distance.

That track doesn't quite reach the peak, and when it petered out we hiked southeast to cross several ravines in order to reach the wash that heads up a canyon north of the peak.  Once in the wash, it's a pleasant walk.  It takes you past a large guzzler maintained by volunteers to provide water for big game in the area.

Don't forget to look for the big rock with a hole in it.

We found a large rock formation that provided a great place to rest in shade before scrambling up to the summit.  Here's a view of the summit from that large rock.

As you get higher, you can choose any route you like.

Here's a photo looking south toward Kelso Dunes, and one looking north toward where we parked the car.

The next shot shows the wash we came up and the rock were we rested, which makes a nice landmark for returning to the wash.

The next two shots show Old Dad Mountain in the distance.  We've hiked that before.  It's much harder.  You can also make out a disused microwave relay station on an intermediate ridge.  I've driven to that station to check it out.  The road up that ridge is very rough.

On our return, we startled two large big horn sheep feeding just beside the wash.  I was too slow to get my camera out, so I didn't get any good photos.  As they quickly ran away I barely captured them in a video.  Here's a screencap.

It took us 2.5 hours to reach the summit.  My GPS receiver indicated the round trip distance was about 7.5 miles.

This was a fun hike.  The next morning I was a little sore.  Clearly, I need to get into better shape.  Luckily, I avoided any muscle cramps.  I tried a new electrolyte replenishment protocol and I think it helped.

For more information, you can read Bob Burd's trip report here.  He hiked it a few months ago and his name was the last name on the summit register.