Borax BM
Artist Palette Peak P300 RS

Nov 15, 2021

With: Chris Kerth
Iris Ma
Tom Grundy

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


This would end up being a shorter day than expected. Four of us were in the Black Mtns, bordering the east side of Death Valley. Chris had picked out a couple of remote summits above Artists Drive, in the north part of the range characterized by badlands formed of soft, crumbly soils and rock. It isn't the safest of terrain to be moving around on, but it is quite spectacular, with a variety of colors, slot canyons, and epic views. Our starting point was 20 Mule Team Rd, a one-way dirt road off SR190. We parked just shy of the southernmost point of the road, no real parking spaces here, so just off to the side so others can pass. It was 6:30a when we started out.

I had a rough idea where we wanted to go, but that wasn't really good enough. Chris had been here before and knew the terrain better, and knew that the topo map is insufficient for the intracacies of the numerous washes. So he quickly reeled me in from starting up the wrong wash and redirected our party to an adjacent one just to the west. This would lead south and then southwest through the only reasonable gap between Artist Palette Peak to the west and 20-Mule Team Peak to the east. There are some old mine shafts encountered along the way, now closed off by the Park Service. The wash makes for easy walking at first, becoming narrower as one continues and various class 3 sections are encountered. The first is a slabby, 30-foot section that can be bypassed by easier means with a foot path on the (climbers') left. The second has a cruxy step over a large block that three of us used - Chris went up the dryfall to the right of this. The third cannot be scaled directly by mortals, but the left side offers an exit strategy, though it is steep and covered in unnervingly loose material that makes one very cautious. Above this, the wash stays narrow and forks in several directions, but remains class 1-2. After about an hour we reached the end of the wash portion of the route and climbed out and up onto the slopes of Borax BM. It's a short climb from the wash up to the NW Ridge. Artist Palette Peak can be seen to the northwest and Telescope Peak can be seen to the west across the vast expanse of Death Valley. We could also see to the south, the first of the two remote peaks Chris was after. By the time we reached the summit of Borax BM around 7:45a, we could see the second summit peeking out from behind the first. The route to get there looked complicated and badlandishly tricky. The distance to the first was less than a mile, then about the same to the second, not far, really, but doubts had already been sown.

We hung about the summit for some time, discussing options. We signed a register left earlier in the year by Johnny Hsin. Borax BM is only found in the PB database, not LoJ, because it doesn't have sufficient prominence. As Chris and Tom discussed the next two summits, I was looking back at Artist Palette Peak. A summit Chris had already visited, it is found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles, of more interest to me than the other two peaks. Plus, it was easier. Plus, I had an 8.5hr drive to get home when we were done. In the end, Chris was the only one of our party in favor of continuing south to the unnamed summits, so we made our goodbyes before he headed off. Then Iris and Tom joined me as we headed back along the NW Ridge towards Artist Palette Peak. It would take us about an hour to make our way between the two summits, nothing harder than class 2, but there were a few sections of mildly unsafe conditions. Careful attention to footing and moving a bit slower were enough to see us through them. There are three points of equal contours shown on the map, two of these another quarter mile to the northwest of the summit we stood upon. It wasn't obvious from our vantage which might be higher, but we were content to call the one identified by Purcell, LoJ, and PB as the highpoint. Someone should do a real survey, though. The summit offers views looking 1,500ft down to Artist Palette Drive below, and further to the continent's lowpoint at Badwater. A climb from that direction looked difficult, at best. Not finding a register here, we left one before heading down after about 15min at the summit. We returned east back across a few intermediate points we'd traversed on the ascent, then across a high basin before dropping back into the same wash system we'd started on. We reversed the route over the next 45min to finish up back at our vehicles before 10:30a. It made for a pretty short outing, but I still had a very long drive ahead...

TW comments on 12/02/21:
I think "badlandishly" should be a candidate for Word of the Year.

Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

This page last updated: Thu Dec 2 03:58:03 2021
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: