Old Woman and Sheephole Trip Report

Dates: March 2-5, 2005

Feeling the need to "get OUT there" after a month of being homebound, I arranged a 2,000+ foot prominence peakbagging trip to the desert with Richard Carey of San Diego.

The plan was to climb three mountains on as many days - including Spectre, highpoint of the Coxcomb Range, as number three.

We met in the remote wildnerness under the northwest slopes of Old Woman at sundown on Wednesday, March 2. I had traveled north on Interstate 15; thence east from Barstow on Interstate 40; thence east on old Route 66, through abandoned Amboy; and finally past a railroad crossing at Danby in-the-middle-of-nowhere.

Our camping site and trailhead was at the wilderness boundary fenceline, some 5.7 sandy, 4WD miles east southeast from Danby and some three-quarters mile closer towards our goal than the presumed trailhead at NAD27 zone 11 (3830722 N, 658977 E). Our GPS units both read roughly 2,500 feet. We had shaved-off 1.5 miles of walking and perhaps 200 feet of elevation gain for the following day.

After supper I shared a fresh bottle of vanilla cognac with Richard.

We took the DPS (Desert Peaks Section) route "B". This was Richard's third time on the summit, having gone the "A" route previously.

Water coursed down the ravine that is taken to access the summit ridge. Heavy rains had preceeded the climb - the wettest season in Southern California since the nineteenth Century!

The climb entailed some 2,750 feet of net (and total) elevation gain, and consumed some 6 hours - including a 40 minute summit siesta under ideal conditions. A nearby pinnacle is shown as 1,619 meters on the USGS topographic chart - lower than the 1,623 meters of BM Woman where we stood. To my eye, however, I could not tell that we were higher.

We caravaned to Sheephole by 1:30 p.m., passing through Amboy and then south on decent pavement. The Sheephole trailhead for DPS route "B" was not available due to a locked gate in advance of the wilderness boundary. We drove to a radio tower some half mile north and managed to follow some obscure track east to just about where the presumed trailhead is located - NAD27 zone 11 (3789188 N, 618544 E) at 770-780 meters elevation.

That afternoon and into the evening, Richard and I experimented with a new shortwave radio I had purchased. We also listening to his own rig built into his vehicle. A thirty foot piece of insulated wire was fastened to the telescoping antenna of my unit with an alligator clip. The signal strength was enhanced remarkably by the makeshift antenna.

Indeed, the previous evening the wire's free end was attached to the wilderness boundary fence to further increase its effective size.

We pulled-in distant broadcasts - New Zealand, South Korea, China, and even Petropavlovsk on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula! That was a "first" for me.

The next night saw none of these stations - evidently we had "struck the jackpot" only on this, the evening of Thursday, March 3.

The following morning we set out at 7 a.m. after a breakfast featuring granola with banana (Richard), and hot oatmeal with dried blueberries, cashews, and powdered milk (Adam).

The route was steep, on a heading of roughly 105 degrees true, up a boulder-strewn gully the leads clear up some 400 meters (1,300 feet) to a pair of prominently visible pinnacles on the skyline. We found the going easier by staying to the right of center. Aim for the skyline in-between the pinnacles but trend to the right when making any micronavigation choice.

An enormous, two-tone chocolate and tan boulder guards the top of the gully at the point you should return to on descent. Note your surroundings and, if possible, save a GPS waypoint here prior to striking out for the summit.

Once atop this gully we headed south and southeast on easy terrain to the summit area, a distance of perhaps one mile as the crow flies, passing to the left (east) of the intervening subpeak along a cairned path. The path sidehills the subpeak prior to ascending its southeast slope, with a slight turn right, and topping out at a saddle with an obvious cairn. Do not stray low as you sidehill the subpeak - the cairned path is only perhaps 100 feet beneath its summit.

We continued to the summit some 350 feet higher than the aforementioned saddle and a few tenths of a mile to the south southeast. The final 200 vertical feet has no easy way up. Choose your route wisely amongst the slabs and boulders. We climbed from the west thinking that a northern approach would be tougher.

The last 15-20 vertical feet entails surmounting the summit boulder. Our route, perhaps the easiest, is from the north, and is certainly class 3+. I had to leave my large daypack below in order to confidently downclimb this short section.

We ate lunch beneath the summit boulder. Richard had given me a tin of smoked oysters, which I enjoyed with Jewish challah bread, aged Italian pecorino romano cheese, and garlic salt. We had taken three hours for the ascent, having arrived just after ten.

We begin the descent at 10:43 a.m., taking a different route down the summit area - more to the south and southwest than our previous route from the west. Regardless, there were a few times when we had to retrace our path owing to large dropoffs. Again, there is no simple means of surmounting (or downclimbing) Sheephole's final 200 vertical feet!

Back at the vehicles by 1:15 p.m., we caravaned south along the Iron Age Road to Route 62; thence east some 20 miles to the trailhead for Spectre of the Coxcomb Range. The relevant road junction, at the highway, is at NAD27 zone 11 (3773640 N, 645768 E).

We found a locked gate only 100 yards from the highway, and thus were unable to drive to the presumed trailhead at the wilderness boundary some one-half mile south.

Even with the (correct) trailhead available, Spectre was the longest hike of the three. Richard had already done it, THRICE, from different DPS routes. I had satisfied my desire to do something. Finally, the skies were clouding over, with rain in the forecast for the following day - Saturday.

I decided to abort the effort. That said, we both looked forward to a weenie roast with Hebrew National hot dogs, followed by toasting marshmallows over a wood fire. Thereby, instead of simply driving home (in Friday rush hour traffic through the Inland Empire near Riverside), we decided to make camp some 4 miles east (along Route 62), thence 1.3 miles north on a mainly unfrequented road.

After gathering some dry tinder, Richard's wood was set ablaze using my Coleman camping fuel. We had no long tongs for holding the hot dogs. After some tries using a fork as skewer, I found that the shovel used for digging the pit for our fire served as an excellent device for roasting hot dogs.

Each dog, after being split lengthwise, was placed on a corn tortilla laden with condiments. The tortilla was then placed on the exceedingly hot shovel's broad paddle, and was instantly charred a nice black. The hot dog took a half-minute to achieve that smoky flavor ... and all was well with the world.

Richard shared some Rugalach with me - Jewish pastry with cream cheese and various fillings, purchased from Trader Joe's. Although tea was the best option to complement them, I opted to have my piece with chocolate pudding spiked by vanilla cognac.

The marshmallows could be toasted quite easily by skewering with a fork. I opted to enjoy mine completely burned, with a black crust formed after being literally set on-fire. Richard commented that I must "Have a carbon deficiency"!

We awoke around 5:45 a.m. and parted ways by 7 o'clock - Richard to the fourth mountain on his itinerary, McCoy near the Arizona border, and myself towards home in San Diego. It rained as I drove east through Twentynine Palms and then Yucca Valley. Things cleared by the time I hit Interstate 10 west of Palm Springs near Banning Pass.

Richard got McCoy - as I had learned by calling his home the following day. He reports that the last entry in the summit register was Mark Adrian on Jan. 3, 1996 with no one in the intervening years! There were quite a few people climbing McCoy back in the 70's and 80's due to an article around 1974 in the DPS newsletter.

This trip consumed 577 road miles, bringing my Tacoma truck past the 30,000 mile mark.

I suspect that Edward Earl will get interested in going with me to Spectre of the Coxcomb Range - yet another reason why I decided to cancel climbing it on the current journey.