Thanksgiving 2011 Part 3: Jubilee Mountain, Sheephead Peak and Thanksgiving Dinner

Tuesday night we settled in to our desert vacation home in southern Death Valley, planning on staying here through Sunday. Throughout the rest of the week our friends will roll in for a few days of hiking, peak bagging, and Thanksgiving festivities around the campfire.

Our first hike, on Wednesday morning, was Jubilee Mountain, an easy desert summit with a pyramid profile and incredible summit views along Death Valley.

Hiking the ridge up Jubilee
Hiking the ridge up Jubilee
View from the summit of Jubilee
View from the summit of Jubilee

All photos from Jubilee (48)

We were back at the cabin by lunch and spent the afternoon exploring the area. I ended up wandering up a ridge to a volcanic outcropping from which I had a great view of the area. As I scrambled around the rock I spied a dust plume on the old dirt road that leads to the cabin. Soon, Robin pulled up and shortly after that Sooz arrived followed by Mandy. Let the pre-Thanksgiving party begin!

Desert Cabin
Desert Cabin

The next morning we hiked Sheephead Peak, a colorful peak with bands of red, white, orange, and grey rock. It’s stripes make it an eye catching peak no matter what angle you see it from, and I’ve had it on my to-do list for a while.

Sheephead Approach
Sheephead Approach
Colorful rock of Sheephead
Colorful rock of Sheephead
Sheephead Summit
Sheephead Summit
Climbing the final ridge
Climbing the final ridge

The hike starts off through a wash and over some dry falls, then up through some loose rock to a wide ridge. After scooching around a gap in the ridge and scrambling up the final rocky stretch we made the summit of this beautiful peak. We spent quite a bit of time up there enjoying the view and celebrating Robin’s first summit after recovering from foot surgery.

Happy Turkey Day!
Happy Turkey Day!

By mid afternoon we were back at the cabin and ready to start preparing our Thanksgiving dinner. A bunch of other friends had rolled in during the day and by the time everyone arrived we were ready to make our Thanksgiving feast. Everyone brings a dish, and this year we brought turkey that we had smoked at home and vacuum sealed and frozen. Reheated over a fire, it came out perfect! Inside the cabin there is a beautiful old wood stove that we used to keep the food warm until time to eat. Everything came together in an amazing way, as usual.

Thanksgiving Dinner, Rustic Style
Thanksgiving Dinner, Rustic Style

All photos from Sheephead and our rustic Thanksgiving Dinner (65)

Jubilee Mountain

Sheephead Mountain

Thanksgiving 2011 Part 2: Crater, Lead Peak, Stateline, Rhodes Hill

On Monday morning we awoke to fresh snow covering the peaks that surround Eureka Valley. Clouds still hung around the ridges but they were slowly clearing out. While the guys picked up camp I took the opportunity to climb around the Eureka Dunes a bit. The overnight precip made the surface the perfect resistance for climbing up sand – instead of sinking I walked on the damp crust along the ridges until I crested a high point and found an amazing view stretching out in front of me.

Eureka Dunes camp and fresh snow
Eureka Dunes camp and fresh snow
Morning light on Eureka Dunes
Morning light on Eureka Dunes
Ridge Walking Eureka Dunes
Ridge Walking Eureka Dunes
View from the ridge
View from the ridge

After our lovely morning in camp we decided to visit the ruins of Crater and Last Chance Mines.

Mining stuff at Crater
Mining stuff at Crater
Sulphur Rocks at Crater
Sulphur Rocks at Crater
Last Chance Mine Tunnel
Last Chance Mine Tunnel
Bat batty batty bat
Bat batty batty bat

After wandering the ruins we followed a 4WD track up the ridge to the south. Parking just below the summit, we scrambled up the rocky ridge to the high point, Lead Peak. From the top we watched fighter jets from the nearby military facilities run laps through Eureka and Saline Valleys.

Lead Peak scramble
Lead Peak scramble
Eureka Dunes
Eureka Dunes

We ended our day east of the park outside of Goldfield, NV where we explored more ruins and set up camp at an old cabin with a view of the Sierra.

Sierra Sunset
Sierra Sunset
Desert Cabin Sunset
Desert Cabin Sunset

The next day was a resupply day in Beatty and Pahrump, but I still managed to squeeze in a short sunset hike up Rhodes Hill in southern Death Valley.

