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Schwaub and Winters are two peaks in Death Valley's Funeral Mountains, neither on anyone's peak list that we knew of. But Schwaub has more than 1,800ft of prominence, making it of interest to those that care about that sort of thing. Like me, for instance. Matthew had it on his list of Things to Do in Death Valley, so it came out as a good outing for the two of us to tackle while spending a few days together in the national park.
We left my van at the side of SR190, taking Matthew's Suburu on the mildly rough road up Echo Canyon for some nine miles to the Inyo Mine, following Zdon's approach directions. We parked at the mine but could have driven an additional 1.5mi east up the canyon to a small parking spot, marking the Wilderness boundary. Starting at 6:45a from the mine, we hiked up the road along the canyon bottom for almost an hour, until just past sunrise. Where the canyon opens up about 2mi NW of Schwaub, we left the road and struck off cross-country towards the summit. We though we were looking at Schwaub's summit, but it turned out to be Pt. 6,395ft just to the north that blocks the view of the highpoint from Echo Canyon.
The side canyons we followed were easy enough to negotiate, the sandy bottoms keeping vegetation to a minimum. As we neared the base of the mountain we were cast in shadow again where it was a little nippy, but not uncomfortably so - we'd have preferred to be in the sun at the moment, given a choice. Climbing higher we could look back and see the Sierra Nevada 90 miles in the distance rising behind the lower ranges across Death Valley NP. There was some patchy snow encountered on the shady northern slopes, but it was of no hindrance at all. By 8:45a we'd reached the crest that we thought led to the summit. A wind blowing over the crest from the north was noticeable now, and cold, so we put on our jackets. Ten minutes later we were near the top of Pt. 6,395ft and realized the highpoint was still a third of a mile away to the southwest. Matthew had climbed to the lower summit before realizing this, while I contoured around its south side to make a little less work for myself.
The last fifteen minutes along the connecting ridgeline was actually the most interesting scrambling of the day with some class 2-3 found along it. It was 9:20a by time we reached the summit. Finding no register, but chilled by the cold wind blowing over the top, we found a spot off the sunny south side to get out of the wind for a few minutes to rest and warm up. There is an interesting ridgeline to the southwest leading to a lower point that looked like it would make for an interesting scramble. Looking at the map, it appeared we could make a more direct descent from the summit to the northwest, avoiding the circuitous return back over Pt. 6,395ft. Matthew was game, and so this was the way we headed back.
The ridgeline was tamer than the one we'd ascended and the wind calmed as we got lower down. We dropped off the north side of Northwest Ridge into a drainage that eventually flows south. It was necessary to contour out of the canyon to the north and into the drainage flowing to Echo Canyon. This return route worked quite nicely and would be the prefered route if one was trying to get to Schwaub from Echo Canyon as efficiently as possible. It was 10:30a before we got back to the road in Echo Canyon and another 40 minutes to return to the Inyo Mine. Matthew spent a few minutes checking out the old building found here, we took a few pictures and then headed out.
Winters is another named summit in the range a few miles to the northwest. Zdon's approach instructions can no longer be followed since the road leading up to the pass east of the peak is no longer open to driving. We chose to start at the junction a few miles west of the Inyo Mine and take a broad wash heading northwest up out of Echo Canyon, almost directly to the summit. The route climbs close to 2,000ft in two miles, steep but easily managable with very little brush. We climbed nearly to the end of the canyon which leads to a saddle before starting up to the left towards the NE Ridge more directly. Once on the ridge, the northern half of Death Valley can be seen stretching off in the distance to the northwest. It took a little over an hour to reach the summit. A 1949 benchmark labeled "ECHO" was found along with a new register left by Mark Adrian and Richard Carey earlier in the year. High clouds were beginning to occupy portions of the sky to the south, making for more interesting photos in that direction. Death Valley and the Panamint Range to the southwest were somewhat obscured by glare from the sun, but the views overall were fine.
For the descent we headed southeast off the summit, bypassing the lower southeast summit on the left, then heading down the Southeast Ridge towards Echo Canyon. The route provided better views than the ascent wash we'd used, both fairly easy class 2. It was 2p before we got back to the car and another 45 minutes to drive back out of the canyon to SR190. There was an orange warning notice left on my car, the first I'd ever gotten in half a dozen trips to Death Valley. I didn't realize you needed a pass to park alongside the roadway. We drove back to Furnace Creek where we stopped at the Visitor Center to get our passes (we might not have bothered with this step if we didn't already have yearly NP passes) and gas. It was 3p and Matthew was interested in doing Bat Mtn, out by Death Valley Junction. I didn't want to get back in the dark and had almost enough for one day. Besides, Laura was going to be driving out to meet us around 5p. So Matthew decided to head north to tag Death Valley Buttes which I'd already done, and I headed to Zabriskie Point which I'd never been to before.
While I was impressed with the views and the unusual look of the badlands surrounding the viewpoint, I'm no fan of these popular stops and the crowds they draw, particularly when I'm in such a remote place as Death Valley. It has the same uneasy feel to me as the souvenier shops at Furnace Creek. After a few minutes, my eyes were drawn to the north where I spied a ridgeline heading off in that direction with what looked to be a use trail running along it. This was more like it. I wasted no time finding my way over to the start of the trail heading down towards Manley Beacon and Golden Canyon. A use trail branches off here, going up to the ridgeline that forms the northern end of the crest along the Black Mountains. There was no one on the undulating trail as I alternately jogged and hiked along it, a short but very scenic outing. At the highpoint of Red Cathedral (as I came to find later this is called), I was more than a mile from Zabriskie Point and had a far more comfortable feeling of being in a remote landscape even though I could still see folks milling about the place in the distance. The clouds overhead had darkened, even dropping a few water molecules now and then. There were too many clouds for a spectacular sunset over the Panamints and I suspect those that had brought their gear to catch it were mildly disappointed.
It was 4:40p, just after sunset, when I returned to Zabriskie Point. I spied an orange Element parked next to me in the parking lot, but its owner hadn't spotted me. I was able to sneak up and catch Laura unaware as she sat reading inside. She had been driving down SR190 towards Death Valley Junction and our rendevous when she stopped at Zabriskie Point on a whim and had spotted my van. We exchanged hugs and I took a photo of her with her car, decked out for the holiday. Afterwards we headed to Eagle Mountain for pizza and beers. Matthew would be a few hours in joining us, almost having us worried as to what happened to him. We had our fill of both pizza and beer along with much catching up with Laura before heading off to bed, Eagle Mountain on tap for the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Zabriskie Point - Red Cathedral
This page last updated: Tue Jan 31 18:49:35 2012
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