Death Valley


Warm and sunny times in February. 26 peaks. In Death Valley.

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

Tom and I had done this trip, or a similar one, in 2015. So we had a pretty good idea of how to execute and what our goals should be. Here's our report listed in chronological order, as it happened.

Friday, Feb 19

I was overloaded at work, so I had asked Tom to put together an itinerary, which he dutifully and energetically did. However, I didn't put much energy into reviewing it, and this caused a problem when I failed to notice that I was supposed to be in Boise Thursday night. When I was over an hour late for dinner, Tom called to see if I was okay.

So on Friday evening, I arrived at Tom's house, very embarrassed. He generously forgave me for being a blockhead. I even got one of Laurie's most excellent dinners!


Saturday, Feb 20

On Saturday we were off for Nevada at 7am. We got to the turnoff to Mount Jackson at about 5pm (Pacific).


We set up camp in the setting sun, anxious for our week of climbing to begin.

That night it got down to around 20°, judged by my need to completely shut down the hood of my sleeping bag. Brrr. It was probably warmer in McCall!


Sunday, Feb 21

Today's three climbs were all near the end of a west-running valley about 35 miles north of Beatty, Nevada.

Mount Jackson, 6412'

  • RT: Class 3, 2.5 miles, 1131' gain, 2:45 hours car-to-car
So the next morning we were up in our puffys, eating cold breakfast. Tom had spotted a possible scramble route, possibly with a little Class 4. But with the thought of downclimbing it, I persuaded him to traverse across to the route we had eyeballed the evening before (pictured).

So we were off across the slopes.

After a long ascending traverse, we entered the cliff band that protected the upper mesa. Approach

A bit above the rock band, and the angle eases back. We could see above us where the sun was warming the rocks.


Finally in the sun, and the view across the summit plain.


On the summit with our new climbing partner.


On the way down through the rock band, Tom was below me when I pulled a rock off. In an attempt to keep it from flying down slope, I let it hit me in the stomach. Then it whacked me in the shin. Both impacts drew blood. I must be getting rusty (or old).

Then about here, I rolled a rock underfoot and landed in a heap, my knee on a rock and my arm in a cacti. More blood. And now, stickers embedded. What a way to start our trip!

After that last one, I was a bit light-headed. I hobbled a bit, then got my legs back and made it back to the car without any more klutzy moves.

Map of our route (I was excited to begin, so forgot to turn on the GPS: follow our lower descent route) Approach

Mount Dunfee, 7030'

  • RT: Class 2, 3.9 miles, 1279' gain, 2:30 hours car-to-car

This peak looked gorgeous from the valley, and also from Mount Jackson. But from the trailhead, and we were pretty sure we had nailed it, not so much. But let's start hiking up there and see what we can see. Besides, the GPS is showing a highpoint....

So up we went. South exposure and lots of sun. Approach

Is that it up there?

The Joshua trees add a nice splash of green.

The GPS said that this was the summit. A saddle to cross, but not too much farther now. Approach
But those over there look pretty high. Approach

From the vantage point of highpoint #3, and with the wisdom gained from summiting all three, we can say that #2 is our winner, being 10 feet higher than the point from which this photo was shot. But it took a lot of work to say we had tagged the actual summit.

Time to head down. But which way?


A brief discussion ensued. Then we successfully dropped off #3 and wandered across the desert back to the car.


Map of our route Approach

Peak 6413, 6413'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.3 miles, 586' gain, 1:10 hours car-to-car

A short drive, with only a few back-and-forth sorties to find the correct road, brought us to the base of our third peak of the day.

It was your normal steep desert scramble. Approach
There's Jackson off to our north. Approach
And Dunfee to the east. Approach

And two tired old farts on top, grinning. Life is good.

Time to head down, drive another bit to Beatty, and get a room at the same cheap hotel as last year.

Map of our route Approach

Monday, Feb 22

Today's five climbs were mostly around Rhyolite, an old ghost town just west of Beatty.

