RYAN MOUNTAIN (5,461') 4X, MITCHELL PEAK (7,048') AND EDGAR PEAK (7,162') 2X

October 30-November 3, 2002

Not too early this season to visit the California Desert, I left town Wednesday to drive to Barstow, CA, to ease myself into a short road trip and multiple peak climbs. Lodging is fairly inexpensive here, with low room rates mid-week.

Getting up early Thursday, I drove over to Joshua Tree National Park for some photography and easy hiking. I first motored in at the northwest and paid the $10 for the entrance fee. I stopped for many quick digital photos. Motoring to the Ryan Mountain trailhead, I hiked the peak in 50 minutes, and with dismal lighting, stayed only a short time on top. A few other hikers came up to see the unique desert view.

Deciding to camp in the park, I motored into Twentynine Palms, CA, to get some more food, then parked at the free Jumbo Rocks Campground. I hiked upon the rocks near my campspot for views, and enjoyed a nice sunset. I enjoyed the profuse display of shooting stars, having counted maybe one every ten minutes during some viewing from my sleeping bag.

Getting up early again Friday, I motored back into Twentynine Palms to have an early, light breakfast, and to wait for the one supermarket to open to get goodies for the peak camp. Taking the Amboy Road north, I shot many photos, and thought of what I could do today.

I came to the Providence Mountains Mitchell Caverns State Park by mid-morning to hike the short trails, and take the caves tour for my third time. I wondered how my Coolpix would do in the dimly lit caves with a flash used. My hand was steady enough to get a good image of the interior lighting mixed along with the flash's light. Other visitors were also using digital cameras with LCDs. With film, your shots may not turn out well, but with instant review features on higher end digital cameras, you can see immediately how the shots came out.

I went to our nearby designated meeting spot to wait for early arrivals of our group. During a fair sunset, I munched on my grocery food, and then trucks began pulling in. I suggested campsites away from the park road, which had little traffic.

I slept well, and was up at 5:10 a.m. to get ready for our double day climb. Everyone showed up on time, and I secured a ride in a 4WD truck. Two trucks were left at the park visitor center, and then we motored up the now rocky, eroded road to the Bonanza King Mine, where the climb for Mitchell Peak begins.

Starting our ascent by 7:25 a.m. the leader took us up a steep ridge. We did well, leading me to hope our first peak would be topped quickly. Reaching the east ridge, we ran into tedious traversing, with third class moves required already. I had hoped that Mitchell would take 4 hours, the traverse 3, and the downclimb 3. We were slower on all counts.

By 11:40 a.m., we topped Mitchell, and despite my offers to lead going back, all continued on toward Edgar. The leader considered an abort, but all were quite game. Few DPS peaks can be climbed together, with two for the same day.

I had remembered some of the route from my first time in 1986, but now on the ridge traverse, it was not to be as easy as one might imagine, looking at distant photo views. We descended from Mitchell on its south side, then came to a rock band. A break in the cliffs provided a short class 3 climb. With the brittle, sharp rock and the many cacti, blood was being drawn already.

With more scrambling and good route-finding, we came to a speedier traverse along the main ridge. Then, after rests and regrouping, it was only a thousand feet left to climb for Edgar Peak. With a straight shot up, we summited at 3:30 p.m. The sun was getting low on the horizon, and we knew we would be hiking after dark. There was no moon, and the terrain would be difficult.

After our final, short, summit rest, we started down to the south, for a new route to me. A use trail leads steeply to a notch, with vertical drops in almost every direction. We had to determine we were taking the right route, and I photographed the alpenglow and setting sun as some of us waited. This is a sight that few sensible people would ever have!

Finding our route down, we hurried along as the sun set and the light began to fade. We dropped maybe 1,500 feet when we had to stop to break out lights. At points we had a use trail to follow, with other sections with large boulders. We lost the trail, then came to a cliff. Our fine leaders went over to the right to find it.

Hikers were tired. A couple climbers lost their balance, easy to do in the pitch black canyon, and one fell right into a clump of beavertails. Yeeoouch! I put my hand into a barrel cactus, thinking it was a rock, and picked up a cholla ball somewhere. One hiker's headlamp batteries were going out. I offered my spares, but others took care of him.

We had to go slow, as each was dependent on the hiker in front of them to know where exactly to step. My driver took two spills, scaring me with the word, "broken," coming up. I thought we were dead with a leg snapped, but it was just glasses. We had a rest while repairs were ongoing. I enjoyed the nice conditions, with no wind, me in my T-shirt, and the careful, deliberate scrambling. This was my most serious nighttime wilderness peak travel next to a descent of the U-Notch Couloir on North Palisade 30 years before.

The steepness lessened, making the hiking easier. A nice sandy use trail led down a wash. We speculated on some lights in the distance, then someone spotted a road sign. I came to blacktop by 8:38 p.m., with thus over three hours spent night scrambling. Another DPS couple who had done the one peak this day, and gratefully had left ducks, greeted us. I drank a liter of water from the park faucet, having run out of liquid just down from the second summit. I had brought only two liters of water plus two cans of soda.

We stuffed ourselves into our two waiting shuttle trucks, with the drivers to go back to the Bonanza King Mine to retrieve their vehicles. Our driver's truck went to our campsite, and I got back to my car. I munched on more food and drink, and it began to get cold. We had some chips and dip for the non-driving survivors, then finally at 10:30 p.m or so, the rest of the group came back.

Aside from the lateness of the day, all went fairly well. With reserve energy, food was prepared, with salads and soup on the table. A campfire was started, and it was a pleasant late evening, with all safe, albeit some scratched and bloody, but now comfortably warm. Lesser hikers might have suffered a terrible accident or a night out, but all of us were highly experienced mountaineers.

I dozed off after midnight, and got up early to make my long drive home.

Ryan is some 4 miles round trip with 1,000' gain. Our double day climb entailed some 8 miles with 4,000' gain total, by the leader's rough stats. It was just another great day in the history of the Desert Peaks Section!

I shot some 430 digital images, with a few Kodachrome slides. I drove some 1,250 miles, spending some $125, in cash, total.