04 January 2017

Black Mountain

El Paso Mountains Wilderness (BLM)

With the new year, I seem to be out playing the Hundred Peaks Game again. Today has two targets that will be two separate hikes in the expanses of generally ignored Bureau of Land Management lands up peaks simply named for the color of the rocks that bring them to their height. The first is not entirely ignored as it sits within a Congressionally designated wilderness area. The route to the start is a decidedly rough road where the high clearance 4x4 is very desirable. After a slight maze of numbered roads, we park at the top of a gentle and rocky slope ready to get started up the mountain.

start on a gentle slope overlooked by a rainbow
Out on a gentle slope of desert with snowy mountains in the background and nature cheering us on with a rainbow. Or maybe that is just a good indication we will get some rain on us eventually.

We head up the gentle slope past a mysterious fenced structure. It looks a bit like there is a gap between ourselves and the mountain to the north, then we come to an edge. Indeed, there is. We have to drop down steeply into a beautifully painted little badlands area before getting to the real climb.

easterly hills
Hills and volcanic mesas to the east.

drop to a saddle
The mountain looms above us as we drop to cross a saddle to it.

colorful hills
Crossing the colorful badlands to the blackened volcano.

colorful hill
Passing a painted hill.

It is a nice, reasonable climb as we start up the mountain side. We drift a bit west as we go, eventually crossing a sharp gully to the next ridge for a steady climb along it. Little actual trail is evident from the many previous hikes that must have used this same approach, but there are occasional cairn to mark our progress. We follow the ridge and the whim more than them.

Western hills and distant mountains playing in the clouds.

creosote bush
Harmless creosote bush keeps giving me flashbacks to the cats claw in Arizona.

Black outcrops of volcanic rock hint at the type of mountain we stand on. There is more scattered volcanic rock as it gets steeper. There is something mysterious in the rocks ahead. A white box, perhaps? But our path curves left again, away from it as we climb. The clouds move in, or perhaps we just could not see from below that they were already here and we have simply climbed into them. They steal away our views either way.

mountain side
Collections of volcanic rock as we get steeper.

some clearing for a view
A moment of relative clarity nearing the top of the mountain.

Out of the clouds, there is the large depression shown on the map. The old caldera has filled in some, but is still quite obvious. This has not seemed to be the norm for volcanoes I have visited and delights the child inside. We continue around the edge of it west and then north. A saddle shows new views there, at least what there is that we can make out with the clouds.

volcanic caldera
The depression on the map is the distinct caldera of this little volcano.

rainbow under heavy cloud
Another rainbow greets us as views open up to the north.

northerly view
All of what we can see to the north with the clouds as they are.

We turn again to follow the ridge up around the edge of the caldera. There are little bits of snow left from the last storm. The rock outcrops make more difficult footing, so we move down to the north for easier travel. It is not far to the peak. We pass a reference mark on our way to the top and a bit further out than usual, helping to make my usual monument search quick. We get about five minutes at the top surrounded by clouds before the wind picks up and chases us down again.

dusting of snow
A dusting of snow remains in spots on the north side.

some hills eastward
Getting on the peak should mean some new views, but this is the best we get today.

group at the top
Once the wind picked up, this is the best group photo I was going to get. One smile while the rest dig in for something warm. There are nine today. One more is lost on my left.

We follow a tighter line on the way down to follow the other side of the caldera edge at first, then drop down into it rather than climb along the rocks of the next sub-peak. It promises some shelter, so is a good place to stop for a bite to eat. On the way, we stumble over a newer set of benchmarks by the Defence Mapping Agency.

dropping into the caldera
We bagged the peak, now for the anti-peak.

When we are ready again, we climb up and over the lip of the caldera and make our way back roughly along the same route as we came up. It is not quite the same and as we pass the mysterious white box with rocks piled around it, I turn to see what it really is. It is a metal sign. The rocks stacked around it are purposeful and make it look a little like a mounted plaque. It is a memorial.

caldera edge
It seems a little clearer for the moment as we climb back out over the lip of the caldera.

sign in rocks
The memorial on the mountain.

progression downward
We make our way down again.

down among rocks
Picking out a path.

westerly view
Maybe the longest view of the day out to the mountains to the west.

Back in the badlands, it is just one last short climb to get to the cars. Although it has been getting brighter around us, Black Mountain still seems quite gloomy behind us.

Black Mountain
Black Mountain is particularly black today.

colorful hills
And the best view of the eastern hills of the day. These would be the colorful hills that were hinted at when at the top.

A bit cold and the clouds were a bit too low and the wind sometimes a bit too hard, but the light was amazing. We finish quite ready to head off for another.

©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 6 January 2017

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