Sawtooth Mountain, 6005'

RT: Class 2, 1.7 miles, 996' gain, 2:00 hours car-to-car (includes West Sawtooth)

This peak sits right behind one of the many radar stations in the area. The guidebook described a 20' crack climb, Class 4. It also mysteriously mentioned that there might be an easier way. Neither of us felt like downclimbing Class 4, so we were somewhat preoccupied. So no approach pic. This is from a later day, from a long ways away.

So now, back to our story. The road up to the station is too much. Even in 4-Low, it looked tough. So we walked. Here's the last bit, after the bad part, with the summit in the background. Approach
If you come this way, orient yourself to this phone pole, then hike out to the notch. Approach
From the notch, climb down to this brushy ledge that climbs gently to the north-east. Approach

Follow the ledge up and around the corner until you find another ledge leading up in the opposite direction, sort of south-west. This ledge will take you all the way to the summit.

This is Tom showing the way back DOWN the final ledge.

But I got too busy describing the route. Along the way, we did get to the summit, where it was somewhat windy. Approach
And we could see our next peak for the say, Sawtooth Mountain West. Approach

West Sawtooth Peak, 5940'

When we got back to the saddle, the wind was howling. However, we saw a possible route, and it was on the lee side of the ridge.

Hmmm.... I wonder what that summit block will be like?


But first, we had to cross the saddle while trying not to join the jet stream, then clamber up this very loose hillside. It was rolly rocks on unstable bedrock, with a 35mph crosswind to help with your balance.

If you are paying attention, that's Sawtooth in the background.

As it turns out, the summit is a different block of rock. Not as spectacular, but the wind again made the slippery footing more unstable. I'm sitting on the summit, and Tom is trying to find a place to sit himself. Approach
Map of Sawtooth and West Sawtooth Approach

Bullfrog Mountain, 4940'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.9 miles, 698' gain, 1:15 hours car-to-car

Another short drive across the desert brought us to the base of Bullfrog Mountain. This looked like a simple ridge walk, although the ridge ran perpendicular to the prevailing, and very strong, wind.

As we worked out way up the ridge, we could look back at the day's previous two peaks. Approach

From the summit, we got more of the same.

We were having a blast, the weather, although windy, was perfect, and it was still early in the day. We went over the list of nearby fish as we tacked back to the car.

Map of Bullfrog Mountain Approach

Burton Mountain, 4381'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.4 miles, 550' gain, 0:50 hours car-to-car

We hadn't really been planning on climbing Burton. We were heading for Black Peak and another one. But in the maze of unmarked roads and depending on bad GPS maps, and also choosing peaks on a fickle desire to climb the ones that were coolest looking, this is where we ended up.


Like with many of the peaks here, the geology makes the route interesting in many ways. What is all this rocky stuff, why is it that color/texture, and why is it making me go around/over/through?

And if that isn't interesting enough, there is the plant life. What are those strange things, and why are they sticking in my pants/socks/fingers (or butt, if you were unlucky enough to have chosen to sit on one)?


Burton overlooks Beatty.

From some of the other nearby peaks, you can see that Burton also has a big 'B' on it that faces Beatty. Not because it's Burton, though.

Okay, that's four peaks today. But we weren't quite through.

Map of Burton Mountain route Approach

Velvet Peak, 3918'

  • RT: Class 3, 0.9 miles, 444' gain, 0:39 hours car-to-car

You can see Velvet Peak from the top of Burton.

Bob Burd, a peak-bagger of some acclaim, did this one in 15 minutes. But it's a really cool looking peak, so we wanted to go after it, too.


You can also see it from the top of Beatty Peak.


In fact, you can see it really well from the highway where we parked.

Note the long shadows. They were inverse of our energy levels.


And again, a view of Beatty.

And yes, the wind was still blowing.

Map of Velvet Peak Approach

Tuesday, Feb 23

Today's four climbs were three up a Fluorspar Canyon just east of Beatty, plus one high above Death Valley.

Mieklejohn Peak, 5940'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.3 miles, 999' gain, 1:45 hours car-to-car

There are a host of peaks in this area, and we were thinking about Razorback Ridge and Bare Peak (a P2K). But then the reality of the terrain showed what the topos didn't. This wasn't even a peak, but it seemed to be barring our way. And the topo showed a big drop on the backside.

