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After fueling up in Ridgecrest, it was nearly 2a when I drove through the last bit of civilization at Trona. I stopped here for a few minutes to take a few photos of the industrial works brightly lit up in the dead of night. It was 3a by the time I reached Ballarat, three miles of good dirt road off the paved SR178. Beyond Ballarat I tried to drive further up Pleasant Canyon, but found conditions unsuitable for low clearance after about half a mile. I managed to turn the van around (no easy feat), and find a place to park at a junction. Around this time it occurred to me that I had parked in Ballarat the last time and started the hike from there. Having napped for 3-4 hours earlier in the day, I'd planned to start hiking as soon as I arrived, but some additional sleep was sounding better at the moment. So off I crawled into the back of the van for another three hours of sleep. It was delicious.
It was growing light out when I got up at 6a, though sunrise was about an hour away. There's very little that can be considered pleasant about Pleasant Canyon, near as I could tell. The first time I had hiked up it completely in the dark, so I thought this might be a nice chance to see the scenery I had missed. Initially the canyon is little more than dry gravel and rock with very little vegetation. After a few miles, one comes to the portion of the road that that doubles as a creekbed. The water only seems to flow for about a mile in the canyon, starting at a spring upstream, and then disappearing a while later after it runs over the road. The water isn't very deep and one can generally just walk up the road without getting too wet.
The rusting shell of a truck is found alongside the road, perhaps 70-80 years old, but having only served for target practice in the last three or four decades. Another mile in is an old grader from the 50s or 60s. It's been many years since the last time it was used to grade the road. A couple of ferral mules were annoyed by my approach, braying loudly to protest,but moving off ahead nevertheless. After repeating this manuever a few times they wised up and moved off the road, watching me suspiciously as I went by, as though afraid I might try to round them up or otherwise cause mischief.
It was about 8:15a when I arrived at Clair Camp, an old mining camp that hasn't yet been fully abandoned. There is a trailer and large truck parked just off the road that look to still be utilized. At least one of the old cabins has had periods of restoration on the inside. The results are useable, but hardly very inviting. There are only a few chairs and a futon besides a lot of junk strewn about. An air conditioner installed in one wall doesn't appear to have ever been put in service, though other appliances may have been better utilized with a connection to an outside propane tank, at one time.
It was just after 9a when I reached the boundary of Death Valley NP at a junction. Here I turned left to follow the side road out of the main canyon as it made its way to a saddle between Peak 8,240ft and Porter Peak. The road continues over the other side of the ridgeline where it contours around the north side of the ridge to the Porter Mine located on the NW flanks of Porter Peak. I left the road at the saddle, turning west to follow the ridge to the summit, taking almost another hour and a half. Junipers and some scraggly pines dot the ridgeline, a big improvement over the more meager vegetation lower in the canyon. Of course by now I was at nearly 8,000ft, so it wasn't surprising to see the desert landscape give way some. It was after 11a when I arrived at the top, having taken nearly 5hrs in the effort.
Under a summit cairn was found an old, rusted tobacco tin that held a single piece of paper, a lode claim form from the 1950s. It was used by one Jimmie Heyer to name the summit "Heyers Peak" in July of 1956. There is no evidence that this was ever actually recorded anywhere, but I decided the name was as good as any (and better than Peak 8,240ft) and have used it in my database. There were two other signatures, one from 1987 and a second from 2011 by Bob Sumner. Bob was also working on the Death Valley P1K summits, having finished them only a month earlier in Feb, 2012. I would find Bob's signature on a handful of other similarly obscure summits during the next few days.
As one might expect the summit had a fine vantage point from which to view Panamint Valley to the west and the Argus Range behind it, Telescope and Sentinel Peaks to the north, and several unnamed ridges looking south before the range tapers off to the high desert beyond. I had originally planned to desecend northwest into Happy Canyon, making for a large loop and giving me a chance to explore this second canyon I'd yet to visit. But the length of time it had already taken me to reach the summit served as discouragement and I decided to drop back down to Pleasant Canyon instead. The route I had taken had been somewhat circuitous, adding several extra miles so that I could take advantage of the Porter Mine Road to reach the saddle. The route along the ridge from the saddle had not been as easy or quick as I'd hoped and it was pretty clear that a more direct descent would undoubtedly be faster. So I headed west off the summit, descending to a saddle on that side before turning left and dropping down a wide ravine to Pleasant Canyon. Among other mining detritus found in the ravine was an old tin bucket, some rusted food tins, and a claim boundary marker from 1983 (this part of the range became part of Death Valley NP in 1994). Over the next few days I got the distinct impression that there was no DV canyon nor ridge no matter how obscure that hadn't been scoured by prospectors at least once in the last 100 years.
By 12:45p I had returned to the main road in Pleasant Canyon, about a mile upstream from Clair Camp. I still had more than an hour and a half to hike back down the canyon. There was a party of four jeeps I met driving up the road below Clair Camp. I was hoping they might be going the other direction soon so I could hitch a ride back to the bottom, but they never did come back down during the rest of my walk. I was lucky to run into a herd of about a dozen bighorn sheep, ewes and lambs that had come down to the canyon to drink in the wet section of the roadway. They scampered up the hillside to the south of the road as I came by, watching me warily as I continued out of view before they would venture back to resume their drinking. More than eight hours after starting out, now 2:20p, I finally returned to the van. It had been a long enough outing to call it a day, but there were a few short outings I still wanted to do along Wildrose Rd before heading down to Furnace Creek.
