Wed, Jan 18, 2017
Brian had called me back in early December about getting together to do Saline Peak in Death Valley NP, but I was just about to head out to Hawaii for a month and had to put it off. When I got back I sent him a note suggesting we do it around the middle of January, which seemed to work for him as well. There are 6-7 P1Ks around Eureka Valley that I was interested in, so I further suggested we make an extended visit to the area. Brian was easily sold, having never climbed in the area other than the two DPS summits of Last Chance and Sandy, much like myself. I had last seen Brian years ago on one of the Sierra Challenge days. He and his girlfriend Marie had since gotten married and had a lovely daugher, now 2 1/2yrs of age. He had called me shortly after his daughter was born, a bit out of sorts with the life-changing adjustments thrust upon him. "It'll get better," was as much as I could council. And so it did, but he still needed to get out for some climbing and peakbagging which is what eventually brought us together in Eureka Valley.
The sky was full of stars when I went to sleep the night before, a cold 30F. It had dropped to 23F by morning and it was a struggle to motivate to get up early to start our day. We had planned to start driving by 7a but is was only a few minutes before this that I actually woke up. Brian was already outside making coffee and repacking his truck so I did my morning ritual a little faster than usual to be ready in half an hour. The hike to Saline Peak isn't very long, only about 3.5mi from the road that connects Eureka Valley to the Saline Valley hot springs, so we weren't too worried about an early start. Things wouldn't work out quite like we planned. The NPS map shows a section of the road through Dedeckera Canyon as "Expert 4WD drivers only" which we poo-pooed until we got to where the canyon narrows significantly. Here we found rocks piled up to get up short but steep sections of dry waterfalls. The roadbase narrowed considerably, too. Unfortunately, Brian's truck has a wide and long wheelbase, whereas the route appears to have been designed and honed by Jeeps with short and narrow ones. We walked up the most treacherous parts, Brian even getting out a tape measure to more meticulously calculate our clearance and other factors. In the end we decided the upside (we get to climb Saline Peak) was far outweighed by the downside (we fuck-up the truck, climb nothing and have to get rescued). Time for Plan B.
We had plenty of options, so we swithed gears and decided on Eureka Peak. It would be the longest hike of those we had planned, more than 18mi roundtrip, but even with a late start we figured we ought to be able to finish it before dark. We drove back down the road we had driven into Dedeckera Canyon about a mile, parked, and started off across the south edge of Eureka Valley shortly after 8:30a. The first 3.5mi were spent skirting the southern edge of the Eureka Dunes across fairly benign terrain with only very modest ups and down across the tiny drainages found here. We then had to go and over a more significant ridge to get into the main drainage that would lead up towards Eureka Peak. We were disappointed to find the drainage devoid of the nice sandy wash we might have hoped to discover, finding instead a jumble of unpleasant volcanic rock and boulders littering the landscape before us. To our good fortune, we had only to negotiate this less-desireable terrain a short distance before climbing on the broad ridge to the left side of the drainage that proved to have very pleasant walking most of the way to the summit. Not sure at one point during the ascent, we dropped down into the drainage and climbed back out on the ridge to the right, but this would prove less-efficient in the end since it involved some extra dips that we later found unnecesary. As we gained elevation, snow began to make an appearance, but never in quantities to cause any difficulties or concerns. It had snowed only a few inches at most throughout the range, some of it melting and what little remained easy to walk on. We were happy to find that most of the hike was an simple class 1 stroll with only a few short sections of class 2, taking us just over 4hrs to cover the distance, better than a 2mi/hr pace - not bad at all.
We were a little disappointed to find no register at the summit, even with a thorough search. I knew that Bob Sumner, Sue & Vic Henney, John Vitz and probably others had been here, but no record found. It looked like a small cairn had once been at the highest rocks, but these appeared to have been dispersed. Perhaps someone not overly fond of registers had "cleaned up" and removed the register. There is a fine view of the east side of the Inyo Mtns, white with snow today. The sky had slowly become completely overcast and gray since morning, making for poor photo opportunities. We made jokes about heading over to Saline Peak, about 6mi to the southeast, but that's about as far as we considered that. With the nearest bonus peak some 3mi in any direction, we chose to descend pretty much the way we'd come, with a bit of optimization to avoid the extra dips mentioned earlier. We got back around 4:30p, somewhat faster than I had guessed beforehand and well before it would get dark. We returned to the Eureka Dunes Campground where Brian went about building a fire while I took a chilly shower with the outside temperature hovering aroudn 42F. Brrr. I never did get out of the van afterwards, both of dining inside where it was pretty warm after letting the engine run a bit. Sharing a bottle of wine helped a good deal, too...
This page last updated: Tue Jan 24 14:37:56 2017
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