Gold Hill P1K
Between Peak P900
Cinder Hill RS
Virgin Spring Peak P300 RS

Jan 14, 2018

With: Tom Becht
Iris Ma
Karl Fieberling
Matthew Holliman
Matt Yaussi
Laura Molnar
Nga Do

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2


Gold Hill

On our second day in southern Death Valley NP we once again headed up Warm Springs Rd. We were heading into the Panamint Range to climb a P1K and a P900, or at least most of us. Tom and Karl were more interested in climbing the DPS summit of Needle Peak, but I had convinced them a stop at Gold Hill would be only a short "20min" detour. It was hardly that thanks to the tough road conditions we found. As shown on the NPS map, we expected the road to be decent all the way to Butte Valley but this was decidedly not the case. The road deteriorates past Warm Springs Camp, located not far from the site of the abandoned Warm Spring Mine, maybe halfway up Warm Spring Canyon. Eight of us were carpooling in two vehicles, Tom's Jeep and Matt's Forester. Both cars managed the road well enough, but the going was slower in the Forester with several inches less clearance than the Jeep. It would take almost two hours of driving to reach our starting point about half a mile from Gold Hill's summit. Tom was able to drive the Jeep to the very end of the road but we stopped the Forester about a quarter mile down the road when things got a bit too rough.

It was cold and chilly when we started out, our party appropriately bundled up. It would warm soon enough as the hiking goes uphill from the start, climbing almost 900ft in the process. The hike is class 2 from any direction, the rock somewhat loose but not dangerously so. Seven of us reached the summit in 20min, Laura having decided to have a more pleasant hike going down the road, to be picked up later on our way back. In addition to the 1949 benchmark, there was a small matchbook register from 1970 and a more standard one left by the Gossett brothers of Ridgecrest in 1995. Gordon and Barbara had visited in 2008 with more desert rats filling nine pages of entries. The views are open in most directions (the main crest of the Panamints rises much higher to the west) as one would expect from a P1K. We sat about the summit for another 20min before heading back down via a variant route, no better or worse than the ascent route.

Between Peak

Nga decided to join Laura, Tom and Karl for a drive south into Butte Valley while the rest of us headed off in Matt's Forester partway back down the road through Warm Spring Canyon to tackle the P900. We parked at a turnout in the narrow road about a mile due north of the summit, starting off around 11:20a. We followed the weakly defined North Ridge on the way up and took a gully route to the east on the way down. Matthew led the charge going uphill, at least as far as the surprise boulder field we ran into at the 2/3 point. The large granite boulders seemed to start and end somewhat abruptly, offering 5-10min of fun scrambling to get through. I lost Matthew somewhere in this boulder maze where he got held up when we struck off in different directions. Upon reaching the summit ridge ahead of the others, I went off in seach of the benchmark I knew to be at a point not at the highpoint. I thought it was to the east of the top but after searching in that direction for a few minutes I went back and found it a few hundred yards to the west. Matthew was already at the highpoint when I returned to it a second time after visiting the benchmark. Iris and Matt showed up a few minutes later, the climb having taken a little over an hour. Finding no register, we left a new one before proceeding down via the gully route with some bits of fun scrambling of its own.

Cinder Hill

On our way back down Warm Spring Canyon, a trio of burros were spotted that had Iris giddy with excitement. They were the first wild burros she'd seen and she could hardly contain herself. The trio quickly became a half dozen as more were spotted, so we stopped to give her the opportunity to photograph them. They didn't seem to be as spooked by Iris standing there as they had by the car driving by, and several turned and started to slowly walk towards her. More excitement on Iris's part, but now in constrained, hushed tones. The burros were further spooked when Matt backed the car up for a better view, and they gave up trying to see if Iris had something (perhaps in the way of tasty food?) to offer. We saw a dozen more about the rolling hills below the mouth of the canyon, probably drawn by the available water of the Amargosa River and the modest grazing opportunities nearby. We paused along West Side Rd to make an ascent of Cinder Hill, another opportunity for Iris to get excited, this time for a reason even I could appreciate. The summit of this small formation is 75ft below sea level, the first time any of us had climbed such a "peak". There are five such named points in CA, none of them with much prominence. Two are in Death Valley, the others around the Salton Sea. It took but seven minutes to hike the short distance to the top from the road, though not without its difficulties. Small, loose cinder pebbles lie atop the harder undersurface, making it a slippery affair. I commented to Matthew on the way up that this was probably the most dangerous conditions of the day, only to find myself taking a hard tumble on the descent. It would have been a good idea to wear gloves. We left a register atop the broad summit in a small cairn Iris constructed to hold it. I don't expect it will last very long given the easy accessibility of the hill.

Virgin Spring Peak

With some daylight still remaining when we returned to our campsite along Badwater Rd, we headed south about five miles to tag another easy summit that appears in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles, just off the road near the junction with SR178 (Jubilee Pass Rd). This one was a bit harder, but still only took 12min to reach the summit. The rock was primarily limestone, making for a better scramble than the other peaks on the day, but really too short to give it a recommendation - mostly just some additional stat padding.

We returned to our campsite where we were treated to a fine sunset on the Black Mountains to the east. We showered and prepared for dinner, waiting for the others to return from Needle Peak. There were a few other vehicles on the lonely West Side Rd that we mistook for them before they eventually turned up around 6p. They had easily finished up their hike in the daylight, but the long, long drive out of Butte Valley meant it would be quite dark before they joined us. We feasted on another excellent BBQ prepared by Matt with assistance from Nga, who had brought all manner of vegetables for grilling. Afterwards, Laura had to drive home to Bishop so we bade her goodbye, the rest of us taking up the hard job of keeping the festivities going well into the evening...

Matt's Video


Scott Barnes comments on 01/24/18:
I missed burros AND a summit below sea level. That'll teach me not to join the reindeer games.
Shane Smith comments on 02/08/18:
The register photos are such a treat since so many of them are disappearing now a days....Nice!
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