All climbers, including California climbers, have their various tick lists and other alpine agendas. Few of these climbers, outside of Desert Peaks Section junkies, will ever approach Tucki Mountain.
However, this brawny massif of the Panamint Range, located within Death Valley National Park has a lot to offer the desert explorer, hiker, canyoneer, and even a biologist.
Tucki Mountain rises nearly 7,000 feet above Death Valley, towering above the small village of Stovepipe Wells. It is a very large mountain from an areal perspective, its slopes extending several miles out in every direction.
The climb/hike itself on cruddy desert terrain is not technically difficult, rating at a lowish Class 2 in places. However, the routes can be long and challenging, characterized by dramatic elevation gains and losses. The route from Skidoo Road is described by Andy Zdon in his outstanding Desert Summits
book (the best resource available for California/Nevada desert summit seekers) as "something of an epic." I find it hard to disagree with that statement. Driving up the Tucki Mine road will shorten the journey quite a bit.
One register entrant claimed to have summitted via Mosaic Canyon. The topo lines make this claim credible. This would be a steeper but shorter way to go and is certainly worth exploring.
What makes Tucki Mountain most interesting is its relationship to its surroundings.
Tucki Mountain's northern slopes, which soar above the Stovepipe Wells Village, have been deeply incised by rainfall runoff and have produced very deep slot canyons. One of them, Mosaic Canyon, has several sections of marble narrows and is justifiably one of Death Valley's most popular short hikes. Another canyon, Grotto Canyon, apparently provides an interesting canyoneering experience.
Not only that, the position and size of Tucki Mountain, in combination with the configuration of Death Valley near the Stovepipe Wells Village, provides optimal condition for creation of the marvelous Mesquite Sand Dunes, one of Death Valley's most popular tourist attractions. Spending sunrise or sunset on the dunes, with the dance of the twilight sun and shadows, is not to be missed.
Furthermore, the springs that pour forth from Tucki Mountain provide a rare aquatic habitat in a most inhospitable place. The springs collect together on Tucki's eastern slopes, flowing into the valley as Salt Creek. Salt Creek is home to the Salt Creek pupfish, found nowhere else in the world. A short interpretive hike on a boardwalk in the heart of Death Valley provides an interesting ecology lesson.
Desert bighorn sheep and other desert wildlife call the peak home.
Mining ruins also dot the landscape, between the ghost town of Skidoo and the well preserved Harmony Borax Works and elsewhere in the park.
Tucki is lightly visited, a register placed by the DPS in 1999 was only about 1/4 full. To the California peakbagger, there are many familiar names in the register. Tucki is on the DPS list, which is about the only reason hikers and climbers make the summit.
360 degree panoramic views from the sagebrush studded summit are wide ranging and expansive, with the Sierra Crest and the Inyo Range far to the west, Wildrose and Telescope to the south along the spine of the Panamints, Death Valley dropping 7,000 feet below, and desert mountains in every direction. False summits abound.
Finally, Death Valley is just a great place to spend time, particularly for photographers and lovers of the desert. The book Hiking Death Valley
by Michel Digonnet is an excellent guide to recreation in the park.
To arrive at the standard route for those of us with low slung two wheel drive cars, take the Skidoo Road 8 to 9 miles to its end at the old ghost town of Skidoo. There is basically nothing left of the town now.
The Skidoo Road can be reached from Emigrant Canyon/Wildrose Road, which can be accessed via a right turn from Highway 190, continuing on 13.5 miles .
From the road's end, an endless series of ups and downs lead to the summit. From the Tucki Mine Road, I trended to the eastern slopes, traversing back northwest to Tucki's rounded summit. Other ways are probably fine as well but are probably a little steeper.
Just bring a healthy sense of adventure. Death Valley National Park requires a $20 entrance fee.
Overnight parking and camping is prohibited on the Skidoo Road. This probably also applies to the 4-wheel drive road to the Tucki Mine.
When To Climb
Not in the summer! It would be hard to recommend this climb even to your worst enemy in the summer. No water anywhere, or shade. One interesting register entry was for the Labor Day weekend.
Spring and winter are better choices, particularly when Tucki's lofter neighbors, Wildrose and Telescope, are cloaked in snow. Fresh snow would actually make the trip more pleasant.
Camping opportunities abound in the area. Wildrose Campground is approximately 10 miles past the turnoff to the Skidoo Road.
Free camping can also be found at the tiny, primitive Mesquite Campground, located near the junction of the Emigrant Canyon/Wildrose Road and Highway 190, about 7 miles west of Stovepipe Wells.
Finally, camping is available for $12 in Stovepipe Wells. A snack heavy general store and cafe provide for a less than roughing it camping experience.
Death Valley National Park
has a daily road conditions report that is pretty detailed and should give ample warning if any of the roads are closed.
The climb is in shape all year. The only limiting factor is potential oppressive heat.