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Black Mountain #6, Red Mountain

16 September 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Barbara Guerin's going to finish the list one of the days. So am I, so are many of you, but Barbara's going to do it a bit sooner than most of us. She's getting very very close, and Black Mountain #6 was one of the peaks on her short list. So last Sunday, a warm and windy day, several of us joined her and Mars Bonfire to make that short list a peak shorter. In addition to Barbara and Mars, Winnette Butler, Mei Kwan, Ingeborg Prochazka, Joanne Griego, and Karen Leverich met at the Mojave McDonald's, reorganized into two 4WD high clearance vehicles, and were off to explore some interesting locales in the region where the Mojave and the Sierra intersect. The original goal had been a simple one: Black Mountain #6. But Ingeborg had done some research, discovered that Red Mountain was often paired with Black Mountain, and sold Mars on leading us there, too. As long as we were (kind of sort of) in the neighborhood...

I can be stubborn (ask anyone who knows me!), so when Mars told me it was OK to pull over and stop whenever I felt uncomfortable on the dirt road into Black Mountain, and we'd hike from there, I of course simply held onto the steering wheel with white knuckles and followed his dust cloud until he decided to stop. Wherever he could take that nifty Mercedes SUV of his, surely I could take the Jeep. I hoped.

When Sandy Sperling and I climbed Fox Mountain #1 the previous day, I had thought it a bit hot and unpleasant. Black Mountain should have been worse -- it was hotter, and there's not a scrap of shade to be found. The good news is that the wind is usually blowing, and as long as it's not too strong (I suspect it's often too strong), that helps. We went through a lot of water, but hiking at a slow careful pace got us up across the interesting terrain -- it's a sage desert over which black lava (the reason the mountain is called Black?) flowed in some past century. It reminded me of some of the bleaker parts of eastern Oregon, with a similar austere beauty. Definitely unlike any HPS peak I have yet to visit!

But ... did Mars take us to the correct peak? Yes, there was a register there, and yes, it claimed to be the register for Black Mountain #6. But why a benchmark labeled El Paso? I'm not sure we should let Barbara off the hook yet for Black Mountain #6!

Barbara already had Red Mountain, and because she was intending to do another hike the next day, she headed back to the city. The rest of us trekked across the desert towards the town of Red Mountain (with me muttering a bit about how fast that Mercedes I was following was going on the occasional straight stretch -- had its driver never heard of speed limits, aieeeee!), where we jounced our way up another one of those obscure desert dirt roads, parking next to an abandoned bullet-ridden vehicle of indeterminate make and model. The last hikers to attempt this peak? We didn't know, but were glad when Winnette (who already had Red) opted to stay behind and guard the vehicles.

On a previous trip, Mars had found a really good way up, avoiding most of the rock, and had ducked it carefully. In the meantime, someone has been through and removed most or all of those ducks, so up we went, not avoiding most of the rock. Oh well, it builds character or something, right?

This is one of those peaks with some intermediate summits (it seems somehow judgemental to call them "false") along the way. One of the early ones had a very nice pole on it, and the idea was floated that it made a much nicer summit, and that someone should hike over, get the register, and move it to this nifty new locale. I don't remember why we didn't do this, persevering instead along the ridge, through a windy saddle, and up to a rather bizarre summit. Why bizarre? Well, this summit is decorated with turn of the century graffiti, abandoned gas tanks, and other unusual debris. Apparently surveyors used to light a beacon here, and use it for sightings, or whatever it is surveyors do.

It was getting late in the day, and there was some concern we'd not make it back to the cars before dark. So we selected our own more modern beacon, a tower with blinking lights behind the town of Red Mountain, knowing that if we aimed for it as we came off the hill, we'd be on target for the cars. I took more positive action, digging to the bottom of my pack for my headlamp and shifting it to where it'd be easy to find in a hurry, a sort of "reverse solar psychology" -- if I was headlamp ready, I'd surely not need it, we'd surely be out before dark!

And it worked. It was only getting a bit dusky when we got back to the cars, guided in part by a wonderful duck (Winnette atop a boulder) on the final approach. Although after we told her the fate of all the other ducks, she apparently decided this wasn't the career opportunity for her. In any case, she scrambled back down and joined us as we headed off in the gathering gloom across the desert back towards Mojave. Another day, another peak. Or (for many of us) two...

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