Really? These are on the list?
(Black Butte and Chuckwalla)

20 Jan 2010 - by Steve Eckert

Two peaks in one day, and done by mid-afternoon - this day violated my goal of walking more hours than I drive, but it was part of a larger trip so it wasn't so bad. Since these two peaks are all about the driving, please refer to the trailhead page for topo maps and a list of waypoints.

I rented a Jeep in Orange County and headed out past Riverside in lashing winds and pouring rain. The plan was to climb between storm squalls... but I stopped at WalMart to buy a shovel and tow strap just in case. (I later gave the shovel to a hotel clerk and returned the tow strap for a refund.) The rain stopped as I went over Chiriaco Summit, and my timing bet paid off with some nice rainbows.

Chiriaco Summit

I left I-10 at Red Cloud Road just as it got dark. The road started out just fine, but when I drove past a collection of border patrol vehicles I decided to back up and say hi. They asked me more than enough casual questions, thanked me for stopping, hinted that they would have followed me if I hadn't stopped, and made fun of my Jeep Patriot. (You gonna do some rock crawlin in that thang?) Heh. More like mud wrestling.

The road got slowly worse once I was on The Bradshaw Trail. Eventually it was down to one lane with water flowing over the entire width of the road. Not crossing the road, but turning the road into a stream. Yikes. With no idea what was under the water, I mostly kept my speed up and only occasionally needed the momentum to clear a hole. Did I mention it was a big storm? Once the road was up out of the washes, it was quite nice.

My GPS told me to turn left to Black Butte, but there was no intersection. I hunted around and eventually drove over the berm and discovered there IS something that looks like a road after 50 yards of guessing whether this is the right place! I considered stopping at the DPS 2WD trailhead, but since the road had been moderate so far I pressed on. So far. Higher up it gets much rougher, and that poor Patriot really didn't have the clearance I needed. It did, however, have an awesome Jeep transmission. When the tires lost traction on a side slope and one wheel went into the boulders, it powered out instead of rolling over.

I drove all the way to end of road (waypoint BLK4WD), well past the DPS trailhead, and spent the night under a clear sky. In the morning I drove back down to the wash they intend you to climb (waypoint BLKDPS), where I crossed a large wash and climbed up into the deepest drainage on the other side. Down low, small ribs seemed easier than the drainages! Speckled granite base rock leads to 30' waterfall at about 3.6k. Above the waterfall the canyon opens into a bowl with many gullies to choose from. I stayed left and got onto the west ridge above the prominent butte you can see from the trailhead.

It took just over an hour to reach the top (at 8am). Black Butte (waypoint BLACKB) is only 4504', but there was a frigid wind at the top (no breeze at the trailhead). Military jets were flying in canyons below peak level and clouds started to form around the top of the peak while I was there. I didn't stay long.

Complete maps and waypoints
are on the trailhead page

Going down, I headed for end of road, NOT the DPS trailhead, going down a rib mostly west from the summit and staying north to bypass the prominent butte. All problems can be bypassed on the left if going up this way, and I think it's a better route than the DPS Guide shows. I dropped into the large wash, climbed to the wilderness boundary sign at the end of the road, and was back down to my vehicle at 9am. Here are simple directions to climb this ridge:
- drive to end of road
- walk across large wash
- follow ridge to base of big imposing butte
- go left around butte, summit is to the right above the butte

The south side of Bradshaw Trail is frequently signed as a dangerous military reservation, so that explains the jets. There was lots of mud as I drove east to Chuckwalla after the storm, so I frequently needed 4WD. It might all pack down nicely when it's dry in the fall.

Black Butte from Chuckwalla

Again, my GPS said I should turn at a place where there didn't seem to be a road. The "faint dirt track" has no berms or ruts but does get less faint as you drive further away from Bradshaw. Passenger cars can do part of the road Chuckwalla, if they approach over Graham Pass from the east, as described on the trailhead page. It took almost as long to drive from Black to Chuckwalla as it had taken to climb Black. Sigh.

Complete maps and waypoints
are on the trailhead page
I parked where the road I found starts having lots of obstacles (waypoint CHUK4W), but I'm sure it wasn't where the DPS says you should park. No matter, this is a great place to start. Go up and drift right into a canyon that leads northeast to the peak. Stay out of the wash on the right for better footing, then bear left around 2.9k to the west ridge of the peak.

I got to the top of Chuckwalla (waypoint CHUCKM, 3446') at noon. Clouds were hanging over LA, but it was totally clear south and east so I figured the weather might hold after all. The Chuckwalla benchmark says TRI BUNCH, does anyone out there know what that means?

Finishing the loop around the Chuckwalla Mountains, I took Graham Pass Road east and north to I-10. This road is mostly flat and well graded, quite suitable for passenger cars. By the time I reached the freeway the sky was completely clouded over and the wind had really picked up. On to Granite...

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