Saddle Peak Hills Wilderness HP
Hunch BM RS
Shadow Mountain P1K RS

Jan 11, 2016
Saddle Peak Hills Wilderness HP
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

With rainy weather forecast over much of the CA coast, I set out on a five-day trip to the Death Valley area, one of the more reliably dry areas in the state. Much of the week's agenda would be on the park's eastern edge or outside, near the NV border. Having driven some 7hr the night before, I had parked off SR247 about half an hour north of Baker. It was cold, near 30F, as it would be the next four nights as well. I had a down comforter to supplement my sleeping bag and slept cozily in the back of the van despite the chill.

Saddle Peak Hills Wilderness HP

This small wilderness lies west of SR247, abutting the SE corner of Death Valley NP. Why it wasn't simply subsumed into the park is a bit of a mystery, but one suspects there are other interests (like hunting) that would clash with a national park's restrictions. The name is somewhat odd, too, since the Saddle Peak Hills lie to the south outside the Wilderness boundary, and the Wilderness is more topographically part of the Sperry Hills to the east. Regardless, there is a highpoint to this wilderness found at its western edge about a mile from the highway and it was imperative that it be climbed. The hike to and from takes less than an hour over easy ground with modest gain. A scrap of paper had been left at the summit by Sue and Vic Henney in 2011, with a slightly better, stapled set of pages left by John Vitz in 2012. A handful of other parties had visited since then, all of them from the focus group. With less than 200ft of prominence, this is not the sort of point that stands out to draw the more random desert hikers.

Finishing by 8a, I drove north through Shoshone, surprised to see a line of people leading out the door of the local market. Upon closer inspection, I could see the line stretched around the back of a second building, probably 100 people all told, and likely included most of the Shoshone residents. The Powerball Lottery was on track to reach a record $1.6B and each of these were eager to get a chance at it. Funny thing was, this was only Monday morning and the drawing wouldn't take place until Wed night. This was simply the pent-up excitement over the weekend and everyone was eager to get a shot at it as soon as the store opened - kind of like waiting in line for two days to see the new Star Wars film on opening night. Everyone's gotta have a passion. Driving north from Shoshone, I crossed the Amargosa River near Eagle Mtn and was surprised to see water flowing in it for the first time. I've been through here half a dozen times in past winters and found nothing by dry rocks. Maybe there's something to this El Nino yet.

Hunch BM / Shadow Mtn

Shadow Mtn is a P1K at the north end of the Resting Spring Range, about 9mi ESE of Death Valley Junction. Despite its prominence, there isn't much to Shadow Mtn. It doesn't seem to have any impressive facets and can be easily climbed from any side (although approach lengths would vary greatly). Though just inside the CA border, I approached from the north, along the paved Ash Meadows Rd in Nevada. I drove up and down the road a few times until I spotted an old mining road heading west from the pavement that I'd been looking for. No longer driveable, it has been washed out in places but is still serviceable for hiking. I followed the road for about 2/3mi, intending to follow it for several more miles when I noticed Hunch BM on my GPSr just to the west. It looked to require so little extra effort that it seemed a shame to pass it by. This rather low hill was less than a mile off the road I followed and took less than 20min of hiking up an easy gradient. There are some good views of the surrounding desert and an interesting survey find along the way, along with the benchmark at the summit. Shadow Mtn actually looks more interesting from the top of Hunch BM than it had from the terrain below. Having come up to the top from the east, I descended to the south in the direction of Shadow Mtn.

With 4.5mi separating the two summits, it would take more than 2hrs to cover the distance between them. Though not particularly interesting, it was an enjoyable hike across typical desert terrain. It was easy to get lost in random thought without the need to pay close attention to the ground, and the weather was proving superb for such wandering. Not to say there wasn't work to be done - there was some 2,500ft of gain to be made on the way to the 5,000-foot summit over the course of the distance, most of it coming in the last two miles. Along with a benchmark labeled "QUARTZ PK", there was MacLeod/Lilley register from 1978. Mixed in with a number of local visitors, the 15 pages contained entries from many of the usual desert rats - Carey, Greer, Vitz, Palmer, Sumner, Smith the younger and others. I would spend another two hours on a leisurely descent down the meandering North Ridge, part of the range's crest that divides Stewart Valley to the east from the Amargosa River drainage to the west. Somewhere along the way I crossed over the CA/NV border a second time, but noticed no markers or other signs to indicate this.

Back by 2p, I decided to call it a day though I still had several hours of daylight remaining - perhaps I was growing soft. I drove into Pahrump about 15mi to the southeast where I had dinner at Denny's (wifi and AARP discount to complement large calorie meal portions). Just after sunset I showered somewhere out behind the Walmart Superstore before driving back out of town. I returned through Death Valley Junction and north to the Amargosa Desert on the east side of the Funeral Mtns. Some meager farming takes place out here on this wide expanse of desert flats, a number of isolated homes and a few small community clusters along Amargosa Farm Rd. This paved road leads west about ten miles from SR373 which combined with Diablo Rd gets one to within 100yds of the CA and Death Valley boundaries. There are several occupied homesteads at the end of the road here and I was careful to stay off their property, finding some firm, flat ground to park on at an adjacent empty lot. Hopefully, I wouldn't cause any undue alarm with the neighbors that night...


Shane Smith comments on 02/22/16:
Thanks for the register photos! Fun to Review!
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