Death Valley


Team Hole-in-the-Head heads south.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Tom started talking about Death Valley back in December. It didn't take much for me to get interested, anticipating a break from the snow. He picked out some peaks and we discussed gear. And suddenly it was the end of February. Let's roll!

We left Boise early Saturday morning and headed south through Jordan Valley, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Austin, Tonopah, and then past Scotty's Castle in Death Valley. In the park, we grabbed a gravelly campsite at Mesquite Spring and settled in, hoping the tent stakes would stand up to the constant wind.

Sunday, 22 February

The next morning we left the tent up and headed north for the long, bumpy Big Pine Road to Crankshaft Junction. Along the way, we spotted our peak, Sandy Peak. This is looking west from the road, but our ascent would start from the northwest side and follow the north (right hand) ridge.


But first we had to get to Crankshaft Junction. You don't really need to read the sign- just click to see the bigger picture; that will explain everything.



The climb starts by traversing a broad alluvial plain and heading up a canyon. This theme would be repeated every day this week.

After the canyon, you gain a ridge where there is a faint climber's trail. Follow the trail along the ridgetop for several miles...

I love how Tom dressed to match the lichen.


It's a long, long ridge walk. Did I mention that already?

As we progressed, we bemoaned the directions in the guidebook that explained the ridge was special because of its views of the Sierra. We didn't really experience much of that.

And then it started snowing. Hey, that wasn't in the plan!


From the summit, 100-mile views. Not.

The return to the car was uneventful, and the road was no less bumpy as we headed south. The tent was still there, but mid-afternoon it started to rain. Sideways.

Neither of us wanted to stand in the blowing rain to run the stove. Cold dinner.


Monday, 23 February

The next morning under clearing skies, we could see snow on all the hillsides. Michael's prediction had come true.

Oh well. We broke camp and drove to Daylight Pass. This is Daylight Peak from the trailhead.


From near the hottest place on earth, we were walking in snow. Camp
After strolling across the alluvium, it was steep talus. Loose. But the snow improved the traction (right!...). If you click on the picture, you can see the car down there. Camp

After some easy scrambling, we were on the summit. We thought.

The mapped showed the other end of the ridge as the summit. It's 20 feet lower, but we had to make sure.


A bit of wind on the summit.

This is Tom's new look: Inca King. Off with their heads!

That's Daylight Castle behind us, peak #2 for the day.


Our route off Daylight went down the north ridge. Very fun and quite scenic.

We paused for a lunch break in the valley, then headed up Daylight Castle.


More alluvium. Some talus. Then: which one is the summit?

Tom liked the route that arced to the left.

High in the arc, it got rockier. And snowier. Camp
Still getting rockier. Note that at this point we were also trying to avoid the plants. Thins here tend to be stiff, with thorns. You do not want to brush against them unnecessarily. Camp

From the ridge, we were faced with a tower that posed two questions: was this the actual summit? and how do you get up it?

I decided that climbing the tower looked fun, regardless of whether or not we'd simply have to climb down and go get another one. I also decided that instead of investigating, we should just go for what appeared like a fun route.

Here's Tom enjoying the result of my curiosity. On a peak rated Class 2, a little bit of Class 4?


The rock led us up, around, and over. All good fun.

This is coming back down.

Then we had a long, easy hike down a dry streambed, then across more alluvium to the car. Great loop.

From Daylight Pass, it's a short drive to Beatty, Nevada, where we partook of a room at the Exchange Club Motel because I needed a WiFi connection to keep my employers happy. And we had some crappy food at the Sourdough Saloon to keep our stomachs happy (not).


Tuesday, 24 February

Between Beatty and yesterday's Daylight Pass, there is a turnoff to the one-way and 4WD road to Titus Canyon. The first pass on the Titus Canyon road is Red Pass, seen here. Our route for today followed the ridge seen here on a trail. A pretty good trail, too.

The trail gets right to business. But it's a trail. Camp
Not so much alluvium today, or not yet, anyway. But there was snow.

Today was a two-fer. Here's summit #1, Point 6108.

That's peak #2 for the day behind us: Thimble Peak. As you might surmise from the valley floor seen in the background, you can see Thimble from all over the valley. That put it high on our list.


But Thimble looks a little intimidating. However, the guide book says it's mostly Class 1. Hard to believe, but let's go.

First, we had to drop about 400', which would have to be climbed on our return.

Below, a panorama showing the mountain.

What looked scary from below is almost totally hikeable. And the trail leads all the way to the summit. You'll probably need your hands for balance at a couple spots. And it's limestone, so leather gloves are recommended. Camp
Summit five for the trip. Camp

As expected, the views from Thimble are incredible.

Here's a really nice view of Mt. Whitney. The GPS says it's about 50 miles away.


We did the climb back over 6108 and then down to the car. At the car, we pulled out the chairs and had a long, leisurely lunch in the sun. About 65°.

Then we continued on the one-way loop, dropping down past old mining ruins and finally into Titus Canyon. It's pretty cool, with a narrow, twisty dirt road. On this day the driving wasn't bad, but the road is basically following the streambed in places, so high clearance and 4WD are the standard.


