Zinc BM P1K
Peak 4,285ft P900

Jan 21, 2017

With: Brian French

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile


Zinc BM is one of three P1Ks found in the Saline Range of Death Valley. Brian and I had tackled another, Eureka Peak, a few days earlier and were now focused on the second (Saline Peak is the third). Because the previous day had been marked by some strong weather, we hadn't gotten to the afternoon plans for unnamed Peak 4,285ft, a P900. I suggested we could combine it with Zinc BM for a grand tour of the northwestern Saline Range, taking in famed Marble Canyon in the process. This latter feature was mentioned in Brian's Western Death Valley guidebook, though we didn't really read up on it to see what was special about it. The storm passing through the previous day had left several inches of snow at elevations above 5,000ft, slowing us down some, but overall it was a fine outing covering more than 20mi over the course of nine hours. Ours was not the easiest route to Zinc BM, btw - the summit can be far more easily reached from the west via a road in Jackass Flat, but that would be closed for the time being due to heavy snowdrifts from the recent storms over the past week.

We had gotten up early today, around 5:30a, so that we could pack up, drive to the TH and get started by 7a. There is a dirt road forking west off the Eureka Dunes Rd, leading to a dry well about two miles in. From here, Zinc BM lies about 8mi to the southwest, hidden at the moment behind clouds lurking in that direction. We started off heading SSW over the desert flats for about 2.5mi on easy terrain. Low clouds hung over the mouth of the wash we were heading to, sunrise over Eureka Valley delayed as the sun struggled to climb above the obstruction. Some live 50mm shells from some past military exercise were found in a cluster on the ground at one point. Though there was probably little danger in picking them up, we didn't know enough about old ammunition to make any bets with our lives and left them untouched where we found them. We walked into the fogbank as we entered the mouth of the broad wash, but it was already slowly dissipating and would be gone before we had gotten another mile. With the disappearing clouds would come our first view of snow-capped Zinc BM, still some miles off. The unnamed wash we hiked up wasn't the sandy-bottom delight we might have hoped for, more a jumble of uneven drainages with scattered volcanic rocks and short sections of unconnected gravel walking.

We were happy to get out of the wash and start up a ridge to the left of the southwest canyon fork that heads towards the summit. The first hour was fairly easy over dry ground with no real difficulties. The second hour took more effort thanks to increasing snow coverage as we gained elevation and some non-trivial class 2-3 scrambling on our chosen ridgeline. Once on the summit ridge, the slope lessened considerably and we spent the last 15min walking though about 2in of snow across treeless terrain populated by low brush we weaved around. Reaching the summit just after 11a, we found a green ammo box (courtesy Greg Vernon, no doubt) lying among some rocks next to the copper colored benchmark (or was it zinc colored?). Like the one we'd found on Marble BM a few days earlier, the register had been left by Wes Shelberg in 1979. Lots of entries on this one, some 19 pages worth, more than I might have guessed (before I realized there was a much shorter approach from the west).

The sun was shining brightly now, reflecting strongly off the snow cover, the first day in months that I've used sunscreen. Eureka Peak, Saline Peak and the Last Chance Range could be seen overlapping to the southeast, the eastern escarpment of the Inyos with yet more snow to the west. Looking northwest towards Marble Canyon, I was surveying the surprising amount of snow in that direction when Brian asked if maybe we shouldn't head back the way we came. Apparently he wasn't as determined as I to make a grand loop of the outing, but was soon on board with the vision I had for the second half of the day. We found the west side of Zinc BM a moderately steep slope characterized by limestone talus covered in snow, a loose, wet and messy descent for some 600ft before the slope relented. We then crossed a flatish area and up a slight rise before descending another 600ft into a major side wash of Marble Canyon. We descended this for 2.5mi over the next hour, pausing at one point to allow Brian to change his socks once we'd finished with the snow. Though neither of us had boots that were waterproof, his approach shoes were much more easily compromised and his feet had been soaked for hours now while mine were merely damp. His new socks would absorb water from the still-wet shoes, but at least he wasn't swimming in them any longer.

Finally reaching Marble Canyon around 1p, we found it mostly a disappointment. It had little easy walking on sand or gravel and little to distinguish it from any other wash or canyon. To be fair, we only hiked the last mile of this 10mi+ canyon, so interesting parts may very easily be found up-canyon. Our second peak was obvious to the northeast when near the mouth of the canyon, across a set of hidden dunes tucked into this western corner of Eureka Valley. The west side of the peak looks steep and cliffy from a distance, but becomes tamer (but still steep!) closer up. In fact, the west side seems to have a considerable amount of sand mixed in with the metamorphic rock, leading to some tedium in the 900ft of climbing to the top. It was just before 3p by the time we got to the summit of Peak 4,285ft, with fine late afternoon lighting conditions with which to take in the views. No register on this one. The east side ridge we descended had a somewhat easier gradient with little of the sand found on the west side. The air grew chilly as we descended into the shadow of the mountain, improving again when we started across the valley floor and returned to the sunshine. It would be after 4p before we had finished those last two miles across the desert to the dry well where we'd started early in the morning. Brian, bless his soul, produced two cold beers (much like he'd been doing the past four days) to enjoy on the drive back out to the van on Eureka Valley Rd. Rarely has a beer tasted so good.

Back at the van, we retrieved warm shower water from the dash and made plans to reconvene at the Eureka Valley/Death Valley Rd junction after cleaning up. We had planned for one more day before heading home, but that didn't quite work out. A truck driving out from Saline Valley had stopped to talk to Brian, describing a good deal of snow on the Waucoba/Saline Valley Rd and information on a new storm coming in. I had noticed high clouds in the afternoon that portended of just such a weather system so it seemed likely more rain and snow were on their way. Brian had little appetite for more hiking if was going to snow again and preferred to hightail it back to Big Pine and home before the snow started on the Waucoba Rd. We didn't know if the road had been plowed from the storm a day earlier so I had my doubts whether the van could follow him over to Big Pine. We decided to part ways, Brian heading home while I drove south on Death Valley Rd. The pass in that direction is just over 5,000ft, so there was little snow to contend with but an additional 30mi of dirt road driving that would take me a couple of hours. Ugh. I ended up spending the night parked off the pavement at the entrance to Titus Canyon. The rain came pattering down lightly on the roof of the van even before I'd had a chance to drift off to sleep. It would be interesting to see what the following day would bring...


Terry Morse comments on 01/26/17:
I'm not sure what you are doing differently, but ever since your Hawaii trip, the photos are appearing in the text of the write-up, not just links to the photos as before. It takes forever for my computer to bring up the photos and wastes a lot of time.
Please go back to the way you've been doing it for years.
Sorry about that. I'm trying to make it easier to see what the links are without having to click on them. I've just changed it so it should load much faster using the thumbnail images rather than the regular-size versions.
Terry Morse comments on 01/28/17:
Thanks, Bob. Much better now with the photos.
Tom Kenney comments on 01/31/17:
RE: Marble Cyn -> Jackass Flats

There are 2 fairly serious 4wd sections going this route:

1) Descending Marble Cyn from Saline Rd, just before turning west to climb to Jackass, there is a dry creek crossing that is quite deep. My 4wd Ford F-150 (med length wheelbase) passed this but the frame twisted enough that a skid plate began scraping the drive shaft.

2) Within 1/4 mile of leaving Marble Cyn, there is a limestone step that looked impassible without short wheelbase and serious gearing. My Ford would not have made this.

After these 2 obstacles, the roads around Jackass Flats were easily passable, and there were many good campsites. I visited (by bicycle) the Micadon cabin, and found it well maintained except for a lot of rodent droppings.
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