I have always wanted to visit the Saline Valley and to climb Saline Pk., and Dry Mtn. from the West. So I recruited my friend Doug Mantle and off we went for a remote desert adventure in Death Valley National Park.
This is one of the less desirable aspects of visiting this area. From CA State Highway 190 about 13 miles west of Panamint Springs, we drove 8.2 miles north on paved, potholed Saline Valley Rd. to a fork, then right on excellent dirt 7.4 miles to the Hunter Mtn. junction. Hunter Mtn. Road was closed and road grading machinery was parked there. From there it is 30 miles of washboard (good) dirt road to the Warm Springs turnoff. Fortunately, the first few miles of this stretch were recently graded as it appeared that El Nino storms had done some damage. The road to Lower Warm Springs is marked by a large boulder, but there is no sign and the turnoff is just north of The Dunes. This 7+ mile stretch is fairly smooth, but driving too fast can be like riding a bucking horse. We arrived at the springs, which are still open despite being included in the recent Park expansion. From the springs, the road becomes rocky and poor, and it is nearly 11 miles to where we parked. About 2 miles beyond the springs is one 4WD "move," a steep, rocky spot in the road. The road is 2WD thereafter, but clearance is a must. So, we drove 10.8 miles beyond Lower Warm Springs to a short faint road (in a minor wash) on the left, and thence 0.2 and parked. It is possible to drive a little farther, maybe another 0.2. This parking spot is just east of a teardrop-shaped mound of Basalt (black rock). So if one considers the 8.2 mile potholed section as "dirt", then the drive is 64 miles of dirt and the last 11 is "poor dirt." Most cars, carefully driven, can make the springs, but trucks only beyond them. Also, allow 3-4 hours for the dirt road driving. We parked (@3,300'), and enjoyed a nice dinner under the partly-cloudy sky. The summits of both Dry and Saline were visible from this parking spot. That night it sprinkled a couple of times, then became very windy. This wind continued non-stop for the rest of the weekend. Saturday morning we started across the desert for Dry Mtn. (see accompanying topo map). The Saline Valley was in bloom, and lovely wildflowers were everywhere. We walked to an alluvial fan emanating from the western battlements of Dry. There are several fans, but our fan, (and the one the DPS Guide suggests for Route B), is marked by a small but conspicuous red cinder cone to the South. We reached the base of the fan and ascended to its head where there are three options: the left chute, the right chute, or up the headwall. The terrain in this area seemed steeper than the map indicated. First we ascended the left chute, but it was real cruddy, so we went up the headwall. This involved some minor 3rd class. It was also loose and cruddy. [On the descent we used the right chute, by Pt.4859, and this turned out to be the best way, at least for the descent]. Above the headwall, the angle lessened and we ascended several hundred feet to a well-ducked ridge. Here the footing was much better than the lower section. [Another important note about the lower section is that there are a couple of deep "grooves" in the headwall. It is probably best to avoid them unless one likes surprises]. We ascended the ridge to 7,200', then descended about 400 feet to the canyon bottom. From there it was about 1,900' gain to the summit. The wind blew incessantly for the entire climb and on the summit it was very cold, A few patches of snow still lingered on the northern slopes. We agreed that even though our ascent was a worthy adventure, "Route A" is probably better. After finding refuge from the wind, we had lunch, then descended. We opted to return a slightly different way, and this turned out to shorten the descent (see dashed lines on topo. At the lower headwall we descended the chute below Pt.4859, which was generally pretty good. The teardrop-shaped basalt pile we parked by was an excellent landmark for spotting the truck, and a two mile "flower" hike across the desert put us in camp at a good hour. Stats for 8,674' Dry Mtn. were 13 miles, 6,000' gain, Class 2.
After another windy night, we prepared for Saline Pk. on Sunday morning. Without moving the truck we skirted our basalt pile, and headed for a much larger region of basalt (see accompanying topo). We ascended to and up a ridge, which was on the NE side of a huge canyon of chalk. We hiked (class 1) for quite a long time, and stayed on this ridge. A few times we took short breaks to get out of the wind After ascending to a plateau on the east side of the peak we ascended 500 feet of rubble to the rounded summit area, then over to the summit, still being blasted by the wind. Our original plan was for a "loop" to include Black Top (6,548'), but the wind was just too much. The view was fantastic, but it was a very hazy day, A historic register was found and signed, but the summit stay was brief because there was no shelter from the wind. We descended our route without incident, and arrived to the truck in the early afternoon. Stats for 7,045' Saline Pk were 3,800' gain, 8 miles RT, Class 1. As a final note, there are several ways to ascend the peak, our route being just one. I enjoyed the hike, and the visit into one of the more remote regions of our beautiful State.