The weekend of January 18th, 2013 had me once again setting off for another remote corner of the desert. The original plan was to head out to Searchlight, Nevada and climb nearby Spirit Mountain, which is about (10² + 8²)^(½) miles from Searchlight, as the crow flies, using the Pythagorean Theorem and the fact that one drives south for 10 miles on the 93 before driving east for 8 miles on a dirt road slightly past Christmas Tree Pass to the starting point for Spirit Mountain. (Yes, this is occasionally a math/physics blogs too) The following day I would climb New York Mountain in Mojave National Preserve. In the end, I was pretty beat after Spirit for some reason, so I tucked my tail between my legs and headed home a day early. Still, I felt quite satisfied, for Spirit Mountain was a great experience.
The drive out to Searchlight had me on the Joshua Tree Highway in Nevada. I couldn’t see most of the surroundings which were swallowed up in the blackness of night. Except for a few sections, which had the unmistakable, contorted silhouettes of Joshua Trees, looking like they were reaching out over the highway, as if they were almost trying to grab my vehicle. I blinked and almost missed the entire town of Nipton, CA, which is a place I recommend for filming the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Searchlight, NV itself was more than a few blinks of the eye long, but I quickly put that town behind me and was once again heading in earnest across the desert.
I was pleased to find the dirt road heading to Spirit was in excellent shape. While driving over Christmas Tree Pass, I noticed the Junipers and Yuccas were actually decorated with tinsel and Christmas ornaments here. This gave me the creeps a bit in the dark, as I pictured some desert loons running around in the middle of nowhere with Christmas decorations, but I appreciated the fun, festive, harmless nature of it later the next day. I finally arrived at Christmas Tree pass a bit after 11PM and crashed in my car for the night, falling asleep to the wind blowing over the pass. I woke up the next morning to a nice scene of the moon setting while the sunrise lit up the nearby hillsides.
The hike starts out for a very short distance on a dirt road, but the route quickly turns into cross country and heads to a small saddle not far from the trail head. The peaceful, beautiful ambiance of the mountain was obvious from the start. In fact, this mountain is a sacred place to the Chemehuevi Indians. I don’t know exactly why, maybe proximity, or local history, or the fact that the peak looks like it is covered in granite steeples, but just the feeling of the place has to factor in somewhere. Along this initial section were some of the healthiest and robust looking chollas I’ve ever seen all in one place. I was sure it was going to be a cactus-jumping fest to get up the peak, but it was as if a heavenly truce was set up between man and cactus here on this sacred mountain. Or, maybe it was just the small use trail one soon encounters near the base, which avoided the cacti by weaving around and past them. There were also some nice looking barrel cactus along this stretch. These barrel cactus had a distinctive purple color in the morning shade, but looked bright red later in the day, when the long shadow of Spirit mountain finally retreated under the advance of the noonday sun and allowed daylight to reach the ground here.
The use trail leads to a tiny saddle between a small tower and the main massif of Spirit Mountain. From here, one traverses over into the main ascent gully used to get up Spirit by most parties. The use trail was fairly solid throughout this section making for considerably easier travel than it would be without it. Still, the going was steep, gaining a couple thousand feet in around a mile. Some Class 2 scrambling was required in a couple sections in addition to the occasional wrestling match with a few bushes. The use trail wasn’t perfect either, so I did manage to lose it for a few brief periods. As I climbed higher between granite spires some expansive nice views opened up off to the West.
After trudging up the main ascent gully, I reached the summit ridge itself where a short jaunt leads to the summit area of Spirit Mountain. Of course, being on sacred ground, something had to be guarding the summit, which took its shape in the form of a Class 3 section that needed to be surmounted.
This was easy enough to climb and I soon found myself on the summit. The views were expansive and I’m pretty sure the photos just don’t do it justice. I humped all my photography gear up there so I had fun playing around with the tripod and taking some panoramas. Those can be seen on our smugmug page (social media button above), but here are a few photos of the summit views.
I also wandered over the lower eastern summit to take in views of Lake Mojave down below. I spent probably a good hour up there soaking it all in before slowly making my way back down. Overall the descent was uneventful. I eventually made my way back down to the tiny saddle behind the small tower near the bottom. The granite spires were all lit in the daylight now and looked beautiful. It seemed like a perfect place to rest and have a bite to eat. I was cozy for about 2 minutes before a bee decided to come along and harass me. I finished my food pacing around a bit since this little guy wouldn’t stay out of my face. I took one last look over towards the granite spires and continued down the use trail with the occasional behemoth barrel cactus and rock cairn marking the way.
On the last little stretch I saw a few big jack rabbits hop away as I walked past the bushes they were hiding in. I relaxed in the back of the 4Runner and enjoyed a couple Hop Notch IPAs from Uinta Brewery my brother-in-law gave us while we were back in Utah for Christmas. I thought I would try and get a few photos of the rabbits before I left, but now that I had my telephoto out they were all gone. Considering it was a 3-4 hour drive back home, it sure went by fast. Great trip!