Porter Peak 3x P500 DPS / DS / DPG
Peak 8,260ft
Peak 7,380ft P500
Peak 6,804ft
Peak 6,847ft P500

Sat, Feb 3, 2018

With: Iris Ma
Michael Graupe
Matt Yaussi
Scott Barnes

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3
Porter Peak previously climbed Fri, Jan 9, 2015


In planning a short (for me) 3-day trip to Death Valley, I was looking for someplace that would minimize the drive time from the Bay Area. Panamint Valley is as good as it gets, but still takes more than 6hrs to reach. Michael would be joining us with his Nissan Pathfinder, so I suggested he might drive us up Pleasant Canyon in the south part of the range out of Ballarat. I'd been up this road three times in the past, one of those on foot, so was pretty familiar with it. There were four unnamed summits in the upper reaches of the canyon and nearby South Park that I was interested in. Though I'd already been to it twice, I figured we could add a visit to the DPS's Porter Peak in way of compensation to Michael for driving us up there. Sometimes my generosity really astounds me.

Peak 8,260ft / Porter Peak

We had spent the night camped in the old ghost town of Ballarat (current population: 1), Scott and Michael arriving sometime after the other three of us had gone to sleep. We were ready to go by 6:30a, moving some of Michael's gear to the van for storage before piling in the Pathfinder for the hour-long drive up Pleasant Canyon. The road was in decent shape, no surprises since the last time I'd been here three years earlier, with less water on the roadway at the spring than I'd seen previously. It took a full hour to drive up the canyon and then partway up to the Cooper Mine site on the south side of Peak 8,280ft, our first stop. The spur road begins to deteriorate and Michael wisely chose to park where we had a turnaround spot rather than continue up. We spent the first 20min hiking the remaining 3/4mi of road to the mine sites, and where it levels off we struck off cross-country uphill. The initial part is steep and loose and not all that much fun, but the route soon meets the white limestone rock that characterizes the upper part of the peak. One can veer right for easier class 2 options or scramble left or straight up any of several class 3 gullies that turned out to be quite fun. I was having so much fun I lost track of the others for the fun part, not finding them again until after I'd reached the summit. Having gone another route, Michael was only seconds behind me with the others showing up over the next few minutes. For 8,000ft+ in February, the temperatures were extremely mild, only a slight chill that could easily be compensated for by the sun. There had been more snow in these parts on my last visit, but today there were only traces on the north-facing slopes and nothing that would cause any difficulties.

We spent maybe fifteen minutes at the summit, leaving a new register since we found none. We then continued heading east to Porter Peak, another mile further and almost 1,000ft higher. We followed the easy ridgeline through juniper and pine forest, first dropping to a saddle before hiking up to the barren summit of Porter Peak, about 45min all told. There is a very busy DPS register box (appears to have been left by Greg Vernon) with a number of books. I was amused to find Adam Walker as the last entry before our arrival - he had been sending me random emails on his way through the CA desert regions recently, often attaching pictures of register I'd visited or left over the past few years. I would send him a picture of this one in way of showing he wasn't always signing in after me. We had a grand view overlooking the southern end of the vast Death Valley to the east, Gold Hill and a few other summits we had recently climbed visible in the foreground. Now atop the main crest of the range, we could look north to Sentinel and Telescope Peaks, each higher still. To the south, the peaks get progressively lower with Manley Peak taking up the southernmost position in the range. After a short visit, we headed back down, using an abbreviated version of our ascent route. There are various options one can use in bypassing a return to Peak 8,260ft. I cut high across the white rock band to reach the South Ridge of Peak 8,260ft and the upper part of the road we had used earlier. This involved some unpleasant side-hilling across loose talus slopes. Scott chose to descend lower into the gully between the two peaks and managed to get back well before me. He was sitting quietly near the car reading a book he had downloaded onto his phone. No wasted time idling with this one.

