White Top Mountain P500 DS
Goldbelt BM P300
Peak 5,590ft P300
Peak 5,670ft P300
Peak 5,671ft
Peak 6,020ft P900

Sat, Apr 22, 2017

With: Tom Becht
Brian French

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Our third day in Death Valley NP had us venturing up and over Hunter Mtn and into Hidden Valley where we went after a couple of lesser summits in the area. White Top made the list because it appears in Zdon's Desert Summits while Peak 6,020ft is a P900. The other four were simply additional bonus peaks we could do in-between to keep us busy. As it turned out the plan sort of stretched us thin, not on daylight or energy, but on gasoline. We'd already driven more than 150mi dirt road miles in the Jeep the previous two days and it was going to be close as to whether we could do all we planned today and get back to a gas station without running out. Because we had two other vehicles, it wasn't as dire as it might sound - we had contingency plans to fetch gas if needed, and really only had to get back to our campsite at the end of the day. And besides, this would be a good test to see must just how many miles the Jeep can get with the needle on "E".

White Top Mountain

The summit lies in the center of the Cottonwood Mountains, near the end of a rough 4WD road that climbs to the crest of the range from Hidden Valley. It appears that some white quartz rock was prospected here but no significant ores were extracted, despite the numerous roads that seem to pervade the area. One can drive to one of these prospects half a mile from the summit but we stopped a quarter mile short of this with the Jeep as the road has deteriorated greatly. The hike to the summit was pleasant enough, taking only 20min with fine views most of the way, particularly east and southeast into Death Valley. There are higher peaks in the range to the north, but none to the south where one can easily see to Telescope Peak 46mi in that direction. Because of the easy access, the peak is fairly popular. A handful of scrap pages were filled with entries dating as far back as 1971 until Gordon & Barbara left a more decent register in 1991 with nearly 40 pages in use since then. The most recent visitor was less than two weeks prior to our arrival. Back in the Jeep we started the long drive back out through Hidden Valley where we found Tom becoming a little concerned about the gas situation - seems the drive out to White Top and back was an extra 30mi that might have pushed things a bit.

Ubehebe Talc Mine

Lying between Ulida Flat and Sand Flat at the south end of Hidden Valley is a small collection of hills around the Ubehebe Talc Mine. A spur road forks off the main Hunter Mtn Rd to reach the Talc Mine ruins. We drove about half way to the mine, stopping where the canyon forks to start a loop of the four summits. The first of these was Goldbelt BM, the highest of the group with almost 500ft of prominence. We approached from the northwest, following a wash to start, then climbing to the summit ridge before reaching the top in a little over 20min. Richard Carey and Mark Adrian had left a register in 2012, since visited by Sue & Vic Henney as well as Mark McCormick - one of those obscure registers where I know all the names. We continued our loop by heading northeast, down to the central drainage between the four peaks, then up the southwest side of Peak 5,590ft. The dark gray rocks near the summit contain a large amount of ancient seashell fossils. About five minutes behind me in reaching the top, Brian and Tom whiled away some time examining various fossil finds they came across. Because the summit isn't very high, we were surprised that we could see Mt. Whitney in the distance over the crest of the Inyo Mtns nearly 50mi away, the only part of the Sierra Nevada visible. We were not surprised to find no register on this minor summit or the next two, either. We spent another hour covering the ups and downs over the last two summits. The last was not found where we had expected it at spot elevation 5,663ft, but another point a quarter mile to the NE that we had first passed over. Later I would send a note to John Kirk at LoJ to correct this. After the last summit we descended to the Talc Mine to check out some of the ruins and abandoned stuff left lying about before returning to the Jeep shortly after 1p.

Peak 6,020ft

We were all a little concerned about the gas situation by this time but Tom knew I was very interested in the last summit. I had to admit that "I would probably lose a little sleep over missing this one," but it would be ok if we had to miss it. We had to drive another 3.5mi one-way on a spur road that leads to a saddle west of the peak (the road continues another mile to an abandoned mine). Our driver was cautiously optimistic. The road was fairly rough, showing no sign of recent use once we started climbing up out of Sand Flat. The hike itself was fairly easy, one and quarter mile each way, taking us about an hour and a half. There was an old register from 1980 left by Wes Shelberg. A second party had visited in 1984, leaving some trippy, somewhat inspirational messages on several pages, then no one until Bob Sumner had visited a month before us. The summit provides a nice vantage looking down into the various forks of the Marble Canyon drainage, eventually emptying into Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells. Canyon Point, a prominent DPS summit and one of the last to be added to that list, can be seen to good advantage at the head of Marble Canyon to the south.

After returning to the Jeep, our full energies were now focused on our diminishing gas reserves. Beers from the cooler helped to marshall our resolve to face this potential crisis, and by the time we had climbed back up and over Hunter Mtn we were much more relaxed - not just because the beer was particularly refreshing, but because most of the 17mi back to SR190 were downhill. For that matter, so were most of the miles to Lone Pine. The Jeep proved to be up for the task and managed to make it Lone Pine without skipping a beat, taking a healthy 18gal drink when it reached the filling station (which may indicate we still had a few more gallons of gas from the 20gal tank). Our only trouble was a flat Brian's truck incurred just before reaching the pavement at SR190. Ahead of us by some distance, he'd already jacked up the car and had the spare installed when we caught up with him. He would have it all back together and catch up to us before reaching Lone Pine. We had dinner at the Merry-Go-Round chinese/american restaurant in town before driving back out to Swansea on the northeast shore of Owens Lake to settle in for the night. We planned to give Tom and the Jeep their biggest test on the Swansea Grade to the crest of the Inyos the next morning, both now flush with full tanks...


Candace Skalet comments on 05/27/22:
This is funny, because I also ended up in a fuel crisis when I added White Top Mountain to a trip. I drove up to the same spot where you parked. My low fuel light came on while driving down the steep spur from that parking spot! It went out for a while once on less-steep ground. But reappeared on the Racetrack Valley Road. I made it to Stovepipe Wells without running dry. BTW, at the time I also had a Wrangler Unlimited Rubi.
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