Spring Hike up Beautiful Wahguyhe Peak
The steep, distinctive, white conical summit massif of Wahguyhe Peak, the second highest mountain in Death Valley's Grapevine Mountains, offers a moderate, gorgeous, rewarding hike/climb in a remote, desolate, forested desert range with breathtaking views of Death Valley and surrounding ranges.
On Friday, May 5, 2012, I rented a Jeep from Farabee's Jeep Rental in Furnace Creek (760) 786-9872 to access the Grapevines from the east where the normal route of climb begins. Farabee's large four-door Jeeps are clean, new, reliable, and about $500 for Friday afternoon through Sunday. The junction of the westbound dirt road into the Grapevines off US 95 is completely unmarked and obscure, especially at night. With maps and GPS in hand, I drove past it three times in the dark. You need to measure .6 miles past milepost 71 to find it. You have to take a barbed wire fence/gate apart and let yourself in and then put the fence back. If you are heading in late, there are convenience stores open late at night where you can buy firewood, water, and gas in Beatty. Bring lots of water, there are no springs or creeks in the Grapevines.
The access road heads straight accross flat desolate desert for 20 miles to the Grapevine range. The road is in excellent shape, smooth and unwashborded all the way until the last mile up to the dead end at the saddle at 7600 ft. You reach beautiful cool forest the last several miles before the saddle. Only the last mile is rough and there is one rocky pit on the road about three quarters of a mile below the saddle that abolutely requires 4WD. If you intend to climb Palmer or Grapevine Peak and want to reach the saddle you will need 4WD. But to climb Wahguyhe you could easily get by with 2WD and it would only add at most about a quarter of a mile each way.
There is one flat camping spot with a stone firepit on a turnoff in the forest a hundred yards or so below the 6800 foot contour line where you start the climb. Another slighly less attractive spot is a very short way below. I saw no other places to camp or even turn off the road in the steep higher reaches of the Grapevines.
I climbed Wahguyhe peak on Saturday, May 6, 2012. Even though the temperature was 97 at 6 p.m. the night before in Furnace Creek, it was below 50 on the summit at 1 p.m. with stiff winds, cold even with a fleece jacket. There was no snow left in the Grapevines by the time of this climb but snow was still clearly visible on Telescope Peak in the Panamints from what looked like around 9500- 10,000 feet and up.
You can't see the summit from the road when the climb begins. There is no trail whatsoever, its a pure bushwack. Park in the tiny turnout (there is only one) at about 6800 foot on the south side of the road set your GPS for the summit and climb toward the unseen summit it as you contour up and into the gulch or above it on its NW side and proceed toward the peak. After you have gone about a half or three quarters of a mile the dramatic white summit comes into view.
In hindsight, it appeared that the climb would have been easier if I had assended in the bottom of SE heading gulch and then angled left before the headwall and tried to attain the SE ridgeline. Instead, I contoured in above the gulch on the WW side of the gulch. Then, just before the crest I crossed the gulch where it is just meadows and directly assended the NW face where the scree and rubble was rough. It was unstable in places and there was some backsliding, and in a few places trying to climb up the rubble I caused small short rockslides that carried me down a few yards. I found it easier to navigate the loose rock if I crawled on all fours and used that method to assend the steepest and most unstable portion, a 150+ yard stretch a little over half way up. You might be able to avoid most of the loose scree if you assended a few hundred yards to the east and then walked that ridgeline.
I went slowly but made it from the road to the summit in four hours, and back down, in less than 2 hours. The GPS said 2 crow miles each way (its further on the ground) and because I contoured on the NW side of the gulch and descended, my GPS indicated that this route has a 2000 feet total gain. This would likely be only about 1800 if you went up the gulch. The unstable scree makes for a bit of rough going but only in a few spots. On descent, I contoured a bit to the NE and found the loose sand on the NW face makes for easy, very fast descent.
The summit massif is a steep perfectly shaped cone visible throughout the floor of Death Valley and surrounding area. The view from the summit is quite dramatic and grand. To the south and west, you look straight down a steep escarpment 8800 feet directly to the below sea level floor of Death Valley. To the west are Whitney in the Sierras, the Inyos, Last Chance Range, and the Cottonwoods. To the south you can clearly see the Spring Mountains near Vegas, and to the east, range upon range of desert mountains into central Nevada.
Only about a dozen people climb this underrated peak a year, based upon the summit register. There was not a soul to be seen in the entire Grapevines when I was there. The isolation adds to the appeal in my view. This is an interesting and very satisfying climb and I strongly recommend this peak.
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