So we changed plans to the other side of the road and Mieklejohn Peak. That's the summit in the background, up the canyon. Approach
and up and up. Challenging footing choices forced by cliffs and vicious shrubbery. Approach
That was followed by more easy scrambling to the ridge, then passing through the gates (here, on descent) Approach
On the summit, we followed our standard ritual of congratulations, photos, and then posting on LOJ to annoy Dan at work. Approach
Map of Mieklejohn Peak route. Approach

Peak 5051 "Red Peak"

  • RT: Class 2, 1.1 miles, 506' gain, 0:55 hours car-to-car

From the top of Mieklejohn, we spotted this huge open pit. This pic is from closer, on our drive.

Nevada is full of mine pits, but this was a big one, and apparently abandoned in this state. We discussed the Mining Act as we tried to figure out the roads to get around the pit and start our climb of what we had dubbed Red Mountain.

And here's our peak. Approach

It was a straightforward ridge walk without any drama, so needs no story. Great views, standard.

Tom's hat, purchased yesterday and gone tomorrow, has stories behind it, but you'll have to ask Tom.

Map of Red Peak route. Approach

Beatty Peak, 4282'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.3 miles, 614' gain, 1:00 hours car-to-car

From Beatty, Beatty Peak is easy to see. From our approach, it's not quite so impressive. But the proximity to town makes it cool to climb.

The guidebook says to start near an old burned-out AMC Gremlin. We thought it looked more like a Fiat 128, but what do we know? Just park and start hiking up the heinously-steep ATV trail. Approach
When you get to the ridge, you can see the summit in the near distance. Like with every other peak in the area, there is a ravine between it and you, but hiking around the ravine lessens the angle and provides pleasant views. Approach

The summit affords another view of Beatty.

Also note that from here you can see the aforementioned 'B' on Burton Peak.

Ah, vacation. We were having a great time, and when we got back to the car it was time for a lengthy lunch in the sun. Of course at Tom's stage of life, every day is a vacation. He seems to think it's important to remind me of that. Approach
Map of Beatty Peak climb. Approach

Okay, time to go camping. We gassed up and hit the long, slow road to the ancient ghost town of Chloride City (which was possibly closed, according to the most ambiguous National Park sign ever, placed inside the closed area...we're still not clear- and it was too sun-bleached to be worth a photo to show you).

Peak 4860

  • RT: Class 2, 3.4 miles, 733' gain, 1:15 hours car-to-car

On Beatty Peak, I had downed an ancient bottle of 5-hour Energy that was in my pack. In Chloride City, I simply couldn't sit still. Tom relaxed as I took off into the sunset, looking for the high point on this ridge.


I was watching the clock and calculating my ability to get back without a headlamp (I was packing, but didn't want to have to use it). Now, where the heck is the highpoint?

I had to run all the way to the end to finally determine with the GPS that the highpoint was NOT at the end. sigh.


But looking down the over 4000' elevation drop to the floor of Death Valley was spectacular.

Unfortunately, by the time I got all the way out there, the sharp shadows on the dunes had faded. I guess that's the thing about sunset pictures- you have to be there at sunset, not 15 minutes after.

On my shortcut through the canyon on the way back, I found myself looking right down the throat of one of the many mines in the area. Approach
Map of the route Approach
And although it does not photograph well, we then had a super time watching the rise of the full moon. Approach

Wednesday, Feb 24

After a peak accessible by motor vehicles, we go rogue and keep adding peaks as we wander farther from our rig. With a total of six peaks, a long day off trail.

Chloride Cliff, 5260'

  • RT: Class 2, 9.5 miles, 2030' gain, 5:45 hours car-to-car (includes four peaks)

Again, there are mines and holes all over the place here. We inadvertently parked right next to this hole, a hole without a visible bottom. Like the other holes, it had been sealed up.

