Fri, Jan 18, 2008
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The temperature hovered around 28F when I left the van and started out in the shade shortly before 7:30a. I made a beeline for the steeper slopes west of the pass in an effort to reach the sun's rays as quickly as I could. Ahhh - nice! Once on the ridge above, Towne Point could be seen in the distance to the northwest. It was an easy manner to follow the ridgeline and the old NPS boundary markers and signs as I made my way along, up and down a few intermediate bumps. The vegetation did little to hamper the cross-country travel, and despite the ups and downs it was rather pleasant.
It took about an hour and half to reach the flat-topped summit of Towne Point, the highest peak in the area. The DPS guide describes it as the highest in the Cottonwood Range, but I believe that distinction goes to Tin Mtn, some miles to the north (and almost 1,700ft higher). From the summit I could make out a white patch of something about a mile away on a hillside to the southwest. It was then that I recalled reading somewhere in the past about a plane wreck near Towne Point. Wanting to get to Panamint Butte, I decided to wait until later in the day to see if I still had the energy for a visit to the site. Perusing through the register I found at the summit, I found some old scraps of paper dating as far back as 1967. To my surprise, Matthew, Rick, and Courtney had been the last visitors to the summit only five days earlier, choosing to take one of the more challenging canyon routes to and from the peak. Many other recognizable names could be found in the many pages of several registers along with many I'd never seen before - the relative closeness to the pass makes the peak fairly popular.
Panamint Butte lay some miles to the northwest along the twisty, S-shaped ridgeline with several more bumps between. I followed the ridgeline dutifully, first heading north, then southwest as it dropped over 1,200ft to a saddle, then continuing on for two more miles. This drop was the only steep and loose section of the route, the rest being firm footing and tame. In all it took two hours to traverse the ridgeline between the two peaks, as I arrived just before 11:30a.
I'm not quite sure why Panamint Butte made the DPS list as it is hardly more than another bump along the ridge, with views inferior to those of the higher Towne Point. Perhaps Towne Point was too close to the road to qualify but they still wanted something in the area? Ah well, such is the subjective nature of creating a peak list based on "worthiness." Another peak and another register, only this time I found no sign of Matthew, Rick, or Courtney among the latest entries. Perhaps they were on a canyoneering expedition that trip, not chasing the DPS peaks (later Matthew told me they had climbed one canyon to Towne, descended to the wreckage site, and then took another canyon back to the car - he had already climbed Panamint Butte a few years earlier). Doug Mantle had been the last visitor to sign in almost a month earlier.
Though a bit hazy, the views were nice, with several ranges in succession visible to the west (the Nelson, Inyo, and Sierra ranges). To the south rose the Panamints crowned by snow-capped Telescope Peak, though the sun was overhead in that direction making for hazy views and lame pictures. To the north rose the Saline, Last Chance, and Cottonwood ranges. The day had warmed nicely and it was now more a walk in the park sort of weather rather than the frigid, what-am-I-doing-here desert cold. On the return to Towne Point I made a few deviations from the ridge to streamline the route and shave off both distance and elevation gain. I climbed the upper part of Panamint Canyon, bypassing the extra elevation to the highpoint just north of where the canyon ends.
Returning to Towne Point, I continued southwest on a subsidiary ridge enroute to the plane wreck. I found an ammo box at a saddle chock full of emergency supplies including a multi-function set of pliers, MRE's, and several cans of everyone's favorite beer - Meister Brau (not being any real emergency I could conjure up, I repacked the stuff and left it where I found it). It took only half an hour to reach the wreckage site, a WWII-era training plane that had crashed on a steep hillside. Most of the wreckage was confined about one location including the fuselage and engine, but parts were strewn over a wider area, reaching several hundred yards down the hillside into the canyon below. The aluminum craft had resisted corrosion for many years and looks like it will last for many hundreds more if not salvaged or taken away in pieces by souvenier hunters. Most of the avionics and smaller pieces have been removed, and large sections of the wings appeared to be missing. I crawled around the fuselage a bit to get a view inside, but it probably wasn't the safest thing to be crawling around on with sharp edges in gaping holes and some of it not all that stable. The sun was beginning to drop in the west, putting the plane in the chilly shade shortly after I arrived, so I didn't stay around long. I climbed back up to Towne Point (I think that's a record for me - visiting the same summit three times in one day), then retraced my route back to Towne Pass where I arrived at 4:30p, not long before the sun would set for good.
I drove on to Stovepipe Wells where I got a shower on one side of the road and dinner on the other (the store has a microwave and microwaveable goodies for the low-budget, but discriminating diner). As the sun set and darkness took over, I drove up to Skidoo, an old mining site and the starting point for the DPS route up Tucki Mountain. Signed for Day Use Only, I don't think my choice of camping location was on the legal side, but I figured the chances of a ranger driving up the long dirt road in the night were minimal. Besides, I didn't think sleeping in the van would have any more impact on the historical preservation of the site than if I had parked it anywhere else in the park.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Towne Peak - Panamint Butte
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