Clipper Mountain Wilderness Backpack Trips
November 17&30/2012

“Oh, crap, the springs have been destroyed!” was exclaimed as we looked down from Burnt Wood Bluff to the springs below. This was at the end of the second day on the backside of Clipper Crest as we arrived at our campsite where we were depending on these springs for a source of water.

Our objectives in conjunction with the Needles BLM were to evaluate access roads, evaluate water sources, find a backpacking route that would provide a survey of the area, and find a hiking route to Clipper Peak that could be done in a day with legal off highway parking.

There were two trips. The first was with Nick George. In four days we evaluated the roads to the trailhead of the wilderness area south of Goldhammer Mine, explored six spring sites, and evaluated a western crossing of Clipper Crest. We also explored a north access to Clipper Peak from the Goldhammer Mine Road trailhead as a replacement to the standard trail from I-40.

The standard route to hike to Clipper Peak is an easy day hike on a jeep road trail from I-40 to the crest. It is on a gentle slope most of the way. Peak baggers have been using this route, parking on the shoulder of I-40, and getting parking tickets from the CHP. There is no legal way to park to get to this trail for a reasonable day hike. The closest off ramp from I-40 is Essex Road that is 7.2 miles away.

From map research it appeared that there could be an alternative to the standard route that would start from the wilderness boundary on the jeep road south of Goldhammer Mine and proceed south to the peak. This route was 6.2 miles roundtrip and accumulated 2351 feet of elevation gain. This route was found to have more rocky cross county travel that the standard route but was not found to be unreasonably difficult.

In considering a loop backpack that would provide a survey of this wilderness it appeared that there was a route of 25 miles that seemed feasible. This would be a four days circumnavigation of most of the Clipper Crest with a crossing of the western end of the crest. There were two limitations. First, the need to have several water sources. On the first trip no water or any trace of a previous spring was found at Fall Spring, or Hummingbird Spring. two of the three spring on our route. The only water source on our proposed route was at the guzzlers at Burnt Wood Spring. The second concern was the crossing of the crest. Once a reasonable route was found the most difficult section was a steep rock ravine on the south side of the crest that had a series of short dryfalls. These were not unreasonably difficult and thought to be safely accessible with a moderate level of rock scrambling skill.

The second trip was a scheduled Desert Survivor Backpack with Martina Konietzny, Kevin Pope, and Nick Blake. We camped at the mouth of Fall Spring Canyon, at Burnt Spring, and in Clipper Wash.

Since the only water source on this backpack would be at our trailhead and at Burnt Spring Guzzler, we would need two water caches to keep the water carries reasonable. The first was placed near the highway about halfway to the first campsite. From there we went over the crest to Burnt Spring. The next cache would be at the Hummingbird Road trailhead about halfway to our third campsite in Clipper Wash. In this way the maximum water load was about 6 liters or around 12 pounds.

At Burnt Wood Spring big game guzzler we found recent truck tire tracks from the boundary marker to the spring. On the first trip there on November 17 on a low bank next to the water course we found an old slanted roof wooden structure with no door over a wood box with several inches of greenish water a few inches below ground level and a second wood box with no cover about 25 yards up the wash with six to eight inches of water about a foot below ground level. Between the two structures on a recently leveled area of about 20X15 feet there were fresh wood construction stakes in a rectangular pattern. Several tree braches had been recently sawed off near the second guzzler.

On returning to this site on December 1 we found more tire tracks that went to the site then down the slope of the bluff to the spring area. From the bluff we saw that here has be a large disturbance between the two springs. We feared that our water source had been disrupted.

There were more tree branches sawed off near the spring. The upper guzzler was covered with a wood plank top and loaded with several layers of heavy stones. A large buried plastic guzzler had been installed. A PVC pipe had been partially buried between the spring and he guzzler. This tank was about 14X4X4 feet in size with an 18” port and a steep open topped ramp with a metal mesh covering providing access to the water that was walled off form the main tank.

After removing the access cover we were greatly relieved to see that the inflow pipe was providing water with a steady drip and there was six to eight inches of clear water in the tank. There was an overflow pipe leading to the streambed and a post and fence retained stonewall to protect the recent fill from high water flow in the stream. The level of water in the old undisturbed guzzler, which was clear on this visit, was about the same level as on our previous trip suggesting that the two water sources at this site are separate springs.

At the Hummingbird site there is a derelict trailer with bulbous fenders. There is a concrete foundation with burnt wood remnants and detritus suggesting that this was a dwelling. Water pipes run uphill above a wash then end with no evidence of a water source found. At 0.3 miles on Hummingbird Road there are a pair of large concrete tanks above a pile of processed material.

Between Clipper Wash and Goldhammer Mine there is a 400 acre area of disturbed ground close to the freeway. This appears to be a site where wheel tractor-scrapers or bulldozers collected fill to build the freeway.

On these trips we saw a redtail hawk, multiple coves of quails, several flocks of smaller birds, desert cottontail rabbits, several lizards and a dead lizard that had been impaled on a branch by a loggerheaed shrike. We saw a painted lady butterfly and several other butterflies. There was slow moving western patch nosed snake early one morning. There were many spiders with orb webs containing central egg cases.

There were many identifiable animal prints in the washes. There were patches of sand crosshatched with quail tracks and tracks of smaller birds. There were coyote, cougar, and bobcat paw prints as well as coyote and cat scat. In a cirque on the north side of our course over the crest there were many hoof scraping patches with abundant bighorn droppings, some of it fresh. There were bird nests in catclaw bushes and in cholla cacti perhaps built by cactus wrens. There were several rodent middens, a fox burrow, and coyote burrows. There was a tarantula hole with a dense web covering the edges the entrance. There were many dry mud tubes on dead bush stems that we latter learned are the work of desert termites that do not tunnel into wood but consume the surface material from the plants they encase.

There were barrel, cholla, hedgehog, and fishhook cacti. The fishhook had fruit. The cacti were mostly widely scattered with no dense groves of one type. There were many vines of mature coyote melons. Some of these were suspended in bushes. The information that the pulp is unpalatable was tested and found to be correct. The pulp is extremely bitter. We found out later that this pulp has been used for soap.

While we were there it was raining along the California coast down to San Diego providing us with intermittent cloud cover and marvelous sunrises and sunsets. The Moon, Venus, and Jupiter moved across the sky at night and there were occasional shooting stars, one was particularly bright.