Mountain Climbing In The Mojave Desert
Befriending Edgar Peak
The little-known Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is home to one of the East Mojave’s tallest peaks.
It’s the caves that attract underground hikers to California’s Providence Mountains State Recreation Area but there’s more to this park than stalagmites and stalactites. There’s an elusive peak cradled within the mountain ranges of the East Mojave Desert. Known for years, it receives little attention from interstate travelers who come to satisfy their fleeting curiosity. But a register at the summit tells the story of those who return to reminisce with their old friend Edgar.
Edgar Peak towers between Clipper Valley to the east and the Devil’s Playground to the west as if to devilishly dare hikers to climb it. The volcanic equal of granite, these massive slabs of red rhyolite are intimidating. Limestone cliffs bearing solution pockets and pinyon pines rise toward Edgar in homage of his intrusion. However, the secret of hiking to Edgar Peak isn’t to approach it from the front but to approach it from the side via Gilroy Canyon.
From the parking area at Gilroy Canyon, a faint road merges into a rocky canyon floor, a.k.a. your trail. It wanders along bighorn sheep and coyote trails exposing remnants of goat pens and rusty tools from pioneers who struggled to tame the land. Rock cairns scatter the floor but staying on the 2.5-mile course and out of the catclaws demands a topographic map.
The last spur of the hike is a Class 2 scramble over boulders and tailings. But the reward is a view that can only be seen from a pinnacle more than a mile in the sky. It’s 360 degrees of mountains some as far away as 100 miles and 7,170 feet of Edgar revealing why those intrepid few return. The entire East Mojave unfolds its crisscrossed arms and you are embraced by its enchanting valleys, diverse peaks, and desert solitude. Whether it’s spiritual or natural, it’s an experience that’s sure to draw you back to your newfound friend named Edgar.
HOW TO GET THERE:
DRIVE TIME: Providence Mountains S.R.A. is 57 miles (1 hour) west of Needles, CA and 235 miles (4.5 hours) northeast of Los Angeles.
THE WAY: From Needles, California, drive 41 miles west on Interstate 40 to Essex Road. Turn right on Essex Road and continue 16 miles to the park.From Los Angeles, go north on Interstate 15 to Barstow. At Barstow, take Interstate 40 west for 115 miles to Essex Road. Turn left and continue 16 miles to the park.The road to Gilroy Canyon is 1.6 miles to the left down Essex Road from the park’s visitor center. A reflector on the right side of the road is a good marker for the road’s location. A key to the gate on Gilroy Canyon Road must be obtained from the park ranger at the visitor center. A $25 deposit for the key is required. The 3-mile road is a rough and rocky ascent toward Gilroy Canyon that can be driven in a high clearance two-wheel drive vehicle. However, four-wheel drive is highly recommended.
TRAILS: There is no defined trail to Edgar Peak. The trick is to stay in the main fork of Gilroy Canyon. The white pole of a radio repeater marks the peak. The hike is roughly 7 hours round trip. Some bushwhacking may be necessary. There’s no water in the back country so carry plenty of water. Bring first aid supplies and be prepared for quick weather changes.
ELEVATION: Edgar Peak is 7,170 feet. The hike gains 2,800 feet.The visitor center is 4,300 feet.
CAN’T MISS: Don’t be discouraged by the long and arduous hike because the views of the windswept slopes of Kelso Dunes, the white peaks of the Granite Mountains, and wide-open desert expanse are worth it.
CROWD CONTROL: November to May is when most snowbirds flock to the desert to escape winter temperatures. However, few visitors hike to Edgar Peak so it’s a true wilderness experience.
PIT STOP: Before or after your hike, camp overnight ($12 a night) at one of the park’s six primitive campsites and sleep beneath a blanket of southwestern stars. Stay another day and venture underground on a tour through Mitchell Caverns. Learn about the plants of the Mojave Desert on the Mary Beale Nature Trail. Or, hike the Crystal Spring Trail where you could see a bighorn sheep sipping from a pool.
WALK SOFTLY: Car camping anywhere in the park other than the designated campsites is prohibited. However, backpacking in the back country is permitted if you check in with the ranger and pay a $5 day use fee. If you carry it in, carry it out and help protect this fragile desert environment.
MAPS AND GUIDES: A park brochure is available at the visitor center for 25 cents and contains a crude map of the park and Edgar Peak. Don’t trust it. Obtain USGS Fountain Peak, CA 7.5-minute quadrangle for a safe and successful hike to Edgar Peak.
MORE INFORMATION: Check with the ranger for any changes in policies, fees, and tours before planning your trip. Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, P.O. Box 1, Essex, CA 92332. (760) 928-2586; www.cal-parks.ca.gov