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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.
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.
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...
This page last updated: Thu Feb 6 18:14:49 2020
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