As we drove down Highway I15 toward the Mojave Desert, I told my hiking partners that I wanted to climb Fountain Peak. By "partners" I mean Dinah Kruze and Sonny Bou. Weeks ago, after Dinah and I told Sonny we were spending a week in Las Vegas, he surprised us by booking the same flight, and now the three of us were motoring toward the Nevada-California border. Anyway, it turns out that both Dinah and Sonny were better informed than I: the access road to Fountain Peak has been closed for years. Fortunately I had a backup plan, Pinto Mountain. Although not as strenuous as Fountain Peak – Pinto is rather tame – it had a few things to offer, such as not driving back without reaching a summit.
As described in Andy Zdon's Desert Summits, the route begins in a wash west of Pinto Mountain. After hiking up this wash, we'll ascend the ridge that leads to the summit.
Not wishing to park on the road, we found a suitable spot on the shoulder, one free of rocks and bushes. Unwittingly though, this placed us too far west and in the wrong wash. But after going over a low ridge, we dropped down into the correct wash. We soon noticed a side wash heading to the ridge we wanted to gain and hiked up it.
After reaching the crest the landscape ahead appeared mesa-like. After crossing a broad, gentle slope we came to bluffs overlooking Round Valley. We had a fine view of the valley, but we were unable to see Pinto Mountain because of a couple of intervening high points. We bypassed the first high point on the right and hiked over the second before seeing the bland, round summit of Pinto. Actually the summit appeared more flat than round. Upon reaching it we couldn't possibly pinpoint the highest point. Undaunted, we climbed as high as we could, up a dead tree, and set the camera timer to take a summit pose.
Instead of returning back along the undulating ridge we found a weakness in the cliff band below Pinto and climbed down (the entire trip was no more than class 2.) We headed across the flats to our car.
When we set out that morning, we knew that the national parks were closed but didn't know if that included the area we were hiking in. However, a note found on our car made it clear: we aren't allowed to stop or park while driving through Mojave National Preserve. A government shut down arising from political disagreement had closed all national recreation areas in the States. It's ironic that hiking, an activity clearly beneficial to one's health and well-being, should fall victim to a debate over healthcare insurance.
The approach wash
Heading up the wash
Jimson-weed bears 4-inch flowers and is highly poisonous
As we hiked up the wash we passed flowering bushes. Before reaching them, they exploded in
a cloud of these butterflies, taking flight as we disturbed them and disappearing in seconds.
Starting up a side wash which will take us to the ridge
Easy ascent to the ridge
After reaching the ridge we dropped down to a broad slope and skirted the high point ahead
on the right
Making our way down the ridge
Skirting the first high point as we make our way to the second one
Ascending the second high point
The highest point we could reach!
Descending a weakness in the cliff band. Table Mountain on the right.
Dinah makes her way down
Heading to the flats
We were attracted to this peculiar white sandstone cliff band
Sonny climbs into a small opening while Dinah looks on
I tried out some natural foot and handholds
Sonny tries to topple the boulder with me on it
Notice found on our windshield
Mid Hills and Pinto Valley 1:24,000 Topos (4.7 mi, 6010 ft, 1220 ft)