Tue, Dec 4, 2007
Tin Mountain is the highpoint of the Cottonwood Mtns in Death Valley as well as a DPS peak, making it an obvious target for Evan and I to tackle. The climb itself is not terribly difficult, and a more sporty outing would do both Tin and nearby Dry Mtn (across the valley to the west) on the same day. But that would have required a very early start, and frankly more stamina than Evan was willing to expend - instead, we would take two days to do the two peaks.
Having slept near Ubehebe Crater, we got up before 7a for the drive out to the trailhead, or rather the random location along the road. We found the drive on the dirt road to be much longer than one might hope, but in better shape than we had expected - even my van could have made the excursion, but we'd left it at the start of the road off to the side, hoping it wouldn't get ticketed for illegal parking. The rules and regulations governing much of the park were not entirely clear to us. We knew that driving off the roadways was prohibited. So was camping on the roadway, or within two miles of Ubehebe Crater where the pavement ends. So how does one legally camp in this area? We didn't really know. Fortunately, it is remote enough to be quite irregularly patroled. We saw only a handful of vehicles for the next two days.
The west side of Tin Mtn is a confusing mix of gullies and ridges, but with a bit of close map reading, we found the route described in the DPS guide. The trick is to look for the gully with the steepest embankments (as depicted on the map by the tight contour lines), then climb the right (or south) ridge. Our parking spot wasn't the closest possible (it was hard enough just finding a spot where we could park without blocking the road), but shortly before 8a we started off from the camper on a diagonal tack across the desert, heading towards our ridge. It was quite cold at the start (and thus the late start), but once we got climbing the ridge, an unrelenting one we found, combining with the sun's appearance around 8:30a, we were plenty warmed.
The route is primarily class 2, pretty easy and scenic at that, with a few class 3 sections that we climbed only because we were too lazy to go around a few yards. The terrain is primarily rock, gravel and sand, with a smattering of vegetation on one of the bleakest ranges in the park. A few Joshua trees make their appearance about halfway up with other desert scrub higher up, but not much to impede the easy cross-country travel. With 4,000ft of elevation gain over three miles, we were only about 2.5hrs in reaching the summit. The summit itself doesn't present itself until the last half hour, blocked from view before that by several intervening bumps enroute. The summit views extend to the Grapevines and Death Valley to the east, the Panamints and Telescope Peak far to the south, and numerous ranges looking west including (nearest to furthest) the Last Chance Range, the Salines, the Inyos, and the Sierra Nevada. The register we found at the summit went back to the early 1980's, filled primarily with the names of those chasing the DPS list, many of them familiar to us.
Evan, not wanting to press his luck on some knees that had been giving him trouble, had done enough and headed down after our half hour break at the summit. Not wanting to spend the afternoon in the camper down below, I decided to hike around the area a bit more before heading back. To make a short loop out of it, I first headed southeast to one unnamed highpoint, then west to another one overlooking the escarpment to the west, then back to the route we had taken on the ascent. I took the liberty of giving them unofficial names of Iron Mtn and Copper Mtn since the summits were colored to resemble those metals, which along with Tin Mtn made a nice threesome. I also knew this would get a laugh from my 11yr-old son who enjoys an online game called Runescape that involves among other things, mining these minerals for fun and profit. Along the way on my loop I passed through some scraggily pine forest - actually a surprising population given the arid conditions.
By 2:15p I was back at the camper, a few hours earlier than I would have preferred. Ah well. At least Evan made good company with an endless supply of stories to keep us both amused. Tomorrow would be a bit tougher, with both more miles and more elevation gain - something we could sink our teeth into. :-)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tin Mountain
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