Nopah Range, Brown Peak
By: Gary Craig
Sue Holloway and I originally wanted to do this trip last season, but one of those pesky winter storms rolled in from the Pacific and we cancelled the outing at the last minute. The forecast looked good for this November weekend though, so 14 climbers and a few others gathered at the meeting spot on the Old Spanish Trail Highway at 6am for the climb of Nopah. In addition to myself (leader and scribe) and assistant Sue, we had Linda McDermott, Annemarie Schober, Jane Gibbons, John Strauch, Lynne Buckner, Elaine Baldwin, Jan St. Amand, Ellen Grau, Bill Banks, Gary Bowen, Greg Roach, and Mirna Roach climbing. Also along to lend moral support, but remaining with the vehicles for various reasons, were Ron Grau, Cliff Jones, and Patrick Wood.
Nopah is a long, rough climb from any direction. Rather than doggedly following one of the routes in the Peaks Guide, I decided to be a bit adventurous and follow the “Ron Bartell Route” on Nopah from the southeast. This route is maybe a mile or two longer on the round trip than either standard route, but has a bit less elevation gain and generally easier terrain. Ron B. climbed this route last spring so I got some good beta from him on some of the details before leaving town. Best of all there is no dirt road driving — the hike starts directly from the paved highway, making for much easier access. The starting point we used was a bit more than 18 miles east from downtown Tecopa along the Old Spanish Trail Highway, near the “top” of a long, gentle rise... the exact spot is not important, but we started at about UTM 906801. From here the route proceeds NW up the very broad wash for approximately four miles, gaining about 1000’ elevation, to the base of what might be described as the East Ridge, at UTM 858842. This ridge is prominent from the highway. The lower half of the ridge is a stiff climb, the upper half, a bit less so. Mostly it is just walking, with a few scrambles around rocky outcrops thrown in. Sue was having a tough day and wasn’t feeling well, and elected to wait at a shady spot along the ridge about halfway up, and Mirna Roach graciously took over as assistant for the rest of the climb. Where the ridge tops out at UTM 840845 (after a gain of 2000’ from the flats), we took a well deserved breather (not our first!) and got our first view of the summit. Several members of the group were amazed to learn that the true summit was the closer, easier looking bump rather than the more distant false summit a mile or more farther north. We proceeded north, then west, then southwest along the curving ridge towards the top, across mostly easy terrain and contouring across the SW side of the one major bump in our path.
When we reached the summit we had mostly clear skies and far-ranging desert views. The summit register is a classic, going back a long ways. Everybody did great on the hike, despite the long distance and warm temperature.
We rejoined Sue on the hike back down, and reached the vehicles at about 4:15, for a round trip time of 9 hours 45 minutes. After this long day most of the group was primed for a refreshing soak at Tecopa Hot Springs. We reconvened there and most of the group spent some time in the pools. Daylight hours are getting scarce at this time of year, so by the time everyone was ready to go (5:30pm) it was pretty dark. We had originally planned to drive close to the Deadman Pass trailhead for Brown that evening, but given the late hour we opted to camp in the BLM lands on the west side of highway 127 just a few miles north of the hot springs. We found a nice spot about 2.5 miles in on the north side of the excellent dirt road that leaves 127 just after you reach 127 from the hot springs. One of the finest DPS potluck dinners in recent memory followed. Many thanks and accolades to the cooks. We had a campfire but nobody stayed up really late, given the long day we’d just had.
We were rolling by 6:30 the next morning for the Browr Peak climb. Jane, Patrick, Bill, Sue, Cliff, and Annemarie decided to leave the trip early, so there were only 11 of us heading for the trailhead for the standard “A” route on Brown. We stopped briefly for coffee at the Crow Bar in Shoshone, then drove into Death Valley NT and north along the Greenwater Valley road (excellent condition for any car) to the Deadman Pass turnoff. Th road gets rougher here but all four vehicles were high. clearance so we had no problems. The Peaks Guide directions to the trailhead are right on.
The last several trips that I’ve led have had at least one day of bad weather, so true-to-form we had clouds come in overnight. Sunday’s climb started at about 8:l5 am under mostly cloudy skies. Mirna again took over the assistant leader job, and Ron G. hung out with Bogie the Wonder Dog guarding the cars. The climb starts with an easy hike across flats for a mile or so and then has some ups and downs. As we climbed higher on the peak we did get a couple very brief sprinkles but they were very light and we generally ignored them. We snaked our way up the class 2 ridge and were on the top before 11am. Thc summit plateau was cool and breezy so most everybody sat behind some makeshift rock walls there while eating lunch. We took a few group summit photos, and headed down. On the way down we took the “route A variation’ described in the Guide, which we all thought was an excellent route. It descends a gully with interesting rock formations and the walking is quite easy with few obstacles and no brush. We all liked this route better than the way we went up.
There was another brief happy hour back at the cars after our leisurely 5 hour, 45 minute hike. We all drove out to the north on the Deadman Pass road, directly to route 127. The last mile or so of this road before reaching the pavement is quite sandy and you definitely want to have 4wd here. But, nobody got mired in the sand and we enjoyed the views of Eagle Mountain in front of us on the way down.
Thanks Sue, Mirna, and everybody else for a great trip!
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