These three desert mountains are on the list of California peaks with at least 2,000 feet of topographic prominence. Being at relatively low elevation, a winter excursion is suggested; and, as they are in close proximity, it is efficient to "do" all three on the same journey.
I had planned on climbing these peaks with Dan Baxter one month earlier. Stormy weather and Dan's flu cancelled that concept; and we reschedule for now. John Hamann of Alamogordo, New Mexico is also interested; and he flies to/from Phoenix to join Dan and myself for two of the three - having already climbed Edgar Peak. Thus Dan and I will climb Edgar on Friday, a Leap Day, prior to John's arrival.
I drive north on Interstate 15 to Barstow, then east on Interstate 40 to Essex Junction on Thursday afternoon, a distance of 270 miles from my San Diego home. I continue to the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, eating supper and going to sleep prior to Dan's arrival at 10 p.m. from Fresno. The sun rising around 6:12 a.m., we agree to a 7 a.m. departure for Edgar Peak. Subsequent efforts see us starting earlier to mitigate the rapidly growing heat.
Edgar Peak (elevation 7,162 feet and prominence 2,208 feet)
Dan is not feeling well. After one-half mile and 300 feet of gain he suggests that I continue alone. I agree even though the terrain is quite rough and the flora even worse. The following route description should adequately allow Dan, and others, to summit.
From the north end of the upper parking lot, begin hiking on the Beal Nature Trail, descending at most 50 feet. Turn right at the first arrow (which points left). Turn right at a second arrow, and continue to a sign describing the avian life. Leave the trail and head northwest to the mouth of an obvious canyon at some 4,600 feet.
Continue up-canyon, west, until it turns right (northwest) at some impressive rhyolite volanic plugs, elevation 4,900 feet. Progress now slows markedly as (at least in 2008) there are innumerable stands of prickly pear cacti along the canyon bottom. These and other impediments often force one to veer off-course, boulder-hopping up the canyon as best one can.
At some 5,300 feet the canyon forks into a left (west) and a right (straight ahead) branch. Some DPS (Desert Peaks Section) reports claim this canyon fork is at 5,600 feet. That is incorrect. Continue straight, taking the right branch, noting that the flora is not nearly as nasty. A few cairns confirm you are on-track.
At roughly 6,000 feet the route steepens with at-times scree and talus underfoot. Continue on a heading of 280° true to a skyline saddle at some 6,600 feet. To its left is a dark and foreboding "technical" pinnacle. Clearly you wish to avoid this impediment by keeping it to your south upon reaching the summit ridge - just 0.3 horizontal mile from the summit.
Staying generally on the main ridge, pick your way through impassable rock formations as you head generally north by using all your experience to find the path of least resistance. I could not find a route easier than Class 3 even though the DPS material claims Edgar Peak is just Class 2.
Eventually you spy a 200 foot tall hill - the very summit bump - with a saddle separating it from the rocky terrain currently traversed. A four foot antenna mast confirms the bump's status as range highpoint. Somehow (?) find a route to that saddle by dropping down from the actual ridge. I go east, descending perhaps 50 or 75 feet prior to climbing the summit bump from the east. A better plan is to locate a faint path along the west side of the true ridge for a few hundred horizontal feet prior to the saddle. Then, at the saddle an obvious path leads up the summit bump's south side.
I decide to avoid the main summit ridge for the descent. To accomplish this, descend the summit bump's south side along the obvious path (as of 2008) for some 200 vertical feet. Now one is slightly west of the true summit ridge. Cross-over the rocky ridge at a convenient point, reaching the top of a southeast-facing canyon. From here, aim for any desired point in the canyon reached during the ascent. I choose the 6,000 foot level, get there, and descend the now familiar terrain.
With 20 minutes on the summit my round-trip consumes 6 hours 25 minutes for a net elevation gain of some 2,900 feet. The total gain is a bit over 3,000 feet owing to the slight re-ascent at the very end to the parking lot; and to the route's inevitable ups-and-downs.
I recommend one consider diverging from the ascent route at 6,000 feet by heading straight for the saddle immediately west of the summit bump. This avoids traversing the summit ridge in both directions.
I am pleased to have climbed a peak on Leap Day - and wish the summit register had been signed because "February 29, 2008" would have appeared most unusual.
Clipper Mountains Highpoint (elevation 4,594 feet and prominence 2,051 feet)
The plan was to climb Providence next. When John H. arrives just after 5 p.m. we caravan west to a parking spot along a dirt road and camp for the night. A cheerful fire is provided by Dan's Duraflame half-log as we talk after supper until eight.
Having agreed to a 6 a.m. departure, we enter my pickup truck and head west to the Providence Mountains. John's rental car won't negotiate the rough road, and, with four wheel drive and good clearance, my vehicle is the most capable for the task.
After only 0.8 mile our road peters-out. This route, suggested in a 1992 report, clearly has deteriorated to undrivability.
However Clipper beckons us due south, across the freeway, and we switch plans for the day.
I drive under Interstate-40 through a tunnel, continuing towards Clipper along a decent road that eventually leads to an abandoned mine. Note that tunnel access is only possible from the north along the dirt roads we camped near. After the tunnel we continue south until the road enters a washbed. Unable to locate where it exits, and concerned about both sand and rocks, we return to a reasonable parking spot and begin the climb at 7:30 a.m.
The route taken differs from the obvious, preferred path which has one simply walk the abandoned mine road. Nevertheless both our route and the preferred one converge at the base of a gulley that accesses the east-west summit ridge.
