Lake Hill P300 RS
Panamint Gate South P300 RS
Panamint Gate North P300
Talc City Hills HP
Santa Rosa Hills P300

Feb 4, 2018

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma
Matt Yaussi
Michael Graupe

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


Today's adventure was a collection of short hikes at the north end of Panamint Valley and the higher elevations to the west around Darwin Bench. None were more than a few miles in length and most were much shorter. The peaks included a pair found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles along with a couple of minor range highpoints.

Lake Hill

At the far north end of Panamint Valley can be found one of two large dry lake beds that occasionally form shallow pools. Adjacent to this is Lake Hill, an odd protrusion of black limestone rock rising almost 500ft from the valley floor. A decent, but not great (high-clearance recommended) road leads north from SR190, going past Lake Hill on its east side at a distance of about half a mile. There are a few rusting frames of autos from a bygone era that have been left as historical artifacts, now protected by the national park they have become part of. From a distance, the East Face of Lake Hill looks to have an imposing cliff band, but this is mostly illusional. We used five different variations to climb that side, and as many on the way down afterwards. The hike is characterized by an easy, short walk across the valley floor, followed by a steep scramble up somewhat loose rock that manages to hold together because that's what limestone is good at. We spent 20min in the early morning to reach the summit just as the sun was cresting over the Panamint Range to the east. Aside from the benchmark labeled "BLACK", a register we found was mostly a collection of loose sheets with a few names we recognized - Chris Henry, Mason, Greg Gerlach, a few others. The roundtrip effort came in at 45min - a good warm up.

Panamint Gates South/North

Back at SR190, we drove our collection of vehicles west past Panamint Springs (no longer selling the state's most expensive gas, but close), up to a saddle with Panamint Gates South, the other short scramble we got from Purcell's guidebook. These two sentinels stand guard over the western entrance to Panamint Valley, separated by a small wash that lies between the dramatic Rainbow Canyon to the north and Darwin Wash to the south. This rather short hike takes less than 15min to climb up from the saddle where we parked off the roadway, but offers some dramatic views overlooking the valley. It took only a minute to talk the others into adding Panamint Gate North which we hadn't intended beforehand but seemed like the obvious add-on. We dropped down the sometimes loose north side of the first peak, crossed the wash and scrambled up the second, an effort that took an additional 45min. There was no register found on the North Gate and as I wasn't carrying my pack on this one, we had none to leave, either. We descended via the West Ridge, a more gentle gradient than the South Slopes we had just ascended, which then required a second crossing of the wash before we could climb back up to the saddle where our cars were left. An hour and three quarters, all told.

Talc City Hills HP

More driving on SR190 to the west got us to the Darwin Plateau and the old Saline Valley Rd junction. We left the cars here and piled into Michael's Pathfinder for a driving exercise into the Talc City Hills. The highpoint is oddly located where this small collection of whitish hills abuts Malapais Mesa and the southern end of the Inyo Mountains. As such, it has little prominence but still manages to be a range highpoint. Go figure. We drove northeast about 2.5mi before turning left on a spur road leading to a small mining operation from days past. We parked just before the mine works located up the hill, with a shaft going down some distance into the darkness. The wooden ladder looks as rickety as one could imagine and it can't help but send chills down one's spine when considering what it would be like to descend it. We left it to climb steep slopes on the east side, leading to the main crest which makes for a decent hike with good views off both sides. The highpoint is found at the far north end of the crest, about a mile and quarter from where we'd parked. John Vitz had left a register there in 2000, with Bob Sumner having signed in only five months before us. Not a lot of visitors in 18 years. We took a more direct descent from the summit down to the east and into an easy wash that took us nicely back out to another spur road leading to where we'd parked. We spent an hour and a half all told on this one.

Santa Rosa Hills HP

The Santa Rosa Hills are found about 8mi to the northeast of Talc City, and the road we took there through Santa Rosa Flat was a bit rough and rocky, making for slow going on the drive. A better approach to the highpoint is on the Lee Flat side of the hills to the northeast, which we would use for the return. Our starting point was 3/4mi southwest of the summit, near where the road crests between the two shallow valleys, east of Conglomerate Mesa. The hiking is uncommonly easy across benign terrain, even for the desert. It took only 25min to reach the top where we found a Richard Carey register only a year old. Don Raether and Bob Sumner had already left their own entries since. We were back by 2p with plenty of daylight remaining, but still lots of driving for everyone (especially Michael and I) to get home. As mentioned, we found the easier route on the return, driving out through Lee Flat and then on the newer, well-graded Saline Valley Rd that spit us back out at SR190. We connected back up with our other cars at the old junction and from there went our separate ways to head home. A nice, easy end to a fun weekend of peakbagging around the Panamint Valley area...

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