Kingston Peak Backpack

March 16, 2013


Our goal was to evaluate access to Kingston Peak at 7,323 feet from two approaches. The peak is between Tecopa and Pahrump. The first route is a day hike and the other a two-night backpack. We were to determine if either of these routes would be suitable as a BLM hiking destination. The day hike goes cross-country south from an active iron mine at a low pass on Excelsior Mine Road near Horsethief Spring. It is described with topo trail maps on internet sites. There were no suggestions that this route would be difficult to do as a day hike. The backpack starts at a trailhead on the west border of the wilderness. Dave Halligan generously provided a topo map of this route with detailed trail notes. He had lead DS backpack trip here several years ago. We planned to see what we would find at a spring and guzzler noted on Dave’s map, Porcupine Spring, at the northwest base of the peak.

On the approach to the our meeting at the Horsethief Spring BLM Campground on Excelsior Mine Road we saw several Joshua trees in bloom along the road. After Eddie Sudol and I met Laura Kobelt and Chris Sheridan we headed for the trailhead road. On the way we went by Horsethief Spring where there is a historic ranch house. The spring consists intermittent shallow water flows in a narrow band of cottonwood trees at the edge of the road. The trailhead road starts from an iron ore site at the top of the low pass west of Horsethief Spring. The last quarter mile of this road is very rough but short and goes to a modern solar weather recording station where we parked.

From there we followed the road for a short distance then took a cross-country route directly south in the valley. After gaining some elevation we found a big bush that seemed out of place in the desert. After seeing several more of the same plant and looking closer at the leaves and branches we decided that these were manzanitas and found later that this is the pointleaf manzanita that grow at moderate elevation in the Mojave. We saw several Mojave prickly pear or old man cactus and clumps of Mojave barrel cactus. The route required cross-country navigation skills as well as pushing through brush and through or around fields of small boulders. We were rewarded when we reached a major ridge by scenic weathered rock ridges and spires and by distant views of mountain ranges and sand dunes.

At an peak with a broad view of Kingston Peak near midday and about a miles from the peak over a rugged ridge we stopped for a rest and considered our water supply and energy reserves. We determined that we would not be able to reach the peak and return to the trailhead by dark. We turn back to attempt this route with an earlier start on another trip.

Eddie and I drove west on Excelsior Mine Road past a operating iron ore processing plant. We spoke briefly to a worker leaving the plant who had operated the plant alone all day, a Saturday. We found that the plant had a well to provide water. Continuing on we turn south on road 20546 then a left turn at a fenced mine site and then to the wilderness boundary. While camped there a large truck with a large ATV mounted on top rack drove past. The next day we found this truck with the overhead vehicle rack, without the ATV, parked at the Kingston Peak trailhead. There were stickers on the truck from the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep.In the wash there were recent truck tire tracks and motorcycle tracks as well as tracks from the large ATV. At about 3.5  miles from the trailhead we found a parked Polaris 500 6x6 (six wheel drive) Sportsman ATV. About 0.5 miles further we located the campsite that was used by Halligan’s group and dropped our packs.

From the campsite we could see where a major ravine split off to the southeast from the ravine that would go to the spring. We noticed a helicopter near this junction that came toward us as a short way before disappearing from view. Seven minutes later it reappeared and came by us flying lower that the ridges on the sides of the ravine. It appeared to be a recent model, maroon, four passenger Robinson R44. We thought it could be associated with the sheep society activities.n We decided to day-hike up the ravine to see the Porcupine Spring site.

On the way we encountered two men in camouflage vests and wearing expensive Swarovski binoculars. They were on a biannual trip to monitor the guzzler at the spring. The truck and the ATV belonged to them. They denied any connection with or knowledge about the helicopter. They suggested it could be a rancher looking for cattle. One of the men told of being on sheep society helicopter trips where they would fly low up one ravine and down the next searching every ravine in an area counting sheep and deer. “Boring”, he said. He related that in all of his trips into this ravine he has never seen a game animal but has seen rattlesnakes every time. He told us about the guzzler at Porcupine spring. The sheep society has a solar panel operated water gage on the guzzler tanks that supplies information to a data center. On his last trip to the guzzler he had installed an automatic camera and was eager to get home to see what was found.

We were told that through an agreement with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the BLM the sheep society members were allowed to monitor these wilderness guzzlers by motorized vehicles at their discretion without needing to inform the DFW or the BLM. There are many springs and guzzlers that they maintain including some where they used trucks to haul water during dry periods.

These men related that they hunt game animals in California and Wyoming. There were 24 tags a year for sheep in California with specific area designations and that nearly all of the hunters with those tags are successful.

On a level place on the bank near the ravine junction we found helicopter skid tracks where the copter must have landed when it went out of sight earlier. There are four prominent skid marks. The copter has two skids. It appears there had been multiple landing. On further review of the two photos of the landing site it looks like there are many faint similar groves suggesting many landing.

Multiple dozens of dinner plate sized fragments of a disintegrated pale blue water tank littered the stream channel below the guzzler for two miles appearing about every 200 yards.

Up stream a few hundred feet in an alcove where the alcove become very steep at the base of a rock wall there is a spring, a sand bottomed pool of about two gallons of clear water. We both practiced my belief that spring water at the source is safe to drink and have had no consequences. This pool overflows to a larger pool outside the alcove that is green and edged by a thick mat of green algae. Below this there is a concrete and rock dam crossing the ravine. The space behind the dam is dry and filled to the top of the dam with soil and rocks. A 2-¼ inch galvanized pipe come out of the front of the dam and zigzags along the steep ravine rock wall for more than 100 yards to the guzzler tanks. There are three 2000-gallon tanks that lead to a stainless steel water trough.

On this trip we encounter juniper and single leaf pinion pine trees, a side blotched lizard, several small tent caterpillar webs, beaver tail cactus preparing to bloom, calico cactus, pancake prickly pear, mammillaria cactus, silver cholla and barrels. The most unusual plants were multiple fields of nolinas from small ones to tree size giant nolinas with two foot diameter trunks. The largest grove is on the southwest side of Kingston Peak.

At 0.6 miles and a 1200 feet elevation gain from the peak we decided again to turn back without getting to the peak. This was again because at the rate we were moving we would not get back to our camp before dark. This was caused in part by accumulated fatigue from the two previous strenuous long days. We retraced our steps to our campsite spent the night and walked out the next day. Near the end of our hike out we were pleasantly surprised by passing a blooming yuccas.

We did not reach Kingston peak by either of the routes attempted. Neither would be suitable for a published BLM hike. Both require long days, endurance, rock scrambling skills, and navigation ability above the ordinary level.