Sat, Mar 3, 2018
Michael, Laura and Scott joined Iris and I before sunrise at our campsite in Slabby Acres, the name Purcell has given in his book, Rambles & Scrambles to the informal campsite along SR190 just outside the eastern boundary of Death Valley NP. The site has several dozen concrete slabs that looked to have been the start of an RV/trailer park that never quite got finished. The slabs, now on BLM lands, are in excellent condition and perfectly level. The road that loops through the site is in good condition as well, useable by any vehicle. There were perhaps 8-9 other users there on a Friday night, the first time I had ever stayed here. We had gathered to do some peaks in and around Death Valley over the next two days. The weather today was 15 degrees cooler than the previous one and nearly as windy. It would make for cold, wintry conditions, but only a smattering of precipitation.
It was nearly noon before we had driven to a saddle in the road about a mile and a quarter NE of Gold Valley Peak. Had we done more homework, we'd have discovered we could have driven more than a mile further, to spot elevation 4,188ft which could have saved us a few miles on our loop. Live and learn. We headed southwest from our parking spot, not able to see our first peak until we had cleared the first intervening ridge near Pt. 5,035ft. Some light precipitation came down in the form of tiny hail that hit with surprising force on my head - I was quite glad it wasn't pea-sized or I'd have probably gotten a concussion. Luckily it lasted only a few minutes, but it was enough to get us to dig out some additional layers. We had already lost track of Laura by this point, who had no plans to do the whole loop with us. In fact she decided after reaching Pt. 5,035ft in the howling wind that she had no desire to seek out silly summits and would rather have a more leisurely stroll about the Gold Valley area. Not so for the rest of us as we continued on the connecting ridgeline to Gold Valley Peak, now clearly in our sights. We climbed up the class 2-3 north side, reaching the summit soon after 12:30p. We stayed only a few minutes, leaving a register under the summit cairn, before continuing on the high ridgeline to Smith Mtn South, our next stop. With winds blowing over the crest from the south, we were battered by their full force. It did not take long for me to be decked in full regalia - balaclava, gloves, fleece and a heavier jacket I had borrowed from Michael back at the start when I'd discovered I was shy a layer. We took a full hour to reach Smith South about 1.8mi along the ridgeline, most of it easy walking save for the wind factor. The summit sits a bit south of the main crest, providing a fine view of the Amargosa River drainage as it sweeps around the southern end of the Black Mountains on its way into Death Valley from the south. We huddled some at the summit, left another register and then continued on with our trek. Rather than return to the crest via the ridge, we shortcutted it by dropping north into the upper end of a drainage before reclimbing to the crest. Smith Mtn BM (Smith East, on PB) is about two and a quarter miles from Smith South and would take us an hour and a quarter to reach. More bone-chilling winds went along for the ride - these were not the warmer winds Iris was laughing about the previous day, but their cold-hearted bretheren who left us cowering and turning our faces from their direction. At Smith Mtn BM we didn't find a benchmark as expected, but a reference mark (more technically, an "azimuth mark") that points to the benchmark found at the range highpoint a half mile further west. This additional distance was relatively easily covered and reached by 3:20p. The very busy DPS register dates back to 1965 and was in poorer condition since my first visit ten years ago. We ducked off the north side of the summit for a small respite from the wind. Here, Iris dug out her leftover halloween candy which we gobbled up with delight. Chocolate, mmmmm.... We had other snacks and signed the register while deciding how to return.
We had no interest in following our ascent route, of course. We figured we could drop north into Gold Valley and find our way back via cross-country and roads. The trick was figuring out how much of the ascent route we had to retrace before we could drop into the correct drainage. It turned out we didn't have to retrace much at all. We dropped to the first saddle and then turned north around the slightly lower east summit of Smith Mtn, dropping to a high plateau with Smith North (there was some regret that we didn't have enough time or will to climb this last of the Smith summits). This led us to the top of a gully heading steeply down into Gold Valley, marked by a duck at the head and what amounted to a pretty good use trail leading down the gully/canyon. Later I learned that this has become the new "standard" DPS route to Smith Mtn, we were just lucky to have stumbled upon it. The wind decreased a good deal after leaving the crest and we were able to relax and enjoy the remaining part of the hike that much more. We still had five miles of hiking to get back to our car well to the east and it would take almost two more hours, but it was pleasant enough that the time went quickly. We eventually came upon the road that would lead back to our car, noting the decent condition it was in - seems we'd stopped just before the road started to improve again.
It was after 5p before we got back, Laura inside the car, bundled up. She'd been back for more than an hour after her own wandering about Gold Valley and after unloading our packs in the back we settled in for the long drive back out to SR190. It would take Iris more than an hour before she could adequately warm up. She was wearing all her layers and had Michael's sleeping bag wrapped around her for much of the ride. Seems there's someone who struggles with cold more than me after all! It had been a long, hard day (ok, really just a long, hard afternoon), but was well-worth the trouble - a far more exciting adventure than the easier summits I had planned on initially...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Smith Mountain
This page last updated: Tue Mar 13 20:52:11 2018
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