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May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Been on a recent trip? Here is the place to share it.
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wbdeford
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May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Thu May 23, 2019 12:17 pm

Will post pictures in the comments after I get a chance to go through them.

If I compare what was done to what was planned, this year's trip was not nearly the resounding success that last year's was. But I had more than twice as much time in the park/vicinity, and did a lot more things. I would say the loop is at least as difficult as Badwater -> Telescope and back--probably more so, due to the rocky terrain.

The first half+ of the trip was a loop between Ballarat, Butte Valley (Geologist's Cabin), and Panamint Pass. This loop, including some backtracking which will be described further along, was about 50 miles and about 16300 ft up and 16300 ft down.

Late May 9, I picked up my rental Nissan Rogue in Las Vegas. Rain began as I was going around the Spring Mountains, and it was raining virtually the rest of the way: Pahrump, Death Valley Junction, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Emigrant Campground (full), Towne Pass, Panamint Valley Road, and Lower Wildrose to the locked gate. I had never driven the Panamint Valley at night, so I got confused and turned left onto Lower Wildrose, instead of the right turn, followed by a left onto Indian Ranch. It took a bit of time to dawn on me what I had done, though it should have been obvious to me, since the road was still paved. I slept in the vehicle as well as I could, which wasn't well at all.

Day 1 began with light rain, and I drove to Ballarat and up as far as my rental Nissan Rogue would take me in to Pleasant Canyon, which was only to about 2000 feet, at which point, it couldn't make it up the wet hill. I backed it down the hill to a turn off. I got a bit of a late start due to the rain--about 10:30AM. I had bought a rain suit, when, in retrospect, I would have been better off with a poncho. The rain suit trapped the sweat and by the time I made it to Clair Camp, my clothes were very wet. The only virtue of the rain suit was I could keep my camera and other electronics dry. Day 1 ended up being abbreviated when I reached the World Beater Mine cabin about 4PM, which gave me the opportunity to dry out for the next day. Fortunately, the rain stopped somewhere along the way. This cabin is by far the nicest that I have enountered in or near the park. I did a little exploring of the mine area, then sat on the deck and watched the "misty mountains" across from me (the Happy/Pleasant ridge).

Day 2 was sunny and I continued up to the water tub near the Stone Corral. Digonnet advises taking water from the pipe instead of the tub, but it was so clean looking and flowing so well that I just filtered directly from the tub. I turned south to head up to the Pleasant/Middle park divide. Middle Park Canyon was very green and I continued on over to South Park Canyon and down to the former airstrip. Then, I followed the road up to the crest, which, in my ignorance, I thought was Rogers Pass. I left a good bit of my stuff in one of the trees, and headed down the fairly steep 2400 ft drop to Butte Valley. Flowers abounded on the hillside. I looped around the west side of Striped Butte, where I saw quite a few burros. Butte Valley turned out to be Grand Central Station for burros. I continued south to Geologist's cabin, where I spent the 2nd night. I slept outside, however. This was my 2nd water source, which I had to share with a group of burros. I counted as many as 14 at once. The valley was full of their braying, and it was rare to go more than a few minutes without it. I captured water in a gallon sized zip lock bag and filtered from it.

Day 3, I headed back north around the east side of Striped Butte and back up to the crest, taking a route a little east of the one I took down. I grabbed the stuff I left behind and followed the crest road over to the actual Rogers Pass at the top of Pleasant Canyon. The ups and downs along the crest seemed much steeper than they appeared from the other side of Death Valley. Topo maps show the road ending, but it continued on part way up Mormon. There were lots of boulders to cross to make it up Mormon. It was much slower going than I had expected. But the views from the crest were fantastic, though Mormon itself is tree covered. I spent the night on top of Mormon Peak near the tower.

Day 4, I continued on to Porter Peak. The crest continued to be much rockier than I had imagined going in. It wasn't difficult, but it was time consuming. I grabbed a bag of snow from just below the peak, which helped save me some of my Powerade. I had started the trip with a gallon and was hoping to spread it out over the whole trip, but without the snow, I would have had to pretty much drink it all by the next water stop. It was less tedious travel between Porter and the final steep push to Sentinel. I don't know if I took a poor line up, or if it was the heavy backpack, or if it was fatigue from 4 days of hiking, but I found that to be a very difficult stretch. Footing was difficult at times due to how steep it is. I also did a poor job remembering the best way down to Panamint Pass and found myself a few times on a too-steep pile of rocks and had to retreat. Finally, I made it to Panamint Pass and camped for the night. My water level was too low to continue without first dropping to Thompson camp for water.