It had been a couple hours since our last lunch, so we stopped in Stovepipe Wells for some cafe food.

Right next to the little oasis, there is a bumpy 2-mile road to Marble Canyon, a popular hike. Here's Tom in the narrowest part of the canyon.

We each discovered that marble, with a bit of wet sand on your boots, can be extremely slippery. Tom saved me from bonking my head when my feet decided to swap positions and be my top-most.


Wednesday, 25 February

After Marble Canyon, we continued southwest on the highway to the tents-only Emigrant campground. The soil was so hard (actually, the underlying alluvium) that we could only get the tent stakes in an inch. Gorgeous sunset, with Wednesday's objective, Towne Peak, somewhere in there with the setting sun.


With nothing to keep us in camp, we were up and moving early. Here's the sun just coming up on Towne Pass. We'll be heading up the ridge in the background (after crossing the alluvium).

And yes, that is snow.....

Looking back at the car. Most of the snow here was gone when we returned. Camp

Once on the ridge, you follow it over multiple small false summits around a semi-circle before heading up the final ridge.

Towne Peak is just left of center, but first we'll do all those false summits on the right. Builds character.

Circling the drainage. Camp

As we got up higher, we spotted this airplane crash on a subsidiary ridge. Note that the plane was flying out of Mountain Home, making it an extra-interesting Idaho story from about Tom's birth year.

And more walking. And walking. Much of it on a climber's trail of sorts. And finally, there's our final ridge to the summit. Camp

Summit. Nice views, and nice day. But we agreed that this was an uninspiring summit.

When we got back to the car, we decided that we needed to re-evaluate the cafe lunch and see if their beer was still cold. Then a long drive back to the Wildrose campground, where we found our favorite camping spot of the trip.



Part of the fun of campground camping, which I've never done much of, seems to be people watching. And gear sniffing. We guessed that when camping, these people stayed pretty sober.

One note that bears repeating- at this time of year, it gets dark rather early, like about 6. Each evening we read in the car for a while, but still ended up in the tent around 8. I like camping as much as the next fella, but that much time lying on the ground is hard on old guys.


Thursday, 26 February

We packed up our favorite camp and were again on our way pretty early. Note the long shadows at the trailhead for Wildrose Peak, with charcoal kilns.

The trail starts from behind the kilns, wraps around the sunny ridge, then presents this old road, with footprints in the snow. As usual, we were the first ones on the trail this day. That means the old prints were crusty with ice. Camp
The tracks made it up to the first saddle, but not much farther. By then, the snow in the trees was quite a bit deeper to accept our fresh tracks. Camp
This was a gorgeous day and we loved hiking through the pinyon pines. This is our first really good view of the upper mountain. This is notable because the trail does a big loop in the wrong direction, creating confusion on our old-guy minds. Camp
Once on the final ridge, you get out of the trees and again with the great views. This is looking down to Furnace Creek, approximately 9000 feet below. Really, 9000. Camp
Just when you think you're on top, you notice another spot about a quarter-mile away. This is looking back across that summit ridge. Camp


That's Telescope Peak, at ~11,000 the highest peak in the park, in the background.

It had been quite warm, but the summit wind got us to dig out our parkas.

This is a zoomed-in photo of Furnace Creek, the biggest village in the park. We had planned to stay there, but after driving in decided it was too hot (!) to camp. Tom tried to get us a room, but the $340 was too rich for us. But now we had visions of a shower and bed, so the ground wasn't going to work. Back to the Exchange Club in Beatty, where we even got the same room. Without much choice, we rejected the Chili and Beer restaurant (really, just chili and beer) so went back to the Sourdough Saloon, where we found the pizza not too bad (with enough cheap beer). By the way, should you stay at the Exchange Club, get Room 110 because our cold pizza is probably still in the fridge. Camp

Friday, 27 February

After another breakfast at the Denny's inside the casino (we've got Beatty wired), it was back over Daylight Pass again to go after Tom's #1 objective for this trip, Corkscrew Peak, right of center, out across the alluvium.


Here it is zoomed in, later in the day. It's a very unique-looking peak, with a commanding view.

It gets its name because of a recumbent syncline, an unusual formation where the folding is so extreme it folds over itself.

But first, back to the alluvium. Two miles of it, to be exact. The red arrow shows approximately where we gained the toe of the ridge. Camp
Here is Tom hiking up said toe. Camp
The lower part of the ridge climbs steadily at a comfortable angle. Camp
Then it gets steeper. Good trail, though. Camp
And then it gets steeper yet. Camp
Nearing the top, you gain the ridge with this cool window. Note Daylight Castle Peak under Tom's right arm. Camp
The final ridge brought us closer to what appeared to be an absolutely huge summit register. Camp

The summit register is actually about normal size, so we were quickly on top. Summit.

When we got back to the car, it was about 1PM and upper 60s. In the spirit of things, we put on short for the first time all week, t-shirts, and hopped in the car. Sadly, it was time to head home.


Heading Home

It wasn't too far north before we started seeing this stuff.


We were in a full-on blizzard as we approached Austin.

Welcome back, Winter.

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