Big Maria Mountains High Point

December 31, 2021


Blythe, CA

Big Maria Mountains is a range of granite peaks/hills immediately to the north of Blythe. The highest point in this range locates on the north side and boasts over 700 m prominence. There are three “high point contenders” with elevation difference within 2 feet. All three high points were surveyed by USGS so I take these numbers with reasonable accuracy, but 2 feet (0.6 meter) is definitely within the error range. In my opinion the prominence purists would have to bag all three high points to claim this P600m/P2K objective. The general consensus is the middle summit being the highest point, while the south peak “False Maria” being 1 foot lower, and the north peak being another foot lower. The main peak and “False Maria” are usually ascended together as they share the same approach, but the north peak is out of the ways and rarely ascended. Adam had previously done the two higher contenders but needed the north peak, but we weren’t sure whether the drive-in was doable in his Subaru, but we were in the area earlier in the day to scramble Peak 2732 in Little Maria Mountains so we had to give it a solid attempt.

Adam had a plan to drive around the north side of “West Maria Benchmark” on some roads that weren’t even shown on my Gaia map. Those roads were shown on the USGS topo map, but I was highly skeptical about this plan. The roads were sure much rougher than expected and we turned around in less than a quarter of the way in. Adam then made a spontaneous decision to drive on some abandoned railroad track to short-cut the return, which thankfully did not get us a punctured tire. We then tried the other option which was to drive in from the south over the main peak’s standard route. This road was also much rougher than what Adam remembered but at least we drove to within half a kilometer to the standard route’s starting point. Adam determined that it’s unsafe to push towards the north peak. The new decision was for Adam to wait in the Subaru while I scramble the main peaks solo via the standard route. I definitely also wanted to bag the north peak for completion, but I did not have enough time nor the best starting position for that.

Big Maria standard route. GPX DL

The standard route ascends a system of washes and gullies to access the broader plateau on the upper west slopes of Big Maria. The terrain was rougher than I thought mostly because of the granite formation. I learnt from this trip that the gullies and washes on desert’s granite peaks involve nothing but boulder-hopping and in this particular case, more than half of the trip was boulder-hopping. There was also micro-terrain of up-and-downs as I could not just simply dash up the middle of the wash sometimes. There were multiple ways to get onto the upper west slopes. I chose to stay in the gullies for as long as I could because by this point I had already caught a rhythm in this boulder-hopping thing. Eventually I did make a leftward turn and scrambled a section of steep and loose terrain to gain the upper slopes.

Already 1-2 km into the wash. Looking back
Looking ahead. This is the typical view in the lower approach
I turned north and entered a smaller wash
Eventually I got out of the washes and gullies onto the west slopes

I chose to ascend the main peak first as that’s the one I absolutely had to bag. I felt extremely tired for some reasons so I wasn’t even sure if I wanted that south peak, so I might as well push the decision-making an hour later on the return. I traversed across a subsidiary bump to minimize elevation loss/regain which may or may not have saved much time. This entire ascent on the upper slopes felt like a slog as the slopes kept going on and on. There were also several false summits to plod over, which certainly felt frustrating. Thankfully the weather had improved.

The plod towards Big Maria High Point was boring and tedious
Partial Summit Panorama from Big Maria. Click to view large size.
Partial Summit Panorama from Big Maria. Click to view large size.
More about Big Maria Mountains to the south. Those are much lower…
This is an eastern view down into a major wash system
The north peak would require over 200 m drop and class 2/3 scramble to connect
West Maria Benchmark is the highest peak in the foreground
Me on the summit of Big Maria Mountains High Point

I made sure I eat more than enough food on the summit to gather enough strength for the descent. I made that spontaneous decision to descend into Main/South col to bag that south peak as well. The ascent of the south peak involved just over 100 m elevation gain and some slightly more interesting terrain. I even found a summit register on this peak, but nothing on the main peak.

The south peak “False Maria” right of center
Partway up the “False Maria”, looking back towards the main peak
Plodding up towards the south peak “False Maria”
Summit Panorama from “False Maria”. Click to view large size.
Some of those smaller peaks in Big Maria Mountains have over 300 m prominence
The main peak and the north peak
Another eastern side view to show the rugged terrain in this area
Me on the summit of the south peak “False Maria”

After taking another long break I leisurely descended the upper west slopes and mostly just retraced the exact route I took to get back into the gullies. That section of the steep and loose terrain was particularly unpleasant on the descent considering I only wore trail runners in this outing. The down-hill boulder-hopping back through those gullies and washes was much easier than expected, probably because I was already used that rhythm by this point. I eventually made back to Adam’s Subaru about 1 hour later than I thought, but the time was still reasonable for us to drive back into Blythe for a burrito dinner in La Paloma. It’s New Year’s Eve so we were glad that restaurant was still opening.

Descending into the gullies
Despite the boulder-hopping it was a fun descent
Already back into the main wash much lower down
Looking back from nearing the end
One of those smaller peaks in Big Maria Mountains from the end of the day
Adam was patiently waiting in his Subaru