Cave Mountain, Eagle Mountain #2
By: Steve Bryant
On the 14th ad 15th of December, Jim Fairchild of Riverside (a past and future DPS member) and I went out to climb two peaks that had been bugging me whenever I drove out to Death Valley. (I am biology professor at Cal Poly Pomona, and a lot of my research is in the Death Valley region. I have driven by these peaks a half-dozen times a year for a decade and never found time to stop and climb them.) The first of these peaks is Cave Mountain, which is on the south side of I-15 between Barstow and Baker -- Just east of the Afton Canyon exit. Cave Mountain rises to 3585' directly from the freeway at 1500' and is quite a landmark for this stretch of desert and a very impressive view from the freeway. We turned off I-15 at the Afton Canyon exit, and drove a little ways (maybe a mile or so) until we saw a power line crossing the road. We turned left to follow the road next to the power lines, which led us toward Cave Mountain. The road is fairly good, and even passes between the two wooden supports of a single power line tower in one place. The road eventually becomes rocky and very sandy -- and we gave up driving for fear of getting stuck.
From the car, Cave Mountain loomed up to the east and we simply walked toward it. First we crossed a small canyon, and then walked up the side of the mountain (2nd class) to the top of a ridge. The ridge overlooked a very deep canyon to the east, between us and the peak. However we followed the ridge to the south, and it led us around the head of the canyon to the summit ridge. Upon reaching the summit (about 2 hours from the car), we were very pleasantly surprised to find a large, almost flat area with some lumber. To our chagrin, we didn't have bivouac gear, but this would be a beautiful place to watch the sun rise, and there is enough scrap wood for a campfire. After about 1/2 hour exploring the top, we went back down the way we come up - altogether taking about 4 hours round trip.
I would like to recommend Cave Mountain for the DPS list for the following reasons: (1) It is a big landmark and dominates this area of desert, (2) Interesting flora and (3) excellent view of Afton Canyon, Cronese Lakes, and Soda Lake/Devil's Playground. It is not exactly inaccessible, and the elevation gain probably just barely qualifies (estimated as 1611' from the road head, which is higher than the freeway), but I think qualifies for the other reasons listed.
After descending Cave Mountain, we drove on to Baker for dinner [Yay for the new (relatively) Burger king!] and then took 127 north. We camped a few miles south of Death Valley Junction at a turnout, and spent a wonderfully cool night (even the water bottle left in the car froze, and we had frost flowers on our sleeping bags in the morning.) We got up with the intention of climbing Eagle Mountain (#2), whose Jagged skyline reminds me of the back of a Stegosaurus. We tried to follow the directions in Walt Wheelock's book, but the floods of 1983 probably made the directions useless. At any rate, we pulled off the road where it is nearest the peak and just headed for it. After getting to the base of the mountain we were impressed by its verticalness. So, we started up figuring we would find some route somehow. After doing a friction pitch, we got hung out on a ledge which ended overlooking a 1000' drop into a canyon. We searched around for a way out of our predicament, and saw some ducks in a gully leading up to ???
We followed this gully and found that it ended in a rock wall. Fake ducks to trap the unwary. Jim did a boulder problem (no ropes) while I was ready to head back and perhaps find another route up. But, on top he said it leveled out so I did a different boulder problem, and, sure enough, it did level out. From then on, we followed the quackers, which eventually led us around the peak to the northwest (we had originally planned to attack from the southeast) and to a nice little notch from which an easy scramble led to the top. (I don't like ducks on obvious routes, but this is not obvious, and the ducks are very tastefully done - so unobtrusive that they are often hard to find!) The register is almost 100% DPSers. We followed the ducks back down found an exposed ledge that led around the boulder problems, didn't even see the friction pitch and walked back to the car. The view from the top was spectacular, with T-scope on one side and Charleston on the other, Brown to the south, and (DV Jct to the north. A perfectly enjoyable climb, and perfectly beautiful weather cool and sunny, with a gentle breeze that seemed to come up whenever we were getting too warm. Now for the other landmark that has been bugging me -- Fremont Peak off 395, even if it is only a 1/2 mile wall from a mine, according to Walt Wheelock.
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