Sentinel Peak, Porter Peak
By: Sue Holloway
When Richard Carey told me he needed Sentinel for the second time, there was absolutely no hesitation on my part to plan my 3rd DPS backpack to Panamint City as I love that place. Since Richard also needed Porter again, he was agreeable to my idea of adding an extra day to the typical 2 day backpack so we could climb both peaks on this trip! While neither of us had a clue about what the ridge between the two peaks was like, it was written up in the DPS Peaks Guide so we figured it was certainly doable. Richard confirmed the stats for the climb on Maptech and, with the resulting numbers being 6350' gain/13.4 miles for the day of the climbs, we agreed it would be a bit tough but we were game.
Our meeting place was at the campground in Ballarat and that's where we all slept Thursday night. (Note: For future trips to this area, there's a much better place, just past the turn up Surprise Canyon.) Since Friday was going to be an easy day, we had a leisurely start with ample time to get our packs ready. For the drive up Surprise Canyon to the trailhead, we allowed about two minutes between vehicles because the dust on the road was so bad. At the trailhead parking area, we were welcomed by the Novak's, George and Rocky, and their friendly dog, Lucky. After some socializing and fussing with boots and packs, we were off around 9:15 a.m Mark Adrian who I was very happy to be hiking with again; Ken Barr and Cliff Jones, both making their 3T(~ trip to Panamint City also; George Wysup of HPS-fame (5X list finisher, no less!!); John Strauch, on his second trip in to PC with me; Jim Conley who always seems to like the harder DPS trips; Carl Johnson from San Diego whom I was happy to finally meet; Richard, leading the way and me, the token woman, with the broom. ?
The road past Novak's Camp is now gated (and has been since May 2001) and, to be honest, I missed the fun we'd had on the other two trips of watching the adventurous off-roaders negotiate their vehicles up and down the area called "the falls". The lack of vehicular traffic has also allowed the vegetation to rapidly grow around and over the streambed so we had a taste of HPS-ish brush. It wasn't too bad though and the water level was lower than on my past trips so we easily bypassed all obstacles. It was a beautiful day and we all enjoyed going at our own pace. A couple of the guys saw some wild burros but Cliff and I had to settle for seeing a dead one, decomposing on the road.
We were all in Panamint City by lunch and the first order of business was to confirm that there was water. When I was there the last time, water was freely flowing from the pipe that comes out of the main cabin but it was dry this time. We consulted the sketch of PC from the Peaks Guide and Ken located the valve at the top of the hill, past the small cabin (#5) by the big water tank and spring. That, plus the water from the valve in the welder's shop, was an ample supply for our time there. The afternoon was spent with everyone exploring on their own while I was mostly content sitting on the front porch of the main cabin.
The potluck happy hour started promptly at 5 p.m. and we had quite a spread. We enjoyed our feast in the living room of the main cabin, lounging around on the couches and chairs.. . .quite a change from sitting on the ground and the hard rocks as is usually the case on backpacks. After the gorging and socializing, the 6 a.m. start time for the next -day was confirmed and Cliff and I went back up the hill to sit in our chairs and watch the sunset. It was a beautiful evening.
We were off the next day at 6:05 a.m. and walked up the road toward the mine shaft until we came to the familiar slope that is a good one to scramble up to the road to the Wyoming Mine. Then, it was merely walking the road to the mine where we took a short break before gaining the ridge. By 9:10 a.m. we were all on the summit where we enjoyed a nice break, took in the views and signed the register. We eyeballed the ridge to Porter and Mark's memory from 10+ years before was dead-on; it looked pretty gentle. At 9:30, we started our descent from Sentinel. It was a bit steep and loose so we kept our distance from each other and regrouped at the saddle. From there, it was merely a long trudge to the base of Porter with some side hilling we'd make sure to avoid on the return (it's best to stay right on top of the ridge as the walking there is quite easy). We were all on Porter by noon and I plopped down not 5 yards from the register. Ken, Mark, Cliff and Carl had found shade but I didn't want to walk one step further than I had to! We took an hour for lunch and to rest a bit before retracing our route.
We got pretty spread out on the route back but we regrouped at the saddle below Sentinel. At this point, Ken and Carl wanted to try a different route back to camp so they took off. The rest of us climbed back up to the top of Sentinel where, once again, we regrouped and rested for a bit. My past experience had been that the descent from Sentinel takes about 2 hours, so when we left the summit at 4 p.m., I'd hoped to be back in camp by 6 or so. The others could have easily made it but for waiting on me; I was just out of steam so I was slower than slow. The group waited for me at the Wyoming Mine and then everyone walked the road back to camp at their own pace, with the exception of Cliff who kindly poked along at my pace.
We spent Saturday night again in Panamint City and at 8 a.m. the next morning we were ready to go. Before leaving, Jim walked back up the hill to turn the water valve off and then we were on our way. The hike out went quickly with only "the falls" to slow us down a bit. By 10:45 we were all back at the cars. It had been another successful DPS trip and my sincere thanks to everyone, especially Richard for co-leading the trip. It is always such a pleasure to share the peaks and desert experiences with such special people!
Here's the map from Carl that shows the route he and Ken took back to camp. They arrived in camp about 45 minutes ahead of the rest of the group and reported that there's a good trail down to PC from Panamint Pass.
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