Towne BM was my second stop in a long weekend hiking trip to Death Valley. On Thursday, February 8, 2008 I climbed Red Mountain south of Death Valley and after the climb I headed north through the “scenic” town of Trona on Hwy 178. I nominate Trona as the ugliest town in California. Hwy 178 passes through the Panamint Valley on the west side of Telescope Peak. Hwy 178 deadends at Hwy 190 where I turned east towards Death Valley. The highway climbs quickly, enters Death Valley National Park and reaches Towne Pass (elevation 4,963 ft) before dropping down into Death Valley. I stopped at Towne Pass in the large parking area on the north side of the highway.
I had selected Towne Pass as my trailhead for climbing Towne BM to the north and possibly Pinto Peak to the south. It was only the middle of the afternoon so I had plenty of time to organize my gear and prepare dinner. My Tacoma Hilton would serve me as my motel on wheels for the night and I retired early.
The next morning I was up early and started up the steep slope to the north towards Towne BM. I had spotted a rocky ramp that climbed from the left to the right and then connected with a steeper ramp that climbed from the right to the left. I had to climb about 800 ft up to a ridge and then follow the ridge for a few miles to the summit.
Once I reached the ridge, I could finally see Towne BM to the north. It was a long way away and had some snow on the east slope. I found a faint climbers trail on the ridge that I tried to follow. Unfortunately, there were areas that were covered with a few inches of snow, so I kept losing the trail. Route finding was no big deal because you can see the summit, see the route, follow the ridge, and follow a survey line on top of the ridge. The survey line was put there in the 1970’s when the ridge was a boundary for Death Valley National Monument. When the Monument was made into a National Park, the boundary was extended to the west to near the bottom of Panamint Valley.
There are no trees to obscure views here, so you know where you are all the time. I followed the ridge up and down several knobs along the ridge. I short cut a few of them by sidehilling a little below the tops, but it may not have saved me much time or elevation gain. I counted at least 6 of these little hills that I had to climb and then descend a little before climbing up the next one. I hate to lose elevation while going up to any summit, so this was a little frustrating. It was good that it was a beautiful clear day.
As I climbed, the higher I went the more snow I encountered. By the time I reached a knob at about 6,560 ft, I could see across a little valley to the final climb up to the summit. The snow was getting deeper and in spots was about 12” deep. I decided to stay as close to the ridgeline as possible because there were more areas that didn’t have snow. I thought that would be easier. I kept going and by the time I got to the final summit plateau the snow was hitting me in the middle of the shin with every step. I left Oregon and came to Death Valley to get away from the snow and cold weather. Oh well, it was still a nice clear day with little wind.
I finally found a cairn on the summit with a register to sign. I had to look for the benchmark because it was buried in the snow. I wouldn’t be right to climb a mountain called Towne BM and not find the benchmark. Fortunately, there were a couple of witness markers that were exposed and pointed me at the area of the benchmark. I ate lunch and rested a while before heading back down to my truck. No real difficulties were encountered going down. The snow was much easier to deal with going down. The total hike was 7.2 miles round trip, with 3,075 ft of elevation gain with the ups and downs, and it took me 5.4 hours. This is a nice hike when the weather cooperates.