One of these places was a drive-up to Aguereberry Point, an impressive lookout at the north end of the Panamints with a fine lookout to the east over Death Valley. The dirt road off Wildrose Rd is six miles long and mildly washboarded. I found that going 10-20mph set up highly uncomfortable vibrations that had the van shaking something terribly. Driving to 30mph lessened the vibrations considerably, but reduced steering control around corners to where I had to worry about sliding into the berm. Still, this proved better than driving under 10mph where it would have been safe but excruciatingly slow. I reached Aguereberry Point at 3:30p, parked the van and hiked the short distance out to the viewpoint at the end of an easy trail. One can look northeast into Blackwater Wash and southeast into Tail Canyon, both dropping down thousands of feet into Death Valley proper. A lower ridgeline blocks views immediately east to Furnace Creek, though looked to make for an interesting future outing.
Only a few miles to the southwest from Aguereberry Point is unnamed Peak 7,204ft with more than 1,000ft of prominence, and it was to this I next turn my attention. I drove back down the road about a mile to a junction with a little-used side road heading south. The road seemed decent enough for low clearance, so I drove this as far as I could (about a quarter mile) to where a gate stops further progress to all vehicles. I parked here, about a mile and a half from the peak. The topo map shows the road ending where it reaches a saddle a short distance further south along the main crest of the range. What isn't shown is that the long-unused road continues southwest along crest towards the summit I was interested in. A nice convenience, but not all that necessary as the cross-country travel is not difficult, as in most of Death Valley. I followed the crest using a combination of the road (where useful) and cross-country where the road makes unhelpful switchbacks. In all I spent about 40 minutes to cover the one and a half mile distance to the summit.
Badwater can be seen 7,000ft down Trail Canyon from the summit to the east. The higher peaks of the Panamints rise to the south, though the highest are blocked by the intervening Bald and Wildrose Peaks. A register in a plastic jar was found dating back a few years, left by John Vitz. There were a handful of other visitors since then, the most recent once again being Bob Sumner back in November.
I returned to the start shortly after 5p, spending the next 30 minutes or so driving back to Wildrose Rd followed by a short stint on pavement before taking the dirt road to Skidoo a few miles further north. The Skidoo road is much like the previous one, moderately washboarded and several miles longer. I had been on this road once previously for the hike to Tucki Mtn some years ago. Today I had in mind an unnamed peak, a ridge really, south of the Skidoo township with 800ft of prominence - not enough to get Bob Sumner's notice, but enough for my own lower standards. There are actually four summits spread out over more than a mile, each with the same number of contours, making it impossible to determine from the topo map which is the highest. It seemed I would have to visit at least a few of them before I could make that determination, if even then.
I parked about six miles in from the pavement at a saddle east of the ridge I dubbed "Skidoo Ridge". I hiked west up the hillside to reach the ridge and then followed it to the easternmost of the four summits, taking less than 20 minutes. A cairn found at the top gave me the initial hope that I'd gotten lucky to find the highpoint right off. But there was no register and I concluded it was likely a claim boundary marker. Looking west I could see the westernmost summit a mile away, the top above the apparent height of the middle two summits. This suggested that highpoint was one of the two outer summits. I visited the next two summits in line because they were less than ten minutes' hike. I used my GPS to measure the relative height of the three summits. The third one came up 15ft higher than the second and 5ft higher than the 1st. The 4th summit was more than half a mile away and separated by a drop of some 200ft or so. The day was drawing to a close and I was loathe to spend the extra half an hour to visit the fourth summit without knowing if it was higher. I decided to head back, a bit conflicted. I stopped again at the 2nd summit and eyeballed the tops of summits #2, #3 and #4 which all appeared to be almost exactly in line. Knowing that #2 was 15ft lower than #3 and that the distance of #3 to #2 was about 1/4 the distance between #4 and #2, I could estimate that #4 was probaby about 45ft higher than #3. Rats - this would make it the highpoint. Did I want to come back yet again at a future date to finish it?
Returning to the van at 6:30p, about 20 minutes before sunset, I decided to drive further to Skidoo and run up to the #4 summit from the north side. Utilizing a side road heading all the way to the summit, I managed to get to the top just as the sun was setting over the mountains to the west. There was a modest-sized pile of rocks at the flattish top, but otherwise no register or benchmark or anything to distinguish it as something of importance. My standards were really quite low, I had to admit. The GPS gave a reading of 20ft higher than any of the other summits, so I was at least happy to have identified (and reached) the highest. I left to return to the car at a jog, getting back well before dark.
My plan had been to drive down to Furnace Creek and spend the night there, but I was afraid it might be too warm to sleep comfortably there this evening. It seemed I could more easily stay where I was around 6,000ft and go to bed early, then get up early to do the driving the next morning before sunrise. The entire road to Skidoo is day-use only, but I had spent the night here once before in the van. It seemed highly unlikely that a ranger would bother to patrol this remote site. So I drove back to the original saddle I'd parked at and went about getting my dinner and bed ready. It struck me as soon as I got the stove out that I'd forgotten my mess kit - not the first time I've done that, mind you - and I was minorly distraught that I might have to go to bed without recharging my batteries. I wasn't all that hungry, but I knew I needed food to have the energy to continue doing these long days. So I sat about and considered whether I couldn't get by without the mess kit.
Turns out I could. My dinner of canned soup would have to be cooked in their own containers. I realized very quickly that it was necessary to remove the paper wrapper before putting the can to the stove. The can would just sit atop the burner and with a very low flame it could be cooked slowly without bubbling over. A butter knife helped in stirring the contents and my scrambling gloves were ideal for holding the can once it had been heated. It was a bit tricky getting the temperature right - warm enough to heat the soup, but not too hot as to burn my lips on the can when drinking it. The whole setup worked so well that I might very well just skip the mess kit in the future...
This page last updated: Fri Apr 13 09:07:28 2012
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