Ibex Hills, Ibex Peak
By: Bob Michaels
Southeast Death Valley NP.
The unsung Ibex Hills west of Shoshone -- a small garden of delightful unlisted peaks in the southeast corner of Death Valley National Park -- was the setting for my traditional new year’s peak climb with “Vegas” George Quinn. We met the evening of January 3 in Shoshone and dined at the Crowbar (not that one has any choice in the matter of restaurant selection). I had an excellent 1-bone steak; he chose what turned out to be mediocre Mexican. Numbing cold (24° that night in Barstow) and fierce winds made Shoshone feel like Big Piney, Wyoming, with palm trees*, banished any thought of a campout; we retreated to the snug confines and welcome gas-log fireplace stove of the one and only motel. All night long the soft “plup” of igniting gas burners periodically pushed the encroaching cold back into the corners of the room. Worth every penny.
Next morning the wind chill wasn’t any better, and we went to a deliberately leisurely breakfast to kill some time and give the wind a chance to die down. Neither of us wanted to be the one to actually voice what was on both minds... “Screw the peak, it’s just too miserable”. Pursuing this tack further, we visited the small, very pleasant museum and bookstore just north of the Crowbar. When we emerged, a gentle breeze had replaced the gale, and we cruised up Highway 178 to Salsberry Pass.
Two miles down the Death Valley side of the pass, a dirt road can be seen heading southeast up the bajada straight towards Ibex Peak. The road is apparently legally open for driving and is in fairly good shape, but the bajada is steep and the road sandy. Tire chatter marks in the sand told me that my 2WD truck would have had a hard time, and we were wise to leave it at the highway. The road proceeds into a wash at 1000 m and becomes very faint; no one had driven it for years. Be watchful for an eroded spot at 1,140 where the road exits the wash to the left to climb to a broad saddle at 1,190 m. From here, the simple route follows up the ridge to the east which curves around to become the north ridge of the peak. One false summit and you’re there! The bedrock is weathered Precambrian igneous rock, so the terrain is generally easier than the stickly, crumbly rhyolitic volcanics of the peaks to the north.
The summit register was placed about 20 years ago by (surprise, surprise) Gordon and Barbara. We wee only the third party to sign in the 2000’s; no one at all was there in 2003. Those few who have been there have enjoyed, we both agreed, possibly the best view ever from a peak of modest height. It’s by far the highest point in the Ibex Hills, so nothing gets in the way of the view all the way down to the Kelso Dunes (more or less the route of the old Tonopah and Tidewater Railway) and up to Pyramid Peak; Southwest to the terra incognita of the Owisheads; along the great upheaval of the Panamints and over to the Springs, with Mr. Charleston a pure arctic white beyond the skeletal gray Resting Spring and Nopah ranges. Every crinkle and fold, ridge and rille of the terrain stood out in sharp definition in the low amber-tinged light which is such a glory of the desert around the solstice. Best of all, we could relax as long as we wanted in comfort. The morning’s windstorm had blown itself completely out, and you could have lit a match in the calm chill air.
*AN ASIDE: How can a place that gets so viciously hot the very rocks are soaked with heat get SO COLD?
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