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After a successful climbing trip to Death Valley in 2015, it was easy to convince John Platt to accompany me again. In 2015 we focused primarily on peaks that were spread all over Death Valley so that we could get a good feel for the entire park. Thus, our climbs that year often involved significant approach hikes and elevation gain.
In 2016 we put the knowledge we gained during the first trip to good use and focused on peaks that were clustered together so that we could climb several peaks each day. John prepared an extensive day by day account of our trip with a lot of good photos which you can find at this link: Warm and sunny times in February. 26 peaks. In Death Valley. I will focus my ramblings in this article to an overview of the experience.
Death Valley is more well known because of its designation as a National Park but it is just a small part of a vast region that spreads eastward from the Sierra Nevada to the Rocky Mountains and from the Mexican border to Oregon and Idaho. The northern two thirds of this region is within the Great Basin and the southern third is in the Mojave Desert and the basin of the lower Colorado River.
The area found within the National Park is filled with superlative examples of desert southwest terrain. The Park straddles the border of California and Nevada and is in effect an interface between the Great Basin and Mojave deserts in the United States. The park’s desert environment includes salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and most importantly for my purposes–mountains. Most of the park is a designated wilderness area, the largest in the contiguous 48 states. Death Valley is the hottest and driest of location in the United States and Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level is the lowest spot on the continent.
This region is a great place to escape an Idaho winter. The area is, to no surprise, usually sunny, dry, and clear year round. From October through April you can expect mild conditions with only an occasional winter storm to interrupt great hiking weather.
Although the Park’s reputation overshadows the surrounding country, the surrounding country is itself an incredible land of desert mountains. In 2016 we decided to focus on peaks that we for the most part in Nevada, some remote and some close to Beatty, Nevada.
This trip occurred after the Park experienced a wet period and as a result we were treated to what was termed “a Super Bloom.” This involved a once in a decade bloom of wildflowers.
It is a ten to twelve hour drive from Boise to region around Death Valley depending on your stopping point. On Saturday, February 20th our destination was the base of Mount Jackson which is located north of Beatty. The drive took us eleven hours. We set up camp at the base of Mount Jackson as the sun set.
On Sunday we climbed Mount Jackson, Mount Dunfee and Peak 6413
Mount Jackson, 6412 feet, was the most distinctive peak we climbed. A band of cliffs completely surrounds the peak’s plateau like summit. Our roundabout route took us to the summit with a minimal of Class 3 climbing
One of the most interesting cultural elements of the region is the mining history coupled with the modern day humans that live in many of the ruins of abandoned mining towns. Are next two peaks we located next to, Gold Point, Nevada. I’m not sure how many people live full time in this ramshackle pueblo but there were to bars and scores of vehicles laying around
Mount Dunfee, 7030 feet, sits east of town. It was an easy Class 2 climb that took us four miles round trip.
From Dunfee’s summit we spied Peak 6413, 6,413 feet sitting to the,west of Gold Fork, it was a short climb, less than a mile round trip, with the crux of the climb was determining which road was the correct approach.
On Monday we climbed Sawtooth Mountain, West Sawtooth Peak, Bullfrog Mountain, Burton Mountain and Velvet Peak
All five of these peaks are situated around the Rhyolite ghost town west of Beatty. I think it is safe to say that any peak named Sawtooth is going to attractive to a mountain climber. This Sawtooth Mountain, 6,005 feet, is no exception. It is a sharp tooth shaped summit. Unlike most Peaks named Sawtooth, this peak has electronic facilities near its summit and a steep, rugged 4WD road leading to the facilities. We walked the road which ends at the peak’s summit block which looked impregnable at first. We circled counterclockwise around the summit block looking a 20 foot, Class 4 crack described in our guidebook. We came to a likely crack and John started to climb. I continued circling and found a ramp slanting back to my left. I climbed up the route which was Class 3 and arrived at the summit just ahead of John. We took a few photos and started down to get out of a fierce wind.
West Sawtooth Peak, 5940 feet was calling We crossed down to the saddle and started up the peak’s brushy, talus slopes toward the summit. We circled left around the cliffs that blocked our way and ascended the final few feet on the north side.
Bullfrog Mountain, 4940 feet, was next on our list. We made drove a short distance east of the Sawtooth peaks to the base of Bullfrog. The short hike to the summit was an easy ridge walk complicated by the strong wind which fought us as we climbed up the ridge. After gaining 700 feet we were on top. What next?
