Ascent of Maturango Peak on 2011-10-10

Climber: Daryn Dodge

Date:Monday, October 10, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Maturango Peak
    Elevation:8839 ft / 2694 m

Ascent Trip Report

Used the Desert Peak Section Guidebook (fifth edition)for directions to the trailhead. The dirt road turnoff from Nadeau Road does not have a road sign, but the round white "Whitaker Western LTD" sign is still there set back from Nadeau Road about 15 feet, and the dirt road was recently graded. What I found very encouraging was a new sign on the right (N) side of the road that indicated the road was a "Limited Use Area" for ATVs, motorcycles and 4WD vehicles. From previous reports, I had visions of Wilderness Area signs barring all motorized progress on this road. Apparently the managers of this area now actually encourage use of the road and wilderness area.

As indicated in the DPS Guidebook, high clearance 2WD vehicles can use this road to the arbitrary trailhead 3.5 miles in from Nadeau Road. This appears to be true, as I did not engage the 4WD of my Jeep Cherokee until after 3.5 miles. Beyond this point, the road gets a little steeper and a little rougher in sections, and I was tired of spinning my back tires in the gravel and rocks. There is a road junction 2.2 miles in where the right branch heads down and across a wash. This is the correct way to go, but if you have 2WD you might want to gun the engine a little getting out of the wash to avoid excessive wheel spinnage.

I drove 4.6 miles in and parked the Jeep. The road seemed to be getting rougher at this point and I was happy enough cutting 2 miles round trip of tedious dirt road walking from my climb. As I found out walking up the road, a sturdy 4WD vehicle could actually drive another 2 miles or so towards the end of the road to the infamous waterfall pitch. I saw no indication of wilderness boundaries anywhere along the road. It appears as long as you stay on the road, you can drive as far up it as you can.

Walking up the road,it eventually takes a distinct right turn heading north. Going about 0.75 north as the Guidebook says, you come to obvious narrowing of the canyon into what looks like a slot canyon. The (in)famous waterfall pitch is contained in this slot canyon just around the corner out of view. But there is no need to go there, just look to your left outside the slot for a cobblestone platform where a shack probably once stood. There is a visible use trail that starts just behind this platform. Follow it up steeply to the ridge 75 feet above. At the ridgeline, the trail turns left and follows remnants of a mining road/trail that traverses into the Bendire Canyon. Easy! I thought I would need some time to figure out this part of the climb, but it's pretty obvious. It's just that the Guidebook could use a little more detail to avoid confusion.

The old mining trail dropped me into Bendire Canyon, right in the middle of an impenetrable willow patch! I was able to work around the side of it on talus boulders. This would be a constant theme of the hike...occasional patches of impenetrable willows clogging the bottom of the wash, necessitating side-hilling above the wash. However, what I found very helpful was a series of wild burro trails in and above the wash that goes around various obstacles. There were also occasional ducks marking the way, presumably put there by humans, not the burros (...or did they??). The reason I knew these were burro trails was because of the extensive supply of burro apples (also called dung) on the trail. Yet I saw not a single burro, and the reason would become obvious in a little while.

For navigation, all I had was a compass and topo map. This was all I needed, as the features along the way (major turns and low parts of the ridgeline above) made it easy to figure out where you were on the map for the next 3.5 miles. The guidebook says to take the right branch at the first major fork in the canyon 2 miles beyond the waterfall pitch. There are a couple of very large rock cairns marking this spot.

After another 1.5 miles is another rock cairn marking a side canyon on the left that leads to the summit. There was a particularly long and nasty section of brush and willows just before the cairn that forced me up on the side. I was worried that I would miss the cairn because I could not get into the bottom of the wash, but the brush cleared, I saw the cairn, and the side canyon was quite apparent anyway.

And the reason I saw no burros was because about a half-mile back, a spring that appears to run most of the year was now completely dry. It looked like it dried up recently, so no burros. Incidentally, the burro trails also pretty much ended here.

The rest of the climb was more of a grunt as the side canyon steepened. But it did go almost straight to the summit, hidden from view among many pinyon pines until near the top. The summit was amid a pile of rocks and had extensive views all around. China Lakes Naval Weapons Center was in the valley below to the west, but nothing was being blown up today. All was quiet. There were no danger signs indicating I was on or in the Naval Weapons base. I don't know where the border is but I might have been on the border at the summit.

Took 4 hrs 15 min to the top from where I parked, just over 8 hrs round trip. I figure the distance was 13-14 miles round trip with 5500 feet of gain, and 2 quarts of drinking water. Would have absolutely needed more water if it was a warmer day but I got lucky, mild temps and mostly overcast skies for the afternoon.

And so ends the long version of the Maturango Peak climb, a worthy California 2K prominence peak. For the short version, go to the DPS Guidebook. The drive and climb description is an economical 8 sentences and 11 lines long.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5500 ft / 1676 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Route:Bendire Canyon
    Trailhead:unnamed dirt road into Bendire Canyon  3339 ft / 1017 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 15 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 50 Minutes

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