Sun, Mar 18, 2007
Eagle Mtn stands just outside the east side of Death Valley along SR190, an isolated mountain ridge surrounded by the barren desert. The Amargosa River runs along the west side, a wide, generally dry wash that comes to life periodically when it chances to rain in this hot, parched land. Today the river was completely dry and the crossing would be trivial. Further, we would be climbing the mountain from the west which gave us a number of hours of shade in the early morning before the day started to warm up as it was expected to do.
The mountain makes for a short, but enjoyable climb, the best we found in the six days of scrambling we had in the area. The approach was short, about a mile, and the total elevation gain was moderate at less than 2,000ft. We had no trouble finding the DPS route that runs up the left side of the wide canyon before us, well marked with ducks. There would have been little trouble even without the ducks, as cliffs about halfway up begin to force one to the right. We eventually made our way to the ridgeline, though further left of the DPS route. I found a short bit of fun class 3 on the edge itself while Evan walked around to the east side and circumvented the rocks about 20 feet below the ridgeline. We met up again after only a few minutes, and only then did we realize we had not yet found the start of the class 3 ridge traverse with the class 2 bypass. This was further south, another five minutes up the ridgeline and at that point it was hard to mistake. The class 3 knife-edge that was touted was not as difficult as we had come to believe, and though it was short, it was enjoyable. This dropped us into a notch or small gap in the ridge, then the last class 3 climb of the summit rocks. This was the best scrambling on the peak - steep, but with excellent holds.
It was just after 8a when we reached the summit, having taken little more than an hour from the trailhead. We perused the register (with entries by many notables including Pete Yamagata and Andy Smatko) and took in the views, noting that an effort to to traverse the entire mountain north to south would be quite an adventurous undertaking, one to keep in mind for a future time. We stayed atop for almost 30 minutes, enjoying the cool temperatures, the morning sun, and the views. On the return Evan opted to take the bypass route around the knife-edge. It didn't save him any time however, as we both reached the convergence point to the north at the same time. We retraced our ascent route down the west side and across the Amargosa, arriving back at our vehicles at 9:30a.
Next up was the more arduous summit of the day, Pyramid Peak. It would be our eighth peak of the trip and the first one that was located inside Death Valley NP. From the route descriptions we had we didn't expect much excitement from this peak, and in that we weren't disappointed (nor pleasantly surprised as we might have hoped). It was after 10a when we started on the long approach across the desert floor, and temperatures had already warmed into the 80's. Because the route follows up the the south side of the mountain, there was no possibility of shade anywhere. After climbing out of the canyon at the base of the peak and reaching the SE Ridge, we began following use trails where we could find them, covering most of the route up the ridge. This was fortunate, because there is a good deal of loose talus that while not dangerous or difficult, it was quite tedious. The use trails at least helped by packing down portions of the route through this talus. The ridgeline was not continuous, instead broken up into a number of humps or false summits whose underlying rock changed color from brown to white to black and back to white again at the very summit. It took nearly two and a half hours to reach the top, more than the whole outing to Eagle Mtn.
The air had become more hazy as the days had gone on, and by now at midday the views were muted. We could still see quite far, west to Death Valley and the Panamint Range as far as Telescope Peak. But the details of the surrounding ranges were washed out in the sun and haze. Our descent was back down nearly the same route, though we split up near the base of the mountain to take slightly different routes. I wanted to explore further along the ridge with its minor bumps and rocky protrusions, but Evan soon grew tired of that and dropped back down into the canyon we had ascended.
We got back shortly after 2:30p and I was eager to press the case for a third peak in the day. The highpoint of the Greenwater Range is an unnamed summit with the benchmark "Ryan." It wasn't a DPS peak (which would have made it of interest to me), but it was a range highpoint and part of Evan's recent quest to climb the state's range highpoints (Pyramid is the highpoint of the Funeral Range). Arguing I was "throwing him a bone" on Ryan anyway, Evan decided he still had enough energy left and agreed to the plan. We first drove into Furnace Creek to refill the camper's water supply. It was 98F while we were at Furnace Creek, but fortunately our stay didn't last long. We bought some ice and souveniers at the store there, and looking like the desert rats in the middle of a tourist resort we certainly looked and felt out of place. It was kinda creepy for me with our 15 minute venture into civilization, and I was glad to drive out of there and back out to the less-travelled areas.
We took the road out towards Dantes View, then continued up the broad Greenwater Valley on a fair dirt road. Trying not to inflict further damage on my van, I took it at a fairly slow pace under 20mph, while Evan followed in his camper truck, patiently riding in my dust for those five miles to the TH. There's no regular trailheads anywhere along this 30 mile road, and very few places to pull over out of the road. We found a suitable spot southwest of the peak where the road widened a bit at a fork. By 5p we were ready to head out.
The sun would be out for less than two hours, but that wasn't much of a problem with this easy peak. About 1,400ft of gain over a couple of miles was easy to negotiate on the mild slopes. It was an enjoyable time of day to be out hiking, as the breeze and late afternoon sun made for mild conditions, unlike the warm temperatures we had starting up Pyramid. It took an hour to reach the summit located along the ridgeline a bit north of what we originally thought would be the summit looking from below. We found no register, but we did find the benchmark and three or four odd cairns. Anticipating the lack of register, we had brought a couple of nested cans (the soup and ravioli cans from my dinner the previous night along with a small pad and pencil - our contribution to California's summits). We stayed around only a short while before heading back down - dinner was starting to sound really good by now since we had forgone lunch. We got down in about 45 minutes, just as the sun had set behind the Black Mountains to the west. We had double rations for dinner to make up for the lack of lunch, had a few cold drinks, played a bit of cards, then bedded down for the night.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Eagle Mountain - Pyramid Peak
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:08 2007
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