Tue, Apr 13, 2021
The last day of a 5-day roadtrip found us in the Panamints of Death Valley, the park's highest range with well over 100 summits. I had been to Wildrose Peak almost a decade earlier when the peak was covered in snow. Today there would be no such hindrance. Tom had not been to Wildrose and was keen on visiting it - Ryan was more or less along for the ride on his first visit to the park. I was interested in a handful of minor summits around Wildrose, so didn't mind the return visit. It would be an adventurous outing, almost 12mi total with only two miles on trail. We set up a car shuttle that would leave us with 3,600ft of gain and 6,000ft of descent. Most of the latter would come at the end of the outing when making the long descent from the last summit. We left two vehicles at the 5,800-foot level in Wildrose Canyon and drove my Jeep up past the charcoal kilns to the campground at Mahogany Flat which would serve as our jumping off point. It was 7:30a in chilly conditions when we started out heading northeast along the crest of the range.
Our first stop was the highpoint of Colville Ridge, which runs east off the main crest. It was 2.5mi from our starting point and would take us an hour and a half. The route begins along the crest for almost a mile, a use trail of sorts making it easy to travel through the pinyon and juniper forest. We then chose to traverse across the south side of Pt. 8,335ft to save us some elevation gain and loss. Our route went across what would have been an unpleasant talus slope if it hadn't been for the fortuitous find of a ducked route across the slope, a trail having developed over time - who would have guessed that this would be a semi-popular route? We then had a 500-foot drop to a saddle along Colville Ridge, followed by nearly a mile of ridgewalking to find the highpoint at its eastern end. Tom seemed full of energy this morning and easily beat Ryan and I to the top. It seemed a very remote location that few would bother to visit, but a busy register told another story. Dating to 2001, it contained 13 page of entries, the most recent not a week earlier. Crowded mountains, these.
After a nice break to soak in views and sun, we returned back along the ridge to the crest of the range. The hard part of this leg was the 1,000-foot climb from the low saddle up the talus slope to Pt. 8,335ft. Ugh, ugh. Once at the point, it was a more pleasant hike to the second summit, Peak 8,380ft, about a quarter mile northwest of Pt. 8,335ft. We spent an hour and a quarter getting between the 1st and 2nd summits. Unlike Colville Ridge, Peak 8,380ft's summit was buried in forest with nary a view. It, too, had a register, this one dating to 1989. It appears to have been left by Andy Smatko judging by the handwriting, but it seems he forgot to add his name to the date and peak name he bestowed, "Pinjuni Mtn" (likely the combination of Pinyon and Juniper). The register and various scraps suggest it is equally as popular as Colville Ridge.
We spent the next half hour descending the north side of Peak 8,380ft along the crest to reach a saddle where we knew we could pick up the Wildrose Trail. It seemed like this would the easiest part of the day following it to the summit of Wildrose, but it felt much harder - probably because we had something like 1,400ft of gain over those two miles. The cross-country effort would have been much tougher. There is another summit, Peak 7,913ft, another mile and a half to the northeast off a spur ridgeline, but we decided to skip that one - I was more interested in the last summit and was afraid we (I) might not have the energy for it if we went to Peak 7,913ft. It was 11:45a by the time we topped out on Wildrose Peak at just over 9,000ft. At the wide-open summit there was a large pile of talus, a benchmark, and an ammo box holding a register that wasn't even a month old and already very busy. This is a very popular peak.
The next stretch to Peak 8,740ft was pretty tame, about a mile and a half with more downhill than up. We traversed below the top of Pt. 8,700ft on the south side, not as easy as the one we'd done earlier, but still saving us some effort. Most of the route along the ridgeline after that was easy, open cross-country. There are two summits to Peak 8,740ft, separated by about 800ft. Tom bypassed the northeast summit while Ryan and I went over it, all of us enroute to the LoJ point to the southwest. When we got to the southwest point we found no register and couldn't tell which was higher. Tom decided to go back to the northeast summit "just in case." Ryan and I relaxed on the open summit of whitish rock while waiting for Tom's return. Upon rejoining us, he said the other summit was lower.
I thought the most interesting part of the day was the descent off Peak 8,740ft. We had initially planned to continue following the ridge to the southwest, but I thought it looked too rocky and more tedium than it was worth. I suggested we descend more directly to the south even though we couldn't tell what the terrain looked like, other than being obviously very steep. I poo-poohed concerns that Tom had of running into cliffs, figuring it was a big face and we'd find a way down. The initial part had lots of broken rock and loose talus and was seeming like the tediousness I feared for the ridge. Our route then began to funnel down more steeply into a narrow channel with some stout class 3 scrambling that we found quite fun. In traversing out of one gully, Tom got ahead of us and was soon out of sight. He would find more open slopes that allowed for a quicker descent and would beat us back to the vehicles by 15-20min. Ryan and I returned to the main gully and continued the class 3 scrambling that went on and on. I kept expecting to run into a dry waterfall, but each obstacle seemed to have a class 3 way through it. Eventually we did run into a 60-foot drop, but this was bypassed without much difficulty to one side before continuing down the gully. Eventually, after dropping more than 1,800ft, we emerged into the side canyon that would drop down to out vehicles in Wildrose Canyon. This involved another 800ft of descent, but it was all class 2, mostly in a dry, gravelly wash.
Tom had already showered and changed into fresh clothes before we arrived shortly before 3p. It had been a long, hard day, but a good one. Tom shared his last beers with us as reward before we would set out for the long drive home. After finishing our beers, we said goodbye to Ryan who would beat all of us home in the evening. Tom drove me back up to Mahogany Flat and my Jeep. After Tom drove off, I took a shower before starting my own drive home. I had the longest drive of the three of us and wouldn't get home until after 11p that evening. That made for a rather long day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wildrose Peak
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