Nopah Range HP
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The base of the Nopah Range lay three miles from our campsite a short distance off SR178. Our DPS beta suggested a deteriorating dirt road to reach Twelvemile Spring, the usual starting point, but the roads we found didn't look so bad. In fact there were more roads than were shown on our maps, and we never actually made it to Twelvemile. We started off on bikes intending to reach that point, but somehow Evan led us off on another road further to the south that ended somewhat unexpectedly out in the desert flats. Not yet deterred, we struck off cross-country, tough riding across shallow washes, around the sparse scrub, and through sometimes soft ground. It was a lot of effort, but we managed to get halfway across the valley in good time. It grew too rocky and soft to continue on the bikes so we left them standing there, literally in the middle of nowhere. In a moment of keen foresight, Evan thought to take a GPS coordinate of the location. It would be hard to see them we came to find, until we were nearly on top of them again in the afternoon on our return.
It was another mile and half of walking before we reached the base of the range and the start of our climb. It was impossible to miss the wide canyon opening with two primary forks. As we started up the rocky wash for the righthand fork, we were surprised to hear voices ahead of us. After a bit of looking around, we spotted a pair of climbers several hundred feet up from the base on the slopes to the right of the canyon - they looked to be taking a variation on the standard DPS route, whereas we planned to take the spicier class 3 variation up the right fork of the canyon. Judging by their progress as we watched them for a minute, it seemed likely that we would reach the summit well ahead of them.
We found the route much as described in both the DPS guide and online at SP, with an easy class 3 waterfall followed by the crux waterfall some 40-50ft in height. The only possible way around this second obstacle seemed to be to the right, though exactly where to tackle it in the easiest fashion was not so obvious. The rock was not solid and holds could not be trusted. Going first, I chose a very awkward traverse from right to left that had my heart racing more than I cared for, and I had to let Evan know I couldn't recommend it at all. Certainly I would not want to attempt reversing it. Evan chose the more obvious crack system below me, one I had rejected as looking too loose. While I stood above him to photograph his efforts, I pointed out that if he fell at that point I would not be happy (remember, I didn't want to reverse the crux section). "Just don't fall," I gently coaxed. He didn't. In fact, he found his route not very difficult at all and made me feel a bit stupid for doing the riskier moves. Up we went.
We didn't exit the canyon as described, instead choosing to continue up another of the various forks as we made our way up to the SW Ridge. There were a number of sections featuring interesting rock and I enjoyed this part very much. We came upon a slot with a pair of chockstones atop one another, that were surmounted only with some awkward struggling. Evan had a decidedly more difficult time with it, thanks primarily to his 6'2" frame that didn't bend so cleanly around the large stones. We reached the ridge after scrambling up some disagreeably loose scree near the top, arriving around 10:15a. We paused here for a short break and to survey the ridgeline below us. Using a pair of binoculars Evan had carried in his pack, I surveyed the route to the west in search of the two climbers we had seen earlier. I saw one of them briefly, about 15-20 minutes further down, but lost them among the boulders.
We continued up, no more class 3 to hold our attention, just a long, arduous climb up the broad, rounded ridge with several false summits. It was after 11a before we reached the highpoint of the Range, Nopah Point (what the DPS calls "Nopah Range" but is officially unnamed. A mile to our north lay the lower, but officially named "Nopah Peak" which I was eager to tag "while we're up here." Since it added nothing to Evan's quest of tackling California's range highpoints, he chose to remain on the higher summit while I went off on my fool's errand. And it really was that. It took 45min to cover the 1.5mi/400ft difference between them, much of it over crummy scree. There was a register on Nopah Peak and as one might expect, far fewer entries than the one found on the higher summit. One intriguing entry was from Bob Sumner who had ascended the peak from Pahrump Valley to the east. The entries indicated only one or two persons reach this peak in any given year, most of them solo efforts.
