Eagle Mountain - Southwest Face "Direct" (cl 5) [new route page] & Southwest Face standard route (cl 2-3)
Jubilee Peak - North Ridge (Cl 1-2)
Stewart Point - SE Ridge
Pyramid Peak - West Ridge (cl 3-4) [new route page] & SE Ridge
Kelso Dunes on the way home
Wildflowers from around the area
The Tradition ContinuesThe Sierra Club Desert & Wilderness Committees have an annual tradition of doing a joint meeting in February in Shoshone, California. Two days of meetings give a forum to discuss desert conservation issues, Wilderness issues, and quite specifically, desert Wilderness issues. Shoshone is positioned quite advantageously for this, surrounded on all sides by Wilderness, it is a friendly place (owned by folks who support the work of the Sierra Club), and is quite conducive to further exploration in the days surrounding the meeting.
An annual tradition of sorts has formed with myself and some friends- go to the Shoshone meeting (as we are all active in desert conservation/Wilderness issues), and bag a few peaks. This year it turned into more of a peak-bagging derby, with great result.
We met Friday night at the usual spot- The Mad Greek in Baker. Falafel, zatziki, baklava, all for gouged prices, but the food is worth it. We headed north, through Shoshone, and camped along the Amargosa River about 15 miles north of town.
Day 1: Eagle Mountain
We got started before dawn on Saturday morning. Quick bowl of cereal and a cup of joe, and we're off. As we headed to the base, the familiar "three chutes" came into view. The standard route goes around the leftmost chute, and then across the top of it, along the base of some cliffs, to a saddle. The middle chute, which looked steepest, looked as if it would provide direct access to the base of the cliffs. This would cut off much of the meandering the standard route does, and also hopefully spice things up a bit. "Do you think it goes?" I asked. "Not sure. Looks pretty steep," B. said. "We can always bail and come back," I said, knowing full well that it would take cliffs of truly horrifying proportions to actually turn us back, and we'd likely climb whatever we encountered.
After a little bit of time in the "Bowling Alley" (a large ramp system on the standard route), a further continuation of the chute we'd been in presented itself- we could continue upward, and traverse right to achieve the saddle. After the first chute worked out, we felt confident enough to continue- this virtual playground of rock would present many options and most obstacles could be either surmounted or avoided if need be. Some more Class 4+/5.EZ was encountered in this further chute, this time on somewhat looser rock. We traversed out onto a rib, and took that to the saddle.
From here the standard route essentially follows the ridge all the way to the summit. There are use trails around to avoid various towers or cliffs, but the rock is generally quite solid, the scrambling pretty firmly Class 3, and there is no need to do anything but stick to the ridge. And it is fun! Gendarmes and fins, downclimbs and hand traverses, exposed notches and airy perches- the ridge has it all!
We reached the summit 2 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the car (probably could cut that down to 1:30 with some concentration), and enjoyed the outstanding view. Eagle Mountain is a totally isolated massif- located in the middle of the Amargosa River drainage, it provides views of the Funeral Mountains, Amargosa Valley, Resting Spring Range, Nopah Range, Greenwater Range, Black Mountains, and Panamint Mountains beyond. A great way to start out our weekend.
Descent was straightforward (with a little more playing to bag a northern summit), and the meeting that day went well.
Day 2, AM: Jubilee Peak
The summit revealed beautiful views of the southern portion of Death Valley. Just as I topped out on the summit, the sun rose over the Ibex Range to the SE of me, and it hit the summit. I basked in the sunlight, while watching the alpenglow change from pink to orange to yellow as it reflected on the new snow on top of the Panamints, across Death Valley. This is why I climb desert peaks. For those rare moments when you can completely lose yourself in a place. The desert isn't just my playground, it's my home, and the feeling I get when I penetrate into the heart of it is unmatched anywhere for me. Abbey said, "What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote." Perhaps that's it.
I reveled in the isolation and beauty for a few minutes, before heading back down the way I came. 58 minutes after leaving the car, I returned, and headed back to Shoshone for another morning of meetings.
Day 2, PM: Stewart Point
We all coalesced on a ridge (the wrong one it seems). A checking of the watches revealed that it was already after 3:00. We were still quite distant from the summit. "3:00 huh?" I said, and then I took off. 1500 vertical feet of easy terrain lay above me, and I bombed up it without stopping. About 25 minutes later, I reached the summit ridge. Looking back I saw the group spread out along the ridgeline, the further back looking quite far away.
Turning around soon seemed prudent, but the summit was still another 1/2 mile along the ridgeline. I jetted across the traverse, with a little vertical at the end, and summitted the peak at 3:40. Two of my compadres followed, and we signed in and took in the truly spectacular view.
To our relief, our lagging friends (this was a party of 6) had decided to turn around. We headed down the correct ridge (And enjoyed the benefit of a great use trail), and met up with the rest of our group just above the dryfalls we had previously had so much fun with. We found a use trail which totally avoided the whole dryfall section, and the rest of the descent proved easy.
