Peak 4,765ft P300
Peak 4,580ft P300
Peak 4,300ft
Peak 4,660ft
Peak 5,070ft

Nov 14, 2021

With: Iris Ma

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


With Kristine and Karl both departed, our band of peakbaggers was reduced to four for the last two days. Today we would be in Death Valley's Funeral Mtns near Pyramid Peak for some limestone fun on two different outings. Tom would join Chris on an ambitious ascent of Pyramid via the class 4 West Ridge, taking in two bonus summits along the way, and another one afterwards. I was interested in a group of lower summits to the north of the West Ridge, and west of the main crest. Iris would join me for these. There were options to leave off any of the summits that were deemed too much, allowing us to be flexible and see how the day was going. I drove the four of us in my Jeep from Slabby Acres where we camped, dropping Tom and Chris off along SR190 near the start of their West Ridge route. They would return to Slabby Acres on foot after their climb. Iris and I continued west on the highway to the dirt road for Hole In The Wall, a high-clearance route that would take us to a defunct mine to the northwest of Pyramid's West Ridge. With all the driving this entailed, and a stop at the park's roadside restrooms, Iris and I didn't get started on our hike until 7:30a.

We spent the first hour walking up the gravel wash, gaining very little in elevation. We followed the right fork of the split at Red Amphitheater, choosing the more open route that worked out nicely. The left (north) side of the wash was the direction our peaks were located. the right (south) side was Pyramid's West Ridge. We could clearly see the first two summits on the West Ridge and kept an eye out for Tom and Chris, but we spied neither of them all day (turns out they didn't see us either, though we were within a mile for quite some time). We climbed out of the wash to gain the SW Ridge of our first summit, Peak 4,765ft, working our way up a class 2 gully that was easier than the steeper alternatives and easy on Iris's recovering knee. We spent more than an hour on the ascent, enjoying the views as they opened up and an unusual, shallow gully high on the ridge. We reached the summit around 9:45a, still almost 2,000ft below Pyramid Peak, towering above us to the southeast. It was hard to make out where exactly our other four peaks were - their summits were camoflaged by the higher peaks behind them to the north - Schwaub Peak and Peak 6,015ft, both P1Ks. We left a register here while hanging out for almost 30min - we weren't in much of a hurry today, knowing the others were likely to finish well after us.

Once we ascertained where the second summit was located, we headed northeast along the continuing ridgeline to a saddle where we could then drop to the north. We had to descend more than 800ft into a wash running E-W between the two summits, a bit rough on Iris's knee with some unavoidable, loose rock. As we were descending, we had a much better view of Peak 4,580ft and the cliff bands ringing the upper portions of the mountain. It wasn't clear that we could find a class 3 way up it, but the SE Ridge seemed to offer the best chance. Down in the wash, we followed it downstream a short distance until we could climb up a broad gully on the east side of the peak. At the base of the lower cliff band (which wasn't all that cliffy - there were plenty of alternate ways through it), we traversed left and up to the SE Ridge to reach the base of the upper cliff band. We left our poles at the first class 3 section and were happy to find that the route went no harder, getting us to the top in just a few minutes, a little over an hour after leaving the first summit. This was easily the best summit of the day, with a nice summit perch that seemed well-earned. We found more good views and left a second register, the last I had with me.

The third peak, Peak 4,300ft, was another half mile further north, but would require another 800-foot drop to another wash, much like the last one. Iris decided to call it a day and head back to the Jeep while I continued on. We decided her quickest return option would be to drop back into the previous wash and follow it out to Red Amphitheater and the original wash. We parted ways after descending the class 3 section and retrieving our poles, Iris reversing the ascent route while I took an alternate way through the lower cliff band to reach the saddle east of the summit. I went down a rocky wash on the north side of the saddle, then followed the wash downstream a short distance to the base of Peak 4,300ft. It was an easier climb, almost 300ft lower than the previous summit, and it took just under an hour from Peak 4,580ft to reach the top of this one. I spent only a few moments to capture some pictures before turning to descend to the northeast. Feeling pretty good, I decided to give the last two summits a go. I expected it to use up the remaining daylight.

It was a short drop into the wash on the north side, about 300ft, then half a mile walk east up the wash towards #4, Peak 4,660ft. This was the tamest of the bunch with an easy gradient leading out from the wash as I climbed the SW Ridge to the summit by 1:30p. The last summit, Peak 5,070ft, was the highest but easiest. It was only about half a mile to the northwest, without a deep wash intervening. I dropped north off Peak 4,660ft then up to the East Ridge of the last peak and on to its summit in a little over half an hour. The extra height gave it the best views of the day, also the closest ones to the impressive Schwaub Peak to the northwest and Peak 6,015ft to the northeast. I had less than three hours before sunset, so it seemed a fitting time to be heading back. I would have preferred to drop west into the deep wash on that side draining into Red Amphitheater, but the descent looked very steep, and possibly complicated. The wash itself was wide and looked to have no hidden surprises once down in the dry gravel bed. I descended south from the summit to a saddle where I could better evaluate which side to drop off, and there I decided to return to the wash system I'd used earlier upon leaving Peak 4,300ft.

The descent on the south side was easier, and I made good time returning to the entry point off Peak 4,300ft. I continued downstream, finding the wash narrowing with some short scramble sections where a few easy dry waterfalls were encountered. The canyon narrowed further and I came to a large drop I could not descend safely. I noted a rap sling at the top here, and recovered the rap ring as a souvenir. I then found a class 3 descent on the right of the dryfall that went easily enough. It wasn't long past this point that I came to a much more serious impass, a deeper dryfall with the walls pressed in on both sides so tightly that there was no possible alternate descent to either side. Rats. I would have to climb out on either the left or right side to get around this. I chose the right side, but after climbing up and over a shoulder, I could see routes on both sides that would have worked, so the choice wasn't so critical. I was happy to find I didn't have to climb up more than about 100ft to escape the dryfall. I continued my descent back into the same wash, looking back briefly at the upsteam direction, but I didn't hike back up the canyon to examine the dryfall from the bottom. The rest of the way back was walking in the wide, dry wash for 70min until I had returned to the Jeep. It was after 4:30p, the sun had just set, and Iris was found lounging in a chair with a beer in her hand - good girl.

On our 45min drive back to camp, it would grow quite dark. We expected that Tom and Chris would already be back, and suspected Tom might already have dinner waiting for Iris. She smiled broadly at the prospect. When we pulled into camp we found no waiting companions and guessed they had had a harder outing than we imagined. It would be more than an hour before we would spot their headlamps slowly making their way down from the range to the north, and after 7p before they walked into camp. Iris and I had already showered, eaten dinner, and had a campfire ready to light upon their return. They reported an adventurous day with some class 4 scrambling and a more involved ridge traverse than they had expected - in other words, a very fine outing...


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