I returned to Nopah Point in another 45minutes, meeting up with Bob and Annie who were conversing with Evan. The two were around 60yrs of age (Annie was 62 and had just started climbing two years earlier). They were on a quest to tag all the DPS peaks, of which Annie had already climbed 2/3 of the 99 summits. Bob H. had been around many of the desert peaks over the years and I recognized his name in many of the summits we subsequently climbed. After about five minutes of enjoyable conversation, Evan and I left the pair at the summit and started our descent.
We planned to take the standard "A" route of the DPS, but not having first ascended it, we didn't know if we'd be able to find the correct chute down. We weren't. Half of the descent was easy enough, just follow the West/SW ridge down for a mile or so, then take the minor ridgeline fork as it turns to the northwest. But the descent route off this spur ridge wasn't clear, and the ducks we found were ambiguous (there were more than one set of ducks indicating a route, not altogether surprising). We continued on the ridge for some time before deciding to descend one of the canyons off to our left. There was no evidence we could find that it had been used before, and we soon found out why when we came abruptly to a 50ft+ dry waterfall down which there was no possible route. We had already climbed hundreds of feet down into this canyon and were reluctant to reclimb it back to the ridge, so we took a chance in climbing up a short ways and over to the next canyon to the south. We found a short bit of class 3 that caused us to pause briefly, but it eventually led to a wide-open canyon and easy class 2 descent.
Once down at the base of the range, we had simply to get back to our bikes. It had seemed simple at the start anyway. Evan and I fixed different points on the horizon for which to aim for in our return across the wide expanse of the Chicago Valley. We didn't intentionally diverge to allow us to cover more ground and increase our chance of finding the bikes, but rather we each had different ideas as to where the bikes ought to lay. For the next half hour our routes slowly diverged until we were out of shouting range and nearly out of viewing range as well. Now, I didn't have the GPS - Evan did, and if I was wrong I could be really stuck if I didn't keep an eye on him. But after that first half hour I noticed that Evan had shifted course and was starting to converge with my path. What I didn't know until he was much nearer was that he had gotten out his GPS and was getting a bead on the waypoint. Hiking faster than I, he was some 40 yards in front of me as I watched him cross my path, eyes fixed on this GPS screen and following the arrow to our cache. I was the first to spot the bikes about 100 yards off and was amused to watch Evan pass by them within about 30 yards. He had missed seeing them because he had his eyes glued to the instrument which told him something slightly different. I had to laugh when my dead reckoning skills were able to beat out the GPS. To be fair, the GPS had indicated he was within 0.05mi of the waypoint, but Evan was not happy that the arrow was pointing in the opposite direction. Close enough - he would have found the bikes eventually, even if I hadn't spotted them first.
Riding back, we started off together but soon got split up when I glanced back and saw no sign of Evan. I imagined he might have deviated into one of many shallow washes just out of sight and expected he'd reappear shortly. As it turned out he had to stop to repair one of several flats he would be getting on this trip. My tires used special tubes filled with "Slime," a gooey green substance that can repair a punctured tube even while still riding. Evan's on the other hand did not, and he paid the price.
When he returned to camp about ten minutes after I had, he was carrying a full sized shovel, complete with fiberglass handle that he had found on his return across the desert. The shovel would prove handy when we need to do some road modifications a few days later. It was 3:40p when we finished the hike, a bit early to be calling it a day, but too late to fit in another peak without pushing the return into nighttime. So we took the easy way out - showering at the camper, then driving into Shoshone for an early dinner at the Crowbar Cafe. This time we tried the beef brisket, but found it not at all what we had expected. It was more like a tough skirt steak then the tender brisket we'd imagined, and it was covered in a refried beans/enchilada sauce prepartion that was filling, but not quite satisfying. Evan described it as "choking it down," though I thought that was an exaggeration. It certainly went a long way to recharge our batteries. Afterwards we drove to the trailhead for Eagle Mountain where we set up camp in preparation for the next day's outing. Nopah had been a fun and enjoyable climb and I slept well that night.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Nopah Range HP
This page last updated: Mon May 14 11:45:51 2007
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