Peak 5,449ft P300
Peak 4,662ft P500
Peak 3,854ft P500
Peak 4,498ft P300
Peak 4,793ft P750
Peak 4,632ft P300

Mar 25, 2023

With: Matthew Holliman

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


It had been 8yrs since my last visit up Goler Wash, taking Tom's old 2-door Jeep. There had been a 3-foot step in the canyon that folks had piled rocks up against, barely adequate to get the Jeep up on that visit. We were happy to find that the wash has had some improvements since then, making it a much easier effort to get all the way up to Barker Ranch. There had been no improvements to the section going to Mengel Pass, now no longer suitable for the likes of Matthew's Subaru that we we had used on our first visit to the area back in 2009.

We had spent the night at the junction of Goler Wash and Windgate Rd, choosing the location so that we could more easily return to Matthew's car should the Jeep run into problems in the wash. We did manage to re-break the swaybar bracket that I'd just had welded, but it wouldn't cause any serious harm. We left camp at 7a, heading up Goler Wash shortly before sunrise. It would take us almost an hour and a half (with a few stops to check out some of the sights) to reach Mengel Pass inside Death Valley NP.

Peak 5,449ft

The highest summit of the day is located on the west side of Mengel Pass, along a ridgeline leading to Manly Peak, the highest in the area. It would take us about 35min to work our way up the rocky slopes to the summit under a partially overcast sky with cool temps. Snow could be seen on the much higher Manly Peak above us, to the northwest. An old NPS boundary stake was placed at the summit, though we were now well inside the expanded park boundary. Butte Valley and several of the park's many ranges could be seen in a fine view looking northeast. We left a register here before starting back down. I suggested that Matthew could go ahead and tag Mengel Pass Peak on the east side of the pass, one I had done previously. It did not take him long to put space between us as I continued at my slower pace. I was waiting only about 15-20min back in the Jeep before he came sauntering back, looking no worse for the wear from the extra effort. While I was waiting, I walked the short distance down the north side of the pass to inspect the crux. It looked easier than it had been in 2015, but would still be challenging. I was happy we had no reason to go over the pass today.

Peak 4,662ft

This summit is found a few miles southwest of the previous one, on the ridge separating Coyote and Goler Canyons. We parked off the road about a mile to the east and went from there. The summit is not visible to start, hidden behind a minor summit we would have to first go over. Burro trails made this easier than it might otherwise have been. After going over the intervening ridgeline, we traversed slopes on a burro trail before dropping to a saddle and climbing the peak's East Ridge, taking about 45min. We found a MacLeod/Lilley register from 1981, with no other signatures until our arrival - always a nice find. To the south can be seen the Lotus Mine on the south side of Goler Canyon. It has a 4WD road that switchbacks impressively up to a high saddle just west of Peak 4,127ft. About a mile to the south was our next objective, Peak 3,854ft. I suggested to Matthew that he could head to it directly, down and up through an intervening canyon, while I went back to the Jeep and moved it further down the canyon. This time Matthew decided against my idea, and together we returned back to the Jeep via the same route.

Peak 3,854ft

We parked about a mile northeast of the summit, right where the road climbs a small hill to exit Goler Canyon. This was the easiest summit of the day, but enjoyable, thanks to a nice hike in a sandy wash to start, then a burro trail to lead us onto the peak's East Ridge, then lesser burro trails climbing the ridge, deftly bypassing obstacles along the way. The upper part of the summit is rocky with three large granite blocks found at the top. One is clearly lower, but the other two are of near-equal height. The GPSr showed the western one to be a foot higher, and this was the most challenging one with a class 3+ move to surmount it. We left a register before reversing the move off the block and returning back down the East Ridge.

