By: Steve Smith
A total of 6 people met at the Thursday night campsite in northern Panamint Valley for the start of our 3 day backpack. We camped at the starting point for climbing Panamint Butte from Panamint Valley at the northern end of the Big Four Mine Road which was where we would end our 3 day backpacking traverse.
Leaving two vehicles along the Big Four Mine Road about 4 miles southeast of the Panamint Sand Dunes, we shuttled everyone over to the Hunter Mountain area. Our objectives for this trip were to climb the high point of Hunter Mountain, camp two nights at the Cottonwood Spring oasis in Death Valley, climb the prominent 5,890' high point 3 miles north of Cottonwood Spring, see the Panamint Dunes, and view the Panamint Valley intaglios.
We started from the same point along the Hunter Mountain Road which Ron and I had used 2 years earlier for a DPS backpack when we climbed Panamint Butte and went on over to SR-190. On that trip we had only stayed at Cottonwood Spring for one night and enjoyed the area so much we rescheduled a trip to the area to have more time.
This time, we first headed up Hunter Mountain and gained 1,400' and fought a little brush as we climbed to the eastern high point of Hunter Mountain at 7,328' and signed in. Not many have signed the register and there was ample evidence of the wildfire which burned off the eastern portion of Hunter Mountain around 1982.
From 7,328', it was a good days hike over to Cottonwood Spring. As we dropped almost 4,000' down to the spring, we saw 7 mustangs, 4 deer, and several burros - not nearly as many burros as during our 1986 traverse. We also saw one large bull which got our attention as it charged through some brush to evade us. We spent two nights camping at Cottonwood Spring in the heart of the Cottonwood Mountains on the northwest edge of Death Valley National Monument. A beautiful camping area with plenty of water, it was an enjoyable experience viewing the scenery of the area.
On day two, we did a day hike straight north from Cottonwood Spring by going up the ridgeline to 5,890' high Canyon Peak. There was a group consensus that this peaks attributes warrant consideration for the DPS List - remoteness, views, pristine and seldom visited area which can be coupled with a climb of Panamint Butte 6 miles to the south. Two of us took a different route back by descending southeast into Cottonwood Canyon and coming out where vehicular access via a route coming up the canyon from Stovepipe Wells ends. The Park Service has a maintained dirt road going up the canyon and it stops about 3 miles below Cottonwood Springs. From where the road stops, it is a 3,000' gain and good canyon/ridge route to the summit of Canyon Peak.
Cottonwood Springs makes a great campsite which large trees and plenty of water. We all enjoyed our two nights there and it is interesting to see some old signs and foundations in the area. The site also makes an excellent base camp for climbing both Panamint Butte and Canyon Peak.
On the third day, we backpacked over to the Panamint Crest and then had an impressive 3,500' drop down into north Panamint Valley. Hiking past the Panamint Sand Dunes and several huge arroyos, we were back to our vehicles on the Big Four Mine Road by later afternoon. On the way out, we had time to stop and view some of the intaglios that exist east of Lake Hill with Ron discovering a beautiful Bighorn sheep petroglyph.
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