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Gimpilator
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PostMon Nov 02, 2020 8:26 am 
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Military land expansion has threatened access to a majority of the Sheep Range as well lesser nearby ranges for a number of years now.  Recently the advocates to keep the land open won the legal battle through diligence and hard work, but then new federal counter-actions were implemented.  It was recently announced that the area will indeed be closed permanently, very soon.

In light of this struggle, we have been focusing on visiting that area over the last year.  The 2nd highest peak in the Sheep Range is unofficially called Big John.  It’s been visited about 5 times, if you count the USGS surveyors.  Conceivably it might be accessed from Hayford in a multi-day undertaking, but that would be most unpleasant considering the extra distance and gain/loss of elevation.

Harlan Stockman made a route up Quijinump Canyon, and then Guy Dahms used Sawmill Canyon on the east side.  I wanted to see if Basin Canyon would work for us.  After the idea hatched a few years ago, more map studying this week made it seem that major dryfalls and cliffs might prevent us from making use of the entire canyon, however a system of side gullies seemed like a promising detour.  Furthermore, satellite maps revealed the presence of an unusually large agave roasting pit in Basin Canyon.  Prehistoric food preparation methods have left white circles of stones which are now visible from space.

Big John – 9782’

We started from the end of White Rock Canyon road which is a bit rough.  Following the wash to the southeast, we crossed over a rib into Basin Canyon.  Easy walking on open gravel with occasional brief tangles of brush.  700 feet from the roasting pit, I found an arrowhead.  Keep in mind that viewing such artifacts is fine, but removing them is illegal.

roasting pit
roasting pit

We came to bottom of the first detour gully.  A bit loose, but overall not bad.  We traversed into the second gully and this one was steeper and very loose.  A crux dryfall can be avoided by moving further left.  At the top of the second gully we came to a saddle and then went up-slope to the right.  It was then necessary to make a long traverse to rejoin upper Basin Canyon, now above the extensive cliff zone.


The upper portion of canyon was mellow and had taller ponderosas.  We found several very old bighorn skulls in the upper canyon.  We were both somewhat fatigued on the last 500 feet of gain to the summit.  Three months of predominant inactivity, avoiding the fire smoke continuously drifting over from CA, has taken it’s toll on my level of fitness.

"Ram" peaks
"Ram" peaks
Arrow Range
Arrow Range
Big John summit
Big John summit
only 2 written entries, plus the typical Harlan jest business cards (not shown)
only 2 written entries, plus the typical Harlan jest business cards (not shown)

Iko Iko - 9676’

After the main peak I went for a nearby bonus summit while Frances took a nap on a giant fallen log.  There’s a great view of Hayford from here.

Big John from Iko Iko
Big John from Iko Iko
Hayford
Hayford

I hope to return to the further north peaks in this range before the expansion is completed.  Those sub-range “Ram” peaks are climbed even less than Big John, with one or two ascents each.

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Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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Mike Collins
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 8:39 am 
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Gimpilator wrote:
roasting pit
roasting pit

Thank you for introducing me to this fascinating archaeological finding. https://www2.palomar.edu/users/ddozier/California/regions/Southern/agave_pit_roasting.htm
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Sculpin
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 11:08 am 
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Mike Collins wrote:
Thank you for introducing me to this fascinating archaeological finding.

Same here.   up.gif

Being a botany guy, it made me wonder what plant was being roasted.  I carefully scrutinized each image and am not really seeing anything in the Yucca family except maybe two plants right next to Frances at the edge of the pit.  The genus Agave does not appear in the joshua tree belt AFAIK, the root crown is subject to freezing.  A. utahensis variety nevadensis occurs at the lowest elevations in southern Nevada, but it is the smallest of the agaves and rather rare.  The genera Yucca and Nolina do contain members hardy enough to live up there and are similar in having edible parts protected by spiny parts.

It seems more likely that they were roasting the flowering stalks of Nolina bigelovii than the roots of an agave species at that latitude and elevation.  Since nut pines look to be abundant up there, I was wondering if those might have been pit roasted, but I was unable to determine that from an internet search.

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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Gimpilator
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 12:47 pm 
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As to what was being roasted.  The pits throughout the greater Las Vegas area are strategically placed in the washes of limestone ranges, directly below craggy ridges where ivory-spined agave grows.  Often the ridges are completely devoid of agave in proximity to the pits, presumably from over harvesting.  I suspect it will take a long time, perhaps centuries, for the plants to reestablish pre-harvest dispersion.  These agave anchor into cracks in the rocks and do not grow in the washes.  However you are correct in your observation of pine-nut bearing trees.  We often search for the edible pine-nuts, but usually squirrels get to them first.

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https://www.summitpost.org/users/gimpilator/25744
http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ClimbListC.aspx?cid=2650&sort=elevft&u=ft&j=-1&y=9999

Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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Sculpin
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 2:39 pm 
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Thanks Gimpilator!

So Agave utahensis var. eborispina is indeed a hardier agave that grows in the mountains around Las Vegas.  It is considered rare because it has such a small range, but is locally common.  Jim Boone, who created the excellent birdandhike.com website, wrote that "judging from the number of agave roasting pits around the desert, these must have been more common at one time."

Now it all makes sense!

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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Fletcher
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 3:38 pm 
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So good to see you out. The ‘stache really suits you well!
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