The high point of the Nelson Range in Death Valley National Park is unnamed. Andy Zdon refers to it as “Nelson Mountain" in his book Desert Summits, while the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section simply identifies it as “Nelson Range”. The summit register identifies the peak as “Galena Peak” after the USGS benchmark of the same name on the summit. According to Zdon, the Nelson Range is named after a member of the 1891 Death Valley expedition. The term “Galena” refers to a lead ore that was among the minerals sought by miners in the now-abandoned prospects that dot the surrounding landscape.
While the peak is not particularly challenging (class 2, and about a mile from either of two trailheads), the views are spectacular. The Nelson Range forms the southwest boundary of Saline Valley. The ranges of Death Valley NP array themselves to the east. The Racetrack Valley is plainly visible about 10 miles to the northeast. To the west lie the Inyo Mountains. Peeking out between two high points in the Inyos one can see Mount Whitney. Olancha Peak and the Southern Sierra march away to the south west. It’s an easy scramble with a rewarding summit that just might round out a day filled with other pursuits, or maybe just do that and call it good.
From highway 395, take either highway 190 from Olancha or highway 136 (just south of Lone Pine) east to the intersection of 190 and Saline Valley Road (17 miles from the intersection of 190 and 136). From within the Park, take 190 west to Saline Valley Road (signed). Turn north on Saline Valley Road and proceed 8.2 miles to a fork in a broad valley dotted with Joshua Trees (Lee Flat). Bear left on White Mountain Talc Road (not signed), and go 3.8 miles to an smaller road on the right. Turn right and go 3.5 miles to another road on the right. Here you have a choice. Zdon suggests taking this turn and going another half mile to a cabin and parking (elevation ~6,520’). You can also continue another mile or so to a saddle at roughly 6,550 feet. Parking is limited at the saddle, but a couple hundred yards further there is parking for several vehicles. Not to mention spectacular views of the Saline Valley. High clearance is helpful getting to the base of the road up to the cabin. Four wheel drive may be needed to get to the cabin or the saddle due to the steep, loose surface.
From the first trail head scramble up the west flank of the peak to the summit ridge, and then follow it south to the summit (<1 mile, 1,700’ gain). From the saddle, walk up the north ridge to the summit (>1 mile, 1,700’ gain). There are use trails of varying quality from both directions. From a major notch about 1/3 mile NW of the summit the ridge becomes steep and rocky. It’s easiest to stay below the ridge on the west side. The summit is the southernmost bump on the ridge. There is a summit register in an ammo box there.
The peak lies within Death Valley National Park. There is a $20 entrance fee per vehicle, good for 7 days. No wilderness permits are required, though a voluntary permit may be obtained at the visitor center or any ranger station.
Inyo County occasionally posts a "Closed" sign on Saline Valley Road. Right next to the sign saying "No snow removal, Proceed at your own risk." Not clear how serious they are. It seems the sign is routinely ignored. The DVNP Morning Report probably has more useful information about road conditions than Inyo County.
There are no developed campgrounds nearby. However, the Park Service allows dispersed camping in the back country, which is defined as “more than two miles away from any developed area, paved road, or "day use only" area.” The Park asks that you camp in previously established camp sites, and park near the road (driving off established roads is illegal). There is a camp site with a fire ring at the intersection of White Mountain Talc Road and the spur road leading to the trail head. There are also some places suitable for camping near the end of the spur road (spectacular views of the Saline Valley).
When to Climb
The peak is high enough to be climbed even in summer, though an early morning or late afternoon start is probably a good idea on hot days. Lee Flat gets snow in the winter, though it may not stick around too long, and the summit may be buried in snow after a big storm.