Manly Peak, Needle Peak
By: Igor Mamedalin
At one point eighteen people were signed up to climb these two fine peaks in the southern part of the Panamint Range; early Saturday morning only eight true desert rats and one dog showed up at the meeting point, the radar station off Ballarat Road. One by one they called in to cancel - perhaps deterred by the need to negotiate the dreaded Goler Wash road over Mengel Pass. So, at 7:30 AM four worthy desert vehicles set forth to reach Striped Butte Valley -- three run-of-the-mill Japanese 4WD pickups and Bob Greenwalt's wonderful 1956 Willis Jeep (they just do not make cars like they used too).
Following the directions provided by the DPS Road & Peak Guide [RPG], we found that the entrance to Goler Wash was recently bladed - it was probably pretty bad a couple of weeks back after the rains. Passing the Lotus Mine and the turn off to Myer's Ranch (Charley Manson's old hang out - rumors of his parole spurring us on) we lumbered over Mengel Pass without too much difficulty. Near the top a 4WD comes in handy, but a good high clearance vehicle could negotiate the road too. From Mengel Pass we dropped down into the beautiful Striped Butte Valley turning south to Willow Spring.
From Willow Spring we proceeded to climb Needle Peak by following the first option listed in the DPS RPG: around the immediate hill, up a wash to a saddle nd then up the ridge to the peak. It was fairly warm that day and Suzanne experienced various symptoms of over heating (dizziness, nausea, sinus congestion); nevertheless, she prevailed and everyone made the summit. Upon our return to the cars we celebrated happy hour / dinner with delicious black beans from Sue Leverton, BBQ chicken legs from Suzanne, salsa picante and garlic sticks from Bruce and Terry Turner, grapes and sprouted garbanzo beans from Bob Greenawalt, and rice crackers from Graham Breakwell. Later around the campfire a steamy brew of desert rumors, old and new, was stirred into the late night.
Next morning we headed from Willow Spring to the troglodyte dwellings at Hatchet Spring with a futile attempt at a short cut enroute. From Hatchet Spring seven climbers headed up the steep and sandy ridge directly to Manly Peak, while Sue Leverton and the exhausted dog wisely stayed back at the car. It took us a bit longer than anticipated to reach the peak, it was too warm and the route too sandy. On the summit we discovered that the register(s) spanning the years from 1966-88 were missing [has the Sierra Register Committee spawned a subcommittee for the desert peaks and started to sequester old registers in the library of the Desert Studies Museum of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks?] The descent from Manly Peak was quick, in contrast to the ascent.
Having noticed more than one vehicle in the Striped Butte Valley sparked the thought that the road through Warm Springs canyon must be open - we had to verify it, even if it meant a late return home. Part of the way to Warm Springs Terry's truck experienced a flat which was fixed expertly by Bruce with consultation from Bob and under Suzanne's supervision. Jay Holshuh missed most of the excitement since it took him a while to realize that no vehicles were following him before he retraced the road back to scene of the flat tire. With the tire trauma behind us, we followed the road through the canyon, past the numerous talc mines, into Death Valley -- the Warm Springs road is open and passable to high clearance vehicles.
From Death Valley we sped through Shoshone to have dinner at the Mad Greek's in Baker - highly recommended, best food in the Mojave Basin. After the delicious dinner, it was 1-15 and home by midnight. It was a grand desert weekend with good friends, good peaks and good roads. Everyone learned a lot from Bob Greenawalt's stories spanning his forty years of desert exploration-- some of the lore needs to be recorded and passed on to future generations of desert rats.
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