Burton Mountain, 4381 feet, turned up next. Sometimes you just climb a peak because it is staring you in the face. After finishing Bullfrog, Briton was an easy choice. In less than a mile and 550 of gain and we were on top where we have a great view of Beatty. Time to call it quits for the day?
No! Velvet Peak, 3918 feet was just west of Beatty and on our way back to the motel. Velvet was a short Class 3 scramble of less than a half mile and just over 400 feet of gain. It took us 40 minutes car to car.
Time for a shower, food and drink.
On Tuesday we climbed, Mieklejohn Peak (NV), Peak 5051 and “Red Peak” (NV), Beatty Mountain all southeast of Beatty and then drove t Chloride City, a ghost town high up in the mountains east of Death Valley John added Peak 4860 after we arrived while I enjoyed our scenic camp.
The first three were accessed from Fluorspar Canyon southeast of Beatty. We started with Mieklejohn Peak, 5940, feet. We drove to a Pass between Mieklejohn Peak and Bare Peak. This was the steepest ascent so far, as we climbed a steep gully clogged with brush and talus. The footing was dicey at times because if we slipped we slip into thorny, unforgiving brush.
Peak 5051 (Red Peak), 5,051 feet was next. The crux of this climb was driving to our starting point which involved a huge open pit. On questionable mining roads. Once at our starting point it was an easy walk to the summit.
Our southeast of Beatty trifecta finished appropriately with Beatty Peak, 4,282 feet, another short Class 2 with a view of our Beatty basecamp
After two days of luxury living in Beatty it was time to use the camping gear again. We left Beatty and drove to Chloride City. We started out on the highway, graduated to a two track across gravel alluvial fans, then a deep canyon and finally to a legitimate 4WD road that climbed over rocky outcrops to the ghost town. We set up camp and John was off to climb Peak 4860. I was satiated and stayed in camp.
On Wednesday we decided to climb all the peaks around , Chloride Cliff, Boundary Benchmark, Peak 5350, Peak 5140, and Peak 4900. As usual John had energy to spare and he also climbed Peak 5020.
First up was Chloride Cliff, 5,260 feet. This peak has a mini road to the summit (not one I was willing to drive) and there are mine shafts and holes all over it’s slopes. After a short walk we summited.
Next, up was Boundary Benchmark, 5,464 feet, which was located east of the main crest. We followed a ridge east dropping down into a connecting saddle and the straight up the summit plateau. Once on top we had a long walk south to the highest point on this big, wide mountain.
Peak 5350, 5,350 feet, was our next destination. This involved a long walk to the north sights on the next peak south and as long as we were so far from the truck we decided to continue on to Peak 5140, 5,140 feet, which just took us farther from our starting point.
On our return trip we decided to side past Peak 5350. I am not sure this long side hill traverse was easier than going over Peak 5350 again. After the long hike returned to the truck where we had a great picnic lunch and a beer.
After lunch it was time drive back over the 4WD road which had not improved overnight. Once we got down off the bad road we decided to do another peak–five peaks in a day is considered a rite of passage for some.
We chose Peak 4900, 4,900 feet via a route that climbed 1,300 feet to the summit in two miles. All told we covered ten miles on these five peaks. John thought he needed to climb one more peak and continued on to Peak 5020. I returned to the car.
Anxious to return to Beatty and my favorite saloon.
On Thursday we climbed four more peaks in the Par Pot Peak (NV), Block Peak (CA), Titanothere Peak (CA) and Peak 5260 (CA). In addition John climbed and Red Pass Peak (CA). All of these peaks are along the Titus Canyon Road. Each ascent went easily.
After descending Titus Canyon Road, we drove to the Montgomery Springs Campground and set up camp.
Finally, on Friday we were up early to climb The Loner (NV) and a peak identified as CA/NV Boundary Monument 93 . Both of these Death Valley peaks are located south of Daylight Pass. After these climbs we were on the road heading home which took us by Tonopah, Nevada.
Having driven through Tonopah many times I knew there were peaks to climb. We arrived in mid-afternoon bought some gas and found our way to the base of Mount Butler, 7,185 feet. A sharp summit on the west side of town festooned with electronics facilities. We followed an access road part way up the peak until it was blocked by both a gate and a road. The summit is west of the antennas. We reached a steep gully that lead straight up and left the road climbing the gully to the ridge top. From this point, we made a steep Class 3 ascent to the very airy summit.
Back to the car and we pushed on to Battle Mountain, Nevada. The next day we would return home with a short stop for John to run up Blue Mountain in Oregon. It was a blustery day and I knew I was driving buy the peak in June so I delayed my ascent till then.
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