Last Chance Mountain
By: Igor Mamedalin
The original intent of this desert outing was to climb both Last Chance Mtn. and Sandy Point from the Eureka Valley floor. Vic Henney and Sue Wyman explored both of these routes earlier in the year and we were provided with a detailed map and route descriptions for both peaks. Driving up 395 on Friday night on the tail end of a heat wave was hot; we worried that the heat may prove to be the main impediment to our success. Nonetheless, at 5:30 AM seven tenacious desert rats gathered on highway 168, 2.2 miles east of Big Pine, munching the last bits of an early breakfast and getting ready for the 45+ mile commute to the roadend for Last Chance Mtn. in Eureka Vly.
The road signed for Scotty's Castle in Death Valley was soulless and paved most of the way as we drove into the rising sun. In Eureka Valley we turned north on the well graded and signed Eureka Valley dirt road. Following Vie's and Sue's directions we drove north for about 3 miles and stopped after crossing a significant wash (3,600'). Taking a bearing at a major canyon with a huge white stripe the group headed east at 6:45 AM for about 4 kilometers across numerous washes and gullies; on the return leg of the journey we discovered that a better route could be had if one stopped at the 2.5 mile mark from the junction and before the wash crossing. On entering the canyon we made another mistake when we attempted to go over an 'obvious' and unnecessary dog leg at the mouth of the canyon (4.800'); this cost us a bonus of 200' of unnecessary gain. After that we followed the major east-west canyon with ease as it crossed several bands of white and black rock; at the 7,200' mark we exited the canyon by gaining the ridge south of us and following it to the summit. About 600' short of the summit we stopped for lunch and a nap at a picturesque point. On the summit, Anna Valkass, who 'needed' this peak, discovered after reviewing the summit register that either another 'Anna Valkass' had climbed the peak earlier in 1986 or that she has done it twice, unknowingly. From the summit we retraced our route avoiding the unnecessary traverse over the ups-and-downs of the numerous washes that cross the desert floor.
Everyone reached the cars by 6:00 PM proud of their day's achievement and proceeded to head south toward the camping spot on a small dry lake (starting point for Sandy) near Eureka Dunes. After a sumptuous communal dinner complete with melon and cheese cake for dessert, while sitting around a warm campfire several participants started to recollect important reasons as to why they needed to arrive home early on the following day. The ensuing campfire discussion culminated in the decision to save the exploratory route on Sandy Point for another year and to instead explore the 4WD route over Steele Pass into Saline Valley on Sunday.
After a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning, we frantically buzzed around the various dead end roads surrounding Eureka Dunes until we found the sought after Steele Pass road. We followed the Steele Pass road with only one 'interesting' 4WD section into Saline Valley where we took an hour to soak, eat watermelon and wash off the road dust. The Park Service has left the Eureka-Saline Valley corridor open to 4WD enthusiasts and the Warm Springs are still maintained by their devotees and open to all seekers of their therapeutic effects. From Warm Springs we raced south on the Saline Valley road and after a brisk lunch overlooking Panamint Valley (4 major valleys in one weekend!) everyone headed home (to meet those imperative commitments).
Many thanks to Maris Valkass for assisting and to the participants for their faith in our leadership abilities. The participants were Suzanne Mamedalin, Anna Valkass, Jim Farkas (from Seattle), Bruce Turner and David Leth (one indefatigable hiking machine).
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