Smith Mountain, Pyramid Peak
By: Wynne Benti
This was one of our more exciting attempts at driving to Death Valley. Usually, we'd turn off at the Oarlock road, but that was blocked by road closure signs, following another tremendous winter storm. We decided to head for Ridgecrest, through Trona to the Trona-Wildrose road. By the time we reached the northern outskirts of Trona, it was about 10PM. There, we were greeted by more road closure signs, but they had the vague appearance of being moved out of the way (our wishful thinking)? This time, we decided to go for it, and drove around the signs. There was no moon that night and it was really dark. All we could see was what was illuminated by our headlights -the small bit of pavement ahead. Our top speed across Panamint Valley was about 35 mph. Road crews had been out, and the washouts were pretty clear of debris, though the road was toughened up in parts. Soon, headlights appeared in the darkness behind us - a member of Dan Richter's DPS/Panamint Butte group. We crossed Towne Pass into Death Valley and finally reached Furnace Creek, well after midnight.
Up, just after dawn the following morning. We drove over to where we filled the tank with gas and grabbed some coffee. Then on to Gold Valley. There were some serious washouts on the road into Smith, but were easily bypassed. The day was beautiful - clear with high clouds, sunny, warm. We hiked up Smith via the east side. Absolutely gorgeous hike through a spring fed canyon to the ridges leading to the summit where the views across Death Valley were spectacular.
We returned to Stovepipe Wells where we ran into Dan Richter, who had just emerged from a hot shower. His group was camped at the Stovepipe campground and were bound for snow-covered Tucki the next morning. We had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant and camped inside a room.
Up at five the next morning. On to Furnace Creek to get some Java, but the place wasn't open yet. So, we stopped along the road outside the Inn and made some coffee, while watching the sunrise over Badwater. The dry lake was full and the snow-covered Panamints were reflected on the glassy surface. We continued on to the Funerals and Pyramid, careful to park just off the highway, though the well-ducked dirt road across the desert pavement was mighty tempting.
We walked across the desert, following the road to the canyon entrance. High clouds in bright blue desert sky, breezy with temps in the low 60s. We soon crossed over to a rough, spiky limestone ridge, which required some route-finding between miniature gendarmes. Once out of the black limestone rock. the route mellowed out a bit, though it was steep all the way to the summit. Killer views from the summit -- the Sierra Crest from Olancha Peak to Birch Mountain and beyond.
On the way down, we chose an alternate ridge which dropped us off into the same wash. We noticed that car tracks came right up the wash to the backside of Pyramid, from Pahrump Valley. Could be an interesting alternate route.
Stopped for dinner at Furnace Creek. It took us a while to figure out why we were the only ones in the restaurant and everyone was in the bar (Superbowl). Nice drive back to so-cal via Towne Pass and Indian Wells Valley.
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