By: Lou Brecheen
Rather than carry out the 'death march' backpack up Lemoigne Canyon, we opted to 'do' Panamint Butte as a dayhike, using the same route as described by Gene Olsen who climbed it recently.
The Big Four mine and the road leading to it are shown on the SC auto Club's map of Death Valley. The mine road is 1.9 miles east of the intersection of the Panamint Valley road - from Trona - with Hwy 190. We met there. The group was composed of: Randy Bernard, Donn Cook, Tom and Karen Ferguson, Henry Heusinkveld, Gisela Kluwin, Adrienne Knute, Bruce and Terry Tina Rivera Turner, and Ron Jones and me, Lou Brecheen. We met at the aforementioned road intersection and caravanned about 6 miles north, toward the Big Four mine. There is a point or the road, where it begins its curve to the east, beyond which you cannot easily drive. Off to the left is an area of desert pavement 1arge enough for many cars to park. It is obvious and this is where most people will choose to stop.
With summit packs we walked up the road toward the mine and found that the road was completely washed out and even 4WD would not make it. Up this 'road' the better part of a mile is a little road leading a couple of hundred yards north to the end of a ridge coming down. It is the first ridge north of the main mine canyon. We ascended this steep, very loose abutment to the ridge and continued along this ridge, periodically climbing other steep, very loose inclines to the top of the main massif. This required almost five hours to 'do' the 5000 feet of gain.
At the top of the ridge we turned hack to the southeast and headed for the high point. There might be some confusion as to whether that is the high point, or the other choice--a summit almost directly east. We took the one to the right and found a register - official looking and signed by some DPS stalwarts of ages gone by. The views in all directions were inspiring but the lateness of the hour hurried lunchtime and we started back down the rotten (referring to the rock) slope shortly after 1:30 PM. We deftly danced downward, with gazelle Gisela leading our pirouette. Dusky dark was descending when we came to camp at approximately 5:00 p.m. Assorted hors d'ouevres and beverages livened the gathering about a small campfire. An odd thing happened. During meal preparation, a small, obviously young, web-footed bird came into area--almost underfoot. It was easily caught. We examined it and released it, but it did not want to go away. We carried it a short distance away and released it, not giving it much additional thought, but the next morning the little bird was found in a clump of Creosote - dead. Why was an aquatic bird wandering alone in the desert? Why was it attached to a group of humans?
Sunday, some of the group went off to climb Argus Peak, while others drove over and climbed Pleasant Mtn. Still others went directly home. Panamint Butte should be considered, at least, moderate1y strenuous by this route. Our climb and descent required about eight hours. The average group will do it about like that--many will do it faster, but many will also do it slower.
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