By: Bob Greenawalt
Sentinel Pk & Hungry Bill's Ranch
The "invigorating" pitch as mentioned in the schedule writeup for this event was certainly no misnomer and proved to be one of my most exciting knapsacks jaunts in a long spell. Actually it was more than I bargained for. We left Panamint at the appointed time and began the 18-men trek up Frenchman's Canyon, where we soon reached random snow patches of the snow-cone variety. Along the way many old rock ruins were noted of former mining activities. The area is all forested with pinyons and junipers, many stumps still show axe and saw cuts of almost a century ago when wood was used to feed the Panamint smelters.
The hike to the pass was as usual, with rest stops, and once we had that under our belts we came to our first Death Valley view-magnifique! Here we dropped our packs and rainproofed them as the group left to ascend the SW shoulder leading to Sentinel Peak. As we rounded one bend we were greeted by a huge snow bowl, in full view, and crested by limber and bristlecone pines. We admired this sight for about 30 minutes as we traversed a section of miserable scree. Again, as in the past, the real summit was beyond the first likely spire. The group broke up according to our various shape factors(i.e, hiker's physical shape) and by the time this writer reached Sentinel Pk, most of the others were nearly back to the packs. The summit views were very rewarding, however somewhat hazy, but all the landmarks were in their splendor.
Back to the pass by 2:30 PM our descent into Johnson Canyon was one not unlike Grand Canyon, with constant valley views. The tail end of our group arrived, at Hungry Bill's just at dark, all of us well spent, since the old trial(yes the trail is a tria1) is obliterated in many places.
About one half mile before the ranch is a fine spring which quickly disappears and then rises once more near the ranch. We had to trudge thru face-high arrowweed and willow thickets parted by burros in order to reach a good campsite. With the arrival of the last contingent, rain began. Later in the evening the weather let up and we had time to cook somewhat of a dinner meal, without benefit of candlepower. We had not found any snow on the eastern slopes all afternoon downtrail, so we were reworded with a light fall during the night, between rains, Our plastic tubes were icy as we awoke to a beautiful morning along with the prevailing 5:30 whistle issued by Presiding Officer Leon Pimple. Nothing much happened after whistle time for awhile, since at 6 AM Leon was still seen in the horizontal position.
We got together and left the lush spot by 7:15 for the great ascent, thought by some to be a sort of nightmare. We revowed the Grand Canyon likeness after reaching the Pass by 12:30, where we lunched. Grand weather prevailed 'til about noon, when dark clouds stole away the warming sun. By 2:30 all were back to their cars, some already out in the wind-swept, dust cloudy Panamint Valley. The whole desert seemed to be one big blow.
The only regret of the weekend's arduous backpack was the lack of an extra day's layover at the Ranch to enjoy the sights and former efforts of apparently a sizeable group of persons that built the ranch. There are hundreds of feet of thick rock wal1s, many stockades, and many trees, both alive and dead. Also a number of fruit trees, notably figs. It must have taken these Indians many years to develop such an acreage in such an remote spot. Today no buildings stand, only rock walls.
To my knowledge this is the first successful DPS trip into this Ranch, after several false starts thru the years. I'd very much like to return again but I feel the easier access would be from the Death Valley side. There is supposedly some sort of jeep road leading to some two or three miles of the Ranch in lower Johnson Canyon.
One of the amazing feats to me is the lack of steel tools at the Ranch -looks like everything must have been done by hand! I just wonder how the people existed, but with their generous spring, half of life's battle must have been overcome. It is truly a delightful setting, especially for those hikers who had the security that they could get out of such an isolated location.
We thank Leon for making the trip a great success and a fond memory.
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