Eagle Mountains #1, Chuckwalla Mountains
By: George Neuner
Seven desert peakbaggers met at 9:am at the Cottonwood Springs Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Monument after a three hour drive from L.A. We discussed two possible routes to Eagle Mtn (5350') with the Ranger: from the South via Lost Palms Canyon (about 4 mi. and 3000' gain) and from the Northwest from Pinto Basin (about 5 mi. and 2200' gain). We opted for the latter route, not only for less gain but because the first 21/2 miles are easy walking across the desert floor.
After selecting campsites for Saturday night at the Cottonwood Springs campground we drove about 21/2 mi. NE on the Pinto Basin paved road and parked the cars off the pavement on a short side road near BM 3133 on the Hexie Mtns topo map. (The dirt road to the SE shown on the topo no longer exists.) We proceeded on a bearing Of 120° toward the prominent NW ridge of the mountain massif. We ascended and traversed the North slope of the ridge, staying out of the steep NW gully, to the saddle at 4800'. From here we followed the ridge top and proceeded on generally the same compass bearing up and down through rolling country until the summit came into view. We followed the obvious route up the NW face to the summit (about 3 hrs. hiking time).
Sunday we drove East on Interstate 10 to Chuckwalla Road, 9.3 mi. past Desert Center. After paralleling the freeway for 12.7 miles, we turned South on the Grahm Pass dirt road (not marked). A sign indicates 4-wheel drive vehicles only, but our two-wheelers did just fine. We proceeded through Grahm Pass, then West to elevation 1690', about 161/2 miles of dirt road driving. We parked the cars by a 3' high rusty steel drum on the right. (Four-wheelers might be able to proceed a mile further on a faint road heading NW from this point.)
We hiked 3/4 mi. NNW and entered a gully just east of peak 2136 on the Chuckwalla Spring topo map. We proceeded N then NE to a saddle at 2400', then up the SE gully to a notch on the S. ridge at 3000'. The dry streambed at the bottom of the gully provided fine staircase-like climbing with no exposure. From the notch the ridge turns into an exposed arete with crumbly 3rd class rock at about 3200'. We avoided this by crossing left on to the SW face which is class 2 to the summit. Time from the cars was two hours. A better route (which we took on descent) is to cross over the saddle at 2,000 N. of peak 2136, then up the SW gully which goes nearly to the summit. One could also easily do this latter route by passing around the west side of peak 2136. Both peaks are amidst beautiful desert scenery and make a fine weekend of moderately strenuous climbing.
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