Palen Mountains High Point - from the West

2 Jan 2015 - by Jim Morehouse

DRIVE/ROUTE A/WESTERN APPROACH: From Desert Center, CA drive 17 miles N on State Highway 177 to the Palen Pass dirt road, located about 10 yards N of highway milepost 17. (Or from Twenty Nine Palms, drive approximately 40 miles east on Highway 62 to Highway 177, turn right and continue south to a turn off to the left, just yards from milepost 17 and turn left, continuing on 1.8 miles of sandy road and follow the directions below from there) Turn right (E) and drive 1.8 miles of sandy road to a junction. Turn right and drive 3.9 miles to a fork with a fair dirt road coming in from the east. Park. The boundary of the Palen-McCoy Wilderness Area is a few feet E of this parking spot.

NOTE: This is a very sandy route and should not be attempted with a 2WD vehicle.

The above is from the DPS guide, and I came from the north, i.e., Highway 62. The road in is definitely high clearance and 4WD. Not because of how rough it is, but because how sandy it is. I engaged 4WD on my Tacoma more for traction than anything else.


When we arrived at the TH, there was a sign saying that the road in was closed, as this was the boundary of the Palen wilderness area. However, there were tire tracks in that went quite aways. Further up this good but closed road, it began to suffer from numerous washouts that would have made driving it a more serious challenge. In any case, we camped for the night there, as it was very flat and nice. Although the elevation is just above 500' here, the temperatures dropped below freezing over night.


We headed up the road about seven a.m. and made good time for the first 8.2 miles or so to get to the base of the mountain. Lorraine and I stopped for lunch here, and then she headed back to the truck, as her knee was sore. From this point on the hike was over difficult, rocky terrain. The DPS guide's directions are hard to follow, as there are numerous forks and sub forks in the drainage, and at the point where I was to take the right fork, I went left, miscounting the number of forks that I was at!


My route is in blue, the better route is in red.

No big deal, though, as I finally made the ridge separating the two forks, and followed it up to the summit ridge. The views were fantastic in all directions.


On the way down, I went down the "correct" fork, and made better time, as the terrain was a little better. Several dry falls and boulder piles made the descent interesting, although the vegetation of choice was cat's claw. It may be possible to miss some of it, but not all of it! Once back on the road, I flew down the road back to camp. As it was already after dark by then, we decided to spend another night there, and drove out the next morning.


How the route looks from the base of the mountain. Again, my route is blue, and the better route is in red.

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