View from Rhode Hill (Epaulet Peak in distance)
View from Rhodes Hill (Epaulet Peak in distance)

 

More Photos from Crater, Lead Peak (129)

More Photos from Rhodes Hill (31)

Thanksgiving 2011 Part 1: Papoose Flat, Andrews Peak, Hidden Dunes and Eureka Valley

I’ve only recently finished posting my photos from our annual Thanksgiving trip to Death Valley. It’s kind of fun going all the way back to November to relive this trip, always my favorite of the year!

Part 1: Alabama Hills, Andrews Peak, Papoose Flat, Hidden Dunes and Eureka Valley

We hit the road on Friday night after work and drove to our typical late night camp just north of Ridgecrest where we met up with Antony.  On Saturday morning we took our time on the Eastern Sierra 395 corridor, visiting some of our typical and favorite places like the Alabama Hills Cafe and Wilson’s Sports in Bishop. In the early afternoon we headed east out of Big Pine towards Death Valley, turning off on a side dirt road into the Inyos where we got to engage 4WD and start exploring some new terrain.

A few miles in we turned off on an overgrown faded track and followed it partially up the side of Andrews Peak until a downed tree blocked our way. We left the cars and kept hiking up the road. I glanced at the map and misread the topo, so what I thought was a ~600 ft climb was really 1000. Sorry guys.

A traditional Lone Pine landmark
A traditional Lone Pine landmark
View from Andrews Peak
View from Andrews Peak

After the short hike up Andrews Peak to catch the view towards Waucoba and Squaw we continued back on the main dirt track through a rocky canyon and up some steep switchbacks over a ridge. It was a beautiful drive that never really challenged the truck but was still a lot of fun.

From the top of the ridge we followed the winding track along the crest of the Inyos until we started to drop into a Valley. At this point I knew why friends had recommended this spot to me. As you descend into Papoose Flat a beautiful rocky landscape appears. Piles of rocks similar to those in Joshua Tree combined with the high (very high) desert scrub brush made for some amazing scenery. We drove around and found a stunning campsite behind a pile of rocks with a view of the Sierra. The only negative part: it was so, so cold. Overnight it got into the single digits. That’s what happens at 8800 ft in late November, even in the desert.

Papoose Flat
Papoose Flat
Sunset from Papoose Flat
Sunset from Papoose Flat

Due to the view of the east Sierra I was looking forward to photographing sunrise the next morning, but I awoke to some clouds rolling in over the high peaks. As they got closer small flakes of snow started to fly. We quickly packed up and after a brief tour of the Flat headed back down to the main road into Eureka Valley.

Storms coming in, Papoose Flat morning
Storms coming in, Papoose Flat 
Hidden Dunes, Eureka Valley
Hidden Dunes, Eureka Valley

Our destination for the next night was Eurkea Dunes, but not before being diverted to Hidden Dunes for the day. The Hidden Dunes are a remarkable long set of sand dunes that are tucked behind a mountain range, just out of the line of sight from the roads and approaches into the area. A very faint side road leads across the flat Eureka Valley to a dead end where you can park and start the three mile trek to the dunes. You approach them via a notch in the mountain range, and the flat hike across the desert is easy and has a lot of interesting rocks and tracks underfoot.

Hidden Dunes
Hidden Dunes
Hidden Dunes
Hidden Dunes

The storms that had been coming in over the Sierra that morning caught up with us and we finished the hike under low clouds, dark skies, and a light drizzle. Still, it didn’t prevent us from having a fun night camped near Eureka Dunes where we grilled steaks and drank good beer around the campfire pit until many hours after dark.

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Photos with trip report from Andrews and Papoose Flat (76 Photos)

Photos with trip report from Hidden Dunes (38 Photos)

Andrews Mountain

Hidden Dunes

Colorado Road Trip Wrap-Up

A wet Badwater, driving through Death Valley
A wet Badwater, driving through Death Valley

From  our second home in Southern Death Valley it was back to familiar territory. We took the opportunity to explore a 4WD road and canyon that we had always wanted to check out (Lemoigne Canyon), and spent our last night in Tuttle Creek Campground outside of Lone Pine where some friends were able to join us. Our final Saturday was spent along the Eastern Sierra where we visited some of our favorite restaurants and and shops and spent some time bouldering in the Buttermilks. After our final night of camp at Glass Creek we made it home safe and sound and on schedule on October 9th.

I’ve never done a road trip this long before. I thought I’d share some of the random things I learned.

