The previous day I hiked Towne BM and during most of that hike I could see Pinto Peak to the south. I had planned on Pinto to be my goal for the next day. Originally, I wanted to climb Pinto from Towne Pass, but all the north and east facing slopes of Pinto Peak were covered with snow. The slopes up to the summit plateau of Pinto Peak looked steep and I didn’t want to fight snow on steep slopes. I decided to drive around to the south side of Pinto Peak at Emigrant Pass and climb from that side which should have less snow. I completed my Towne BM hike by early afternoon, so I had plenty of time to move my Tacoma Hilton and check out the route from the south. I could always come back to Towne Pass if it didn’t look good from the other side.
I drove down into Death Valley on Hwy 190 to the turn off to Wildrose Canyon and then drove up to Emigrant Pass (elev. 5,318). At Emigrant Pass there wasn’t a lot of parking but there is room for 3-4 cars to get off the pavement. I was right about the snow on this side. There was very little and I could see a few miles up the ridge line towards Pinto Peak. I couldn’t see the summit because of the intervening ridges, but I knew there was snow up there from my hike to Towne BM.
I fixed myself dinner and crawled into my sleeping bag early. The next morning February 10th I got up early, and when it was light enough to see, headed north up to the ridge of the rolling hills. It was kind of cold at 24 degrees, but I warmed up quickly hiking. I had some light gloves on that I wore all the way to the summit. Not far from the truck I came across an old roadbed atop the ridge and started following it. The roadbed looked like it was heading in the right direction and the footing was good.
About an hour after I started I had gained about 1,300 ft in elevation and gone over 3 miles when I came to a valley ahead of me. It looked a lot further down that it was. I could see the roadbed making its way through the valley below and knew I had to follow the road down. I hate losing elevation on the climb to the summit, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. It was cold out and there were some snow patches around. Crossing the little valley there was more snow down there and frozen water from snow melt. I kept going enjoying the scenery and the hike. The roadbed made the hiking easy and the slopes were not steep.
On the far side of the valley the road wandered around some and as I gained elevation again, the snow patches became more like snow cover. No one had hiked this route since it snowed so I was breaking trail in spots. The route wandered around and on the east and north facing slopes there was considerably more snow. I crossed a second valley before coming to a final 3rd valley before I could see the final mile or so up to the summit. Mostly, it was easy to follow the roadbed in the snow because of the pattern of the tire tracks that aren’t natural to the desert. Amazingly, there were a few places where the desert had completely reclaimed the roadbed and I had to search for where the road continued.
These little valleys were annoying, but at least I was out hiking instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons. After the final valley, where I lost about 200 ft in elevation, the route was completely covered with snow. In places it was 12” deep and the top of the snow was hitting me in the middle of my shins. I took my time and slowly made my way up to the summit. The road ends on the summit right next to the summit cairn and the summit register. I signed the register and ate lunch. My GPS indicated it was about 7.8 miles back to my truck. The Trip Reports I had read from a popular desert hiking book and the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section said this route was only about 13 miles round trip. They must have taken a shortcut somewhere.
It is always easier for me to hike downhill in snow, so I made good time going back to the trailhead. The total hike took me 8.0 hours and I gained 3,940 ft in elevation on this 15.6 mile hike. This is a great place for solitude. I didn’t see another hiker all day and had the whole mountain to myself.