Fri, Mar 16, 2012
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2 3||GPXs: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
I'd gotten a bit ahead of myself on my five day trip to Death Valley and needed to insert a day of unplanned peaks. Bat Mountain lies just outside Death Valley to the east, between the DPS summits of Pyramid Peak and Eagle Mtn. It features more than 1,800ft of prominence and looks good from all angles that I'd seen it, and it was definitely on my radar, though just not on this trip. I decided that it should be easily doable without research or a map, relying on the ones built into my GPS for guidance. I recalled it being only about three miles from SR190, so the navigational issues ought to be minimal.
Having spent the night near Skidoo, I was up at 4:30a and in Furnace Creek about an hour later, getting a few gallons of their high-priced petrol to see me through to Baker a few days later. The sky was growing light when I parked the car along SR190 and started the mile and a half hike east across the flats of the Amargosa Desert. The sky had grown to shades of red and orange as I approached the West Face gully on the leading edge of the self-contained Bat Mountain. While I strolled across the desert floor I was eyeing possible routes up this side. The lefthand side appeared to have difficult steps, and as I came to find later, most of the northwest side of the mountain is fraught with cliffs that would make scrambling from that side fairly impossible.
When I reached the West Face I started up the middle of the broad gully, looking for the most direct way up to the main ridge. The rock is primarily limestone with some volcanic rocks as well. The limestone, prevalent throughout the southern portion of the Funeral Range is very coarse - good for holds, but rough on bare hands. It was good to have a pair of leather gloves. I did not get too far trying the direct route which goes up the right side of the face, as the rock grew more vertical than I was comfortable with. I got as far as a large cave, but then backed down and went up a lower-angled route to the left. The route was not trivial, a good mix of class 2-3 rock, and a fairly enjoyable 30 minutes that it took to go from the cave to the crest of the mountain.
Though the sky was overcast and visibility limited, there was an impressive view from along the ridge, especially to the colorful and contorted rock of the Funeral Range looking north. I spent another 40 minutes along the ridge, making my way to the summit, or what I thought was the summit. Turns out there are two highpoints, the south and north summits as they are dubbed in the register, separated by about 2/3 mile. Don Palmer had the first three entries in the south summit register starting in 2001, six entries in all including the last one before I arrived. Richard Carey's 2006 entry claimed the north summit to be several feet higher based on a survey he carried out. No matter - the north summit certainly looked more impressive and the ridgeline between them looked challenging, a good enough reason to visit both summits.
It took another hour to make my way along the crest of the ridge. For the most part I stayed on the very crest to keep it more challenging, bypassing one cliff section on the northwest side. As mentioned earlier, the northwest side is characterized by cliffs, so it was with some surprise that the impasse could be gotten around in that manner. There was lots of good scrambling and a few knife-edges to negotiate, all great fun. It was nearly 10a by the time I reached the north summit, crowned with a moderately large rock pile surrounding a survey stake. A second register found here had a few loose pages from 2004 and a small book placed by Bob Rockwell and party in 2007. Most of the names were familiar of the half dozen entries, the last being more than three years prior in 2008.
My attention next turned towards the north where I knew a second peak in excess of 1,000ft of prominence lay between Bat Mtn and Pyramid Peak. My lack of map and prior research were evident as I pondered just how to get from where I was to where I wanted to go. So far, every potential exit to the north looked to end in cliff and my options seemed non-existent. Loooking northeast, it seemed there might be a way down where a large gully cuts broadly into the mountain. I continued along the ridge, following it east to a saddle. It was clear that I could exit right and follow the drainage out to the south (the opposite direction of where I wanted to go), an option if I could find no exit heading north. I turned left and started down the drainage, easy at first but soon growing steeper until I ran into a very large dry waterfall less than a quarter mile from the saddle. There seemed no way to get down or around this obstacle. But further east there appeared to be access to the large gully, so I climbed back up and out of this dead end, over a low rise, and then down to a second saddle that was just the ticket I was looking for.
Caution: My GPS batteries ran out while I was investigating the dead end. I replaced them when I reached the second saddle, making the GPS track look like I had somehow managed to get down from there. I corrected the track shown on the map, but the GPS track will still show this impossible manuever if you try to follow it too faithfully.
In fact most of the route to Peak 5,300ft was now visible before me from this second saddle. I first needed to drop 1,200ft down the gully to the desert floor between the two formations, cross a low ridgeline between the two, then climb 2,300ft to the 5,300-foot summit, about 3.5 air miles away. Piece of cake, right? Actually it wasn't too bad at all. The descent held no hidden surprises, though I could have found dry waterfalls during the effort. Instead it was a steady descent all the way to the open terrain north of Bat Mtn. The intervening low ridge that I had spied from afar and was depicted on the GPS turned out to have a long cliff on the north side. I was lucky to find a descent route through it very close to the spot I had chosen to climb up it from the south.