What worked well:

  • Having a goal for the road trip was good. We knew we had to be in Denver at a certain time for GABF. That forced us into a schedule that kept us moving but gave us time to explore what was important to us. Since so much of this trip was in unfamiliar territory I enjoyed getting the basic look at some places I’ve always wanted to visit.
  • Now that I’m more familiar with some of these places I feel I can go back and fully immerse myself into exploration. For example, I’d love to go back and spend a full two weeks just in Grand Staircase Escalante or Canyonlands.
  • Before this trip we struggled with what to do with the back of our truck. A simple lid or a full shell? Basically, we wanted something to secure our stuff and something to keep us dry when raining (we sleep in the back). When looking at the basics we decided a lid was sufficient. The bed of the truck is pretty deep so it’s not very suffocating. Having rode out some heavy rain I’m pretty happy with the decision. All the problems we had (like the pasty mud getting all over the tailgate from shoes) would have happened with the shell too.
  • Speaking of the truck – I kind of thought MrC wert a bit overboard with the Tundra Rock Warrior when we got it but holy cow I love that thing. It gets us everywhere and it is super comfortable for long road trips. Not the greatest gas mileage, but you have to make compromises somewhere…
  • The Metolius Colossus makes for an awesome two-person mattress, couch, AND crash pad. I don’t know what we’d do without that beast.
  • Having cash of all denominations is good when you pull into a campsite in the middle of nowhere with something like a $7 fee.  When all you have is a $20 you’re out of luck.
  • Occasional peeks into civilization for a meal and a hotel is not a bad thing. While I prefer the backcountry, sometimes a hot shower and cold draft beer make all the difference in the world.
The Trusty Tundra
The Trusty Tundra
Riding out a storm in the Tundra and Metolius Colossus
The Metolius Colossus: Rainy-night Couch Formation

What needed improvement:

  • The weather, maybe? Okay, I know I can’t control that but I feel like it really cut into my enjoyment of the area I was most excited about visiting. But, hey, guess we’ll have to go back. Darn.
  • Sometimes I just need to go with the flow. I am a detailed planner and when things don’t go according to plan I’m usually pretty laid back, but sometimes even my backup plans failed (due to the weather). From Page, AZ on everything fell apart from my original plan (2-3 days in Paria, then home via  the ET Highway). I sometimes get so preoccupied with staying on plan I forget to be flexible and enjoy the stuff around me at the time.
  • Being organized is everything. When I head off for a weekend it’s easy to just throw everything in the truck and figure it out later, especially with a newer vehicle where I haven’t quite optimized the space. But when spending two weeks on the road I need to make sure everything is where I want and expect it to be. By the end of the trip I had the system pretty much figured out and it made packing for our nine day thanksgiving trip a breeze.

I’m sure I’ll think of a million other things, but that’s why God invented edit buttons I guess.

Thanks for bearing with me and reading along during this long string of trip reports. I know it’s a bit late but I just needed some down time to catch up. Next up: Thanksgiving Trip! Nine days of exploring Death Valley including six summits. My favorite trip of the year!

Paria Canyon/Grand Staircase Escalante

The Nautilus
The Nautilus

When we left Page, AZ the next morning the skies looked clearer but we knew there were isolated thunderstorms in the forecast. Still, we soldiered on with our plans to spend the next couple of days in the Grand Staircase Escalante/Paria Canyon area. There is no lack of things to do and see in this area, but our primary goal was to score a permit for The Wave, a famous formation in the Coyote Buttes Area. The area is restricted to 20 permitted visitors a day and we wanted to try for one of the ten walk-up spots. This experience deserves its own post – check for it next.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a permit. But, like I said, the area is packed full of great stuff – we could spend a month there and not get to see all the awesome canyons, formations, rock art, and other things the area has to offer. However, during our time at the permit station we learned that the area did not avoid the storms that had made our previous couple of days adventurous. There were washouts, flooding, and blocked roads. It looked like most of our backup plans weren’t even accessible.

Walking to the Nautilus in a freshly washed, uh, wash.
Walking to the Nautilus in a freshly washed, uh, wash

After getting skunked on the permit we headed to a nearby formation that was still accessible. It’s called the Nautilus and it is easy to see why when you see it from the correct angle. It’s a swirly pattern carved in a sandstone bluff and offers photographic opportunities as beautiful as the elusive Wave. It was the wrong time of day and stormclouds kept blocking the light, but nevertheless it was a fun short hike where we were able to scout and take some point-and-shoot photos. I plan on returning here someday with full camera gear at the right time of day!