The gulley is climbed south, and at it's top we are just 0.12 mile northeast of the summit at a ridge saddle. A huge summit cairn greets us on arrival; while a triple-canned summit register is located on the cairn's north side.
Dan arrives well after John and myself since he is still not "100%" due to illness. Nonetheless we have some 20 minutes on-top, enjoying food and the views, prior to descending the aforementioned gulley. We then continue north to the abandoned mine for accessing the road back to "DENALY".
The net elevation gain is 2,300 feet; the duration 6 hours 25 minutes - coincidentally identical to my time on Edgar Peak. However Edgar Peak is far the harder and more arduous effort. Today's climb consumes as much time because we get "off-route" on the ascent; and because John and I wait for Dan at numerous rest breaks.
Back at our vehicles, Dan says goodbye as he clearly has not recovered enough to climb Providence the next day. Here the issue of speed is exacerbated because John must make a 9:30 p.m. flight from Phoenix a full 4 1/2 hour drive from Essex Junction - and there is one hour "lost" in driving to Arizona from the time zone shift. Dan compensates me (as will John H.) for the gasoline and effort of driving in my truck.
In addition Dan gives me a quart of sweet potato bisque soup (from Trader Joe's) that we were going to enjoy that evening with our respective meals. Writing this report the next Tuesday, I plan to have a good amount of it this evening, with some roasted chicken, after my habitual "urban backpacking" that I perform to stay conditioned. The two items will pair quite well.
John and I drive to a camp near BM Providence for the next day. It is now windy, and I park "DENALY" at such an angle as to have the tailgate downwind for cooking macaroni and cheese with canned salmon. We enjoy conversation until well after sunset, eventually sitting in John's rental to avoid the gathering chill.
Having back-calculated when John must be at Essex Junction for his flight, we hedge our bet on how long Providence could take in driving, again in "DENALY", by 5:30 a.m. I set my watch's alarm feature to 4:40 a.m. as wind howls by the truck.
BM Providence (elevation 6,611 feet and prominence 2,149 feet)
The following approach and route description should adequately allow peakbaggers to climb BM Providence.
From Essex Junction (100 miles east of Barstow along Interstate 40) drive 9.5 miles northwest on pavement in the direction of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. At this junction turn left (west) on the dirt road leading towards Foshay Pass, the key saddle separating Edgar Peak and BM Providence. Continue 0.4 mile and bear slight left (southwest) onto a second dirt road. Continue on this road 4.7 miles southwest to an obvious road junction. Thus far the roads are accessible by any two wheel drive, low-clearance vehicle. We camp here, at the road junction, since the next road is impassible to John's rental. We explore said road for the next morning.
From the junction zero your odometer and drive west-northwest on the often sandy road, one which becomes rocky after less than one mile. At 1.0 mile make certain to stay right rather than take a possible weak fork to the left. Continue, if possible, to 2.8 miles where the road appears to end just short of a wash. Park here at some 3,600 feet. The road is not shown on any chart we have.
To avoid scratching your vehicle's paint with brush it is best to starting walking from the road junction where we camped. That will, of course, add some 2-3 hours and 800 feet of elevation gain to the round-trip.
Hike south-southwest one mile to near the abandoned Providence Mine at 3,900 feet. Unable to locate it, we then hike west to intersect an "Old Railroad Grade" that leads to a second mine at 4,900 feet and near the base of a gulley that leads to a 5,700 foot saddle north-northeast of the summit. Prior to reaching the mine area, the obvious path descends all of 50 feet at a sharp bend before regaining the elevation.
Our plan is to ascend the gulley. It is brush-choked near the base, and we bash our way through this thicket on the south side to find, much to our joy, a path leading out of the gulley. Said path generally zigzags south up a slope to a flat area immediately west of a 5,300 foot hilltop.
We are now on a prominent ridge descending east from the summit - now just 1,300 feet above.
Climb the ridge, shallow for the first 300 vertical feet (to 5,600 feet) and then somewhat steeply at times, easily avoiding the larger rock obstacles. You may have to make a few Class 3 moves. About 300-400 horizontal feet east of the summit is a bouldered subpeak with minimal prominence. Climb along its north side to an obvious break in the ridge connecting it on the west with the true summit. Walk along now nearly level terrain west to the obvious summit, contouring on the south side of a boulder outcrop halfway there. Hike the remaining 100 vertical feet and enjoy the expansive views.
On the summit I share an onion roll and a tin of sardines in olive oil with John. Remarkably, peanut butter and sardines make a decent combination. It is a bit windy, and a second layer is needed plus gloves - quite a shift from the two earlier efforts.
We descend the east ridge to just west of the 5,300 foot hilltop. We decide to avoid retracing our ascent path since that would lead us to the brushy gulley just west of the mine. I recommend that you contour around the northwest side of said hill, perhaps 30 feet below its summit, and continue, descending slightly (under a vertical cliff) until you reach it's north slope. From here it is an easy 400 foot descent to the "Railroad Grade" path.
It is easy to take this line for the ascent, climbing the hill's north slope to access the main, east-trending ridge. This prescription avoids entering the brushy gulley which proved quite unenjoyable.
Having started the climb at 6:00 a.m., we return to "DENALY" at 12:09 p.m. for a 6 hour 9 minute duration including the summit break. This gives John plenty of time to make his flight. I claim this time is faster than most will require, and consider 7 hours a more reasonable total duration car-to-car.
At pavement we part ways after a rewarding weekend. My truck truck odometer reads 619.0 miles on returning home, the drive along Interstates 40 and 15 being uneventful.