Fri, Dec 16, 2011
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It was day 3 of a 5 day desert roadtrip to the Death Valley area. This morning I was at the south end of Death Valley proper, near the Ashford Mill site off Badwater Rd. I had a list of seven named summits on either side of the Jubilee and Salsbery Passes that I was interested in, figuring I'd see how many of them I could visit but knowing I'd never get to all of them in one day. First up were Ashford and Desert Hound, two summits around Ashford Canyon at the south end of the Black Mountains. Unfortunately my van was not going to be able to negotiate the moderately rough approach road which meant I'd have to hike the three miles of road starting from the pavement, adding almost twice the distance to the hike. I had gotten up early so that I could start in the dark before 6a, allowing me to do the approach and much of the first peak out of the sun.
Starting at 5:40a well below sea level, it took an hour to reach the end of the drivable portion, still twenty minutes before sunrise. Rather than hike further up Ashford Canyon, I decided to head directly to Ashford Peak by following the ridgeline up from the parking area here, what would become the West Ridge. I had already climbed 1,000ft on the road and now would have another two miles and 2,400ft to the summit of Ashford. Though there was no use trail found along the ridge, the cross-country travel was not difficult other than the steepness of the ridgeline for most of its length. There is very little vegetation in the Black Mtns, and the terrain in this part of the range is not as rough as it is in some of the steeper canyons further north.
Sunrise came around 7a as I made my way up the ridge, appearing first on the Panamint Range across from Death Valley behind me. Climbing higher the views opened up to the southwest towards the Owlshead Mountains. The sun's shadow crept up behind me as I made my way towards Ashford Peak, but I remained in shade for most of the way. To the left I could see the Ashford Mine below in the canyon, the DPS summit of Smith Mountain rising behind it to the north. Around 8:30a I reached the summit, now fully in the warm rays of the sun - quite different than the sub-freezing temperatures of a few days earlier on Wildrose.
A PVC pipe held a register dating to 1996, left by Mark Adrian and Richard Carey. Matthew had an entry from 2009 - I didn't even know he'd been here, but I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised. The last entry was just over a year earlier. There was also a buffalo nickel found inside, though without a date and showing much wear, it wasn't worth much. The views extended southeast towards Salsberry Pass, though the sun's glare made details difficult to make out. To the northeast rose Desert Hound with the prominent SW Ridge rising up to its summit, almost a thousand feet higher. It was in this direction I headed next.
I first dropped about 400ft to the saddle between the two summits before starting up the SW Ridge to Desert Hound. The cross-country travel continued to be relatively easy. Halfway up the ridge I came across the first of several large cairns, likely built to mark a mining claim on one side of the ridge or the other. By 9:40a I had reached the lower SE summit, about a quarter mile from the highpoint. To the east was Epaulet Peak with the snow-topped Mt. Charleston in the far distance. Five minutes later I was at the highpoint enjoying the improved views offered by the higher summit. The register had been placed in 1978 by a large DPS party of 17 led by Gordon and Barbara, the only entry for the first 7 years.
I headed northwest and then west off the summit to a shallow saddle before starting down towards the Ashford Mine on one of the ridges heading southwest. I should have taken the first ridge at the saddle rather than the second, as the former appeared to have a use trail descending the ridgleline for most of the distance, but I didn't realize this until I was already halfway down from the summit. Still, the descent was not difficult and I reached the canyon below in about 50 minutes. I found a set of ducks leading up and out of the canyon a short distance over a saddle to an adjacent subsidiary canyon where I found the abandoned buildings from the mine operations. There were several buildings still standing, partially filled with equipment such as refrigerators, an oven, washbasin, cabinets and other homestead items. A dilapidated pit toilet was located a short distance across the hillside along a path, a huge refuse pile of old, rusty tins found below it a hundred yards or so. I headed down the slope to check out the dump and other detritus from the mine, descending the side canyon down to where it joined the main Ashford Canyon.
I followed the main canyon back to the road and then back to Badwater Rd where I'd left the car, returning by 12:20p. A short drive further south and east brought me to Jubilee Pass, the starting point for Jubilee Mountain to the southwest. Though it rises barely past 2,500ft, the small mountain gets a short mention in Zdon's book and has more than 1,000ft of prominence. It took only 40 minutes to climb the rocky North Ridge, about a mile total from the pass. The summit is a jumble of rocks featuring a 1930 benchmark and another PVC register. The oldest scrap was from a 1979 MacLeod/Lilley register that had all but disintegrated. A newer one had been left in 2010.
Back to Jubilee Pass in less than 20 minutes, I drove further east to Rhodes Hill, just north of the highway a short distance from the road. This named summit was an easy 30 minutes hike, all approaches looking to be equally trivial. There was nothing at the summit save for a scattering of larger rocks that looked to have been collected into a cairn perhaps, at one time. About halfway between the two passes, it provides a nice viewspot to the other surrounding summits including Ashford/Desert Hound to the west, Epaulet to the north, Salsberry to the east, Sheephead to the southeast, and Ibex Peak to the south.
This last, located south of Salsberry Pass, was my last destination for the day. I was at Salberry Pass at 3:40p, less than an hour before sunset. Sheephead forms a bulbous, cauliflower-looking summit that somewhat resembles the shaggy head of a sheep, the whitish rock adding to the effect. There is a small maze of shallow canyons to negotiate on the way to the summit, making it a little tricky to pick the right one leading to the summit ridge, not too early nor too late. There is a large notch in the summit ridge just north of the highpoint, through which one can see the expansive Greenwater Valley. From the summit one can take in the views north and south that make up this small subrange of the Black Mountains called the Ibex Hills. Ibex Peak is the highpoint, three miles to the south though I didn't have enough to get to that one today. I found no register and left the summit almost as soon as I arrived, eager to get back before dark. It had taken 40 minutes to reach the summit and would take nearly the same time to return. The sun set over the Panamint Range just after 4:30p, but there was plenty of light getting back to Salsberry Pass.
I then drove all the way back to Furnace Creek to get a shower at the resort there, much as I had done the previous night. I'd end up spending the night a few miles east along SR190, at the junction with Echo Canyon where I planned to meet Matthew the next morning. It wasn't the best place to park in retrospect, as there were a surprising number of cars passing by on their way to Furnace Creek during the night. At least I didn't get visited by a park ranger for illegal camping...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Jubilee Mountain
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