By: Jerry Haven
Twice in the last 2-1/2 years, I have been sent to Detroit on business (yechh), and both times John Vitz has sneakily climbed peaks which were later added to the list. One of the peaks was Tucki, and so, on a cold Friday night in December, I set out for Death Valley. For companionship, I took a neophyte peak bagger, Ron Hoyt, whose only other trip was to South Guardian Angel. (He was bothered by a sore knee and did not try the peak.)
We persevered over 20 miles of ice on U.S. 395 north of Adelanto, passing several accidents along the way, and then made good time to the Panamint Valley where we camped under starry skies. The next morning we drove to the Skidoo road, had some breakfast, and started hiking across the intervening canyons toward the summit of Tucki Mtn. It was cold, hovering just below freezing all day, but the sky was clearand the sun warmed our backs. There was an inch or two of snow on the north slopes of the ridges, adding beauty to the scene and crunch to our footsteps. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy, obscuring what would otherwise be lovely views of the Sierra, but in general, despite disparaging reports from some people, we found it a pleasant, worthy desert peak.
The route runs generally north, along the top of the wide, flat ridge, crossing several small canyons before reaching Tucki Wash. As we crossed the low saddle into the wash, Ron's knee began to bother him again, and, when we were 1/4 mile past the head of Tucki Wash and only 1/2 mile from the summit, he decided to turn back. I gave him the map, showed him where to go, and, confident that a geology major with a map could find his way around, proceeded to the summit.
When I got back to Tucki Wash, I did not see Ron's footsteps, so I assumed that he had gone back down the ridge. However, there was no sign of his passing in the saddle and no footprints on the dirt road south of the saddle. I was certain that he was lost, but I went over one more ridge to the abandoned truck at which he was supposed to wait if I failed to catch him. Of course, he wasn't there. went back up on the ridge and looked across the broad flat valley to the saddle. I thought I saw him in the saddle but, after yelling and then running down into the valley, I realized that it had only been wishful thinking. It was late, so I had no choice except to return to the car. Since there was obviously no way to get lost in such a short distance, I had to assume that he was seriously injured and would probably freeze to death overnight. The hike back to the car seemed longer and lonelier than any I can remember.
By the time I returned to the car there were stars in the east and just a pale streak of blue in the west. I drove in darkness to the Emigrant Ranger Station to report that I had lost a man, expecting to spend Sunday leading the search for the body. I felt very low.
To my great relief, the ranger told me that Ron had wandered in a half hour earlier and was being driven back up to Skidoo to wait for me. Somehow, we had passed on the road. While we waited for Ron to be brought back, we had a pleasant chat over a welcome cup of hot coffee. To say the least, I was happy to see Ron alive and in one piece. We had a much more enjoyable dinner than either of us had been expecting and a good night's sleep in the Stovepipe wells parking lot (called a campground by the NPS). Ron's knee was very stiff on Sunday, so we did a little sight-seeing and then headed home in time for dinner.
As we pieced it together later, Ron had never made the first 1/4 mile to Tucki Wash. Instead, he got into the next canyon to the north. When he realized he was in the wrong canyon, he was unable to reorient himself since he had also lost the map. At this point, however, he began to get luckier. To begin with, his knee immediately felt fine and for the rest of the afternoon, he was the envy of the bighorns as he ran nimbly over the mountain. He went to a high point, probably crossing Tucki Wash in the process, and from there decided to go west, picking a canyon which comes out directly across from the ranger station.
In retrospect, there are only two things I might have done differently. First, I could have told Ron to wait instead of sending him back. And second, in order to keep them from making nasty remarks, I should have signed in with the rangers before starting out across country. However, since it all worked out, I will probably forget the entire episode and continue to do things the same way I always have.
And now, on to Patterson and a completed list once again.
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