It was a short walk to the top, and we enjoyed loosening the legs instead of driving. Approach
Looking northerly, there's the peak I did last evening. Approach
And while Tom inspects the benchmark, there's our next peak across the canyon to the south. Approach

Boundary Benchmark, 5464'

  • continuation of previous climb

The canyon was deep, so we instead ran around it's head. On the way, we found a passable trail that allowed us partial passage. That white area at the left end of the ridge marks Chloride Cliff. We were parked just to the left of the right-hand hump.

Mr. Murphy probably has a law about the high point always being at the far end of the ridge. Approach

Is that it? Nope.

Is that it? Nope.

When we finally got all the way out there, we were richly rewarded by a view of why Chloride Cliff was closed. The sign had said something about mine tunnels and shafts honeycombing the hillside, creating a collapse hazard. Sort of looks honeycombed. Approach

Peak 5350, 5350'

  • continuation of previous climb

We then set our sights on the next peak south. Of course, that meant we had to do another end-run around another canyon. And Murphy's New Climbing Law was still in force.


Here's the western (far) end of our new canyon. Long way, friend.

Also note the cairn. We found cairns all over the place. We assume they are claim markers of some sort. We looked, but found no little film canisters.

As summits go, this one wasn't too impressive. But we were impressed with the amount of ground we had covered and the various looks we had had at all these ridges and canyons. Approach

All that with Death Valley right next door.

This is looking down at Furnace Creek and Badwater, while looking up at Telescope Peak for Dave.


Peak 5140, 5140'

  • continuation of previous climb

As long as we've come all the way out here, we might as will tag that peak that absolutely looked too far from the car, right?

The desert does funny things to your depth perception, so this didn't look all that far off....

We were swimming in sunscreen, but the mysterious disappearance of Tom's new hat required him to improvise. Approach
It was fun to find that even after all that sagebrush, we would get to scramble the summit. Approach

Okay. Okay. That's enough.

Now, where's that car. Oh, over by that little white bump way in the right background.

Map of the four peaks above Chloride City Approach

We eventually made it back to the car. After digging through the cooler, it was time for some heinous 4wd back to the canyon below Chloride City. And then for some reason, we decided one more might be good.

Peak 4900, 4900'

  • RT: Class 2, 3.9 miles, 1301' gain, 1:30 hours car-to-car (includes Peak 5020)

This didn't look tough, especially considering how long we had walked to get to the last couple peaks.

My GPS was using a map with 150' contours. I'm pretty sure that upcoming saddle is 149.5' deep, because it didn't show on my map. Approach

Five peaks today. Lots of miles. Felt good.

But dang, that peak in the background looks cool!


Peak 5020

Tom agreed, but applied what most people would call common sense.

Me, I was off to the races!


From the summit, looking back at our previous peak.

And finally, it was time to head back to Beatty for cold libations and hot showers. Approach
Map of 4900 and 5020 Approach

Thursday, Feb 25

Today's five climbs were all adjacent to the Titus Canyon Road.

Pot Peak, 5252'

  • RT: Class 2, 2.3 miles, 860' gain, 1:45 hours car-to-car

Again with the sagebrush and cacti.


We followed a long, twisting ridge with a few intermediary bumps.

That's Corkscrew Peak in the background.

Interesting geologic stuff. Approach

Too bad the weather wasn't better.

That's Sawtooth Peak off in the distance.

And our next peak, Block Peak. Approach
Map of Pot Peak route Approach

Block Peak, 5940'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.3 miles, 854' gain, 1:20 hours car-to-car

If long, sage-covered ridges are boring you, my apologies. For us, each was different. We were having a ball figuring it all out: up center, swing right, then follow around to the left.

And there were always uncertainties to discuss. Approach
Or interesting things to look at. Approach
And from the summit, our next peak to consider. That dark peak in the foreground is Titanothere. Approach
Map of Block Peak route Approach

Titanothere Point, 5380'

  • RT: Class 2, 0.8 miles, 442' gain, 0:42 hours car-to-car

Anyone got a guess as to the etymology? Yeah, I had to look that one up, too. But for now, let's climb it. All steep and shiny.

