Early Thanksgiving morning, David and I left the Vegas strip for the Mojave desert. We met up with Sooz, Robin, and Gordon at 9 am to hike Table Top mountain, a striking mesa-like peak in the heart of Mojave National Preserve. Like the majority of desert peaks there is no established trail to the top and hikers are on their own to find a good cross-country route.
In fact, I read somewhere that Mojave National Preserve, in its 1.5 million acres of desert, only has two maintained trails. This isn’t uncommon in the desert parks though – the wide open terrain is more forgiving and conducive to cross-country travel than say, Yosemite Valley. So, we found a nice pullout to leave our cars and set out on foot towards Table Top. We walked along the base of the ridge and once passing the jumbles of boulders started up the side of the mountain. This area burned a few years ago and it is very bleak and barren. I imagine that will change during wildflower season!
Table Top is ringed with a volcanic ridge that from a distance looks like it would require some technical skills to pass. However, as you get closer to the peak a steep but passable chute becomes obvious and we headed straight up. The last few hundred feet required some hoisting and balancing with the hands, but overall it was pretty easy. Upon topping out, it doesn’t look like a typical summit at all. It is incredibly flat and the actual high point is difficult to determine. Luckily, the high point was very near where we topped out and we found the log book and had a nice break. You can definitely cram a lot of people on this mountain top.
The trip down was fast and uneventful and we found ourselves back at the trucks around noon. After lunch, we agreed that we had enough daylight left to try for Pinto Peak, only a few miles to the north and close to our campsite. It only took a few minutes to drive to the next trail head and soon we found ourselves on the way to Pinto Peak. From where we dropped the cars the peak was not visible, blocked by an impressive and colorful volcanic ridge.
In Zdon’s Desert Summits book, he describes following a wash along the west side of the range in order to circle around and approach the peak from the northwest. You follow a ridge that climbs from the wash up to the main ridge, then contour around or go over several bumps before getting to the highest bump – Pinto Peak. This is the route we took. It is a two mile approach and took a bit more effort than I think we all expected. The contouring was on a steep slope and was a bit tiring on the legs and feet.
The final bump was a welcome sight and again we found ourselves on a relatively flat and open summit. There was a benchmark to tell us we were at the high point, but the summit shots hardly look like a summit! On the summit we discussed the approach and if we wanted to return via that route or try something different. We decided to head back a more direct way that would take us straight down through the volcanic ridge.
It turns out this was a very wise choice – although the ridge held us up for a short time while we tried to find the best route through the rock, the remainder of the trip back to the trucks was easy. Passing through the ~20-40 ft rock wall is doable – we found something that would be considered 3rd class, and Sooz and Gordon found another way through that was probably a bit more difficult. A bit of patience and wandering and it’s possible to find a way through the ridge that doesn’t require roping up.
If You Go
Table Top Mountain
I think our route was probably the easiest way to get to the top of Table Top. For details, see the track linked below. If you are considering a different approach, note that there are still patches of private land on the north side of the peak, and from our summit view it looked like the homestead was still occupied.
According to Zdon, the approach we took to the peak is the route. However, as described above it is possible to take a more direct route that passes through the rocky volcanic wall. You can download my track from the link below to extract way points – it should be obvious where we passed through the wall on the way down if you overlay the track on a properly scaled topo map. It helps to have someone who is experienced on rock to help test routes and spot people with foot and hand holds.
Look for some interesting relics in the area – we found a rainwater cistern, some old Plexiglas and gears (plane wreck?), animal bones, and other miscellaneous desert oddities.