A while back, I had it in my mind that I was gonna climb this moutain I found, well, actually "found" isn't quite the right word... "saw" is probably more correct, I suppose, but I saw it and decided I was gonna climb it. It lies really close to the freeway, the 15, between Barstow and Baker so it's really easy to get a long, hard look at it. Gully there. Ridge over there. Steep there, not so steep there. I even drove up close to the base of it. Got off the freeway and scouted it. Take the Afton turnoff and just a little ways off the road on the left is the powerline road. Sometimes the when they grade the Afton road, it's hidden, no tire tracks, but you can look for the turnoff where the powerlines cross. Anyway. Looked totally achievable.
Time went by and it slipped in and out of my consciousness for a couple of years. I even went so far as to get a USGS 3-D topo map of the area, y'know, I think they call them 7-1/2 minute maps. Bunch of squiggly lines and there it is. That's what it's called, Cave Mountain. No real caves, apparently, but there some eroded limestone pockets on the South side that look like caves. Got that info from the internet, but no way was I climbing up that way, the back way. There's no road on that side. I thought a good route up would be a prominent ridge on the NW flank. No trail, I'd find my own way up. Couple of Powerbars, some jerky, and I'd be set.
And then I got distracted for a while.
By the time I thought about it again, I had already asked Jessica to marry me and plans for the near future were being made quite furiously. Let's do this! Let's do that! All the stuff you liked doing before, now you want to do it again as a married couple... it's so much fun! When the timing was right, the plan was laid again, with JJ as my climbing partner! Which is perfect, 'cause now neither of us has to worry about the other one if something goes wrong... not that anything's gonna go wrong, of course! Wouldn't do it if it were dangerous!
And off we went. Left the house one Saturday morning about5:30-ish and headed East, no traffic, sky just beginning to lighten when we neared San Berdardino. Long drive into the daybreak and weather is perfect.
For JJ, it's completely new, I suppose, I'm sure she trusts I know what I'm doing. That's what I hope she's thinking, anyway. For me, I'm recognizing the feeling of getting ready to venture into the unknown, not really dangerous, but not necessarily safe, either. It's just stuff that gets my spider sense tingling.
As I drove on the powerline road, I got to my farthest scouting point from before and still it seemed such a long way away. I drove on, down a steep, winding hill (where'd this come from?) and then over a small rise and before I knew it we were in the middle of a super-soft sand wash and I could feel the tires squirming around and sinking even as I picked up the power to get us across the wash. At the far end was a 3-ft sand bank leading back up to the harder part of the road. With a huge bounce up and down we were back on solid ground. Whew. I'd hoped JJ had not seen my nervousness, but I have a fear of driving in the sand. I'm certain I'll get stuck. It's not an irrational fear, I've been stuck a couple of times. I hate it.
We parked in the shadow of a 100-foot tall power tower and got out in the cool shade. Just kidding, those things offer zero shade! We were still kind of far off from the base, but there was a deep gully so we had to park and hike it from there. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, right? Uphill. The whole way, you better believe it.
Cave Mountain is not that tall, y'know, I don't know, maybe 4800 feet, I think? But it comes out of the ground where its, like, 1500 feet, so it's pretty prominent. It's the tallest thing around for miles, that's for sure. By definition, if it comes up out of the surrounding terrain more than 1000 feet, then it's a mountain. Otherwise, it's a hill. I'm just saying, 'cause I know you've never heard of Cave Mountain. It's just some mountain out in the desert on the way to Las Vegas. Right before you go down the hill to the world's largest thermometer.
That's the one we climbed. Which the climb itself wasn't that hard. We made it to the top in 4 hours, only stopped for a little while a couple of times. It was a cool hike. If you looked ahead in the distance while you were climbing, it looked really steep, but by the time you got there, it was just as steep as before. The truck got smaller and smaller. We saw a snake, too, so watch it if you go and you don't like snakes. It wasn't poisonous, but there were some places where you're basically climing up some steep, rocky steps, and he was sunning himself, so there you go.
Wandering around on top we found the summit pyramid, which was quite nice, actually, though I think it's a false summit, just it was the best place to build one. The highest point was on an exposed boulder, which a summit cairn would've just blown down in the wind. We also found the Geologic Marker, and the summit log. The summit log was found near the highest point under some rocks, in a can, in a jar. There was a pen that worked, and a small notepad. We counted it up and we were the 83rd and 84th people on the summit. IN the logbook anyway, which was from the early 80's, it appeared, but there probably hasn't been more than double that up there, just based on the fact that the freeway hadn't always been there. That place used to be pretty damned hard to get to. Remote, and in an area with very little water. Which reminds me. Bring plenty of water for you and anyone in your party better have some, too. If it's not too hot, you could get by with 3 litres each, we did, but bring more if the temperature is high, because you'll lose more fluids.
If you go.
The way down is fun, 'cause, well, it was all downhill! Still took 3 hours! Just head west off the summit until you get to the sadde at the top of the prominent gully on the north side between the bigger and smaller shoulders. Pick your way through on the south side of the steep area and and you'll get to to the saddle. Then, take your time and drop carefully down the gully. It's a fun and scary little hike. About a 1/3 of the way down you feel very walled in and you certainly don't feel like making any noise. The cliffs look packed with loose rocks just waiting for an excuse to fall off. I mean, where do you think the loose rocks you're walking on came from? Outer space? Right above your head.
Thankfully it gets less steep as you come down to the foot of the mountain, but the truck still looked a ways off. Keep your eyes peeled for animal tracks in the sand by the gully. We saw lots. Probably coyotes, but could've been bobcats or something, too. Keep your eyes peeled and you might get lucky. Back to the truck, maybe some cold ones of your choice if you plan ahead and a feeling of satisfying accomplishment is your reward for a day's adventure! Who knew you could go out and just climb a mountain? Trail? Guide book? Bah! Don't need it. Not this time, anyway.
After a white knuckle dash back through the sand wash (I've got to get over this fear... or get a 4-wheel drive!), and two attempts at getting up the rocky, windy hill, we finally made our... wait for it... ESCAPE FROM CAVE MOUNTAIN.
I was dying to write that. The first attempt resulted in a wheel-spinning, rock-throwing cacophony of horsepower overcome by gravity, followed by the off-roader's version of your tail between your legs; backing down the hill with your elbow out the window and your head looking back in disgust. A second attempt, leaving the truck in drive without dropping the hammer on the V-6, yielded much better results. I recommend leaving your vehicle at the top of the hill and hiking over to the base (it's not that far in the scheme of things, an easy 1/2 mile), unless you have the aforementioned 4-wheel drive. Or a combination of stupidity and courage that forces you to see what it is you can't do before you realize you can't do it. Like me.
Your mileage may vary.
Celebrate your summit with a burger in Barstow. After a day like that, even McDonald's can taste pretty damn good.
By the way, if you want to camp and avoid having to leave LA that early to get it all done, just stay straight on the Afton turnoff road and there's a campground down on the left. No shade, no water, vault toilets.
Hope you enjoyed this post, see you next time.