By: Igor Mamedalin
Due to the lack of a federal budget the National Parks were closed, including Joshua Tree. Hence, in an attempt to burn-off some accumulated holiday calories, Igor, Suzanne and Tanya decided to approach Pinto from the north. Using the Joshua Tree National Monument Recreational Map (scale 1:125000), the Dalton Mine was selected as the most promising jumping off point.
1.5 miles further take yet another right fork; in 1.2 miles a 4-way crossroad is reached, take the fainter straight ahead road heading due south and immediately crossing a gully; once out of the gully and 0.1 miles from crossroads take the left fork; 1.1 miles further take a right fork; 0.1 miles further we stopped short of the Dalton Mine overlooking a large wash. All roads were passable to high clearance vehicles.
Starting around 9:15 AM from our roadend near Dalton Mine, we headed up the major wash in the general SE direction; the peak is generally SW from that point and not visible. Following the wash and taking all major left forks we attempted to compensate in our orientation. After about 2.5 miles, the final fork of the wash petered out and we gained the ridge only to discover that summit ridge was separated from us by a really major wash. Rather than lose elevation and head directly for the summit (we were not sure which of the 4 visible bumps along the ridge was the true summit) we proceeded to ascend our ridge which joined the summit ridge somewhere west of the peak. The bump that joined our ridge to the summit ridge sported a radio repeater and according to the altimeter was within 20+ of the true summit; however, from the false summit we could see the huge cairn on the true summit about 1.5 miles east of us. So we followed the summit ridge over the miscellaneous bumps and saddles arriving at the true summit cairn by 1:30 PM.
At 1:45 PM we left the summit in a race against time and made the first major mistake. Instead of retracing our steps along the ridge over the false bumps we chose to drop directly down into the canyon just east of the summit which promised to join the really major wash from which we intended to hop over the intervening ridge and drop into the wash that we came up. However, the chosen canyon proved to be fairly rugged with many rocks and lots of brush; we did not reach the really major wash until dusk. Rather than risk going cross country over ridges and washes to find our wash, we studied the recreational map and determined that another road must exist that connected the Old Swede Mine to the network of mine roads near Dalton. Heading east down the really major wash we did find traces of an old jeep road that led to the Old Swede Mine; however, after following it for a short distance we realized that it did not connect to the roads in the Dalton area and instead headed southeast to intersect with the Old Dale Road. Its dark and what to do?
Studying the accursed recreational map again, we determined that if we reached the Old Dale Road then we could follow it until it connected with the mine roads near Dalton Mine where our truck with food and beer awaited. So, off we headed across the flat desert on an easterly course in an attempt to intersect with the Old Dale Road; a quarter moon helped light our way.
Finally reaching Old Dale Road, after one foolhardy attempt at cross-country travel in the dark, we followed it north for miles on end until it started to intersect with various mine roads .. which fork to take? Using a compass and sometimes a coin we would choose our roads wisely with only one major case of needing to double back. Around midnight the moon set and we broke out our flashlights; now navigating across the desert became even harder since we were never sure of how many forks that we might have missed by flashlight. Thoughts of a bivy until dawn were promptly extinguished by the freezing cold .. Igor wore only shorts. Miraculously we stumbled upon the crossroads that we passed on the way in and the truck was only 1.4 miles further down the road. After over 23 miles and 17 hours of walking we finally reached our truck at 2:15 AM; Suzanne fell on her knees and kissed its tires.
After a couple of beers and some cookies we fell asleep for a couple of hours only to awake at 5:00 AM in order to start the long drive south to San Felipe where we were scheduled to meet our friends by noon. On the way out, we retraced some of the roads that we walked that night and exited through the closed Joshua Tree National Park via the Old Dale Road. Driving through a deserted National Park was certainly a treat. We did reach San Felipe by 12:45 PM to meet our friends that were also running a bit late.
In retrospect, the route from Dalton Mine to climb Pinto peak is a viable alternative to the usual trudge across the desert from the south; of course, retracing ones tracks rather than exploring short cut canyons is strongly recommended.
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