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Tortoise Shell Mountain
Mojave National Preserve, California
April 16, 2016

Tortoise Shell Mountain is one of the easiest peaks that Dinah and I have climbed in the Mojave Desert. Navigation to the low peak is simple and it’s class 2 all the way. In his book, Desert Summits, Zdon suggests starting at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground and striking out for Black Canyon Wash, a wash that leads to Tortoise Shell Mountain. But we parked next to the wash, across the road from the campground at Hole-in-the-Wall Fire Centre, and headed down the wash.

Zdon suggests following the wash all the way to the south side of Point 1247, but again, we took liberties with his route. We took a shortcut, hiking over a low plateau north of Point 1247. This took us out of the monotonous wash and into some beautiful scenery. Indeed, the desert landscape here, with its variety of flowering cactus, was one of the most colourful we’ve seen. Everywhere were yellow, orange and pink flowers.

Our only concern in taking the shortcut across the plateau was being cliffed out: to get to Tortoise Shell we had to cross Burro Canyon. Fortunately, that turned out to be easy. We found a good spot to hike down to the canyon floor. We then headed up the gentle east slopes of the mountain. Except for nearly stepping on a snake, we reached the summit without incident.

We took photos and signed the summit register dating back to 1978. Despite its long history, however, Tortoise Shell Mountain isn't popular: the register hadn't seen a signature in two years.

The summit was too windy to stay long so we retreated. We lunched out of the wind in Burro Canyon before returning to our car. We love this picturesque area and plan to return to climb nearby Woods Mountain.

KML and GPX Tracks


We parked close to the wash on the left


A few minutes after starting out we came across a gate and a herd of cattle


After turning a corner Tortoise Shell Mountain came into view


On the right is Point 1247. Zdon suggests keeping right to go around it, but we cut across the low plateau
left of it.


A cattle trail leads to the ridge (I made a small cairin)


The slight elevation gain and loss was worth taking a shortcut


We followed the trail until it disappeared


For the rest of the climb we were treated to some fine desert scenery


The area held a surprising number of cactus flowers (mouse over to view entire plant)


What a place to build a nest!


On the east edge of Burro Canyon


We crossed the canyon and climbed the other side


Dinah makes her way down talus


Looking back across the canyon. Point 1247 lies in the foreground. We often used it to get our bearings.


Heading to the summit


A yucca with seed pods (mouse over)


I nearly stepped on this two-foot-long western patched-nosed snake lying in the sun


Hedgehog cactus with a profusion of flowers


Prickly pear cactus


From here it's a stroll to the summit


Dinah and I stand on the windy summit of Tortoise Shell Mountain


Columbia Mountain and Woods Mountain 1:24,000 Topos (6.8 mi, 4596 ft, 725 ft)

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