By: J. Holshuh
Private Trip, Memorial Day
We dreamed about all the hard climbs we could do over this vacation (Maturango, Martinez, whatever), but, being lazy at heart, decided to give my Ranger another chance to redeem itself after major mechanical and structural problems in Baja last month. Gene Clinger told me how easy it was last year to polish off Pleasant and New York Butte via Cerro Gordo and the ridge trail, while Randy Bernard talked of meeting hikers out of Long John Canyon after 4 hours four-wheeling from Swansea. So we opted to see Cerro Gordo.
The ridge trail shown on the 1950 15" USGS topo, New York Butte, is correct but a crude log sign at the top of the saddle said "road out". After backing up twice and deciding that the right fork doesn't go, we plunged down, ignoring the warning and following recent(?) tracks. It went well until the track started back up a wash toward Cerro Spring. Here 4 foot banks stopped all tracks except one motorcycle that later had to be lowered off an 8' waterfall. We stopped back at the Cerro Gordo office and confirmed the new washout. Doesn't seem to be any good reason to re-open the route, but who knows. The mine owner, Ms. Jodie Stewart, is working hard to restore the buildings and reopen the silver mine. She is working to get Federal Heritage money and is exploring wind generators.
That failure (we left Pleasant for another day although it can easily be hiked from that saddle) spurred us to the Swansea route. I felt some uncertainty as I failed to ask Randy about his route, but Gene had said there weren't many roads up there. Oh yeah! I tried to follow the most natural line indicated on the topo. If finally vents Memorable moments included a series of brown then green upturned shale-like ledges at 5280' (the end of the dirt road on the map), followed by a short steep climb and hard right. Don't take the right fork in the wash at the base as we found it kind of high side-angle on the way out. Some high angle climbing on large black boulders later leads to an obvious decision in a broad stream bed at 6200'. It looks better to follow the wash (it may go but another driver reported no) but climb out to the right over a purple ledge and descend gradually into another wash which goes slow but well all the way to an arroyo entrance at 714140'. Here trails branch left, then right, but continue northerly although your better judgment may be speaking out. It goes, with some rough sections and high angle soft hills. It would be very difficult without low range gearing. At 9200'+, you merge with the ridge trail past Pleasant and head past the Burgess mine to 9800'. The view is great and the peak a piece of cake from here. We then followed that ridge road south to the salt tram remains. Many of the towers are still standing and are quite close to the described routes. The crest station is still quite solid. We snapped great framed views into Saline Valley and Owens Lake, only to find later that the film leader was slipping instead of advancing (do you know the feeling?). The trip back down to Swansea took less then 2 hours including stops for non-pictures of wild flowers. We had stopped at Dirty Socks hot spring on the way in but would recommend it after all the dust. We were sadly too late for the Silver Dollar soup and salad lunch at Randsburg (highly recommended). The many side trails marked on the topo or newer make me itch to try other new routes in. Ready, Maris??
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