This one had some fun scrambling. Approach
We climbed the higher peak last year. The lower peak here is next: Peak 5260. Approach
Map of route on Titanothere Approach

Peak 5260, 5260'

  • RT: Class 2, 1.4 miles, 486' gain, 0:45 hours car-to-car

At this point in the canyon, the hard part if finding a place to park on the narrow Titus Canyon road. So we had a bit of extra walking to get to this one.


This peak had a fascinating combination of slate and marble.

There was a ton of slate in lots of colors. I felt bad that I was crunching it under my boots.

Another summit with another peak in the background. It never ends. Approach
Peak 5260 route Approach

Red Pass Peak, 5860'

  • RT: Class 4, 0.6 miles, 556' gain, 0:41 hours car-to-car

If you are tired of sagebrush hikes, this will fix that.

We had no beta for the route. So I followed my nose, which took me up this heinously steep and loose hillside.


Often on all fours. Sand on slabs. Loose boulders. And the occasional dropoff. Yum.

As I got near the top, I found a faint climber's trail. Hey, this might work out! Approach

On the way back down, I was able to follow the climber's trail. It was much, much easier but still required some care.

There's the rig.

The bottom of the route required climbing down this conglomerate chimney. I swear that every piece of conglomerated rock was available for picking, like ripe plums. Approach
Map of Red Pass Peak Approach

Friday, Feb 26

After descending Titus Canyon Road, we camped at Montgomery Springs. The next morning we tagged two peaks on the return to Beatty. Followed by one peak near Tonopah.

But first, the vaunted Sooper Bloom.

Yes, that' asphalt. The thickest flowers were in the borrow pit. Out on the alluvial fan, those yellow flowers were about one in each 10' radius. Approach

The Loner, 5252'

  • RT (including second peak: Class 2, 2.8 miles, 1385' gain, 2:35 hours car-to-car

Again with the sagebrush and cacti. Again.

But Hah! Which one is the summit?

Looking back at the highway. Approach
That looks like it's the top. Approach
There's probably an easier way, but we were having fun. Approach

Tom having summit fun.

And there's Boundary Monument in the background.


Boundary Monument, 5064'

  • continuation of previous climb

It was still early in the morning and we were still moving pretty well, but I think we were both getting tired. I was wondering where the top was... 'cuz that's not it!

There's The Loner behind us. Tom is in there somewhere. Approach

And looking the other way, there's the top.

At least I think so....

I was pleased to find another scramble summit. Approach

And then we tagged the top.

Ready to jump in the rig and head north.

Map of our route over both peaks Approach

Mount Butler, 7185'

  • RT: Class 3, 2.3 miles, 604' gain, 1:15 hours car-to-car

But we weren't done yet. After some gasoline, Subway, and a couple hours behind the wheel, we made it to Tonopah.

What's that cool looking thing?

We had gone all week without walking in snow. Approach
Solar power, anyone? Approach
After the worst part of the climb- trying to get up the extremely steep and loose road cut- we were looking down onto Tonopah. Approach
This baby was steep. Approach
Tom moving quickly in a brisk wind. Approach
Map Approach

Saturday, Feb 27

This one peak was a travel break between Winnemucca and Boise.

Blue Mountain, 7435'

  • RT: Class 2, 4.6 miles, 1806' gain, 1:45 hours car-to-car

You can see Blue Mountain from a long way away. This is from about 20 miles south.

It's a short drive on a pretty good dirt road to this point. Not much higher up, we could see snow across the road. Tom had had enough with over 20 peaks this week, and he had 4G, so he stayed in the rig while I took off cross-country, making a beeline for the summit. Approach
There were several ravines with snow in them, so I changed course to climb one of the dry ridges. Eventually, though, that dumped me onto the road, which was mostly snow-covered. Approach
The road is at a nice grade, and the snow was pretty firm, so I made good time. Approach
Nearing the top, I left the road and ascended directly up the south ridge. Along the way I spotted occasional fresh boot prints. Approach
The wind on top was howling, so I tried to hide in the lee of one of the many buildings on top while I took a few brief photos. Approach
Summit photos done, I sprinted back to the rig, changed, and we got a last view of Blue as we headed to Boise. Approach
Map of the route Approach

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