We still had to keep moving fast in order to get out of the wash before dark- I didn't want us to have to routefind the not-so-straightforward route with no eyes. While keeping up a stout pace, we made it to the bottom by 6:00 PM, and headed back to Shoshone to meet some friends.
Day 3: Pyramid Peak
Monday morning found our group somewhat worse for the wear, not meeting up at the base of Pyramid Peak until 9:30 AM. Our hands were lacerated pretty severely by the razor-sharp limestone we'd been climbing on the past two days. Various celebrating had ensued due to reunions and long-gone friends and such, and this caused a general tiredness in the morning.
Nonetheless, we mobilized for our first major peak of the trip (and what would turn out to be the last), and set out. We intended to climb the West Ridge. Zdon doesn't describe it in his book (he only speaks of the standard route, Class 2-3 Southeast Ridge). However I had read a brief reference to it as "Class 3, but not for the faint of heart" here on summitpost. Sounded intruiging, and the ridge was beautiful from the ground.
We headed across the bajada from Hwy 190, crossing wash after wash (which entailed a little bit of extra elevation gain). We were gunning for a likely-looking gully near some piles of red rock that led to what we supposed was the West Ridge proper. Once in the gully, we encountered interesting conglomerate rock, and fun easy Class 2. We took it up to a scree slope (with some remnants of some footprints as if someone had been there before), followed by a rockier patch.
And here we encountered the first of what would be many similar decisions throughout the day: the direct, harder route; or the more circuitous, easier route. Two of us chose direct, one chose circuitous. We found ourselves on fun, exposed Class 4 rock (our circuitous partner encountered loose Class 2-3), ascending directly up an arete on a tower.
After some scrambling, slogging, and flailing our way up a number of subsidiary ridges, we finally reached what appeared to be the West Ridge. Furnace Creek and the Death Valley area spread out beyond us to the West... Eagle Mountain stood solitary in the Amargosa River Valley to the east. Now the only way to go was up.
Before us, the West Ridge spread out like an entire range of peaks, rather than just one peak. Upon glancing at the topo, numerous false summits were visible. Most troubling was when the ridge we were on encountered another ridge, just below the first 6000' false summit. Our ridge seemed to disappear altogether (on the topo) into the southwest face of the false summit. We seemed to have visual confirmation of this. We proceeded with speed, and some trepidation.
After some time, we reached the base of the proimenent first false summit (aforementioned). After speculating about many possible routes through the two black bands of rock and two white bands of rock, we settled on one. I led off, traversing along loose slopes across the first black band to the base of a prominent gully through the first white band. Heading up the gully, I skipped our intended route (another, steep gully through the second black band), instead heading up broken cliffs to the right in the second black band. These yielded a gentler slope through the second white band, and 20 minutes later, I summitted the first false summit.
From here the view was long to the second false summit, and the true summit. It was still quite a ways. And while we thought the hardest was behind us (had already gained 3000' of vert), in truth the crux lay ahead, in some delicate and hair-raising traverses of gendarmes, where bypassing them was some impossible. Some exciting downclimbing and some even more exciting traversing led to the base of the second false summit.
Again, the easy way was up a gully to the left of the crest. The fun way was up the arete on the ridgeline- more Class 5, with some serious exposure. Some easy loping across the ridgeline led to the true summit, which was beautiful white quartz.
FINALLY. Four and a half hours without any real stopping, and we achieved the summit. We chilled out for a while, and then headed down.
I'm not going to go too far into it, but suffice it to say, we were overly eager in our descent. We found a scree chute that led straight down, and, with uneasy feelings the whole way, decided to descend it hoping it would provide more direct access to the bajada below. Foolish. We eventually (after some spicy Class 4 downclimbing) arrived at the final impasse, and what an impasse it was. A 500' drop (at least) down a dry fall to the bajada below.
We then began the excruciating climb up and out of the drainage, traversing over to the Southeast Ridge (standard route) to descend. Eventually we made it. Following the use trail was fairly easy, and the rest of the descent proved uneventful. Upon reaching the wash at the base of the cliffs, I began to run. We were overdue, and I had to meet my lady-friend at the Dante's View Road junction a few miles away. I hate being late. So I ran for half an hour, and reached the trucks after a short walk thereafter.
AftermathWe straggled into camp in the Greenwater Valley eventually, and feasted on burritos. Many tequila shots and cheap watery beers helped to ease our aching muscles. We were all clearly wasted from the day's efforts- the West Ridge-Southeast Ridge traverse was more than we had bargained on. What was especially hard about it was the pace- we did the whole thing in less than 9 hours, with upwards of 13 miles of distance, and over 6000' of vertical ascent. Combined with the previous day's 7 miles and 2600' of vert in 4 hours, things were getting a bit crazy.
We had scheduled Avawatz Peak for the next day, but the next morning, as we all rustled out of our beds, we all reached the same conclusion: no freaking way. We were destroyed physically, and needed time to recover. So be it. A great peak derby was had, and the tradition will hopefully continue into the future.