Trilobite Wilderness Backpack

November 14, 2014 


“Have you done this before?”

I was asked this quietly several times as I lead them through a canyon that began to steepen and narrow toward the imposing crest of Marble Mountain. The crux for this trip would be a route that I had not explored. From multiple maps this track appeared to be the least difficult, yet there were narrows in the canyon on the way to the pass and on the downhill side of the pass the canyon appeared to become short, steep, and narrow. I felt my plan was sound but I also had some doubts.

The trip started for five Desert Survivors and myself from a guerrilla campground near the junction of Kelbaker Road and the gas pipeline road that runs along the north boarder of the wilderness. Our plan was for a two and a half day backpack that would go cross-country east to Cut Wash then follow the wash south to find a campsite in the wash. The next morning we would leave the wash and go west cross-country to a ravine that would lead to a mountain pass to Castle Mine on the edge of the bajada. We would cross the bajada on an old road then find a campsite in one of the washes on the west of the mountain. The next day there would remain a short hike in a wash to our base camp.

There were several thundershower storms in the eastern Mojave in the previous summer. Several bridge abutments were washed out on Route 66 and there was abundant evidence of flooding in the wilderness. All unpaved roads we saw were severely degraded. There was evidence of recent major erosions of the banks of the washes. Organic debris littered the sides of the washes and there was large gravel in the bases of wash bushes. Even the bajadas between washes had fresh flow patterns and abundant loose rocks

The pipeline road on the north border of the wilderness was eroded down to caliche in places. It was deeply grooved at small washes and had deep soft sand in the wide washes. I took that road to where Cut Wash comes close the road to make a water cache.

As we headed out through the Trilobite Wilderness we noticed that there were very few cactus except for some small barrels and a few struggling cholla. The only yuccas seen were north of the wilderness. There was a single small spiny senna bush and a desert inky cap. We saw smoke trees in Cut Wash; a few had large growths of dodder. In washes there were several robust coyote melon vines with mature melons.

As for animal life, tarantulas were active. A short horned lizard was seen as well as a few small fast lizards. There were a few phainopeplas, some quail, and several coveys of small birds.

As we trekked along Cut Wash we discovered an ancient Indian trail. We followed it until it turned away from our route. There were bushes growing out of the trail that were mature with no trails around them, convincing me that this trail had not been used for a long time.

Our packs that had been lighter than usual grew heavy after loading water at the cache. Even though this was expected by all there was some muttering and muffled groans on lifting these packs.

Out first night camp was on comfortable flat sand in Cut Wash. Each of the group had a different type of shelter including a double layer tent, a single layer tent, bive bags with mosquito netting, and tarps. At daybreak we turned toward the mountain to cross through a cleft with narrows and over a pass hoping that we would not encounter any impressive dryfalls. As we came to a section of narrows we were relieved to find short dryfalls that were not difficult. Now the unknown would be the upcoming pass.

It turned out that the approach to the pass was easy. The route down the other side was a different matter. The canyon I had planned to descend was intimidating. It became steeper and narrower as it turned out of sight in the distance. At the top of the pass we discovered an ancient trail going along the crest. A short walk on this trail let us see the top of an adjacent canyon that we thought might be a better descent. Most of this canyon was not visible but on the map it appeared wider and less steep than the first option. We took the second canyon and were relived to find that wide gravel flows made the downhill hike easy. 

Emerging from the mountains we came to several abandoned mines, prospects, buildings, and ore processing sites near Castle Mine. Mosquitoes were evident indicating that there was still water somewhere nearby.

We continued on, crossing a rough bajada with multiple ravines and rows of piled up rocks. Finally we came to an old road that was on the map that greatly eased our transit. We reached the washes along the side of the mountain two hours ahead of our schedule. 

I had learned by satellite phone that I was needed at home. We were about a two-hour from our cars with about two hours of light left in the day. After a brief discussion the group volunteered to continue on to the trailhead camp. Our path was mostly in washes. We got back to our trailhead as twilight ended.