In April 2008 I had an opportunity to climb with my buddy Dean in Arizona. It is a long way from my home in Medford, Oregon to Arizona, so I planned on taking a break from driving in Death Valley and hike a few mountains. Tin Mountain was my first objective and I followed wingding’s excellent directions to locate the trailhead along the road between Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. The gravel part of the road is in great condition and 4WD or high clearance was not required.
There really isn’t a trailhead here and there aren’t many options for parking along this road. The road is cut down from the surrounding desert and there are very few wide spots to park in. Driving off the road and into the desert is prohibited, so you have to carefully find a spot that is still on the road but where you aren’t blocking traffic. Traffic isn’t a big problem out here, but you have to be considerate of other explorers. The “trailhead” is any place along the wide saddle that separates the Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack. Elevation is about 4,800 ft for about a half mile along the saddle. I chose the second wide spot in the road and pulled over. The elevation here is about 4,4880 ft. I car camped here and spent a restful evening with no traffic passing by.
Early the next morning I headed towards the mountain. Fortunately, I had set a waypoint in my GPS where wingding indicated she started up the west ridge. This point is a little ways across the desert and is not real apparent from the road. It is good to have the waypoint to lead you to the correct ridge. Walking across the desert was not difficult and as I approached my waypoint, I found a large dry wash coming off the mountain. On the topo this wash is indicated by a blue line heading directly west. This wash is about 20 ft deep and 100 ft across and is easy to recognize. I crossed the wash to the north side and followed the north rim east towards the mountain. As I approached the mountain, I picked up a faint climbers trail which was my first indication that I was actually on the correct route. The desert doesn’t look very steep before it gets to the mountain, but I gained about 600 ft in elevation before starting up the west ridgeline.
This west ridgeline isn’t very prominent and is hard to see clearly from the road. The ridge is between 2 dry washes, one to the north and one to the south. After crossing all the alluvial debris of the “flat” desert area you reach the mountain and it rises steeply above the desert. I followed the climber’s trail whenever I found it or just stayed as close to the top of the ridgeline as I could. The route continues east for just a couple hundred feet before turning more northeasterly. There isn’t anything technical about this part of the climb it is just kind of steep and the further you go the steeper it becomes. After climbing about 1,000 ft in elevation to 6,400 ft, the ridge curves again to an eastward direction. I continued up even though ahead of me it looked like the route was going to become very steep as it climbed up a rocky face.
Another 1,000 ft of elevation was gained and at about 7,500 ft the steepest part of the climb was encountered. This area is rough rock with scree. The climbing route goes up the scree slopes all the way to 8,200 ft elevation. The best part of the climb is topping out over the ridge at about 8,200 ft. Looking back down on the road and my truck parked far below was a good site. Ahead I could see a little drainage in front of another ridge, but I still couldn’t see the summit that should be off to the northeast a ways. I just continued straight up across the little drainage and then to anther ridge at about 8,500 ft. This was much easier climbing after struggling up the scree slope.
Finally I could see the summit area far off to my left. Ahead of me was a nice little valley with a dry sandy stream bed in the bottom. This is actually the same dry wash that I crossed far down at the base of the mountain. I made my way down to the sandy stream bed and started following it up the canyon towards the summit. I was now heading directly at the summit. I exited the stream bed and climbed the ridge off to the right of the stream because that looked like the easiest slope to climb to get to the summit. The climbing isn’t difficult along here, in fact it is a lot easier than on the west ridge. After passing a big rocky outcropping on the ridge on my right, I climbed up to the top of the ridge and looked back at the rocky outcropping. I noticed what looked like an arch on the east side of the outcropping. I didn’t want to explore that now, but determined that I would on my way back down.
The final push to the summit was uneventful and I was soon enjoying spectacular views in all directions. Views of Telescope Peak, Furnace Creek, Dry Mountain, and the spectacular snow covered Sierra’s were all enjoyed immensely. After eating lunch and resting a while, I went back down the way I had come up. I explored the rock arch and started drinking lots of water. I started my hike at dawn, but now it was starting to warm up and I had a long descent ahead of me. Going down the scree area allowed me to practice my boot skiing technique for a ways.
This is a great hike, but save it for a cool day without any chance of thunderstorms. It took me just under 7 hours plus lunch, my GPS measured the route at 8.76 miles, and the total elevation gain with some ups and downs was about 4,400 ft.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe