Grapevine Peak, Mount Palmer


By: Igor Mamedalin


This trip was initially advertised as a death marching backpack up Red Wall Canyon. After arranging for gracious shuttle service to be provided by Carol McCully (later substituted by Terry and Bruce Turner due to Carol's being ordered by her doctor to stay at sea level because of a temporary inability to clear her ears) and Suzanne Mamedalin, the magnitude of this trip was downgraded to a 17 mile day hike with 7,600+ gain for the first day to scale Mt. Palmer and to a standard 6 mile 2,500+ gain route for Grapevine Peak on the second day. The distance and elevation gain estimates were strictly estimates. Half way up Red Wall Canyon, it dawned on the leader that the grid lines on the topo maps that were used for the estimate were kilometers and not miles, as assumed. Everyone rejoiced in this discovery .. the anticipated distance was reduced from 17 miles to 11 miles. But fools we were again. At the end of Saturday's day hike John's cumulative elevation gain altimeter registered 9,600+ for the day and a careful tracing of the route on the topo maps revealed that we traveled 28 kilometers (or 17 miles). So, the leader, after all, did not disappoint anyone in the promised work out.

The designated meeting place was Stovepipe Well and the designated time was 5:30 am on Saturday. Nine bright eyed and bushy tailed desert rats were packed and ready to go at the appointed hour. The group was consolidated into three vehicles (along with their car camping gear for Saturday night) and proceeded to drive to the launching pad for Red Wall Canyon on the road to Scotty's Castle (at 400+ above sea level and 3.8 miles north of the junction with Titus Canyon road). Everyone set off for the 2 mile walk into the canyon mouth. The sheer red basaltic walls at the canyon mouth were impressive. About one mile into the canyon we came across the first water fall. Mike Wolfe scaled the 15+ high waterfall with ease and setup a belay for the rest. At this point Suzanne, Bruce, Terry and Merwin Lucas turned back to complete the shuttling of the three vehicles into Phinney Canyon.

Five proceeded on into the canyon. At about the 2,400+ level another 12+ waterfall was encountered and scaled with an appropriate belay. At each waterfall, John expanded everyone's vocabulary with explicit expletives as he negotiated the obstacle. Past that point the canyon opened up and no other waterfalls were encountered. At the 5,000+ level a side canyon branches east from Red Wall Canyon heading directly toward Mt. Palmer. Here we rested and ate a healthy lunch (except for John's third bacon and Mayo sandwich). After lunch we followed the side canyon for about a mile before gaining the steep ridge to the south that led to the summit. Three thousand feet were gained here in less than one mile and required one short belay over a craggy step.

The summit of Mt. Palmer was gained by 3 PM. We signed in, snacked, took pictures and observed that the approach from Fall Canyon to the east is much more formidable. The ridge from Mt. Palmer leading toward Phinney Canyon was longer and rougher than anticipated or remembered from a prior climb of Mt. Palmer 9 years ago. After going over the 7,710+ bump we dropped into an east-west canyon that shares the saddle with Phinney Canyon. Here we found and followed an abandoned 4WD road to the saddle and then continued down on the easterly side to the standard 2WD roadend where the three shuttled vehicles and dinner awaited. The camping spot was reached by 7:15 PM.

Suzanne prepared a hearty lentil soup for everyone, Terry served quesadillas, and John grilled himself a 2 lb. steak as reward for completing another arduous day of climbing in the desert.

Sunday morning after a leisurely breakfast, John, Mitch Miller, Mike Wolfe and Mervin Lucas chose to get an early start for home. Igor, Suzanne, Bruce, Terry and David Leth proceeded to follow the standard (more or less) route up Grapevine Peak. The summit was claimed without incident and we were able to see the snowy Sierra crest from Olancha all of the way to north of Split Mtn. as well as snow capped Mt. Charleston to the east. We returned to the vehicles by 1.30 PM and after a few brews, chips and melon headed on home via Beatty, Stovepipe Well and Trona. After eating dinner at the Cocky Bull (ribs, ribs and more ribs) we came to a halt for over an hour on the southbound I-15 just below Cajon pass as the CHP stopped all traffic to mop up a messy accident (near the same place we were stuck Friday night on the way north!). Home was not reached until after 11 PM.

It was a great weekend in the desert with lots of opportunity to stretch ones muscles. The leaders thank all of the participants and especially those that helped make it possible by setting up the car shuttle.

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