Our original Memorial Day Weekend plans of hiking the high points of the Silver Range in western Nevada did not work out. In our effort to find warmer and drier climes, we decided to head south, but then what would we hike? It turns out we were heading south via the route I expected to originally be leaving by at the end of the weekend, so I had prepared some maps and info about some short hikes and stops we might want to make before leaving. One of these hikes was Chocolate Peak (also known as Piper Mountain), an easily accessible desert summit just outside the northern border of Death Valley.
To get to the trailhead, take highway 168 to the pullout at Gilbert Pass and look for a dirt road angling to the west. Follow this (it’s a bit rocky but nothing bad) until you see the Piper Mountain BLM Wilderness sign at 0.4 miles. Leave your vehicle here – there is room for a few cars. Chocolate Peak is the high point of the peak directly in front of you to the southwest, not visible from this angle.
Hike the old blocked off road about 200 feet until it forks. There is a small sign indicating that ‘trail’ follows the right fork, but the straight/left fork is a more direct route and no more difficult than the roundabout way. We didn’t really think about it at the time and followed the sign. On this approach, after about a mile it will start climbing up a small canyon until it eventually reaches the ridge. There is a point where the road switchbacks, so we decided to cut south and straight up a gully to to the ridge instead. The terrain is very straightforward, and once we got to the top of the ridge via our shortcut we reconnected with the road. From the ridge there is a great view towards Mt Sill and the Palisades region of the Sierra.
Turn east and stay on the road. The summit is now visible in front of you, and you have plenty of options for getting to the top. Stay on the road until you’re on the north side of the peak and start looking for the excellent use trail that switchbacks up the side of the final climb. The road continues past the peak, don’t stay on it. I did not know about the use trail and cut cross-country on my ascent. About halfway up I intersected this well-defined trail and followed it the rest of the way. I followed it all the way down to the road when I descended the peak.
The rocky summit has some incredible views into Eureka Valley and across Owens Valley to the Sierra. After enjoying yourself up here, retrace your steps back to the trailhead. When you come out of the canyon look to your right and you will see the other fork of the road – it is an easy short cross-country stretch to go back that way. If I ever hike this again I’ll take that route both up and down.
With round trip stats of approximately five miles with 1800ft of elevation gain, this is a great quick desert peak. Additionally, it doesn’t require any 4×4 or long dirt road driving. Based on the summit register, it seems to get visited fairly regularly but it was just us on this post-storm afternoon.