Warm Point, Saline Peak, Blacktop
By: Erik Seiring
Over the Easter weekend, Bob Sumner and I scaled points in the vicinity of the Saline Valley hot springs. In the wake of a scheduled PPS lead that was aborted last year, we climbed Warm Point on Friday, followed by a loop of Saline Peak and Blacktop on Saturday. The fine Palm Spring, the middle warm spring, served as our base. A howling storm struck on Saturday evening, abbreviating our plans for Sunday.
Warm Pt is the benchmark southeast of the springs, seen prommently on the drive in across the valley. We started from our Palm Spring camp, a hundred feet from the pool. Heading,,5puth across the flats, we -the4, hiked the trail up Peace Hill (the distinctive red volcanic spur has a large peace sign fashioned on its flank) to gain the west ridge. We ascended the ridge for a long time, initially on the use trail to an airstrip. The summit became visible when we reached the flats at 5600' on rolling terrain. We dropped 400' to the base of an escarpment composed of a broad band of dark volcanic debris. The evident highpoint was several hundred feet higher yet after we scrambled onto the surnmit plateau. Only benchmarks and the remnants of a surveying reflector were found, with no sign of foot traffic. We left a register and briefly viewed the environs... the wind was bone-chilling.
We opted for a faster, though less certain return route. The canyons were ruled out due to sheer dry waterfalls. The topo indicated a moderate northwest ridge leading to the valley floor, which would enable us to take the road west past the Upper Warm Spring to our campsite. The ridge went well at reasonably steep, loose class 2. Later scanning back, it appeared the only safe and sane descent amidst the northwest span of crumbling canyons and precipitous ridges. I then savored wine and the warm company back at the hot spring, while Bob ruminated over beers the next day's adventure.
Early Saturday morning we drove to the Saline Pk takeoff described well in both the Sierra Club desert guide and Doug Bear's SAGE account. We took care to park at the side of the Steel Pass road. The spur is faint and blocked off by rocks; it appeared to constitute off-road driving which merits a citation by the NPS. We were wary from our recent encounter with the disagreeable BLM over a similar matter. During the weekend, NPS rangers twice drove through this otherwise lightly traveled corridor.
Beyond the teardrop-shaped basalt outcropping, we followed a tan ridge to the north of that described in the Dougs' route, eventually joining it higher up. The ascent went quickly under cold and cloudy skies. Atop in just over two hours, we enjoyed the vistas of the snow-capped Inyos and gazed at the route of the Lonesome Miner Trail. Despite the strong, freezing winds that have deterred others, we persisted in crossing the southern ridge and plateau to attain the benchmark named Blacktop. This striking black (duh!) volcanic mesa has a sharp western escarpment and a nice reverse view of Saline Pk. The registers on both summits are in good condition, with sign-ins harking back to Wes Shelberg's initial Sierra Club exploratory forays.
Our descent was again nonstandard. Rather than traverse the tedious flats and gullies to retrace our approach, we chose the ridge that bisects the light-colored "Chalk Canyon" in order to explore the lower canyon for reported Indian petroglyphs. The petroglyph location was unknown to us. The ridge terminated in exposed, steep class 1 chalk, best described as "a slip is a death slide." Entertaining, but not recommended. We reached the canyon bottom below a dry waterfall with an enormous dark chockstone.
Tracks in the pleasant wash floor gave us hope that the petroglyphs were nearby, as they were. We examined them all closely and took photographs. We also observed a yard of narrow stone that had been drilled and cut by modem tools. The unfortunate implication was that collectors had removed a strip of the etched rock. Adjoining was a beautiful slot canyon comparable to those of Utah and Arizona. The easy class 3 shelves went up for some time, the eerie rock alcoves interacting with the midday light and shadows in an enticing manner. The many footprints in the sand indicated its popularity with visitors.
Upon exiting the main wash, we veered north to return to the parking area. Our climbing plans for Sunday were deferred by a storm that evening which enveloped the Saline Valley and much of the state. Several others and I were soaking in the hot spring, when a severe dust and gravel-laden windstorm from the east scoured the area and pelted us with debris. Airborne cooler lids and lawn chairs! We hunkered down for what shelter the pool offered, until spectacular nearby lightening strikes prompted us to finally run for safety. Morning revealed a snowy dusting of the mountains, making for a lovely drive home. After another soak, of course.
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