Peak 7,380ft

After the rest of our party had collected at the car, we drove back down into Pleasant Canyon and then up the south side to a saddle with Middle Park. There was a short section of very rough road that took Michael a few tries to get over, but he managed it in fine style to get us through safely. We parked at the saddle for a short hike up the ridgeline to the west leading to Peak 7,380ft, less than half a mile away. While the others were getting ready, I walked over to the south side of the saddle leading into Middle Park to check on the road conditions - not a piece of cake, but it looked easier than what we'd just come up. What starts out as an easy ridge hike turns out to have its own bit of limestone scrambling as the upper half becomes rockier with a false summit or two to negotiate. Still, it took but 30min to reach the top. We found no register here, but as I'd left my pack in the car for this one, I had none to leave either. There are nice views from the summit overlooking Pleasant Canyon to the north and Middle Park to the south. As we were getting ready to head back down, I asked Michael if it'd be okay if he picked me up down in Middle Park instead, since we were heading that way next. He hesitated because he wasn't sure if he'd be able to drive down that way to which I responded, "In that case, I'll be walking back up to the saddle." No one else seemed interested in my alternative descent so I headed off on my own. I was hoping it would be a quick talus descent, much faster than the ridgeline scramble, but it was something less than that. There was indeed much talus, but it was too large to make effective bootskiing and I more or less endured most of the descent as unpleasant until I was in the lower reaches. Still, I easily beat the others back and would have to wait about 15min for them to arrive down in Middle Park. On my way down I had paused to examine an odd cairn that was situated on an unremarkable slope. It turned out to have a rusted tobacco tin, inside of which was a mining claim from 1936 - more than 80yrs old, that one.

Peak 6,804ft / Peak 6,847ft

We spent the next 20min driving across Middle Park, up and over the low ridge into South Park, and then to its western end where the dirt road begins to drop into South Park Canyon towards Panamint Valley. Along the way we came across a pair of burros that woke Iris from her carsickness stupor to provide her some unbridled joy. By her reaction, one might get the impression that there are simply no cuter creatures in the whole universe. Our last two objectives were located on the south side of South Park Canyon, along a ridgeline less than two miles each way. Most of this was an easy, pleasant hike with sweeping views. Between the two peaks was a section of castellated ridge of questionable rock quality. The others preferred to drop down on the south side of the ridge to avoid this section while I stuck near the top for some interesting, but not notable scrambling. The second peak at the end of the ridge was the higher and better of the two peaks. It has a fantastic view overlooking Panamint Valley and even into Searles Valley where Trona could be seen in the distance.

On the return I was interested in making a loop of our outing by dropping more directly into South Park Canyon. It's a long way down and Michael was keen to point out we'd have to gain more elevation climbing back out of the canyon. I persuaded the group to follow what we found to be an excellent burro trail descending on that side from the saddle between the two peaks, a good choice we agreed. The trail was as good as one could hope for, deftly traversing the northwest side of the ridge in and out several drainages before descending in neat switchbacks down into the canyon. Unfortunately we made the all-to-common mistake of thinking we were smarter than the burros by leaving their well-designed trail when it didn't seem to go the way we wanted. This was only a minor inconvenience in the end, as we eventually found our way down to the Jeep road at the bottom of the canyon. Scott spotted a large insect (that Michael identified as a Jerusalem cricket - not really a cricket nor native to Jerusalem, oddly) that caused Iris to become petrified with fear. Later she told a story of how she had to battle flies and maggots as a small child, leaving her psychologically scarred with enduring fears of certain insects. It was a rare moment of weakness for her that the rest of us would mentally file away to exploit in the future.

As we were walking back up the road, we came across a few bones in the middle of the roadbed, looking somewhat freshy scavenged. It led to a whole pile of them and what turned out to be a burro carcass (and somehow this didn't seem to bother Iris a whit). It wasn't clear how it had met its demise, perhaps slipping off the steep slopes above or maybe just old age. The rats and other critters had done a good job of redistributing most of its biomass among themselves. There is little to be wasted here. It was after 3p by the time we returned to the car, with almost two hours of driving to get back to Ballarat. On our way back down Pleasant Canyon we stopped at Clair Camp to check out the old mining site and one of the somewhat-maintained cabins found there. It would be close to 5p before we got back to the other cars back in Panamint Valley. By the time we had showered and driven our cars to camp at the north end of the Panamint Valley near SR190, it would be dark and time for more dinner and the usual camp shenanigans. We camped off the west side of Panamint Valley Rd, just outside the park boundary on BLM lands. There aren't many cars passing by here during the night and it made for an excellent campsite...

Matt's Video


Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

This page last updated: Thu Feb 6 18:14:49 2020
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: snwbord@hotmail.com