Day 5, I left much of my stuff at Panamint Pass. The trip down Frenchman's canyon was uneventful, and I got to Thompson Camp pretty early. I decided that rather than push myself, that I would make this a more restful day and plan to camp again at Panamint Pass. This was now the longest backpacking trip I had taken without returning to a vehicle. Fatigue was starting to affect me and even after taking it easy for a while in Panamint City (where I was disappointed to find the Hilton has deteriorated--water isn't working and someone decided to use the toilet anyway....), and I did not enjoy the trip back up Frenchman's Canyon. To make matters worse, I came to a large rock and continued past it to the left, not noticing that the rock was at the base of the ridge, and I started heading up the wrong side canyon. I went much farther than I care to admit before realizing my mistake and turning back. I sent my wife a message via Garmin asking for the weather forecast--windy and colder. I didn't like the thought of being up on the crest, battling even tougher terrain than the southern crest, and in a cold wind, rain and/or snow. The Fun:Drudgery ratio was getting too low, and I decided to abandon the idea of doing the whole crest. As much as I didn't want to do a third pass through Frenchman's Canyon, that's what I decided to do. Then, I would be able to spend the rest of my time in the park in a more relaxed state with much more flexibility in what to do. It was the right decision. Panamint Pass -> Telescope will have to wait for another time--a warmer time, and without 4 previous long hiking days.

Day 6, I headed back down to Panamint City. Got a bunch of shots of my favorite man-made object in the park, some with a nice sky backdrop. Back down Surprise Canyon, I encountered a rattlesnake in one of the shrubs. Then, I ran across an interesting collared lizard. As I stopped to get pictures, I noticed another--I assumed a female. He seemed to be trying to impress her by doing pushups! On to Chris Wicht camp, which is where I finally encountered some fellow human beings. The only others I had seen had been passing more or less nearby in vehicles. This was a group of kids from the SF bay area. I think they were inner city kids, as the leader told me they had been able to borrow the camping gear for free. She also told me that there were supposed to be storms that night and the next morning, even down low, so I hoofed it out of there, back to Ballarat, fighting the wind, and then pushed myself the last 2+ miles back up the road to my vehicle, arriving about 10PM. My headlamp was less useful than the moon, so I turned it off. I drove across the Panamint Valley from Ballarat and up the Panamint Valley road on my way over toward Stovepipe Wells. At Towne Pass, there was quite a comedy of errors. Even though it was 11PM, there was a construction worker stopping traffic (which was only me) and telling me I had to wait 10 or 15 minutes for a pilot vehicle. The worker was bundled up, being blasted by the relentless wind. 20 minutes...25 minutes...30 minutes....Then, he started walking down the road with his radio. It turns out, their radios weren't working until he walked down the hill a bit. Eventually the pilot car guy got there, but instead of getting out of the way, the first guy took some time to yell at the other guy--or so it appeared. The pilot vehicle led me to the other end and the other flag man. It took 3 guys over a half hour to lead one single vehicle through there. But I was in a good mood, so I enjoyed the humor. Anyway, I continued to Emigrant, which was full, so I drove up Wildrose road to the locked gate and slept there for the night. Technically against the rules, but....

Day 7 started with a few sprinkles. Clouds were pretty dark, and still tired from 6 days of hiking, I decided to make this largely a driving day, seeing familiar places with a new "ceiling". Mesquite Flat Dunes....Zabriskie's....20 Mule Team Canyon....Devil's Golf Course....Artist Drive...Mustard Canyon....and then a new one for me--Keane Wonder Mine. I hiked pretty far up the hill, but eventually decided to turn around rather than see how far it goes. Back to Stovepipe Wells for a little food from the store. Wind and dust blasted through, and a couple of very brief downpours--enough to wet the road, but not enough to pool up anywhere. Weather was supposed to improve the next day, so I decided to head for the Racetrack, which I always find relaxing (once I'm there). But heading up the North Highway, there was some flash flooding sending rocks and dirt across the road. I decided to go back, not wanting to risk getting to a place where I wouldn't be able to get back from. So, it was back up to Emigrant for a campsite. I got there early enough that there was no problem, but eventually 14 parties occupied the 10 sites that night. 3 of the extras were there because someone offered to share, or people asked and were granted permission. The 14th was a couple in a Lexus sports car who decided to just squat in a site where there was already a tent. Fortunately, there was no incident. The wind died down by late afternoon and it was a peaceful night there. I spent some time reading Digonnet for ideas of what to do the next day.