The Nautilus from Below
The Nautilus from Below

Across the main road we found another parking area and the Toadstool Hoodoo trailhead. It let to some cool rock and mud formations that practically glowed in the sun when framed against the incoming storm clouds.

Sunlit red rock with storms rolling by
Sunlit red rock with storms rolling by

Toadstool Hoodoo
Toadstool Hoodoo

After wandering these for a while we decided to visit the Grand Staircase Escalante visitor’s center down the road and get some updated road info before continuing on to explore the area. It’s a good thing we did – it seems that everything except the main paved highway through the area was washed out. The friendly volunteers told us where we could go to see some of the washouts and they were right at the beginning of some of the roads I had planned on spending two or three days exploring. We drove down one of the roads only to find it washed out by a 250 ft wide river. No thank you.

Dead end. Road continues on other side.
Dead end. Road continues on other side.

Originally, we were going to spend the day exploring the area, camp there that night, and then try for another Wave permit the next morning. But by noon we had seen all the things that were accessible without a permit. More storms were rolling in. So we had a choice to make and we chose to move on to more familiar (and dry) territory – Death Valley. On the way out of the area we stopped by some nice pictographs that the Grand Staircase volunteer had told us about – the Ooga Booga man was pretty darn awesome.

Ooga Booga Pictograph
Ooga Booga Pictograph

We drove west through Las Vegas, going through a couple of big storms along the way, and continued on to our favorite spot in southern Death Valley. By shortly after sunset we were set up in “The Cabin”, dry and cozy in our desert vacation home.

Next: Lemoigne Canyon in Death Valley

Links:

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home: Back in California

Panamint Dunes

Panamint Dunes
Panamint Dunes

Death Valley has several sets of dunes. The most accessible (and therefore crowded) are the ones a few miles east of Stovepipe Wells. A bit less accessible but still regularly visited are the Eureka Dunes in the northern part of the park. There are more dunes located throughout the park in even less accessible locations. It was one of these locations, the Panamint Dunes, that we visited on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

These dunes aren’t particularly difficult to get to, but the minimum six mile round-trip hike to their edge deters many casual visitors. The road to the parking area isn’t great either – while it’s passable in passenger car I definitely would not feel comfortable taking one on it! 2WD is okay but the blowing sand and washboarding make having a hearty vehicle a must.

From the parking spot the dunes are plainly visible across the desert. They don’t look too far away but the scale of Panamint Valley really messes with distance perception. It is a three mile walk across the desert to reach these dunes. It is dry and sandy and they never seem to be getting any closer. Additionally, the barely detectable uphill slope (1000 feet of gain) wears you down. But eventually you’ll get there.

And when you do – hopefully you’re the only one to have made the entire trek with energy to spare in recent times. If so, you’ll have unbroken, footstep free dunes to play on and photograph. Good luck getting that by Stovepipe Wells! There were two major dune crests that we climbed and played on. We got to experience some fun dune phenomena like singing sand – sounding much like the drone of an airplane in the distance. And the best part of all – we had the dunes to ourselves.

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Zinc Hill, Ophir Peak, and the Back Door to Darwin

Zinc Hill Summit pickaxe
Zinc Hill Summit pickaxe

On Thanksgiving Day we decided to play around the Argus Range on the western side of Panamint Valley. Much of this range sits within the boundary of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center but the northern end is free for recreation so we packed the day full of some fun 4×4 and two desert peaks. We needed to burn some energy before that big Thanksgiving dinner in camp.

Darwin is an old mining town and though there are still a few residents it is on the verge of becoming a ghost town. It is accessible via any vehicle using the paved road that exits 190 about 17 miles west of Panamint Valley. It is also accessible via an older route that winds through the Argus range. This ‘Back Road’ approach is dirt and the first mile and a half has been badly washboarded by Death Valley visitors heading to the trailhead for Darwin Falls. After the Darwin Falls trailhead the road becomes heavily degraded in places, requiring high clearance and the occasional dip into 4WD. Of course this is where the fun is.

We followed the road up as it climbed steeply into the northern Argus Range, moving quite slowly and engaging the 4WD. Near the top the road conditions improved greatly and we found a nice place to pull out and park the trucks for our hike up Zinc Hill. Zinc Hill is the prominent peak of the northern end of the Range and it was the target of the day’s first hike.

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