Sun, Dec 18, 2011
Eagle Mountain is a DPS peak just outside the east boundary of Death Valley National Park, about 8 miles southeast of Death Valley Junction. The peak lies isolated between the Greenwater and Resting Springs Ranges, almost a mini-range unto itself. Both Matthew and I had climbed it on separate occasions, but we had commented later that doing a north to south traverse across the 3-mile length of the peak looked to make for a good scramble. And so I was happy to take up Matthew's suggestion that we do this on one of the two days we had together in the area. Laura had driven out from Bishop the night before just to join us on this outing, the first time she'd climbed with the two of us together.
The outing was relatively short, even for the entire traverse, taking only six and half hours, but it proved to be one of the better desert scrambles in the whole state. The northern half is a bit tamer, but not to be missed, while the southern half provides a great deal of tough class 3 scrambling in an awesome setting. There are many subsidiary ridgelines that can be used on all sides of the mountain, a number of which looked to be good scrambles themselves. We tried to choose the route most directly bisecting the mountain.
The large turnout we used to start from on the west side, just off SR190, was difficult to find at night even with a coordinate in the GPS, and we made several passes back and forth across the partially hidden entrance until we found it. Starting in the morning just after 6:45a, we followed the old 4x4 road north along the east side of the Amargosa River for a short distance before crossing the dry riverbed and heading for the northwest end of the mountain about a mile and a half away. Clouds covered the sky for much of the day, periodically threatening to rain, but we had only a few drops on us over the course of the day.
Laura started up from the plains before reaching the NW end that Matthew and I were heading to, but we'd catch up to her again about 15 minutes later when she popped up on an adjacent point. From the start of the scrambling we donned leather gloves to protect us from the sharp volcanic rock that comprises most of the mountain. Once on the main crest we followed this to a local highpoint at Pt. 3,118ft where we found a register in an old tin can. It seemed an odd place to put one, but of course we signed it since that what we've been trained to do whenever presented with a piece of paper and pencil anytime we're out on a hike. There were two spicy sections on the northern half of the route before the summit, making for difficult class 3. the first of these was short and had an easy bypass around the west side that Laura took. The second section was longer and comes shortly before joining the regular DPS route up the west side. This one was closer to class 4, prompting Matthew to join Laura for a longer bypass dropping down on the west side, though he did spend a few minutes with the idea of following me along it.
It was 9:50a when we reached the highpoint, almost exactly three hours from the start. The 1981 register I had found on the first effort was still there, along with a 1949 benchmark. The register contained dozens of familiar names including Pete Yamagata, Andy Smatko, Gail Hanna, Sue & Vic Henney, Bob Rockwell, and others. While we took in the views on a break, I made light of the large selection of orange gear and clothing that Laura had brought along. These she displayed for the camera to get the full effect. Even her orange stuffed moose was now sporting an orange climbing harness held together with an orange carabiner.
After about twenty minutes we started south, now finding the class 3 more sustained and very enjoyable. We watched rain falling from the clouds in the distance to the east and south, some of it heading our way, but it ran out of steam before crossing the distance over the plains to Eagle Mtn. The crux on the southern half of the route came almost an hour after leaving the summit, a steep rocky descent that looked frightful from a distance but was made quite doable with excellent holds, a stairway almost, most of the way down. At the base of it, just off to the side of the crest I found a collection of rocks that had been formed into the Blue Oyster Cult symbol, an upside down question mark merged with a cross. I laughed, wondering just how many years ago this must have been constructed as I don't think they've been at all in minds of music fans for more than 30 years.
It was another hour past the crux before we had dropped down the last of the class 3, then another 15 minutes or so of easy class 2 to get us down to the Amargosa River. We hiked for several miles north along the dried and cracked riverbed, marveling at the patterns in the dried mud. Laura moved to the adjacent highway to make things easier on her knee, now feeling some pain from the long scramble, and consequently got back to the cars before Matthew and I. We lamented the tattered condition of Laura's new pants, the victim of the sharp rock that was impossible to avoid. Nga, Matthew's wife, had made small (and quite delicious) mince pies that Matthew shared with us as a treat before departing. They were part of her efforts to diversify her culinary expertise. It would be a long drive, some 8 hours or so to get back to the Bay Area, but at least I'd get back before midnight. Early enough in fact to get home before my own wife had gone off to bed, giving me the chance to ask her if she knew how to make mince pies...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Eagle Mountain
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