Pinto Mountain, Orocopia Mountains
By: George Neuner
Recent rains followed by warm sunshine had started to bring out the Spring wildflower disp1ay in the desert around Joshua Tree National Monument, although the full show was yet a few weeks off. Our group met at the Cottonwood Spring Visitor Center at 9am Saturday after car-pooling from LA. We picked out a campsite in the campground for our Saturday night stay, then drove north about 16 miles to a back-country departure station in the middle of the Pinto Basin desert.
A two mile hike brought us to the base of the Pinto Mountains. Gophers had tunneled everywhere in the soft sand and we frequently plunged into the sand halfway to the knee. It was like walking through a mine field. Climbing was moderately strenuous in the mountains - about 2500' of elevation gain in two miles, counting the ups and downs of ridges and canyons. Reaching the summit at 1pm were: Star Williams, Anna Zorna, Al Hill and myself. The view was spectacular.
Dinner and the campfire back at the campground brought forth an array of booze and sweets for sharing.. Deteriorating weather and an increasing desert breeze prompted us to put up our tents for the night.
The next morning was bleak and gray. The ranger forecast rain in the afternoon.. Undaunted, we packed our gear and proceeded south to the Orocopia Mountain range. We checked out a few dirt roads leading to the base of the range but decided, with rain eminent, we didn't want to risk driving where we could be stranded by flash floods. We left the cars back on the paved highway, which added two extra hours of hiking to the climb of Orocopia.
We put our raingear in our packs and started off fully expecting the worst but hoping the weather would clear. Four hours of hiking and climbing, including some second class bouldering, brought us to a ridge 1/2 mile and 500 feet below the summit. We stared at the summit amidst fierce winds and a blackening sky and decided the wiser thing to do was to head back. The rain started when we were halfway back but, fortunately, the real downpour didn't come until we were safely in our cars driving home. Although we didn't make the summit, we came across the skeleton of a big horn sheep and I have a beautiful set of horns as a souvenir of the trip.
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