Panamint Butte


By: Campy Camphausen


It was a case where I owed Barbara Reber this trip. She had climbed It the hard way a couple times before. In October we scheduled it as a backpack up Lemoigne Canyon but the idea attracted nobody except us. Then we each sat at our respective meeting places a quarter of a mile apart and wondered why the other of us didn't show up. Barbara went home and I went on to climb Panamint Butte alone. I reported on it earlier.

This time we got a few friends together and we made our way up the road In three Toyota trucks and a vintage Scout. The start of the 4 WD road begins at a dimly seen north side intersection 2.9 miles downhill from the Emigrant Ranger Station. A sign identifying the Lemoigne Canyon road is placed far enough away from the highway to be overlooked by casual motorists (Barbara says that the sign reflects brilliant headlight glare when traveling up the highway at night). After an hour of crossing numerous gullies we parked at a road fork where two canyons join (the road toward the left soon peters out.)

We carried about 5 liters of water each for the two days except for Andy Zdon who admitted that he had 2 1/2 gallons. Our weather was sunny yet cool enough to avoid sweating and thirst. We walked along the jeep trail In the main Lemoigne Canyon. The canyon walls narrowed down to barely vehicle width and the limestone bore patches of rubbed-off paint. Just ahead is where most of the vehicle tracks take a left fork which leads to the well preserved Lemoigne Mines. This fork is a severe vehicle test-piece according to the mine cabin log which tells about many broken axles and smashed vehicles.

The final rock jump in the main canyon Is a bit tall for vehicles and the jeep trail ends here. After a lunch break we continued for an hour to a good campsite on a patch of sand at 5000' elevation. The wind picked up as forecast and a weather pattern moved in. We put up three flapping tents and two bivy sacks were stretched out on the sound. It was only 1 pm and we crashed until happy hour.

The climb of Panamint Butte involved returning to the wash and following It to the base of the gentle northeast ridge. Time to the summit was two hours. A breeze picked up and the air was crisp which favored fine views of the snowy Sierra. Zinc Hill and Panamint Butte stare at each other across Panamint Valley. The Ridgecrest BLM office had helicoptered a box of filled canteens and water bottles to the summit and this was probably there to aid a future Steve Smith-led traverse. We drank one of his two beers.

The hike back down the canyon and out to the vehicles took two hours. We agreed that this is the best way to climb Panamint Butte. The canyon is interesting and colorful and is of easy grade. Our party consisted of me, Ski, Barbara Reber. Edna Erspamer. George Pfeiffer. Andy Zdon, and Wynne Benti.

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