Day 8, Stretched Pebble Canyon, until the first dry fall that is too tall for a non-rock climber to attempt. I hit the wrong branch of the wash and had to cross back. From above, I saw the entrance to a narrow area and decided to head for that, which turns out is what Digonnet had in mind in the first place. Then, I drove up Grotto Canyon most of the way and hiked to the first grotto. Next, was another attempt to head for the Racetrack, but I found the Road Closed just north of 190 on North Highway. I was unfamiliar with this type of "Soft Closure", only being familiar with the fake closures such as lower Wildrose used to have. I turned back and headed for Salt Creek, wondering if I might see the pupfish, finally. I didn't have to look. They were all over the place, and tons of babies. I walked the boardwalk and a little beyond, and then back and followed the creek to where it disappeared into the sand. A couple of small fish were in isolated pools....too bad for them. On to Furnace Creek to find out how long the road would be closed, thinking with it being a major paved road, it wouldn't be too long. That was when I found out what a Soft Closure is. There was "3-4 feet of debris" in the road near the Ubehebe Crater, and they recommended 4WD. Finally, off I went to the Racetrack. Sure enough, I could open the gates and go through them. The other side of the first gate explained that it wasn't locked, etc, which would have been nice to see that sign the first time. But then, I would have missed out on the pupfish. The debris was no problem at all. Racetrack Valley Road was in great shape, and there were flowers galore along the way, especially near the Joshua trees. I stopped at the Grandstand for a bit, then headed to Homestake to set up camp. (The port-a-john is basically full, so bring a shovel if you plan to stay). I explored the water truck and other ruins, then went up the hill side to look over to the Saline Valley and out to the Racetrack. Late afternoon, I headed out to the Racetrack for photography. I didn't see any evidence that there was new rock movement over the past winter, despite the wet winter. I stayed out there until dark, trying to get some shots of the moon shadows on the rocks. (Most of my attention was on a single rock, as it generally has been on my trips to the Racetrack....but that's another post.)

Day 9, I woke up about 4AM, threw my bedding into the vehicle, and left Homestake. Back out to the rocks for the early morning shadows. After the sun was well-risen, I headed to the east side and up to check out the Sally Ann mine, though mostly I wanted to see the Racetrack from that vantage point. Then, it was down to the Racetrack again, a little further north, where there are a couple of little islands and some standing water. There was a water bird of some sort there--the same kind I had seen the previous day at Salt Creek. I don't know what he was planning to eat there. I was also pleased to find a rock track over there near the shore. I am guessing that track is quite old, but also that it doesn't flood there as often, allowing it to stay more preserved. Back across the playa to look at a few more rocks before the northward journey out. Another uneventful drive back out. Along the way, I stopped to look at the flowers more closely. On to Ubehebe Crater, and I took the time to walk up to Little Hebe and back. It seemed good visibility for Dante's, so I headed there for a while. From there, I could see the next wind storm brewing up north by the dunes. I really liked the new parking area configuration. And I don't remember being able to see as much of the Panamints and valley from the car as before, but maybe that is my imagination. It was a bit out of my way, but I needed gas, so another night at Emigrant Campground. (Gas was 4.200 at Stovepipe and 5.469 at Furnace Creek). Clouds rolled in and it sprinkled a bit, though it looked much more threatening. The wind was once again roaring.

Day 10 was my final full day in the park, and another windy one, though cool, with highs in the mid 80s. I decided to leave via Badwater and Harry Wade roads, doing short hikes along the way. First, it was three hikes on Artist Drive--the two that begin at the dips, and also Artist's Pallete--as recommended by Digonnet. Then, it was down to Natural Bridge. I had been to the bridge, but not beyond, so I went the full way to the (for me) impassable falls. Next, was on to Badwater, and up Bad Canyon to its impassable falls. The wind was blasting me in the face all the way up the fan, and from behind most of the way to the falls. On further south, I took the time to visit a couple of little slots, including one colored much like Artist's Pallete. By the time I reached Ashford Mills, it was late afternoon, and reached Saratoga Spring for sunset. I camped across from the Ibex Dunes.

Day 11 I headed back to Saratoga Spring for sunrise and then visited the Saratoga talc mines. On the way back by Saratoga Spring, quite a few little sweat bee-like bugs were pestering me. Not a fan. They weren't very elusive, so quite a few bit the dust. Final hike was on a hillside I saw a couple miles before highway 127. I exited about 9:45, but then stopped to look at the bit of Amargosa River that was flowing under the bridge. Then it was on to China Ranch for a date shake, a 3 mile hike on a trail there, and another date shake. After a purchase of a 5 lb box of dates, it was on to Tecopa Hot Springs. I didn't want to torment the people on the plane with 10 days of filth, so I got a shower and an hour or two in a hot tub before heading to Pahrump to return the Fix-A-Flat cans, then Las Vegas for a 12:59AM flight to Minnesota, where I got to work about 7:30AM on the 12th.

In all, the trip wasn't everything I planned. I don't know if I bit off more than I could chew, but I certainly bit off more than I wanted to chew. In spite of the fact that I have had more enjoyable trips, this one was still well worth it. I lost 10 lbs, as I have difficulty eating very much while hiking. It isn't that I don't get hungry, but it doesn't take much food for me to want no more. Hopefully, I can keep the weight off this time.

