Blown out of Death Valley

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.71164°N / 117.00388°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 26, 2009
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring

"An ill wind blows nobody good"

Panamint Range from Daylight Pass area, Death ValleyPanamint Range from Daylight Pass area, early morning
This was the title to a Disney comic book story I read when I was a kid. It starred Uncle Scrooge, the super rich uncle of Donald Duck. Uncle Scrooge had so much money he had huge stadium size buildings containing mountains of gold coin managed with bulldozers.
I can't remember the story but the title fits this little story of a hike in Death Valley.

I was making one of my nearly annual spring trips to Death Valley to spend 4 or 5 days. The weather report was good, with mostly sunny and warm and one windy afternoon. I'd been there when it was windy. It was uncomfortable but tolerable.
I headed out of the SF Bay area loaded (not that loaded) to hunker down and enjoy a few days of desert peak bagging and exploring.
It's an all day affair driving down the central valley through Bakersfield then through the south end of the Sierra over Walker Pass and on out into the desert. I got there at dusk, drove across Death Valley and over Daylight Pass to spend the night in the high Nevada desert.

A beautiful morning for the Brutes.

Morning light on Corkscrew PeakMorning light on Corkscrew Peak
A peak north of Daylight Pass at dawnFirst light on a peak north of Daylight Pass
The windy weather was predicted for this first afternoon, with velocities from 25-30 mph and gusts up to 40 mph. I decided to do the Death Valley Buttes, just back over Daylight Pass with great views 70 miles down the valley to the Owlshead Mountains. This is a short little hike that can easily be done in a few hours to get back before the winds pick up.
It was a beautiful morning as I drove over the pass into the valley with fresh rich light on the peaks and ranges. The air was totally still to the point that I considered the weather report to be maybe a little "overblown".
Being no stranger to this vast land of extremes I took my observation with a grain of salt and headed up the buttes taking my time for photos. Gaining elevation I noticed it was a bit hazy at the south end of the valley but that was fairly common. I was on the main butte towards late morning after taking lots of pics and enjoying the great views with flowers along the way. But gazing from this perch 3000 feet above Death Valley I noticed a disturbing front moving in from the southeast.

From whence it came?

The storm powering over Furnace Creek and heading this way!Storm powering over Furnace Creek and heading this way!
Time to get down.Storm envelopes Daylight Pass area, time to get down!
In a short time it became obvious that this tempest was the thing itself! The dust storm from hell! Five thousand feet high it had already engulfed Furnace Creek and was overtaking the Funeral Mountains like some meteorological juggernaut quickly approaching Daylight Pass.
I figured it was time to get on down. I took a few more shots on the descent as it enveloped the pass and the winds picked up around me. I decided to get off the ridge and take a shortcut down the north slope from the saddle. The gusts were getting so strong I was nearly blown off my feet on the steep crumbly terrain. Back on the road I had to walk a mile against the nasty blast on a 3 percent grade and it felt like hiking up hill! Finally into the vehicle was no consolation since the relentless gusts were rocking the van around like a small boat on choppy water. It was time to find shelter.
I drove into a nearby canyon for some respite and chilled to lunch, a nap and to ponder the rest of the day.

A lesson in faith

Eastern Sierra from Independence CreekEastern Sierra from Independence Creek
I decided to venture back out into the madness and drive down to Furnace Creek to get a first hand report from park rangers on what to expect. They told me it would be mellow tommorrow as expected but the haze could hang in the valley for several days. Bummer!
I just decided to pack in my "twenty mule team" plans and head for Owens Valley in hopes of clearer skies.
I drove back out of hazy inhospitable Death Valley towards Towne Pass hoping it was better in Panamint Valley. Cresting the pass revealed Panamint Valley to be even worse! You could barely see the Argus Mountains on the west side! This wasn't a good sign.
Beginning to feel a bit dismal about things my hope was that when I climbed out of Panamint Valley and over the Darwin Plateau I would see the beautiful peaks of the Eastern High Sierra stretching for miles in the distance. Getting to the crucial viewpoint revealed yet another hazy scene with the Sierra Range barely visible on the horizon.
By now I'm super bummed! Buying into the drama of the moment I was feeling victimized by Ma Nature who could obviously care less about my little plans for a beautiful trip.
Well, mizewell drive on down to the Alabama Hills and camp for the night hoping for clearer skies over the next few days. As I drove further down into Owens Valley I could make out the peaks better and the wind was milder. As I drove into Lone Pine it was a perfect evening, totally clear! Looking back to the hazy brown front hanging over the Darwin Plateau I was extremely glad to spend the next few peaceful days in beautiful weather below the snow-capped giants of the Eastern Sierra.
It was a lesson in faith!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-7 of 7

lisae - Apr 6, 2009 8:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Beautiful Pictures!

Your pictures are just wonderful! I was in Joshua Tree during the same period you were experiencing the sand storm. The weather very report called for very high winds in Joshua Tree; they never really materialized.


Noondueler - Apr 6, 2009 8:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Beautiful Pictures!

Thanks lisae! I heard it actually cleared up the next day. But I was already grooving in Owens Valley by then.


lisae - Aug 3, 2009 1:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Beautiful Pictures!

You're welcome, noondueler. My dh and I planning a trip to Death Valley in October and are thinking of checking out Owens Valley (never been there) on the way home. We can't find much on line re hiking in the area...can you recommend any books or other resources?


Noondueler - Aug 3, 2009 11:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Beautiful Pictures!

Hi lisae. Nice to hear from you! The best book I know of is DEEPEST VALLEY, GUIDE TO OWENS VALLEY by Jenny Smith- Jenny Smith Books. Another one that covers a lot of hikes in the southern end of the eastern Sierra is: EXPLORING THE SOUTHERN SIERRA EASTERN SIDE by J C Jenkins and Ruby Johnson Jenkins, Wilderness Press, Berkeley. There is also EASTERN SIERRA (this is not in areas and ranges) page by Mathew Holliman here on SP that has really got the goods as well. I'm not too good at links but you can find that readily by going to my climbers log where I signed it at the bottom under Logistical Centers, that might be your best bet because he really did his homework! I hope this helps. It's an awesome place! Have a great rest of the summer, Windsor


lisae - Aug 4, 2009 3:19 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Beautiful Pictures!

Thank you so much!!

Big Benn

Big Benn - Nov 18, 2009 5:32 am - Voted 10/10

Enjoyed that!

It's hard sometimes for someone from "over the pond" to know which TR's to read from you guys in the US of A. But we've all heard of Death valley, so it was an obvious one for me to choose. Glad I did! Really got the feel of what you experienced. Thanks.


Noondueler - Nov 18, 2009 11:36 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Enjoyed that!

Death Valley is an awesome place. The largest National Park. All wide open, barren and vast mountain and desert. I've been going there for over 10 years. It's nice to get a response like yours to the TR. Again I really enjoyed your pics. I'll check out more of your stuff when I have time. Cheers from California, Windsor

Viewing: 1-7 of 7