Fri, Dec 7, 2007
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The upper part of the mountain appears formidable on the approach, a ring of cliffs guarding the summit. But by following around to the east side before reaching the base of the cliffs, then moving around to the northeast side, one can pick up a surprisingly good use trail that makes the route rather trivial. The volcanic peak has some interesting rocks just below the summit, several with cavernous holes weathered in them. I reached the summit at 9a, an easy two hour's effort. There had been a very short class 3 section I encountered in one of the gullies, but I'm sure this could have been easily bypassed to make the entire hike no more than class 2.
It was much too early to call it a day, so I looked around for other opportunities in the area. Immediately to the west was a fine looking peak about a mile away that one of the register entries mentioned having climbed on the way to Corkscrew. The slightly lower peak was given the unusual name of "Ah-So Peak" for reasons that could only be guessed at. It was somewhat interesting, but not very far away. Corkscrew is not the highpoint of the immediate vicinity, and looking north one can see that a ridgeline extends in that direction for about three miles to the highest point in the area, Peak 6,136ft. The ridge looked easy and fun, so I headed off the north side of Corkscrew to follow it. Off to the left or west side of the ridge was the fancifully named Titanothere Canyon, so to give my destination a name, I dubbed it "Titanothere Peak".
The ridge held no hidden surprises, and turned out to be as fun as it had appeared. It took me two hours to follow the undulating ridge between Corkscrew and Titanothere, enjoying the views into the Grapevine Range and of Death Valley surrounding it. A higher peak some miles to the west of Titanothere I identified as Thimble Peak. Later I found (online) that it is an easy hike from the pass up from Titus Canyon. From the summit of Titanothere I could see several sections of the 4x4 road heading up Titus Canyon to the north. I was also able to spot the highest peaks of the Grapevine Range, where Evan and I had climbed the previous day to the northwest - Grapevine Peak, Wahguyhe Peak, and Mt. Palmer.
I continued north a short ways off the summit, dropping down to an unnamed canyon to the east. I knew there was some risk in following the canyon downstream to the south - these desert canyons have a way of suddenly dropping the floor out from under you with a dry waterfall that can drop 40 or 50 feet. If need be, I figured I could backtrack or climb my way out of the canyon sides should such an obstacle present itself. In the more than two hours it took me to descend the five-mile canyon, there were several short tough sections, but all could be scrambled at class 3. There were initially no signs of others traveling the canyon, but after I was about 2/3 of the way down I could make out other tracks in the sandy streambed. There was almost no water to be found anywhere, and the few pools I did come across didn't look all too inviting - good thing I had brought sufficient quantities with me. What was there seemed to give just enough life to the plants to allow a few flowers to survive into late fall. The going was occasionally made tougher with some minor bushwhacking, but most of the canyon was clear and easy walking. Further down, about half a mile before the canyon joined the broad main wash, I found several locations marked by ducks with additional ducks heading up the hillside to the west towards Corkscrew. Their location didn't match the DPS guidebook, so I wondered as well how those came to be. Many routes to the summit, it would seem.
I got back to the van shortly after 2p. With some additional daylight remaining, I decided to drive a short distance west and scale Death Valley Buttes. I parked off the highway southeast of the peak, and after an initial scramble up to the main east-west ridge, I picked up one of several use trails that converge onto the ridge from the west. The trail follows the ridgeline up and over the lower east summit on its way to the higher western summit. The last several hundred feet to the western summit has some interesting scrambling on blocky volcanic rock. The views along the entire trail were quite nice - Corkscrew and the Grapevines to the north, the hazy desert floor of Death Valley to the south.
The register I found on top had been placed little more than a year ago by the timeless duo of Gordon MacLeod and Barbara Lilley. Older registers had existed as witnessed in other trip reports I'd read, but being so close to the road (it took less than an hour to reach the highpoint) any register must live a tenuous existence. I descended one of the steep faces on the south side of the formation back down to the highway, then followed the road back to my van where I arrived at 4p. Clouds had returned in the late afternoon along with a chill in the air that marked the arrival of the oncoming Pacific front. Since I had come over Sonora Pass a few days earlier, new snows had closed off the seasonal Sierra passes for good, so I needed another way back. After a quick stop at Stovepipe Wells for a shower, I made the 7hr+ drive back to the Bay Area going over Walker Pass and SR178. There were still quite a few DPS peaks I had yet to visit with ranges yet untouched (by me) in the area. I would come back in a month for more of the same adventures in these desert lands.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Corkscrew Peak - Death Valley Buttes West
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