Well done, if you made it this far! :)

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by RD23 » Thu May 23, 2019 1:47 pm

I sure enjoyed reading your trip report. Brings back many great memories making me even more motivated to get back.
Thanks for taking the time to share your trip!

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by Randy O » Thu May 23, 2019 4:33 pm

Great report of a very eventful trip. Thanks for taking the time to write this up and some pictures would be nice to see when you get some time to post them.

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by Kauri » Thu May 23, 2019 7:55 pm

Thank you for the detailed trip report, and I'm looking forward to seeing some photos!

I'm also curious about the location of the little colorful slots you mentioned. The best colors I've seen seem to be between the Artist's Palette and Natural Bridge Canyon (e.g. in Brimstone and Hellfire Canyons), but there are also some nice colors near Room Canyon (and there are some slots in that area I haven't yet visited).
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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by MojaveGeek » Fri May 24, 2019 11:28 am

Thanks for the great, detailed report! Been waiting for it after all the planning you were doing. Some of the places on the big hike I've been (Porter to Sentinel) and some I would like to hike. So will be watching for pix when you get the chance!

About bailing out. Well you had planned a major major hike. And you must have been heavily laden with your food supplies, without a cache. The ascent of Sentinel sounded hard. I hope I didn't contribute to your woes by saying that I had not found it bad and my 10 yr old daughter had zipped right up. I had a pretty full day pack back then (I carry a lot of survival gear, especially when my kid is along) but nothing near what you must have been carrying.

Sometimes we just get tired out and it all becomes less fun, as you note. It's a delicate balance, I find, because it's never easy slogging uphill at some significant altitude, yet some times we have the energy to keep at it and other times not. It's heightened, I find, when solo. In a group, you have momentum that everything thinks everyone else is ready to keep going, so if you're not, you are more likely to just go along. But when alone, that pressure isn't there. On my last trip, where I spent a few weeks hiking solo in SW Utah, there were a couple of days when I just lay down some place and took a mid-morning nap. I was tired and in a bit of a fog and as you say, not having fun, but a short nap under the sky seems to revive me.

But you had planned a really major trek so I'm not surprised it was too much. And as you know the route north out of Panamint Pass is a bit tricky. And it was a really strange wet/cold May out there. So did well to be able to come with a plan B on the fly, good moves!

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by John Morrow » Sat May 25, 2019 2:45 pm

What an ambitious itinerary Wbdeford, nicely done! Thanks for the details. Looking forward to the pics.
John

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wbdeford
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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Sun May 26, 2019 12:16 pm

Here is my first set of pics. This is just from where I parked at the lower Wildrose gate to where I parked in Pleasant Canyon. Lots of clouds, and you can see a little fresh snow.

FB took away the ability to share links with non FB users, so putting them on flickr:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/168127823 ... 8771777502

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Sun May 26, 2019 12:39 pm

Kauri wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 7:55 pm
Thank you for the detailed trip report, and I'm looking forward to seeing some photos!

I'm also curious about the location of the little colorful slots you mentioned. The best colors I've seen seem to be between the Artist's Palette and Natural Bridge Canyon (e.g. in Brimstone and Hellfire Canyons), but there are also some nice colors near Room Canyon (and there are some slots in that area I haven't yet visited).
Kauri, it is approximately halfway between the Badwater parking lot and Mormon Point--between Coffin and Copper Canyons, if I am reading the satellite images correctly.

Image

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by Kauri » Sun May 26, 2019 4:55 pm

wbdeford wrote:
Sun May 26, 2019 12:39 pm
Kauri, it is approximately halfway between the Badwater parking lot and Mormon Point--between Coffin and Copper Canyons, if I am reading the satellite images correctly.

Image
Thank you! From Digonnet's map of the Black Mountains, it looks like it could be Dante's, Wineglass, or one of the Twin Canyons. I didn't realize the Artist's Palette colors could be found in that area, and I'll look forward to checking it out next time I'm in the park.
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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Tue May 28, 2019 3:17 pm

World Beater Mine Cabin--I was very impressed:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/168127823 ... 8810550332

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by D.A. Wright » Tue May 28, 2019 7:31 pm

Cabin still in good shape! I was there last about 1998. Thank you for sharing your trip report and images.
D.A. Wright
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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Wed May 29, 2019 11:14 am

I'm guessing the fact that you can drive to it is a huge reason it has been kept up well, as opposed to the PC Hilton.

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by wbdeford » Wed May 29, 2019 1:39 pm

I call this album "The Misty Mountains" (Lord of the Rings reference) as I watched the fog over the Pleasant/Happy ridge:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/168127823 ... 8826223657

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by MojaveGeek » Thu May 30, 2019 3:57 pm

Misty indeed!

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Re: May 10-20, 2019: Ballarat -> Butte Valley -> Panamint Pass loop, plus day hikes

Post by ETAV8R » Thu May 30, 2019 8:04 pm

So nice and green.

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