Peak 4,498ft - Peak 4,793ft - Peak 4,632ft

It was close to 1:30p when we started for Peak 4,498ft from Goler Wash Rd, about a mile downstream of Barker Ranch. We had plenty of daylight for what was planned to be a 4-5mi loop, but it became a 9mi outing as we made changes to the plan as we went along. The outing started well enough, ascending a side wash to the southeast in pursuit of the first summit. The only challenge in that first part was a short class 3 dryfall, probably easy to bypass if one cared enough. When we started up a steep slope out of the wash, unpleasantness ensued, with much loose rock and really crappy footing. The volcanic slope we ascended was unlike the easier granite slopes and ridges earlier. There was no significant sand to improve footing and we had to tread carefully to keep from knocking rocks down on each other. Once we reached a subisidiary ridge where the summit comes into view, we had a short respite while following a burro trail south to the main ridgeline. Meanwhile, we had been eyeing the main ridge heading west towards Peak 3,943ft where we had intended to go next. A large, intermediate summit in the middle was rife with cliffs and very unpleasant-looking slopes, sowing doubts in both our minds. By the time we'd finally reached the summit of Peak 4,498ft, we'd expended a full hour, though it seemed like much more.

We left a register here while I brought up several options to our planned course. Myers BM, a summit we were both interested in, was about a mile and half to the southwest along a ridgeline that looked pretty decent. Matthew said he'd be fine with that. I then brought up there's a Peak 4,793ft with more than 750ft of prominence about the same distance to the southeast. Matthew was fine with that, too. I figured we could always do Myers BM from Panamint Valley another time, but Peak 4,793ft would be better done now, so we went with the second option. The hike along the connecting ridgeline to Peak 4,793ft was fairly pleasant, especially after the climb of the previous peak. Peak 4,793ft is a rounded bump that lies at the eastern end of a high plateau, Matthew commenting that it's hard to make this one look good in a photo. We spent about an hour getting between the two. The summit offers some pretty wide-ranging views across the southwest corner of the park and south into the China Lake military base. Brown Mtn rises prominently to the south across Wingate Wash and Long Valley. While leaving another register, I noticed there was yet another peak, this one to the northeast and less than a mile away. It was just after 3:30p, with sufficient daylight remaining, so I asked Matthew if he'd like to add one more - he would.

I misread the landscape between Peak 4,793ft and Peak 4,632ft as I eagerly headed off to the east, thinking there was a saddle to cross in that direction. In fact, the connecting saddle was well to the north and our route to the east would have us dropping into a canyon draining to the south. It wasn't a big mistake, since it was a shorter route, Matthew commenting that it might even have been faster than the out-of-the-way route going north. The drop into the canyon and the climb out weren't too bad, and the net result was another hour spent getting between two summits, even though these two were a lot closer. It was now after 4:30p and a check of the GPSr showed we had almost 4mi as the crow flies to return to the Jeep. We looked a bit askew at each other, knowing this could be a long return.

It would prove to be much better than we had initially believed. There was very little elevation gain on the return as we headed northwest, finding a whole collection of burro trails that would leave us with very little cross-country travel. It was a delightfully easy romp, dropping into a wash system with green grasses and a red sandstone outcrop coloring the landscape. The wash would take us out to the road and Myers Ranch, a private inholding in the park just east of Barker Ranch. We took a few pictures before following the road out, past two gates with dozens of signs along the way to dissuade curious visitors. Barker Ranch, the site of the infamous Manson Family hideout, is now a shell of what it once was. A stone ranchhouse has been reduced to wall fragments, a rough-hewn wood shack just an empty room, and several other smaller building in long-term decay. Yet the place was alive with two large groups of overlanders who'd brought families and civilization with them to camp here for the weekend. Gas grills were alight with BBQ dinners in the works, children and dogs playing and menfolk standing around talking important matters. It seemed a bit overwhelming and we were quick to make our exit after snapping our photos. We hiked the remaining mile of road back down to the Jeep, returning not long after 6p - pretty good time for four miles, we thought. We would see the last of the sun as we drove the 4-5mi back out of Goler Wash to our camp down in Panamint Valley. A very long day, but a good one...


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