OverviewUbehebe Peak is an impressive, twin-summited desert peak located in Death Valley National Park. Directly overlooking the Racetrack & the Grandstand, its sheer, red East face towers almost 3,000 ft. above the valley floor, enticing and inspiring mountaineers and ambitious hikers. Besides the Racetrack and Grandstand, astounding views are to be had of the Cottonwood Mountains (including Hunter Peak), the Saline Valley (in which lie dunes and a dry lake), the Inyo Mountains, the rest of the Last Chance Range (to the N of Ubehebe Peak), the Nelson Range, and the Saline Range. It is the last prominent mountain of the Last Chance Range, has amazing 360 degree summit views, and perhaps best of all, has a relatively easy, yet exciting, route to the summit.
Though the east face looks unscaleable from the valley floor, one of the greatest attributes of this mountain is that it has a relatively straightforward route (starting as a trail at the base of the mountain). The trail begins from the Grandstand parking lot, eventually leading to the saddle between Ubehebe's two peaks. From there, a fun, exposed, & stimulating class 3 scramble leads across the ridge between the two, and then upward to the summit. The trail (at least up to the saddle) was constructed by miners hauling their loads from copper mines in the mountain.
Copper was discovered in Ubehebe Peak, in areas later determined to be transition zones, where different kinds of rock met, and were altered by metamorphosis. Some of these mines are still visible, and may be visited by means of a trail (continuing down the other side of the mountain once the saddle is gained).
Getting ThereGetting to the climb may well be the crux of the climb for this peak. By this I mean the driving part. The most traveled path leading to the Racetrack & Ubehebe Peak is the Racetrack Valley Road, a terrible, 26-mile long dirt byway that is severely washboarded for virtually its entire length.
The occasional large rock, as well as deep tire tracks coupled with high dirt/sand medians between them, have prompted the park to give the road a ‘high clearance vehicle’ rating. Though a 2WD Ford Taurus passed us on this road while we were pulled over (& wasn’t seen again later, leading to the assumption that the guy didn't get stuck), driving a standard-clearance car is not advised- if used, caution and constant attention to the road conditions are necessary! While I undertook this drive during the winter, going in the summer, especially during the middle of the day, would also be greatly inadvisable, as limited engine-cooling capacities in the extreme heat would be even further hampered by the inability to get above 20 mph for the large majority of the drive. Driving this road in the rain would be a bad idea, too.
To get to the start of the road, simply take Ubehebe Road, .2 miles north of the Grapevine (north) Entrance Station, towards Ubehebe Crater (also worth checking out- especially hiking to the bottom of the caldera & back up)- shortly before completing the loop (culminating at the crater parking lot), there is a signed dirt road leading off to the right: take it, and driiiiiiiiiiv-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-ve. Keep right at Teakettle Junction (obvious), about 20 miles into the undertaking. Soon the Racetrack, the Grandstand, & Ubehebe Peak will be readily apparent. Park at the Grandstand parking pullout- the start of the trail. From Teakettle Junction to this point is approximately 6 miles. Expect this drive to take you about 2 hours, & to average no faster than 15 mph or so, unless you want to lose your fillings & ruin your vehicle’s suspension.
Here is a map showing the standard trail by SP's Wingding- thanks!
At least the views along the way are breathtaking: In the beginning, impressive Tin Mountain is passed on the left side of the road (with robust Joshua Tree forests at its base), while the Last Chance Range and spectacular valleys are visible the whole way.
Red TapeAs Ubehebe Peak lies within Death Valley National Park, an entrance fee is required. As of this writing, this was $10. No campfires are allowed at Homestake Dry Camp (see the ‘Camping’ section), the most convenient & accessible ‘campground’ with respect to Ubehebe Peak & the Racetrack.
When To Climb & Mountain ConditionsAutumn through spring is definitely my recommendation. Go in the summer & you’ll be hotter than an egg in a skillet- Death Valley is considered one of the hottest places on earth, & summer temperatures there average well over 100 degrees F (38C). Death Valley & vicinity get an average of 1.96 inches of rainfall a year, so chances are your trip won’t get rained out.
If, due to some odd alignment of the planets or lack of reasoning, you find yourself there in the summer, at least go in the morning or evening. Also,
MAKE SURE TO BRING WATER WITH YOU- THERE IS NONE AVAILABLE ON OR AROUND THE ROAD, ON THE MOUNTAIN, AT THE RACETRACK, OR AT THE CAMPSITE!!
Click here for Death Valley weather weather & climate beta.
CampingWhile sundry camping possibilities exist in Death Valley National Park, if attempting Ubehebe Peak, the most logical one is Homestake Dry Camp, a few miles past the Racetrack. Just continue down the Racetrack Valley Road (past a few turnoffs) until it dead-ends. A nasty-ass old portajohn (but still better than none) & an old, worn-out sign will indicate the campground, and that no campfires are allowed. Just pull into any of the obvious pullouts & set up camp. Staying here is free. As explicitly stated in the name, this is a DRY camp- bring yer own water!!!
This is another good website to camping (& regulations therefore) in the park.
The Racetrack & The Grandstand"Don't hate the playa, hate the game." -IMx
Though Ubehebe Peak is an undeniably impressive geologic feature, perhaps the coolest thing about it is what lies at its base, a prominent playa called The Racetrack. As defined by the USGS:
Playas are shallow, short-lived lakes that form where water drains into basins with no outlet to the sea and quickly evaporates. Playas are common features in arid (desert) regions and are among the flattest landforms in the world.
One of the coolest things about the racetrack are the “moving rocks” that reside on its surface. Large rocks, some weighing over 100 lb., can be found at the end of long (up to almost a kilometre!), sometimes even curving trails, in various locations on the Racetrack. This funked-out phenomenon is caused by strong winds pushing the stones across and through the playa while it is still wet, during or following a hard storm. They are perhaps the densest at the southern end of the playa.
Not quite in the middle of the Racetrack sits the Grandstand, a mound of bedrock protruding from the playa’s surface. Its dark pinnacles provide stark relief from the immensity and flatness of the light-colored Racetrack. The highest one rises 20-30 ft. above the highest approach point, and provides enjoyable 5.2 face climbing to summit. There is no anchor on top, and no good way of protecting this exposed endeavor- keep this in mind should you be tempted to climb it (good rule of thumb: be able to comfortably downclimb something you climbed up!).
Despite the difficulty in getting to the Racetrack, many of those undertaking the drive describe the visit as one of their Death Valley trip highlights.
Check out the USGS webpage on the Racetrack.
GeologyUbehebe Peak is composed of primarily quartz monzonite, formed from an intrusive batholith that rose up through the native rocks a really long time ago. Islands of the original sedimentary rocks can still be seen in places. Along the borders between the intrusive batholith and the original rock are contact metamorphic zones, where either the original rocks (from being heated & crystallized), or the intrusive ones (from being cooled) metamorphosed. It was along these contact metamorphic zones that miners hunted for metals, back in the day.
EtymologyAh yes, Ubehebe (pronounced yoo bee HEE bee) is another of the peaks that pays homage to breasts. The local Panamint suggest that the English name actually derives from the Owens Valley Piute hïbi-bici, meaning “woman’s breasts,” originally applied to the Wahguyhe peaks.
-from 1500 California Place Names, by William Bight (1998, University of California Press)
More Information· Here's the official NPS Death Valley site
· Down jacket or tank-top? Check the daily weather, temperature, & road conditions