Continuing north, there were three main drainages cutting through the slopes on the south side of Peak 5,300ft. I chose the middle one as it seemed the most direct route to the summit. I'm not sure if this was in fact the case, but it worked quite well. It was an interesting gully with a series of easy class 3 dry waterfalls in the middle reaches. There was one particularly difficult-looking one mid-way that appeared about 30ft tall and perhaps class 4. The full skeletal remains of an adult bighorn ram were found at the bottom, having evidently fallen to his death at the very spot. Some of the fur remained and some of the meat on the ribs had dried like jerky, but it appears to have fed a number of creatures in death. Whether it broke its neck or legs was not immediately apparent, but it doesn't look to have moved at all from the spot where it fell. I decided not to try and scale this particular wall, figuring if the sheep had problems I ought to take that as a warning sign. Luckily it was not hard to find a way around it by scaling the gully walls on the left and eventually dropping back into the ravine above the obstacle.
I was not long hiking the dry creek channel before leaving it again, this time to hike up to the right out of the ravine. It was not getting around another obstacle this time, but rather to more directly head towards the summit. Twenty minutes later I had climbed the slopes to reach the main crest, then spent another 30 minutes scrambling along the ridgeline northeast to the summit. There was no cairn, no register, nothing to indicate that anyone had previously thought much of this summit, a bit of a puzzlement. So far, everything I'd visited with at least 1,000ft of prominence had been recognized by a register of some sort. In looking northwest towards Pyramid Peak, I caught sight of another summit about a mile distance, which looked to be about the same height. The GPS map could not accurately distinguish any difference between the two, but I began to think this other peak was the one I had in mind. Unfortunately there was a 1,300-foot drop between them that I didn't feel like negotiating now that it was nearing 2p. The ridgeline connecting the two summits is U-shaped and about 2 miles in length with a 600-foot+ saddle between them and much up and down along the way - it seemed likely to take longer than the direct route. In the end I decided to leave it for another day.
Later I found that the summit I climbed was the one indicated on the California Mtn Atlas as having 1,300ft of prominence, but I believe that to be an error. The 7.5' topo map shows the northwest summit to have an additional contour which would give it a height of at least 5,320ft, a good excuse to come back and visit this interesting area again.
I headed southwest off the summit, dropping into the main channel on that side of the mountain. This dry gully held no significant surprises in the way of dry waterfalls. There was only one section that I was unable to downclimb, but it was easily bypassed on the right. It took nearly two hours to descend the gully and then return nearly three miles across the flatter Amargosa Desert.
Now after 4p, I drove back west along SR190, stopping at Zabriskie Point for an ascent of Manly Beacon. I had overlooked this minor, but impressive-looking summit on my visit back in December. The route-finding is described as somewhat tricky through the badlands below Zabriskie Point, with countless side canyons all looking similar. The trick is to reach the canyon immediately east of Manly Beacon to allow one to climb it from the northeast side. I followed the trail from the parking lot starting to the north of Zabriskie Point, dropping into the badlands and eventually to a junction with the Golden Canyon Trail in about a mile. I turned right at this junction, towards Manly Beacon, but left the Golden Canyon Trail a little too early. The correct point to leave the trail is just where it starts to climb out of the wash. Note that this canyon bottom is filled with the reddish rock washed down from Red Cathedral behind Manly Beacon. There are two such reddish washes past the trail junction - this is the second of these. One follows this for about a third of a mile, following the reddish-colored gravel northward, keeping Manly Beacon on your left.
Once northeast of Manly Beacon, there are two subsidiary ridges ascending from the same wash that can be used to reach the NE Ridge of Manly Beacon. Neither route seemed technically easier, both came in at class 2. Once on the NE Ridge, one finds this is the connecting ridge between Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral. There is no sane way to climb to Red Cathedral from this side. The ridge is composed of the same loose clay that forms most of the badlands and that section rising to Red Cathedral is too steep and exposed for scrambling. Fortunately the portion leading to Manly Beacon is manageable, though not without giving one some pause. The clay is not terribly stable, but in the steepest portion it is well-packed by previous visitors and there are rocks embedded in the slope that provide decent holds. One wonders if one of these might not pop out while weighting it, adding to the nervousness this section generates. It took 45 minutes in all to reach the summit, about 2 miles mostly on trail. Though late afternoon and often a good time for photography, the overcast sky subdued most of the colorful terrain around the badlands. It was chilly and breezy at the summit, so after taking a few pics I beat a hasty retreat.
It was 6p before I returned to the parking lot, deciding it had been a rather full day. I drove to Furnace Creek where I obtained a shower, some ice for the cooler, and made a phone call home to the family. From Furnace Creek I headed south past Badwater, to the southern portion of the park between Jubilee and Salsberry Passes. I was concerned that I would have trouble finding a cool place to sleep as it was 80F near Badwater at 8p, but by the time I had driven to near Salsberry Pass at an elevation of 2,500ft, the temperature had dropped to the low 60s, plenty cool for a good night's sleep. Though I was just parked alongside SR178, there were only a few cars that passed by during the night on this lonely stretch of pavement. Most weekend park visitors from the south take the faster route through Death Valley Junction along SR127 and SR190.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Manly Beacon
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