Mon, Mar 19, 2007
Today's agenda included Funeral Peak, the highpoint of the Black Mtns, and then Pahrump, a DPS peak in the Nopah Range. Evan was interested in the first one while I was more interested in the second, so it seemed a good mix. This was the fifth day in our six day tour of the California desert around the Shoshone area. We'd spent the night parked off the Green Valley Road which we'd used as a trailhead to Ryan Point the previous afternoon. After breakfast we drove another five miles south on the fair dirt road to the highpoint along the road and our starting point for Funeral Peak. The peak is easy to spot by virtue (or curse) of its two mile-long NE Ridge, though finding a place to pull over was not trivial.
Around 7:20a we set out across the Greenwater Valley, a two mile march across a gradual upward slope. Halfway across the valley we came across two lonely fenceposts (or maybe signposts?) seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We were fully inside Death Valley NP, but these old markers may have been on the boundary of the National Monument before it was expanded to the present National Park. After some 45 minutes we reached the base of the Northeast Ridge, one long, consistent climb up an easy slope to the summit. I'd never seen anything quite so consistent (or monotonous) from the base of a mountain to its summit. We had seen this ridge from Pyramid Peak's summit the day before, and its persistent slopeline had stood out as unusual even from a long distance.
Not being a DPS peak, there were no ducks and no use trails that we could find anywhere. Navigating through the desert scrub was not difficult though we had to bob and weave around lots of waist-high brush. The mountain is primarily volcanic, and there was plenty of dark lava rocks that poked up through the brush. In fact, the slope wasn't as smoothly graded as it had seemed from below, but had maybe a dozen rocky steps along the ridgeline, none of them difficult to surmount. It took a bit less than two hours to reach the summit where we found a register near the benchmark. From the summit we could just see into portions of Death Valley itself, with Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range arrayed behind. There were lower peaks blocking much of the view into Death Valley which might explain why this range highpoint is not a particularly popular peak. There were less than half a dozen parties visiting each year, likely most of them coming via the same route as ourselves. After about 20 minutes we had taken in the views and signed the register, and it was time to head back.
We were back at the truck just after 11a, then it was time to drive to our next peak. After an hour of driving, we stopped in Shoshone for lunch, our third meal there in four days. This time we actually enjoyed our meal at the Crowbar (Evan had a Philly cheesesteak that went by another name, I had a patty melt). Satiating ourselves, we then drove another 15 miles or so up SR178 for the trailhead to Pahrump Point.
Utilizing our bikes, we left the highway just after 2p, heading up the old road that leads to the opening of the canyon where the DPS route starts. We knew that the Nopah Range fell in a Wilderness area, but didn't know if the old road was part of it. We passed a signpost in the first hundred yards that indicated not only were motor vehicles banned, but bicycles as well. Evan had ridden by it oblivious, but it hardly mattered - we weren't going to hike up the road if we could avoid it. The ride was certainly harder than hiking, but it was a bit faster on the way in, and far faster on the way back where it was all downhill. It took us half an hour to cover the breadth of the Chicago Valley and reach the end of the road - this is much easier approach than the one to Nopah Point where the valley is much wider. We left the bikes here and continued up on foot.
The standard DPS route follows up this canyon for about half the distance before exiting out to the right, or south. The initial part is through a wide wash strewn with rock debris and gravel. A use trail can be found to make passage easier, but the navigation is fairly straightforward. Following the first half mile up the narrowing canyon, we came to the first fork where we should have turned left. Instead, we were following a use trail heading up the right branch that shortly gave out and left us wandering up without trail or ducks. It didn't take long for us to entertain doubts in our route. Looking back down, we couldn't see any ducks on the other side either. At least I couldn't. Evan point out something he thought was a duck which I quickly dismissed. Turns out I thought he was pointing to something else and he had seen one after all. Correcting our mistake after only a few minutes, we climbed back down to the junction and soon picked up more ducks heading through the left fork. In fact there were so many we couldn't understand why we couldn't see them just a few minutes before. This branch led to a second junction some fifteen minutes later where we took the (correct, this time) right fork. The scrambling proved to be some fun, though not as good as we'd found on nearby Nopah or Stewart Point a few days earlier.
Before reaching a dry waterfall impasse that we could see ahead, we followed ducks and thin use trails up a steep scree slope towards the ridge on the south side of the canyon. From the ridge, the DPS directions give one the impression that there is some tricky route-finding, but we found that not to be the case. Simply follow the well-groomed use trail at this point through a few notches, one with a very interesting "window" rock. The rock appears to be a rock conglomerate with the center hollowed out and four or five windows worn though on all sides. One can sit inside, though not comfortably, and I got an uneasy feeling that the whole structure might collapse and crush me inside. I didn't stay there very long. This led to another gully (which is really just the continuation of the canyon we had been ascending earlier) that we climbed to its end. The last part is very narrow, steep, and composed of compacted dirt that looks like it would be impossibly slick and slide-prone in wet conditions. This was followed by scrambling up the West Ridge until we reached the summit ridge that runs roughly north-south. This was a short section of rocky scrambling that was mildly exposed and good fun - except that it was so short.
Our two hour effort got us to the summit shortly after 4p. We found the usual benchmark and register. The wind had picked up some and the weather looked like it was in for a change - high clouds were moving in and there was much dust in the air due to the wind, obscuring the distance views. We hung out on top for about half an hour before starting our descent. The return was pretty much the same as the ascent, minus the route-finding error. We got back by 6p, showered outside the camper, and watched the sun setting on the Nopah Range. Despite the mediocre Funeral Peak hike, the day had been an enjoyable one. We headed south on SR178 as evening came on, heading for the trailhead for Avawatz.
We found spot off the highway away from the road to give us some quiet. The elevation was quite low there and the evening temperatures were too warm to sleep comfortably. I had to leave the doors to the van open to get some circulation. The wind picked up considerably in the middle of the night which cooled things down some. It also knocked the bike parked outside down and blew some of Evan's clothes about the desert floor. All good fun though...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Funeral Peak - Pahrump Point
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